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san diego on fire

San Marcos fire

Once again, San Diego is burning.

As I write this, there are at least half a dozen fires out of control and Michael and I are going through stuff, trying to decide what to take if we end up having to evacuate. Again.

We did this back in 2007 and, let me tell you, it was scary.

We’re New Yorkers. What do we know from nature?

The day before we had to leave, the sky was a color I’ve never seen before – at least not in real life. It was an apocalyptic grayish brown. Ominous. Smoky.

The fires were maybe 20 miles away. Schools were closed and I, along with most of my neighborhood, took the kids to the movies. When we came out, it was like we were still in a movie. A movie about the end of the world. Shades of a mustardy yellow smeared the sky. It was hard to breathe.

We went home and packed up both cars even though it was unimaginable we’d have to leave. We lived near the coast, and fire wasn’t supposed to jump the freeway.

We knew Jessie, our 130 pound Newfoundland, was going to take up the entire back of my station wagon, so there would only be so much room. All we could take with us was stuff that was irreplaceable – or absolutely necessary.

Here’s what we packed:

* the giant carton of photos that I’d never organized, along with every photo album and rogue photo I could get my hands on

* my kids’ Bar and Bat Mitzvah videos and all our old home movies

* our laptops, iPods, cell phones, chargers

* a couple of changes of clothes

* some basic toiletries

* Jessie’s 35 pound bag of dog food, blanket, boxes of treats, water dish, brush, toys, medicine

* water bottles and protein bars

That’s it.

We all slept restlessly that night and woke to an even darker sky. Now, we could see flames. That was it. We were leaving.

As soon as we made that decision, the reverse 911 call came in, telling us we had to evacuate.

I immediately called the Loews Coronado because I had recently written an article about pet-friendly hotels and knew they would take our gentle giant. We got the last hotel room.

My parents, who live about 10 minutes from us, decided to leave, too, even though the hotel was sold out. We offered them our room but, because we had Jessie, they said they’d head down to Coronado and see what they could do.

They ended up staying at the naval base, which was being used to house evacuees. They ate, slept and were treated well, and were so appreciative.

Meanwhile, we pulled up to the beautiful Loews Coronado and Jessie planted herself at the entrance, refusing to go in. WTF?

You see, Princess Jessie only liked to walk on carpet and the Loews Coronado had a marble floor. She wouldn’t budge, and when a Newfoundland doesn’t want to budge … well, end of story.

One of the bellmen brought out a luggage cart – which we thought was a great idea! – and we tried to pick Jessie up to get her onto it. She hated that idea and sat down outside the front door again. She was not going anywhere.

San Diego was burning and our dog wouldn’t walk into the hotel.

People were laughing and pointing and saying how cute she was. We were sweating.

As we tried to cajole her with treats, the hotel manager came out with an armful of towels which he proceeded to lay out like a Red Carpet across the lobby.

Without a second glance, Jessie got up and sashayed her way along the path as though she didn’t have a care in the world.

We were exhausted.

We will always be grateful to the Loews Coronado for making us so comfortable during such a stressful time.

We spent two nights at the hotel, glued to the TV to make sure our house was still standing, and commiserating with the other guests in the lobby, which was filled with people sleeping on couches and animals of all kinds. We even ran into our vet there, which was so reassuring in case Jessie needed anything.

It was surreal staying in this gorgeous resort as though we were on vacation when our neighborhood – our whole county – was in a state of emergency. We were so lucky.

We pray that we continue to be lucky, that we don’t have to evacuate, and that everyone in San Diego remains safe.

Meanwhile, we know we should be packing our valuables in case we need to evacuate again. But, somehow, it doesn’t seem as important this time around because our real valuables are gone. The kids are grown and living 3000 miles away, and Jessie passed away two years ago.

Honestly, we could easily just get in the car and drive away.

But, oh, how I would love to find that picture of Jessie sitting outside the Loews Coronado.


  1. As long as you’re okay, I am happy. I am sad about Jessie; you must miss her very much.

    Thanks for sharing that story, Lois. When I visited San Diego, and subsequently met you, I knew/know it’s the place of my dreams. My hope is that the fire ends and everyone is safe and sound.

    Please continue to keep us posted.

  2. I saw this on the news. I was in San Diego 3 weeks ago and I am so happy I missed this, but I worry for my family out there in La Mesa!

  3. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I will be watching the news today and praying the fire goes away. I have always thought that my photo albums would be the first thing I’d grab if we had to evacuate our house. On a lighter note, the stor about Jessie was adorable.

  4. What a story. I am hoping you find the photo because that is quite something.

  5. I really felt the frustration and stress of going through all that only to have your pooch be a prima donna when you arrive at safety.

  6. Oh, Lois. Thinking of you and our friends in San Diego, and hoping for a best possible turn of events soon. My son’s old school is closed today. A friend posted a photo of flames that could be seen from Carmel Valley. Surreal & unthinkable. I’d rather deal with blizzards. Fire just feels so frightening & consuming…to not be able to breathe the air…. My heart is with you and everyone in SoCal effected by this crazy heat wave and drought. Sending good thoughts for some of our rain and cold to relieve all of you. xo

  7. Having a bug-out bag is important. Whether for a tornado, fire or hurricane. We are in a drought and have fires across our state. I hope you and yours stay safe.

  8. I’m so sorry you had to deal with this as soon as you arrived home. Please keep us updated! Thinking about you.

  9. This is a very good list to keep handy. My prayers go out to all those in this area.

  10. Had no idea about this. Shows that I’m so living in my own world. I’m happy that you’re all safe and love the list.

  11. I am so sorry you’re having to go through this (again!), but I have to say, I am pretty darned impressed that you were able to put together such an awesome blog post. Be safe!

  12. I so hope you don’t have to go through this again. xo

  13. this time of year is so stressful…here in northern Calif we live in fear of wildfire as well. It ravages the beautiful land terribly and the cost in lives and property is awful. Let us pray…

  14. How terrifying this must be! Thinking of you, hoping you don’t have to evacuate, and sending prayers to everyone in harm’s way.

  15. My home is your home…here in Coronado!

  16. James Oliver says:

    OMG. I hope you guys will be OK.

  17. You and your family (and all others out there) are in my thoughts. We Colorado residents know how horrendous these situations can be. Be safe.

    (PS: *Love* the story of Jessie!)

  18. This round of fires brought our 20+ years of living in the Colorado mountains back — in huge waves of that unsettling feeling. Some things have definitely changed. We all had our own small evacuation box by the door filled with things we could not replace. Today, I am not sure I would even need a box — the things I hold dear are safely tucked away in my heart, my memory, by my side… or stored on the “cloud”! Love your insights Lois!

  19. I have some family down there and have seen the photos; just terrible. Praying you all are safe! We were in Colorado last summer and saw some of the fires, so I know what you mean about the sky. Very eerie. Some evacuees were staying at our hotel in Colorado Springs; I felt so bad for them. Good luck to you!

  20. I am keeping you and all of San Diego in my thoughts and prayers. So sorry!

  21. Have been thinking of you and Michael with this going on. I hope the weather cooperates and the fires die down today. What a precious story about your Jessie and the hotel!!
    Sending good energy your way, and hugs!!

  22. Rosemary says:

    Great story – thanks for sharing it. Our prayers are with you and our friends and our tenants in San Diego. (Also, selfishly, we would not like to see our condo in SD damaged!)

  23. Prayers for you and all of San Diego.

  24. I hope you and your husband are safe and that these fires are soon brought under control. Of course, all this reminds me of that hot windy day in October of 1991… If it happened again today, I wonder if I too would just walk away. We did take our photo albums and a few other things, but having lost it all, my attitude about “stuff” was changed forever. Be safe–and please keep your online friends up to date if you get a chance. Scary times…

  25. I get the fear. I’ve been there when living in Colorado. I grabbed the pets, their crates and supplies and then went for the photo albums. Next was my curio cabinet because it held all the wonderful things my little girl had made me growing up. After that was packed, we went quickly back for clothes and toiletries. Shows you the priorities we have. Blessing to you, my friend and hoping for the best!

  26. Praying that the fires are under control and that you guys would have to evacuate! We lived up north where fire-season is a very real, very scary event that happens every single year. I remember seeing the water bombers flying so low you could actually read the lettering on the bottom of the plane.

    • Yolanda Arroyo says:

      It is sad to see people lose their home or lifes.
      Something like this affects us all in some way.
      Stay safe and keep writing.

  27. I had no idea this was going on, I don’t watch the news. I can image this is a very scary situation.

  28. You pack what we pack. We have been evacuated 4 times in 10 years and feel like old pros. Now that we are in the new house we built, my hubs says he would stay and fight the fire, not leave. So I will pack the dog and cats and see you out there!

  29. Just before I left NY there was a small tornado in Brooklyn. It flooded my apartment on the UWS but I found it very cool as nobody was hurt and I caught my flood in time.

    Now I live in South Carolina where it rains all the time yet there are wildfires because two days of hot dry air turns the air arid. I live on the other side of the road–we’re evacuated for hurricanes.

    I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I would love love love to send you some rain

  30. I’m sorry you have to go through this. We have to evacuate every few years for tsunami alerts where we’re at. Something about an approaching fire just seems more threatening to me for some reason.

  31. Choosing what to take… The hardest part. Praying for an end to the fires, and that you find that photo!

  32. Oh my gosh, that is so scary! It’s so hard figuring out what to take/save with you. I hope you are your family are ok!

  33. What a great story. I stayed at the Loews Coronado years ago on a press trip and found it go be an amazing hotel! Stay safe!

  34. Stay safe! I have never been in a situation like this, but I can’t imagine how scary this would be.

  35. Fire is just such a powerful force. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be facing something like that!

  36. Oh no! I haven’t had a chance to watch the news, is everyone OK? Have you made it back home yet?

  37. I can’t even imagine your fear. I am a transplant to NC from NY. I cannot imagine what a sky like that would look like or the fear. How do you decide. I loved your Jessie. What beautiful memories. I will keep following and praying for all of you effect by fires 🙁

  38. Lisa Jones says:

    I’m So Sorry You Had To Go Through This AGAIN Glad Your Alright Your In My Thoughts & Prayers!! XO

  39. Praying for you and all of those living in your area. I have been xhecking in daily with a close friend who is also in the area.

  40. Tam Warner Mintont says:

    Now, THIS sounds scary! I hope everything is okay, San Diego is so beautiful, and I know so many people are in the fire’s path.

  41. It must be quite scary to be in such a precarious situation. I hope you stay safe and secure.

  42. I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with this. I saw a Facebook post from another friend in a predicament as well. Stay safe! Your story about Jessie though was too cute…what a doll. Dogs have such personalities.

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