The Cedar Fire—A Look Back
by Carol Walker
Special Thanks to Carol Walker and the Alpine Historical Society for sharing this article with the Alpine Community Network. The Cedar fire was the main reason why this website and community network was created. – Angela Brookshire (ACN Director & Creator)
October 25, 2003 is a date many Alpine residents will never forget. This month marks the tenth anniversary of the Cedar Fire—the worst wildfire in California’s history. Images of the fire and its terrible aftermath will be with those of us who lived through it forever.
Before dawn on October 26th, looking toward the freeway from Alpine Heights, it appeared the entire horizon was ablaze. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning……
Later it was found that the monstrous fire was caused by a lost hunter, Sergio Martinez, who lit a fire which then burned out-of-control.
As my husband and I drove out of Alpine to safety, we wondered if we would ever see the historic buildings again—the museum houses, the old Town Hall, the old store. Thankfully, they all survived.
The Cedar Fire was one of fifteen wildfires throughout Southern California that month, which became known as the 2003 Firestorm. Driven by Santa Ana Winds, the Cedar Fire burned 280,278 acres, 2,820 buildings (including 2,232 homes) and killed 15 people before being contained on November 3.
This made it the largest fire in recorded California history and, at the time, the deadliest single wildfire event in the United States since the 1991 Oakland firestorm. The loss of pets, wild creatures and natural habitat is immeasurable.
For days the air was heavy with smoke and Alpine was covered in ash. Power was out to the entire area for several days and many residents were evacuated.
Driving down South Grade Road on the 26th, the sight of the smoldering remnants of peoples’ lives was a grim reminder to those of us who were lucky enough not to have lost our homes. It was an eerie feeling to see a mass of rubble with a fully intact home right next door—who knows what determined which homes burned and which homes survived.
Since power to the area was out and the air quality was bad, many Alpine residents stayed away until the air cleared and power was restored. The community, however, went into action mode. Churches opened their doors and served as donation centers for all the clothing, food, and basic necessities needed by those who had lost so much. It was heartwarming to see the outpouring of love and assistance from friends and neighbors.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set up locations to assist those who had lost their homes.
On November 4, Marine One, the presidential helicopter, landed in Harbison Canyon and President George W. Bush toured the devastation, consoling those who had lost so much. We could see the helicopter hovering and landing—and felt an overwhelming sense of pride in our nation for this caring gesture.
Ten years have passed, and many who suffered loss have recovered, but few have forgotten the vivid images of the Cedar Fire.
Carol Walker and her husband Paul lived in Alpine for 19 years. Carol is the webmaster and newsletter editor for the Alpine Historical Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-467-7766. Be sure to check out the Society’s website: www.alpinehistory.org