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It’s the 10 Year Anniversary of the Cedar Fire in Alpine – “A Look Back” by Carol Walker

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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……

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Vehicles stream out of the Alpine area as evacuees flee the fire.

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.

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A firefighter fights the flames

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A lone helicopter fights the flames with buckets of water in the Descanso area.

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Law Enforcement risking everything to protect the citizens.

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A tent city was set up at Shadow Hills Elementary School for wear firefighters.

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.

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The Harbison Canyon sign lays on the ground in the midst of the devastation.

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.

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An Impromptu donation center was set up at a local Church to assist residents who had lost their homes and basic necessities.

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Help and love poured out of the Alpine Community with thanks to the Firefighters and many, many donations to help friends and neighbors who had lost so much.

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.

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Marine One lands at Harbison Canyon with President George W. Bush on board.

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President Bush & Supervisor Dianne Jacob survey the damage.

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President Bush speaks with an Alpine family by the rubble that was once their home.

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President Bush thanks one of the MANY Firefighters.

Ten years have passed, and many who suffered loss have recovered, but few have forgotten the vivid images of the Cedar Fire.

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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 or 619-467-7766.  Be sure to check out the Society’s website:


4 comments to It’s the 10 Year Anniversary of the Cedar Fire in Alpine – “A Look Back” by Carol Walker

  • These were some of the worst days of my life! On top of everything I had just buried my Mom and it was her birthday the day after the fire blew through Galloway Valley. I was one of the lucky ones – my house made it! How can I get these pics? I’d like to save them.

  • Mike Bradburn

    Wow it’s hard to believe it has been 10 years. It seems a long time ago and then yesterday when you think about it. At the time I was the Alpine COPPS deputy sheriff. These are some thoughts that came to mind reading this article. I worked the evacuations before the fire hit Blossom Valley until it was over. It was a long week and the first 24 hours plus were really bad! The air got so bad we couldn’t breath but kept going. I had worked many fires before, but this fire spread so fast. The fire came over Blossom Valley and before we knew it was at the backdoor. I remember a time when my partner and I picked up a hose while at a mobile home and knocked the flames down before moving on to the next house.

    I remember during the middle of the day when resources began arriving to help us. At the time my partner and I were in Crest meeting with the fire captain to come up with a plan. We went down the hill and met up with a mobile field force to safely guide them back to Crest to evacuate the entire community. Later seeing four lanes of traffic going down the hill was something else!

    On the first day we were many hours into a 18 plus hour shift and had not been fed. We were on our own and since most of us had been called out we didn’t have much food or water with us. I remember the Shell Station coming through. I went in and told the clerk we needed to have some food. The clerk gave me all the sandwiches they had along with some drinks. I passed this food out to the our guys doing the evacuations and manning the check points. All were very grateful!

    I remember doing a recon during the middle of the first night. We were trying to make it back to Crest. My partner and I had been there as the fire hit the first home. We had a hard time finding a safe way up the hill. Going through Harbison Canyon was unreal. It was gone. There was a lone resident standing by a tree in the flames. We ended up in Crest and it was amazing to see the Crest Firefighters lined up to keep the fire from taking the fire station. They were providing a safe haven in Crest as the fire raced towards them. I worked hand in hand with the Crest FD during the week after the fire and later. They were an amazing group that worked very hard during the fire.

    After the fire the community showed great respect for us and each other. I was truly amazed at the minimal loss of life. Seeing the outreach in the various parks and other locations to help the victims was amazing. That is a time I will never forget and it is hard to believe it has been 10 years. I hope those that have lost their homes or loved ones have put this behind them. I could go on but that is enough as we all have stories to share as this effected all of us.

  • Wendy Padilla Fenner

    In Peutz Valley that day, my 83 year-old husband and I faced that day, meeting one emergency after another, but ultimately losing our home and two businesses. It is what we reaffirmed that was the miracle – our lives and our resiliency, good friends and commitment. Thank you, Creator.

  • Paul and Carol Walker

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