Mary Jane Stevens continues Miracle at Soda Canyon, her harrowing tale of uncertainty and terror on the night the Atlas fire started.
…continued from March 14th—
Later, Bob would tell me his incredible tale of his experiences that night.
Bob said he felt a little better that he knew they had been located, but they were still very much in danger. The wind was loud, the sky dark and the smoke was suffocating. In the wee hours of the morning the wind buffeted his bare face, ears and hands when he got out of his truck. He was anxious to get off the mountain. When would help return? Would help come in time? Everything he saw proved his situation was grim. The black velvet sky was now clouded with smoke and sparkling with glowing embers, some very large, swirling in the howling wind. He prayed those embers would not land on a roof starting a fire that would create a chain reaction taking all the homes down. Ghostly clumps of smoldering scrub dotted the nightscape in the distant periphery, surrounding him like threatening wild animals ready to pounce and devour everything in their path. An ominous orange glow at the horizon was the most terrifying sight of all. Would the wind shift again and send the fire over the homes and directly toward Bob?
Of the entire group of vehicles only three joined the convoy. Bob wondered why there were only three. A week later we found out at a party for fire survivors. Before he reached the evacuation area helicopters had evacuated all the people from the parked vehicles. They weren’t able to return to rescue the others because the high winds and smoke made it too dangerous to fly. Only Bob and the occupants of the three other vehicles had been left behind.
Bob joined the end of the convoy. He wanted to get off the mountain, out of harm’s way. That involved driving through the edge of the fire. Slowly, they worked their way down, swerving around the glowing detritus in the road while trying to steer clear of burning branches at the shoulder. Embers were flying through the air around the convoy. He said it was a bone-chilling sight when at the steepest part of the road Bob looked out over the canyon and there was fire as far as he could see. Below him, and on either side of the road, the inferno burned everything in its path. It looked as if no structures remained standing. He could see only blackened trees silhouetted against the orange of the hissing, spitting, undulating fire following the road.
Everything was on fire or already burned. Then he saw one structure still standing: the Soda Canyon Store, a beacon at the bottom of the road on the corner at Silverado Trail.