Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wind and Fire

The Santa Ana winds are kickin’ up again in California. On the news this morning there was film of several multi-million dollar home going up in flames.

In January of 2003, I was headed from LA to Yuma, Arizona. My trip took me down I-5 to San Diego where I connected with I-8 for the trip east. The whole way south on the 5, forest fires whipped by the Santa Ana winds had firefighters and forestry workers stretched to their limits. Fire trucks lined the road’s shoulders. Smoke and flames were all I could see along the roadside.

As I got closer to San Diego, less smoke blackened the sky, but the winds were still strong. I found my connection with I-8 and started east.

Just east of San Diego a flashing sign informed me:


About ten miles further down the road at the exit for Alpine, CA, orange cones cut the Interstate down to one lane. A larger sign flashed:


A CHiP officer was in the middle of the roadway directing all trucks, vans and campers off the highway. Another ChiP was blocking the re-entry ramp so that no one got the bright idea to make a run for it. At the top of the ramp was a small, dirt parking area with about five other trucks parked in it. I joined the group just in time, because within 30 minutes the lot was full, and trucks were jockeying for positions along the roadway itself. That filled very quickly, so trucks started parking on the exit ramp. When that filled up back to the Interstate, the ChiP started directing traffic to the north side of the Interstate and into town where parking would really be a nightmare. We even had a TV camera crew out there – “film at 11.”

The bear blocking the interstate ramp was talking to all of us through the driver of a truck at the front of the parking area. He relayed information to the rest of us over his CB radio. The first tidbit was that the winds were sustained at 50 mph, with gusts recorded at over 70. That would roll almost any truck over. They had closed the interstate after several trucks were blown over earlier that morning. He also relayed that we could leave when the cop left – not before.

We sat and blew back and forth with the wind gusts for almost three hours. Then the driver in the lead truck got on his CB. “Hang on drivers. A DOT guy just pulled up and is walking over to my truck. Be back on in a minute.”

What happened next amazed everyone, especially the Highway Patrolman.

“OK guys. The DOT man just wrote out some instructions for us. There’s a two-lane that sits down in the valley and parallels I-8. It’s the long way, but it doesn’t cross the mountain or the bridge like the interstate does, and it beats the shit out of sitting here. You’re supposed to follow me and we’re not to get back on the 8 until the directions tell us to. Make sure everybody’s awake, ‘cause we’re heading out now.”

And head out we did, single file and onto the entrance ramp. The next voice we heard over our radios was the CHiP. “Where the hell you guys on the entrance ramp going?”

The lead driver in our convoy responded. “The DOT man gave us directions around the interstate and told us we could go.” The DOT man broke in with, “That’s right. I told them to follow the two-lane and gave them directions on where to get back on the 8 where it’s safe. Any problems?”

As we pulled onto the interstate, the CHiP and the DOT official were nose-to-nose, having a rather heated discussion. I’m not sure who outranked whom, but I would like to have heard what went on after we left.

We entered the interstate, went about three miles, and got off at the next exit. The two- lane that we traveled for about 20 miles didn’t even show up in my Atlas, but it paralleled the Mexican border through some very small towns. One driver in our convoy commented, “The only reason they let us go and sent us this way was, if we blow over we won’t block their damned Interstate.”

We drove through Pine Valley, Boulevard, Buckhead Springs and Jacumba, CA on highways 80 and 94. People were actually coming out on their front lawns to watch all these big trucks go by. They probably hadn’t seen any of us down there since the Interstate was built. I can see it now – some enterprising soul seeing all these trucks going past and thinking, “Hey, maybe we could use a truck stop down here.” A Sonic Drive-in and a Wal-Mart wouldn’t be far behind.

After an hour of this adventure, we re-entered the Interstate at Ocotillo and the convoy spread out. We were still the only big trucks on the interstate in either direction, and about ten miles further east, we saw where all the westbound trucks had been stopped, still sitting and waiting.



1 comment:

Girl Child said...

That is one of my favorite stories.