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  • Growing up in Southern California, you hear a lot about drought. Every rain-less winter and spring bring a new crop of warnings about both the importance of water conservation and the risks of dry vegetation. Warnings most people completely ignore because, truthfully, we've heard it all before and not much ever seems to come of it.

    That changed for me in October 2007 when I was one of the 900,000 people evacuated in what would become the largest evacuation for fire in US history. I lived in Fallbrook (a hilly rural enclave at the very top of San Diego County) at the time and watched as the Rice Canyon Fire drew closer to my town. It was mid-day when the mandatory evacuation order was given and cars began to flood the main road out of town. Almost every other road in Fallbrook either loops back to that road or dead-ends somewhere in the surrounding hills. Thankfully I had gotten lost in the hills two weeks before and had accidentally stumbled upon another way out of town. It was by that empty route that my family left while everyone else sat in gridlock.

    We were evacuated for about a week with no real way of knowing if our home was still standing. I took to calling my house phone about ten times a day to see if the answering machine would still pick up. Thankfully it always did. Not everyone was so lucky though. When the evacuation order was finally lifted, it was weird returning to charred fields and streets under National Guard occupation. It was weirder still when FEMA trailers started dotting the landscape where houses once stood.

    By the next spring, swathes of hollyhocks and wild lavender magically bloomed on the blackened hillsides and the trailers were replaced by houses that were even larger than before. Despite other nearby fires in the following years, life slowly went back to a new version of normal.

    This year I'm living in the canyons above Los Angeles and this winter has been extremely dry. To be honest, I still won't worry much when I hear the newscasters warn of fire risk. It's simply a given. But I will probably always keep gas in my Jeep and an eye on the hills for little-known roads that lead away from here.
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