I live in “East County” San Diego, where, despite the city’s oceanfront reputation, I have views of a canyon and desert hills. Out here, we hear coyotes every night, spend most of our days between 90 and 100 degrees, and last week my son killed a desert tarantula on our back patio.
Just off the back of my house, we have views down a canyon, overlooking the Sweetwater Springs Reservoir, and off in the distance, we have views of Tijuana’s city lights at night.
A little hot and dry for my tastes, but Southern California living nonetheless and if it ever gets too hot over here, were only 15 minutes from the ocean.
Well, recently it got too hot. As most people know, So Cal has a notorious history of brush fires–some span thousands of acres, some are put out long before they reach that size. But, from late spring to early fall, it is wildfire season, and at least once per year somewhere south of LA, one catches.
Unfortunately, the most recent one of those fires caught in the canyon behind my house. And we are literally the house closest to the canyon on the up-hill side, which means we were in the most danger because fires like to climb up hills rather than down. I wasn’t home, but my wife had to pack two boys under the age of 2 into her car with our 9 year old as the only help, while watching a 15ft wall of flames climb our hillside towards our house at about 5 miles/hour.
Within 5 minutes of seeing smoke, the size of the blaze had tripled. Within 15 minutes, she was in the car with the boys, with as much stuff as she could pack in that time–a few changes of clothes, some toys, baby bag and backpack. That was it. By this time, even if she wanted to go back, the smoke was so thick she had to cover her mouth with her shirt just to avoid coughing.
That’s when she called me. I, at this time was 15 miles away just turning towards home on an overpass about 50 feet above the freeway, just starting to face the direction of my house–a great vantage point to see a mushroom cloud of smoke billowing up from the general vicinity of my neighborhood. And yes, you guessed it (and as I was discovering), that was the fire in my backyard.
I spent the next hour sitting in rush hour traffic driving home, watching this cloud get bigger and darker, getting filled in via short text messages by a neighbor who was yet to evacuate. At this point, there was a mandatory evacuation in place, no one was allowed to enter our neighborhood under any circumstances. There were 4 helicopters and 2 planes dropping water as well as more than 100 firefighters working to contain the blaze.
When I finally got as close to my neighborhood as I could, there were news crews, police officers and ambulances and smoke so thick it seemed like night in places.
At this point, it really hit me–everything I own is likely going to be gone, literally, up in smoke.
Now, the reason I am telling you this is not because it is a cool story (though it is) but because in that moment, even though I am an active insurance agent–someone who tells these stories to explain why a client needs proper coverage. In that moment, I wasn’t sure if I had proper coverage.
In that moment, I had no idea how I was going to spend the next few weeks or months while the house was going to be rebuilt, or how I was going to order new TVs, new clothes, new computers, new soccer balls, new pots and pans, new anything. Not to mention, the things that I couldn’t reorder–the school work, family photos, college notebooks and all the things I couldn’t even remember in that moment.
So, what’s the point here? Its simple, and it is not to scare you. It is to make sure that anyone reading has an opportunity to think about these things before you sit there thinking its too late.
Take a moment and really think–“if a fire happens today, and my house is gone, do I have the proper safeguards in place? Do I have an evacuation plan? Do I have the proper essential documents already together so I can grab them quickly on my way out? Do I have enough coverage to rebuild my home, to pay for my hotel room, or do I have the number to file a claim?”
I preach this and yet, in the worst moment possible, I felt exposed. Just like the clients I help, my own insurance was not all that high on my priority list. I put off handling something that needed to be handled, thinking “that will never happen to me.” But it did happen to me. And unfortunately, the car accident, the flood or fire, the break in, they can happen to anyone and they do everyday.
But, the good news is, if we all can take 5 minutes now to check if were covered, when facing life’s unhappy accidents, we can have the confidence to know we have done our part to protect ourselves and our family.
To finish my story, eventually, I stopped watching the flames, at this point (we learned later) there were between 60-80 acres burning, and it wasn’t looking good for any of the houses on the 4 sides of the canyon. I met up with my family at Grandma’s house and ate dinner.
We got a call about 2 hours later. It was from our neighbor who had stayed behind. The fire was under control and would be put out within the next couple hours. We headed home and watched for the next 24 hours as fire teams stayed around to make sure any minor hot patches were doused.
What saved us was a service road up to a water tower on one side of the canyon between our back yard and the canyon slope–that and excellent work from multiple fire teams, a few tons of pink fire retardant dumped on our back yard and some good luck with the wind shifting at the right time.
The first thing I checked when I got home? My insurance policy.