All they needed was a keg. Folks from all over the neighborhood brought their cameras and dogs to see 300 foot flames shoot up from the deeps of Borrego Canyon, just on the other side of Dreaded Hill. “It looks like a volcano,” one woman said. Embers smacked up from dense thickets of greasewood and buckwheat, giving the chaparral a nice scrubbing. This land lives for a good fire like this every few years: the philosophy of the OC Fire Authority was to let the flames do their part for Nature. The plan, according to cops, was to make a stand in this park and along the line of houses.
People were glued to park benches, eager witnesses of the moment when the flames would begin to pour into the brushy valley on our side of Whiting Ranch. You might have had trouble distinguishing them from the crowd at the latest Lucas blockbuster. They were there for the news of the disaster (just like we were).
The strangest thing was the wind. As the fire cleared a corridor down Borrego Canyon, a cold wind blew over Concourse Park out of the northwest. It kept switching its directions and not a single person didn’t have her car keys in hand, just in case it shifted a few degrees and brought the inferno into our laps.
In the meantime, it was hurry up and wait for news stronger than rumor.
* * * * *
The congregation gave us opportunities to meet neighbors, a chance I hadn’t had like this since the Quake of 89. Clearly visible to us in the park was the big screen television of one of the houses perched on the hillside overlooking the Serrano Creek drainage of Whiting Ranch Wilderness. One fellow pointed his binoculars at the living room. “He’s watching football,” he announced.
* * * * *
When the Orange County Sheriffs appeared, the crowd in the park congealed around the car. A lone deputy stood, looking around at us, while his partner leaned against the prowler. “We’re waiting for you to tell us what’s happening,” I said to him. “I don’t know,” he replied. “We heard that there were a lot of people up here in the park and we wanted to see what they were looking at.”
We’re not evacuating until they tell us to.