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E-mail from an inferno: The horror of the fire

  • Story Highlights
  • Poway, California, evacuee says San Diego has become "Armageddon"
  • On firefighters: "I have no idea how they even breathe"
  • "The air is really caustic, burning your eyes and causing a reflex cough"
  • Family may be "dependent on the insurance company to do the right thing"
  • Next Article in U.S. »
By Jonathan Gallen
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Editor's Note: In his second installment, physician John Gallen e-mails CNN about the experience of evacuating his family from their home near San Diego, California.

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- From a back window that overlooks San Diego, the thick layer of smog that blankets the city is overwhelming.

Two days ago, San Diego was the jewel of the West Coast. But the beautiful city with blue skies, a deep blue ocean and miles of beaches has become Armageddon.

The mayor has urged everyone to stay off the roads, stay off their cell phones and ration their utilities to enable the communications and other resources needed by those incredible first responders who are putting their lives on the line.

They are facing miles and miles of a deadly firewall that is being fanned by gusty Santa Ana winds and aided by ridiculously low humidity.

A few minutes of calm must seem like a blessing to firefighters. But danger is everywhere. A gust of wind could blow a lit ember into their faces.

I have no idea how they even breathe and summon the courage to face their own mortality while battling to save a home or a defenseless animal. Photo See dramatic photos of the destruction »

All the while, they have families, too. How they do their jobs is beyond me.

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The air is caustic, burning your eyes and causing a reflex cough with a minimum of exertion.

Going outside is really unhealthy, and we are in a relatively "safe" zone here in Del Cerro. See a map locating major fires in the region »

The outside temperature is going to be in the mid 90s again out in the fire zones.

We are watching the boundaries of the "burn zone," which include our city of Poway, but we have no idea, and won't for several days, whether our home will remain standing. Video Watch flames engulf homes and evacuees describe their ordeal »

It's eerie how one house burns to the ground and the neighbor's homes are left untouched. You see this all the time in CNN coverage of tornadoes in small-town America.

The devastation is only two-dimensional.

The angst and despair are given a voice only for a few seconds when a reporter puts a microphone in front of a former homeowner facing a flattened pile of wood and glass, staring at what once was his bedroom and looking for what precious memories can be found in the rubble.

But fire stinks. It's pervasive and gets on you, on your clothes, in your nose and in your head. Black death and destruction. So final and so dark, the blackened remnants of what you worked so hard to build gone in a few minutes, consumed by such a force of nature that words cease to provide a way to describe it.

As the dust literally settles, we will go back and reclaim our wood, glass and tile.

We might be the lucky ones who have a place to go to. If not, what then?


I can only imagine the phone call that will have to be made. Dependent on the insurance company to do the right thing and do it quickly.

I wonder how the person on the other side of that phone call will be and whether these faceless individuals who have your financial future in their hands come through like you were promised when you wrote them a check so many years ago and for so many months never ever thinking this would happen to us. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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