Many South Pasadena residents have spent the last couple of weeks complaining about air quality, grumbling that no matter what they did, the smoke from the Bobcat Fire seemed to follow them.
But if you were inconvenienced, think of how the sprawling fire in nearby hills plagued South Pasadena Senior Center Director Liliana Torres. She, her husband, their 20-year-old son and their dog spent a week under evacuation watches and warnings when fire came down the foothills to within a mile or so of their home in Monrovia.
Torres said her home and family were unharmed as of Tuesday, but smoke that filled the house had left her “terrified” at times about the ordeal. And if that wasn’t enough, the week before the fire, which began Sept. 6, Torres discovered a bear had come into her open garage while she was there.
“By Monday, [Sept. 7,] the flames were visible over the ridge. It was just north of us at the top of the foothills,” Torres said. “We received notice to start packing and have an evacuation plan ready. I packed an overnight bag for my husband, son and our dog. Monday night was frightening, just watching to see if the flames would go over the ridge.”
Torres said there seemed to be less smoke Tuesday morning of this week as firefighters burned brush east of her home to keep the flames from coming down on her community.
An evacuation warning was in effect and police set up a roadblock on her street to permit only residents to come in. There were reports that people were coming into the neighborhood to get a better view of the fire.
Torres admitted that she had heard time and again to have personal papers in order and ready to go in case of emergency, but when the time came, she and her husband were pulling important documents out of the desk.
“I will be better prepared after this,” she said. “We all know it, but we don’t do it. I’m very guilty of doing the same thing. When the time came, we were finding paperwork and deciding how much we should take. And my husband takes a lot of medicine and we had to get that in order.”
Torres said she has lived in her home in a cul-de-sac at the edge of the foothills for 20 years, and never was there anything like what she experienced during this fire.
The fire got about a mile and a half from her home and burned a park that she often used. She said that as far as she knows, none of her neighborhood’s homes have been burned, and she praised the city for its prompt warnings about what to do?
“The sitting part was nutty,” she said. “You can’t do anything. I was freaking out on Tuesday [of last week] because we could see the intensity of the flames.”
The city had told the first groups under the evacuation watch to have everything prepared to go. Fire engines went up and down the street while helicopters dropped water on the flames. Whenever they arrived, Torres hoped that more water drops would come quickly.
Smoke was everywhere. Torres said that she closed and taped windows and there was still smoke in the house. One thing the smoke did do was hide the sight of the flames. The family was ready to go to her mother-in-law’s home, though it never did evacuate.
“[Tuesday of last week] we sat up all night with our clothes on ready to go,” she said. “The next morning the smoke was so thick outside and with an orange glow. This was so scary. Then smoke started entering the house.”
The flames continued throughout the week, appearing when the smoke cleared. The worst, she said, came Saturday when the flames traveled west toward Canyon Park, which Torres calls “my favorite escape when I hike and run. My heart ached to know [whether] that park received damage.”
She said that even the usual visitors — deer and bears — weren’t around like they usually were, and she wondered if they survived.
By Monday of this week, the fire had moved west toward Arcadia, and Torres said the neighborhood had a little relief from the smoke. The family could see hardly any flames, although the evacuation warning remained in effect. Torres decided it was time to go to work and what did she run into — more smoke in South Pasadena.
Now, about that bear in the garage.
Torres said her property is frequently visited by bears that live in the canyon and come down to try and open trash cans for food. The week before the fire, Torres was putting food away in a garage refrigerator about 9:30 p.m.
“The bear was walking toward me and he was almost the size of my small SUV,” she said. “I tossed a case of water at him and he gently stepped back. All my screaming did not faze him.”
But she managed to avoid the bear, which wandered outside the garage, enabling her to close the garage door and lock him out.
Talk about your trying two weeks.