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My Day As An Arson Suspect: How I Survived a Canyon Fire

Updated on April 9, 2013
GarnetBird profile image

Gloria taught for many years, and also worked as a mental health group facilitator.

An Erikson Tanker drops down on the Canyon Fires.
An Erikson Tanker drops down on the Canyon Fires. | Source
San Bernardino County Fire Personnel arrived shortly after my 911 call.
San Bernardino County Fire Personnel arrived shortly after my 911 call. | Source
Smoke intensified in the wild winds of the canyon.
Smoke intensified in the wild winds of the canyon. | Source
The pilot must navigate through heavy forest cover to drop water and flame retardant.
The pilot must navigate through heavy forest cover to drop water and flame retardant. | Source
Source
Fire and Forestry vehicles pounded down the narrow canyon road.
Fire and Forestry vehicles pounded down the narrow canyon road. | Source
The fire was stopped before the winds could spread it to surrounding communities and camps.
The fire was stopped before the winds could spread it to surrounding communities and camps. | Source
Source
Not a great shot, but it does show the water spray coming from the Tanker.
Not a great shot, but it does show the water spray coming from the Tanker. | Source
Due to the quick intervention, the fire started to dissipate, despite the high winds.
Due to the quick intervention, the fire started to dissipate, despite the high winds. | Source

By Gloria Siess

We started our day at a local El Polo Loco in Big Bear, California. My Husband and I were looking forward to a restful, relaxing day of hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail. After lunch I had an urge to visit an area called Van Dusen Canyon, which meandered into the historic Holcomb Valley Mining Attractions,{ including old log cabins and a few miner's graves}. Hitting the dirt road in our CRV, we had no idea that our innocent afternoon was going to turn into high drama within minutes.

We pulled into an turn-out which led to a Pacific Crest Trail-head. As usual, we did not have a cell phone, which would have not worked in this remote location, anyway. As soon as we started our hike, I saw a suspicious mist that looked ghastly and pale blue, like a spirit rising up over the pines. As we got closer I yelled to my husband, "Jon, it's a fire!"

"It's just the mist rising," He said easily.

"It's burning," I insisted, "I can smell it." Sure enough, as we hiked down the path, we could actually see some of the burning branches. Within seconds the CRV was pounding down Van Dusen Canyon Road towards anyone who might have a cell phone. I finally pulled a lady over who called it in promptly. Jon wanted some photographs, so somewhat reluctantly I went back towards the trail-head, where we waited for the first responders to arrive.

Shooting wildly in all directions, I must have taken sixty photographs in all, with my trusty Nikon Coolpix. The fire department and forestry arrived in approximately fifteen minutes, followed by the Erikson Tanker. For forty minutes we watched in appreciation as the process of fire fighting unfolded.

Forestry Personnel expressed their gratitude for our quick reporting of the fire. In just minutes my husband and I would be taken to the Sheriff's Detective Division, where they would split us up (like murder suspects) and drill us for an hour on the details. To further make the procedure a trial and tribulation, my diabetes medicine had caused my blood sugar to fall dangerously low and I felt close to passing out. I requested some food or juice, feeling like a suspect in the famous series, Law and Order.

My husband was once a detective of twenty years experience. He, too, felt somewhat baffled by the intensity of questioning we underwent. To the credit of the department as a whole, a very kind young police officer stayed by my side during the interrogation, often adding supportive comments. Our camera film was taken for review (later we received compliments from Forestry on our shots). Pale, shaken and feeling like a stroke victim, I emerged from my ordeal feeling certain they felt we were thrill arsonists who started the fire in order to shoot great photos.

The fire was found to be not the work of arsonists, but the result of a campfire that had not been appropriately extinguished.

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    • profile image

      Robin 

      6 months ago

      great shots...never heard of the PCT until last year. my aunt started it, then had to stop. she will be going again this april.. hopefully, she will make it all the way. (fractured feet made her stop)..

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 

      3 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi GarnetBird...

      Now that would have been a great adventure with the exception of the interrogation. Once a fire is whipped by winds and begins to crown it can move so fast. good on you both for calling in the blaze. In my case they still had not invented the cell phone we have today. All I could was hide inside the old mine entrance.

      Great writing and thanks for the follow...

      Hugs from Canada

    • GarnetBird profile imageAUTHOR

      Gloria Siess 

      5 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Thank you, Aviannovice!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sounds like quite an ordeal, though. You did get some wonderful shots, and thankfully, you were able to bring it to the attention of authorities in a quick manner.

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