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50-Year Ramona Resident: 'If We’re Going To Die in This Fire, It’ll Be in The Comfort of Our Own Home'

Penny King has lived through multiple fires in her 50 years at Ramona, and says the best thing you can do is prepare.

Death is a scary thing to come to terms with, but for Ramona resident Penny King, it was a simple choice when it came to where her death would take place.

"If we’re going to die in this fire, it’ll be in the comfort of our own home," King recalled discussing with her husband during the 2007 Witch Creek Fire.

The 50-year resident has seen her fair share of fires during her tenure in Ramona–including the "horrible fire of 1967" and the fire of 1970. And of course, most recently, the Cedar Creek Fire in 2003 and the 2007 Witch Creek Fire.

“I’ve been here through bad fires," King told Patch.

And on Oct. 21, 2007, both King and her son, a Cal Fire firefighter, had a premonition about the impending fire.

“It’s really odd because on the way down to Bates (Nut Farm) that morning, I turned to [my husband] and said, ‘I have a really bad feeling about today,’” Kind said. “‘I just feel really uneasy today.' The winds were so heavy.”

Having experienced so many fires in the past, her family knew that they had to get home before SR 78 got closed. Her son, who was off-duty that day, went home and put on his uniform and headed out to work, knowing already the potential severity this fire had.

“My son... came home, got his uniform and went to the station,” Kind said. “He didn’t even wait for the call. He just went. It was pretty bad.”

After some discussion, King and her family, including a pregnant daughter-in-law, decided to hold down the fort, ignoring the evacuation order from the border patrol truck that went through the neighborhood with its loudspeakers on.

“Someone in position of authority panicked,” King said, noting that the evacuation wasn't done in the right way. “It was just pandemonium. Uncontrolled chaos. You get this picture in your head of people in a movie theater scrambling to get out, and that’s how it was here.”

King said that though the family considered evacuating, they ultimately decided against it, knowing that SR 67 was the only way out of town and if they were going to die, they wanted to be at home.

“We decided we would stay home because we knew it was going to take hours getting out of town,” King said. “In the event of a wind shift, you have thousands of cars lined up and you literally have nowhere to go. In a case like that, it can literally be deadly. You’d be burned over.”

Thankfully, the fire stayed away from King's home off of 16th Street, but, as all residents will remember, water quickly became scarce. King said about 24 hours after the fire began on Oct. 21, the Poway pump was shut down due to burned down power lines.

Thanks to their scanner, the Kings knew to prepare early on. Penny went to the store to get water, including bottled and gallon-containers.

“While I was gone, my husband filled up the washing machine with water. My husband filled up every pot and pitcher we had with water,” King said. “And we have a pool, so what we did is we went and got buckets of water for flushing. We really didn’t have too much of an issue with the water being out, just because we were prepared.”

King said she now stresses to all of her friends to be completely prepared for another catastrophe like the 2007 fire–have water on hand, have a "to-go" container with valuables in it and, being the wife, daughter and mother of firefighters, create a defensible space.

“I have been nagging my friends and families to be prepared–at least 100 feet of defensible space around your property,” King said. “That gives firefighters the best possible chance to save your home.”

King said that Ramona is home, but as much as she loves it and other residents love it, being prepared for the inevitable is necessary here.

“It’s an experience that I don’t want to experience again but I will. I know I will. It’s a given,” King said. You can’t do anything about it. Fire has a mind of its own.”

Penny shared some emails with Patch she sent out during the fires. Below is one she sent out to families and friends after the worst of it was over.

Thanks for sharing your story with Patch and Ramona, Penny.

 

Hi Again Family & Friends
 
Well, the day got off to a rough start. My allergies started kicking in BIGTIME yesterday afternoon, and steadily went from bad to worse. Then the inevitable happened this morning: the winds shifted, just as we knew they would, so....smoke city once again. Feeling quite 'punk' after breakfast, I decided to go back to bed. Woke up later feeling better, and even though the allergies are in high gear, I'm able to deal with them better this afternoon. The emotions are another story. My heart was just broken for those victims who have lost everything. All I could do was weep, and pray some more. I'm fine now :0)
 
WE HAVE WATER!! Yay! We've had it since this morning, but still conserving what we can. I decided to be 'wasteful' and take a shower. I couldn't stand myself any more! We're on boil orders from the water company, as it's not safe for human or animal consumption yet, but at least we can use it for everything else.
 
They're still not letting evacuees back into Ramona just yet. They want to make sure the water issue is resolved. The fires themselves are calmer. We'll never be 'out of the woods' until all fires are 100% under control, and that won't be for at least several more days yet. But things are looking up.
 
Shannon was able to make it home today-she has a special sign on her car through CalFire, so the ARMED National Guard let her pass. She came and got her 'girls' (cats) first thing, then went home to sleep. She came over this afternoon, and she is exhausted. Please remember her in your prayers. Brian is well, last I heard. He responded to a helicopter crash late this morning, but all 4 victims walked away unhurt, praise God! It was a San Diego Gas & Electric helicopter, surveying damage when they suddenly lost altitude. Probably a 'hard landing', but who cares as long as they were ok!
 
Roads into Ramona are still closed due to the fires, but rumor has it that limited numbers of folks will be allowed back in starting as early as this evening....we'll see.
 
Susan, is your house okay? Jim & I drove up Orange Ave. yesterday, and it looked fine, at least from a distance.
 
Cindy Wilson, how about your place? I've been so concerned about friends that we haven't heard from, so if you get this email, please let me know how both of you are, ok?
 
If there's anyone else I forgot, please forgive me-it's been quite a week so far.
 
Please remember firefighters, police, military and volunteers in your prayers, as well as the victims themselves. If ever we need God's blessing, wisdom, and direction, it's NOW.
 
Have a good evening, and God Bless.
 
Hugs
 
Penny

Anonymous October 23, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Penny's daughter, Shannon, is a Cal Fire dispatcher and also went to work immediately that day. A side note on sheltering in place (aka ignoring an evacuation order).. In this case it worked out. For many of the residents in the middle of town, it was the right choice. However, those in the more rural areas those orders Should NOT be ignored. Evacuation orders are given for a reason and as a last resort to protect the citizens of a community. There were a lot of mistakes made in 2007 but no one agency is to blame nor are they perfect. A lot of changes have been made in the last 5 years to fix what went "wrong" in 2007. The decision Penny made was made after talking to Brian and Shannon, both with fire knowledge. She had good intel on staying where she was and that was definitely the best option at the time. It may not be the best option every time though. Please keep that in mind. Every fire is different and it can become very unpredictable. If too many people shelter in place then realize the fire is coming their way and they call 911, that takes firefighters off the front lines.
Denise Woods Byrd October 24, 2012 at 12:58 AM
There is a lot to be said for preparedness. If you've hot your land cleared, keep underbrush from recurring, gathered your important papers, collected water, made a plan, made a contingency plan, and keep a bag packed and ready to leave on a moment's notice, you're about as prepared as you'll ever be for a fire. But you have to take the evacuation orders seriously. You can replace your house, or find another place to live, but you and your friends and family members can never be replaced. Be proactive. Get a head start evacuating. Get out before the crowds. HEED THE WARNINGS! Denise Woods Byrd RHS Class of '74
Marla (Leach) Lawrence October 24, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Great story about a wonderful lady whom I am proud to call my friend. Although I moved away from Ramona many years ago, I grew up on a chicken ranch where the threat of fire always ran high. We were threatened only once---that was the fire of 1967 which spared my grandmother's house but burned her neighbor's home to the ground not even 200 feet behind hers. My parents and I were out hosing down everything that could burn, and at one point there was a wall of fire between us and the house...thank God the wind switched, or everything we owned (not to mention ourselves) would have burned. But, like Penny said, fire was something we all knew was inevitable, and we lived with the danger and stayed prepared. It wasn't something we thought much about, it just came with the territory, and we dealt with it when it happened.
Penny King October 24, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Once again, I cannot stress enough the importance of preparedness. Jim & I, based on what we knew at the time, and the contacts we had in Cal Fire, felt we would be safer at home. There's always a 'next' time, and at that time we will again be faced with the decision to evacuate, or stay. We are prepared to go if necessary. I encourage my family and friends to be ready to go at the drop of a hat. Don't stay behind based on what happened in 2007. Improvements have been made with your protection in mind. Don't wait SO long that if you DO decide you need to be rescued, your chances are slimmer because emergency personnel may not be able to get to you. We made the right decision for US. It's not the right decision for everyone. Be safe Ramona! :)

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