On a busy stretch of West Bernardo Drive amid the towering pine trees is a plaque that bears a simple message: “Thank you San Diego Fire Fighters 2007.” This is a daily reminder to many who travel this road on what was lost and how much was saved.

Unless you were hiding under a rock in San Diego County, you remember exactly where you were on Oct. 21, 2007. It was a day that began like many other Sundays in San Diego County. But as the winds picked up a smell of burning timber permeated the air. A serious situation was unfolding in the East County, and it had a name — the Witch Creek Fire.

“I remember we were out by the pool enjoying a beautiful Sunday afternoon and by 2 p.m. the ash started to fall,” recalled 4S Ranch resident Janice Karr. “By 9 p.m. that evening, it looked like a snowstorm outside with continual ash falling — and in the wee hours of the night, less than 12 hours later – I was banging on doors and alerting residents to evacuate.”

The Witch Creek Fire developed rapidly that Sunday night, and by Monday morning it had engulfed portions of North Poway and Rancho Bernardo as it jumped west through Lake Hodges and across I-15. A wall of fire headed toward the Westwood neighborhood and took little mercy as it raged through brush and surrounded homes in a matter of minutes.

“One minute I was in bed sleeping, the next I was trying to get my wife and daughter into the car and find my keys,” recalled Frank Smith of Rancho Bernardo. “It happened so fast,

I went to bed around 11 p.m. watching the story on the news; I never thought it would affect our neighborhood.”

Families fled, some with little more than the clothes on their backs. Local streets soon became congested and other areas completely shut down. By Monday morning almost the entire I-15 and SR-56 Corridor had been evacuated. Qualcomm opened up as a makeshift shelter. Thousands of residents were displaced.

With such a back story, residents should consider a number of tips and suggestions on how to prepare for the threat of wildfire prepared by the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District, the Poway Fire Department, and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (after all, October is Wild Fire Awareness Month):

 How to Prepare Your Home

  • Keep gutters, roofs and eaves free of any dead branches, leaves, pine needles or other debris.
  • Create 100 feet of defensible space surrounding your home. Plant fire-resistive trees and plants around the first 50 feet of the structure.
  • Keep all branches and any native vegetation at least 10 feet from rooftops, chimneys and outdoor barbecues.
  • Firewood should be kept at least 30 feet from any structure.
  • Thin out overgrown vegetation by at least 50 percent and all dead plant material should be removed.

 How to Prepare Your Family

  • Prepare an evacuation checklist. In the event of an evacuation, what items would you need to take? Consider medications, important paperwork, cash, contact phone numbers, precious keepsakes, photos and any jewelry or other valuables.
  • Have a family plan. If you have to evacuate and members of the family are not at home, where is the family to meet?
  • Keep a full tank of gas for your vehicle.
  • Have cash on hand.
  • Listen to local radio reports on where to find shelter for yourself and your pets.
  • Pack a first aid kit.
  • Keep enough food and water for three days per person.
  • Remember your pets. Bring their food, water, medication and supplies

 How to Prepare for Your Safety

  • Wild fires are unpredictable. They can jump two homes or five homes. A wild fire can travel blocks at a time.
  • Do not wait until the last minute to evacuate.
  • Follow instructions given by your local police and fire department.
  • Have an alternative route planned in the event your plan is impassable.
  • If you are caught in a firestorm, do not panic; find a swimming pool or body of water and remain.