tv Dateline Extra MSNBC November 19, 2016 4:00pm-5:01pm PST
it's a presence. you can sense it. it has an energy all to its own. it felt like a beast. suddenly i was in terrible danger. >> the winds were just howling. >> the sky turn brown, the sun was blood red. it was as if the world were coming to an end. >> everywhere you looked was on fire. houses on fire, trees on fire. i was transported into a war
zone. this can't be real. >> i just lost it. i was hysterical crying. >> i hear my dad screaming "it's here. run." >> it was right on top of us. this beast was everywhere. it was all around us. >> you got to push through. you do not stop. >> i said please send somebody. and she said there's nobody to send. >> i survived. >> i survived. >> i survived. >> i survived. >> i survived. >> i survived california's largest wildfire. welcome to "dateline extra," i'm tamron hall. california is no stranger to wildfires, but the fire in october of 2003 was the biggest in the state's history. survivors said it was so ferocious that it seemed alive. the flames were so powerful they burned for more than a month and so fast they would tear through roughly three football fields
per second. the wildfires were unlike anything anyone had ever seen. some people trapped in the fire's path were forced to flee and didn't make it out alive. we have their powerful stories in their own words, people who left everything behind and ran for their lives. it all began in one of the most beautiful places on earth. here's "the great california fire." >> it was, um, perfect. it was our dream home. >> it's exactly what you want if you want to be away from a city. >> it's just so peaceful and so calming and just to me it's heaven on earth. >> the mountains are gorgeous. it's the valley of the sun. >> i grew up in ramona. and i always loved just the
people and the area. ramona is 30 miles east of san diego in the foot hills of the quiamaka mountains. >> i'm a huge fan of rescuing animals. my favorite is my clydesdale that we rescued at 3 months old from canada. she's my favorite. she's very special. i raised her from nothing. we have two dogs that we rescued and a couple of cats and the two pot belly pigs are rescues because people got them and then decided they didn't want them anymore. >> i got the pig from a friend of mine who needed to find a home. i gave it to her and because that pig was lonely, i had to get her another pig. so i got her two pigs. unfortunately it wasn't a great idea. that's not the way to a woman's heart, i guess.
so -- >> i'm just not a pig person i guess. >> we lived in a community of valley center, which is northeast of san diego, probably about 50 miles. >> john and i actually decided to move to valley center when our children were small because we wanted them to have a more rural environment to grow up in. in 2003 ashley was 16, allison was 20 and jason was 22. jason was always the one that was looking out and making sure that everything was okay. he was a complete boy scout. >> you know, i really tried to stay away from doing a lot of dumb things. i tried to be the more cautious of my family. >> alison is the middle child. she was our risk taker. she wouldn't test the water before jumping in.
she'd just jump in. ashley absolutely loved irish dance. it just -- it was a part of her soul. and she just absolutely glowed when she was dancing. >> october 25th, 2003 my youngest sister, ashley's home coming dance, her first, she was glowing and excited about going to the dance. >> she picked out this really beautiful sleeveless red satin gown. she just looked so beautiful. she just looked like the perfect little lady. >> and grown up. >> and very grown up. >> and we're thinking, gosh, you know, time is passing so fast and she's growing so quickly. so you just really want to slow things down and just cherish every moment. >> saturday it started out as a typical day for us. we have ali, our 18-month-old daughter. we did projects around the ranch and just took it easy saturday,
family day. >> it was a nice relaxing day, but at the same time it was dry and hot so we, you know, we also stayed close to the ranch when it was dry and hot. >> i work as a helicopter pilot for the sheriff's office. >> proceed north downwind. >> we received a call of a missing hunter in the cleveland national forest, east of ramona. dispatch called us as we were en route to the missing hunter. >> the winds were blowing probably 30 miles an hour at that time. >> and said now there was a call of smoke coming from the same vicinity of our missing hunter. we realized as we got closer there's a fire on top of this hill. >> i went down to feed at around
5:20 in the evening, which is before dusk because that's when the animals want their dinner. and that's when i saw the smoke. it was a clear blue sky. and out beyond us over the mountains, it looked look somebody had taken a pencil and drawn a single wisp y line. it was just one single little plume in the sky. and that was the start of it. >> what started as a puff of smoke turned into a monster, but those in its path had no idea their lives were about to change forever. coming up -- >> i just remember the smoke alarm going off. >> he was just yelling "i smell smoke." >> concerned began to spread that the flames are spreading faster. >> the ash, it almost looks like snow. you know the fire's coming toward you. >> i said this is going to be
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welcome back to "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. in between california's back country saw one of its most frightening disasters in history. it started late in the evening when flames started rising above a rural area in san diego county. but this wasn't the first time a wildfire had spread through these mountains so this close-knit community didn't realize this one was unlike anything they'd seen before. we return to "the great california fire." >> station 73 is situated just a few hundred yards away from our front door.
the relationship between the fire department and our family started when ashley introduced herse herself. so she calls from the fire station one afternoon and she said, so, mom, what are we having for dinner? i said, well, i'm fixing bean and ham soup. and i ended up with a dining room full of firefighters trying to stretch my dinner, which it worked. >> and we ended up inviting them down for thanksgiving, for christmas, for new years. >> we had a halloween party, we had the firefighters came down. >> everyone was busying around. it was also busy because ashley, our youngest, was getting ready to go to her homecoming dance. so it was an exciting and very busy day. >> we had just entered a new chapter in our lives.
our daughters were off the college and we wanted a change. >> so in may of 2003 we moved into the canyon and were very naive, i think, about the potential for fires in that area. >> we actually had gone to a halloween party for our dog club. >> we took tara to the party and we took charter to the party. >> we had a blast. we had so much fun. dogs with fairy wings and dogs dressed as bumble bees. we got home from there about 10:00 at night, and i fell asleep on the couch in the family room. bob came rushing down the stairs and he was just yelling "i smell smoke." i'd never smelled it this strongly before. >> we live in the town of
lakeside. the particular town where we lived was called barona. it's extremely rural. where we live our closest neighbor is probably a half mile to a mile away. it just a wonderful place to raise girls. >> in 2003 i was 13 and my sister was 11. >> i just remember the smoke alarm going off and getting up. >> so i go to my parents' room and ask my mom what's going on. >> i decided i would call the sheriff's department. the sheriffs told me that the fire was ten miles away. at the time the winds were not bad, they didn't think it was really going to spread so for us just to go back to bed and things would be fine. >> thomas was always trying to get me to relax during fires because i would just hit the
panic button every time. i grew up in the city, had no experience with fires when i moved to ramona in 1990. >> i had evacuated numerous times growing up. you know, you just -- there's a fire, you evacuate. >> i said to myself, well, it's still light enough, i'm sure the planes will come but i'm going to go call 911 anyway because i'm paranoid about fires. >> the evening the fire started i had just got i don't knten ho pager went off. so i immediately said good-bye to everybody and loaded back up. i got about ten minutes from the house when i looked up from the first time from 67 and was able to see the fire very briefly. but was able to see that we did have an active burning fire. >> i went and got the scanner that we had. we had a fire police scanner because of incidents like this so we could keep track of what
was going on. >> just for information, this is a confirmed fire, approximately 20 acres mid slope. >> and i was listening to them watching it get darker and darker, realizing the planes were not going to come. >> do we have any way to get any aircraft down here? is there any available? >> division three, that's negative for aircraft. it's after cutoff. >> they had a very difficult time finding an access point to get to the fire. >> the fire still looks to be approximately 20, 25 acres. it's very difficult to access. we're still trying to look at some options to get in on this things but it's going to be a while. i'm not sure if we'll be able to get folks in tonight or not. >> the road structures were narrow, little nasty. a fire engine could barely get down them and a fire bus and
everything that's needed to get in there. it was a really bad scenario where that fire was. you could say it was the perfect storm. >> they were calling in crews from far away, northern california, other states. i knew that response was going to take a long time. >> hot shots are en route to your fire. >> thanks. >> so i tried to act as normal as possible because my daughter needed me to. i put her to bed at around 7:00 and i went upstairs to sit on the roof where i could get a really good view of it. the glow got bigger and started to spread from north to south. and it was around 10:00, the dispatch lady said, i'll never forget this, she said, "the marlins won the world series and santa ana winds are expected to reach 60 to 80 miles an hour tonight starting at midnight.
flame driven santa ana fire is the most deadly kind fire that we have in southern california because the combination of dryness and the wind speed means the fire can travel at 60 to 80 miles an hour, the head of the fire. and i knew at that point that it was going to be really bad. and i said to thomas, who at that point had joined me up on the roof, this is going to be bad, isn't it? and he said, yes, it is. >> it was moving faster than we thought it was. what the fire was doing is it was spotting. when i say that it means that you have a flame front and then out in front you have a different fire starting because embers are getting thrown out, you know, a half a mile, mile ahead. so new fires are starting. >> i had all these things going on in my head. what are we going to do with the baby, with all the animals? i had to make the right decisions because you know, making the wrong decision gets people killed.
>> when he said i need to video our contents for the insurance company, i need to grab the camera and quickly take video, that's when i knew how worried he really was. >> i'm going to get the fire pump out and leave it. >> at one point i decided to call my friend bob. i said, bob, there's a fire, you need to be aware of it but it's coming at us. can you come over and help us prepare? my mom's was a safe place to go. the fire was to our east. so there's no way the fire's going to get to my mom's, who is to the west. yeah, that's the way the fire is going but it's ten miles away. the thing we start noticing is the ash. it almost looks like snow. when the ash starts falling on you, then up knyou know the fir coming towards you. and then it's just like oh [ bleep ], that's the fire. i mean, that is like step up your game. you got to get going. >> with no fire fighting help
available from the sky and 60 to 80 mile-an-hour winds, the potential for disaster was brewing, and the chance for not just one fire but multiple fires was increasing by the second. coming up -- >> it sounded like the roar of a freight train. it felt like a beast. this beast was everywhere. i said, please, please send somebody. and she said there's nobody to seasoned. >> when "dateline extra" continues. ♪ ♪ ♪ how else do you think he gets around so fast? take the reins this holiday and get the mercedes-benz you've always wanted during the winter event. now lease the 2017 gla250 for $329 a month at your local mercedes-benz dealer. when it'sit's time fory train... training underwear!
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[dad] alright, buddy, don't forget anything! [kid] i won't, dad... [captain rod] happy tuesday morning! captain rod here. it's pretty hairy out on the interstate.traffic is literally crawling, but there is some movement on the eastside overpass. getting word of another collision. [burke] it happened. december 14th, 2015. and we covered it. talk to farmers. we know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two. ♪ we are farmers. bum-pa-dum, bum-bum-bum-bum ♪ welcome back to "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. it started at one wildfire burning true the forest of southern california, but the dry conditions and high winds caused other blazes to spread. in all, 14 fires raged through
southern california between october 21st and november 4th of 2003, with flames stretching from the u.s./mexico border all the way up north to santa barbara county. here again is "the great california fire." >> there's a fire in the sycamore canyon area, and we have the big fire in ramona lakeside. >> oh, my god, there's three? >> the fire's may going a significant increase in spread now. we're probably less than an hour before we'll start feeling some heat over here. >> we were aware that the cedar fire had erupted probably 25 miles away from our house so we weren't really concerned about it. >> when we really started getting concerned is when alison called us, she was taking a friend home, and said the reservation was on fire.
>> we could see the fire was a couple miles north, so not heading towards our house. >> i said we would be fine. we'd just leave if we will to be evacuated. >> we'd been warned by the firefighter, if you get the evacuation notice, you need to get out quickly. i took the photo albums out, put them in the truck. some of our paperwork, put that in the truck and we hooked up the suv to our tent trailer and pointed all the cars down the hill in case we had to get out quickly. so our plan was to all get in separate vehicles and take all our vehicles off of the property. >> it was about 1:00 in the morning. alison and ashley at that point were asleep. and we went into the girls' bedrooms and we did have them get dressed and sleep in their clothes just in case. >> so i asked jason can you please take the first watch and, you know, periodically every 15 minutes, 30 minutes go outside, check the fire. >> it looked like at that time
that the fire was moving through the north end of valley center heading west and it looked like that's where the largest glow was. at 3 a.m. i go around and tell my parents that it looked like the fire had moved into the center of valley center, away from us, and that i was heading off to go and catch some rest. >> at that point i laid back down and thought we were in good shape and i went down to sleep myself. >> just heads up the fire has picked up quite a bit. >> i opened our bedroom door and the smell of smoke was pretty overwhelming. we tried to find information about the fire. we went online, we went to the news site. >> and then i was able to talk with a person at the barona fire station just two miles up the canyon from us, and he said, well, you're safe where you are because it's in ramona. so i sat there on a chair by our window and thought god help the people in ramona.
>> horses are really good at, you know, feeling what their owners, their riders are feeling. so they know we're nervous. so they're starting to get nervous. they're starting to get jumpy and they're starting to get dangerous. they're a thousand, 1,100 pounds of muscle and they're starting to jump around a little. >> when i heard that the fire was going to start moving at 60 miles an hour, i knew it was time to get the horses out of here. so i came down to open the tramtram -- trailer. the first horse loaded no problem. then it was time to load fia and she didn't want to go out. she'd would put one foot back in and back out. i tried cookies, i tried grain and i was pleading with her, you
have to get back into this trailer, you have to get back into this trailer and i had to make a choice and i said to thomas turn them loose, turn them look, it's the only chance they have. >> you would think mother nature had a watch because right at midnight it hit and it hit hard. just the fire exploded. that's when i could hear it. it sounded like the roar of a freight train. i looked up past the trailer to look at the mountains and where it had just been an orange glow, i could see flame. >> it was literally a fire storm. so we're bracing ourselves against the wind, we're hearing the roar, yelling to each other what to do. >> it felt like a beast. this beast was everywhere. it was all around us. it had a sense of purpose and the purpose was to go west at 60
miles an hour and eat everything in its path. at that point honestly i stopped thinking. my vision got very narrow. all i could think was get ali out of there. get her out. >> the baby is the most important. so get ali out of here. i'm going to stay with the house as long as i can, try to take care of the horses, keep them calm, keep letting everything down and, you know, it will be okay, it will be okay. >> so i ran inside the house, i picked her up as gently as possible, she was asleep and i loaded her in the car. at that point i already had five cats loaded up in the back seat of the car, i got the dogs in the trunk and i called 911 before i left the house. it was a last-ditch effort. i said, please, my husband is staying behind. please, send somebody. send an engine. the fire's really close, i'm leaving with my daughter, please
send somebody. and she said "there's nobody to send." >> jackie lloyd and her baby were leaving but was where they were heading any better? this was a fire storm and the whole community was in peril. >> coming up -- >> we have a mandatory evacuation. you need to leave your homes at this time. >> we told our commander, we can't fly anymore. it's too dangerous. >> up in the air. >> we thought we were going to crash. >> on the ground. >> it looked like the entire world was on fire. >> danger everywhere. >> i just tell her "run." >> when "dateline extra" continues. coming up on "look! famous people!" we catch flo, the progressive girl, at the supermarket buying cheese. scandal alert! flo likes dairy?! woman: busted! [ laughter ] right afterwards we caught her
riding shotgun with a mystery man. oh, yeah! [ indistinct shouting ] is this your chauffeur? what?! no, i was just showing him how easy it is to save with snapshot from progressive. you just plug it in and it gives you a rate based on your driving. does she have insurance for being boring? [ light laughter ] laugh bigger. [ laughter ]
tomorrow, chris harper mercer, who was recently removed as head of trump's transition team and billionaire wilbur ross, a contender for commerce secretary. now back to "dateline extra." welcome back to "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. only hours after the calls came into san diego county 911, the scene had completely changed. the firefighters said they had never seen or heard of a fire that moved this quickly across this much land. they felt they were looking at a wildfire they couldn't tame. so the decision was made to move resources from a fire fighting mission to a rescue and alert mission. we continue with "the great california fire."
>> the fire was now several miles wide and it created this black smoke going down with it. and it was from the ground level up to self thousand feet. we started doing public address announcements with our speaker for people to evacuate. >> this is the sheriff's department. we have a mandatory evacuation. you need to leave your homes at this time. >> we'd try to get into the smoke and we would get smoke across the windshield, the visibility would go to almost nothing. >> you need to leave your homes. you're in immediate danger. >> we'd get frightened, let's get the heck out of here. it got so bumpy during the evening that we were actually hitting our helmets together and on the side of the aircraft. when it became so turbulent we decided to go back to the base because we felt like we were going to crash. in the back of my mind i said those areas that we weren't able
to get into because of smoke and the poor visibility, i hope these people wake up when it gets smokey. we're talking, though, after midnight. most people are asleep. >> at 3:00 it turns out the phone rang. and being the light sleeper i am it woke me up, thank heavens. i went out to answer it, nobody was there. looked out the window, it looked to me like the entire world was on fire. i just saw flames that i would have sworn were 50 foot to 100 foot tall. at that point i yelled to lonnie, melanie and lindy, i said get up, we're out of here, there's a fire. >> there was something in her voice that i knew that i needed to do exactly that. >> she comes in, she wakes us all up, get up, get up, get your
stuff, get your books, get out to the trucks, we have to go. i said take your pillow out of your pillow case and fill it up a with whatever it is you want to take with you in case the worst happens. i had a back pack and i had all our home memories in one spot for a moment like this. >> i remember when we were going out to the car our neighbor being hysterical. she was screaming and crying and that scared me more because she was another adult who was also hysterical and panicking. so that meant this really is serious and i need to be scared, too. my dad was honking the horn and i could see the fire. >> this thing's already all the way around us. it's heading for barona mesa. >> i told our command we can't
fly because it's too dangerous. no soon are do we set down than they're calling for us, they want us back out there. we told them we couldn't go out. i said i have an idea. i used to work the control station down the road. let's grab a car. i know that beat. i know where all the residences are. and i put some dents in some people's front doors with my flashlight trying to wake them up. i remember one particular gentleman saying "there's no fire." i said take a look. he stepped outside and used some cuss word and everybody started waking up and then we were out of there to the next house. everywhere you looked was on fire. the hills, the ridges, houses. the field in front of us. oak trees. everything was on fire. >> this thing is moving fast. you need to move with it. >> i woke to the smell of smoke.
>> within five minutes it went to complete black where we couldn't see, heat, fire. >> the next thing i hear is john screaming, you know, get out now! >> as we were getting ready to leave, i came out and reached for the front door, opened the front door and was immediately hit with a blast of hot air and embers and fire all over the carpeting in front of me. in a panicky just turned, yelled in the house "everybody get out now." the front porch on the edge was on fire. >> i hear my dad from the middle area of our house just screaming "it's here, run!" and i look out the door of my bedroom and i have a clear shot down to the other end of the house and there's embers flying into the house. >> ashley has her dresses in her
arms, including the dress that she had worn the night before and she opened the door, she goes out, the door kind of like sucks closed behind her. >> the fire station was probably about 150 yard total from our front door to the station itself. you know that that's where there's some chance of safety. >> i start running and there's everybody who's there is scrambling for cars. >> i started to try and open the door to the truck to just climb in and i can't even get the door open because the wind is blowing so hard. >> the sound was like a jet engine. like if i was three feet away from you screaming, you couldn't hear me screaming at you. it was just that loud. >> i can see alison standing and i can just barely make out, she
says "i can't find my keys." at that point i just tell her forget your keys, run. i'm thinking she's going to run either to us or to jason. and then right after she takes what just seems like a few steps, this incredible ball of fire goes past followed by smoke. and that i know is when my first set of shock really set in because i was processing i think that she's dead. right there in front of me. >> lori watched flames rise up and surround her daughter, but she didn't know even more danger was ahead for her entire family and the other residents trapped in the great california wildfire were also facing overwhelming odds. coming up -- >> there were embers swirling. >> this huge, massive fire was closing in on us. >> barely a step ahead of the
flames and on one option. >> we can hear the sound of the truck. the metal's popping. i know i was screaming at john to get us out, get us out. >> i gunned the engine. the only way out was to drive through that flame. >> when "dateline extra" continues. ♪ ♪ is it a force of nature? or a sales event? the season of audi sales event is here. audi will cover your first month's lease payment on select models during the season of audi sales event. (bing)
♪ ♪ when you find something worth waiting for, we'll help you invest to protect it for the future. financial guidance while you're mastering life. from chase, so you can. but my back pain was making it hard to sleep and open up on time. then i found aleve pm. the only one to combine a sleep aid plus the 12 hour pain relieving strength of aleve. now i'm back. aleve pm for a better am. every day starts better with a healthy smile. start yours with philips sonicare, the no.1 choice of dentists. compared to oral-b 7000,
philips sonicare flexcare platinum removes significantly more plaque. this is the sound of sonic technology cleaning deep between teeth. hear the difference? get healthier gums in just 2 weeks vs a manual toothbrush and experience an amazing feel of clean. innovation and you. philips sonicare. save now when you buy philips sonicare. welcome back to "dateline extra." i'm tamron hall. families were running for their lives as the biggest wildfire california had ever seen came tearing towards them. it was almost impossible to grasp the enormity of the towering walls of flame that stretched for miles, roaring like a jet engine and moving at
inconceivable speeds. cal fire san diego deputy fire chief kelly zombro had never seen a fire grow so big so fast. he poured everything he had into saving lives. we return to "the great california fire." >> the orders i gave to each of them as they went in, i want them to fight the fire aggressively, continue to protect lives, property are the priority and do not base any actions on any support because i can give you nothing. you are on your own. if i had had a hundred fire engines that night and lined them up in front of that fire it, would have blown right over the top of a hundred fire engines. it would not have stopped that fire. there was no stopping that fire. there was nobody that ever fought a fire that was still working that had ever seen anything like that before. it just took it off the charts.
i had no idea. it absolutely took it -- it overwhelmed me in every way and the system. i knew there's no way we're going to get to everybody. one of the hardest things is i knew people were going to die that night. >> we had hoses going on the roof, we were wetting things down. it's kind of like pissing in the wind. you got this little hose and you got this fire that you can't even see the top of. the roar from the fire is just deafening. you're yelling "let's springle that down, sprinkle this tree down and get water over here." and then suddenly there's this weird -- i want to say there was a sound but there's no sound. all the lights from all the neighbors, everything just went dark. everything shut off. and so with us on wells, we had no water pressure.
it just died. you know, the wind actually got like knocked out of me. there was nothing else i could do. so that's when i yelled to my friend, bob, i said let's go. we got to get out. around 3:00 i woke up and i looked out the window that is right beside our bed. >> i saw him standing in front of the window, and the window was just awash in this yellow light. >> i could see across the canyon was evidence of how fast it had covered the 15 miles between us and ramona. >> to put us in perspective, my wife called me to tell me we were being evacuated at home. i asked her from what. she said the fire in ramona. i said i'm on that fire. she says i know. i couldn't believe i live 30 miles from the fire. i couldn't believe that my own
home and i'm in charge of the operations of this whole fire and that's how i found out that my neighborhood was threatened. >> i went back out to look out the window again and this time not only did i see this huge swath of flames, but i saw this glow on our side of the canyon, and that's when i knew we were looking at this huge, massive fire that was closing in on us. i said to bob you get your negatives because he's a photographer, i'll take care of the dogs. i started slamming collars over dog heads and didn't realize until later that i'd put both collars on one dog. >> i went downstairs to get chelsea, the bird. as i was getting chelsea, i could see very clearly that the fire was already at the house. i had opened up the garage door and went on out, put chelsea in
the trunk, the cage didn't quite fit in the trunk but i closed the lid hard enough that it fit. >> just as i got to the garage door was when the lights went out. and i could hear a cracking noise like a lightning strike. at this time bob was yelling from inside the house, "i can't find my car keys." i said we'll just take my car. >> there were embers swirling, there were small dust devils of not dust and trash but embers and flame. >> when alison turned and ran away from us and i saw the flame and the smoke come behind her is when i first went into a state of shock. it was very confusing. everything was -- just felt off. it wasn't flowing. >> i had to leave so everybody else could get out because i'm
blocking everyone. lori and i are in my truck. we start heading down the driveway slowly looking for alison. >> where's alison? we can't find her. and we're driving and we're looking and we're trying to figure out and we figured maybe we missed and she got in the car with jason? we didn't -- it didn't make any sense. so she couldn't have been in front of us. we haven't driven past her. there's a fence. she couldn't have gone through the fence. the fence was on fire. so it just didn't -- it didn't process as to where she could have possibly gone. >> i can't see anybody behind me. i'm hoping they're following me out but i can't see because of the smoke. i can't see too far in front of me. we make it down and up to the gate, the gate has trouble
opening. it finally does open and then we start moving out, hopefully with everybody following us out, which was our plan with everybody following us out single file. >> ashley gets into the driveway is hered for us to leave. as i was coming down the zrif way, the fire was doing two things, it was laying flat across the dive way so you could barely see the asphalt. so it looked like you were driving through literally a tunnel of fire. >> right outside our gate was a barn, it was completely engulfed in flame and the flame now with the fire blow iing that flame w
blowing our direction right across our escape route. i gunned the engine and went through the flame. and right after that, the truck stalled. >> and all that i can see is fire, all the way around the truck won't start. >> i tried maybe four or five times to get it to restart. >> we could hear the sound of the truck bending. the metal's popping. and i know i was screaming at john to get us out, get us out. >> it finally started again, i could. see anybody behind us. >> i'm looking for allison. where? is she standing? has she fallen? where's alicaliceson? >> as i get down to the bottom of our driveway, i see a shape coming up out of the driveway,
and it turns out that it's my sister allison. and i remember seeing her smoke, like she had just come out of a shower steaming. she looked like that, but smoking. >> jason roach found his sister, but what kind of shape was she in? the fire was threatening the whole family and they were in more trouble than they knew. and so many other people trapped in the wildfire were also left with life-or-death decisions. coming up -- >> i said where is the fire? >> sisters with just seconds to survive. >> once we hit that wall of flames, realty set in. >> she was panicking. >> i just lost it. i said i don't want to die. i'm too young to die. come on, wake up!!! come on, why ya sleepin'? come on! what time is it? it's go time. come on. let's go, let's go, let's go. woooo hoooo!! yeah!!
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welcome back to "dateline extra." the fire consuming san diego county -- residents had almost no notice and faced near impossible conditions. how do you get out when all you can see is smoke and flames? familiar roads were hit by walls of fire. and for many, like the balante family. the only escape they saw was to drive through it. >> after we all get in the truck, my dad starts backing down the driveway, and we head down to wildcat canyon because that's where civilization is. and i look down and i fully see the fire within 25 feet of us and the road.
and that's when i panicked and i said where are all the firemen? and to look outside, and to see no fryer men, no fire trucks, nothing was terrifying. >> we came from this 30-foot wall of flames, the flame seemed like it was allow. i would describe it as a fire breathing dragon made out of fire. our only way out was cut off from us. >> once we hit that wall of flails, realty set in, we're going to die. i just lost it. i said i don't want to die, i'm too young to die, and i was hysterical, crying. >> it was really heart breaking, it's something you never want to hear your child say, i don't want to die and knowing that
there's a real possibility that it's going to happen. >> she was panicking, i'm her big sister and i needed to take care of her. i said, look, lindsey, we're going to play, i said god, you promised, you would never let us down. >> she's calming me down, he's praying, and it's kind of working. >> to hear my older daughter say something like this because she was 13 years old and speaking to her sister and calming her down, it was really a beautiful thing, something i'll never forget. >> i had no idea what we would do at this point, because we were going in the same direction that the fire was going, and if we were to turn around, we were going to go right back into the fire. >> and so lonny stopped the
truck, i was like, what are we going to do? are we going to survive it? and at that point, i heard someone or something whisper into my ear, and i know it wasn't lonnie, i know it wasn't the girls, it was another being and what they said was, go to the pond. >> i turned left out of my driveway and got about, you know, 1,000 yards and it was coming up the road on both sides. and i couldn't see anything but flames. it was coming at us. it was meeting us, it wasn't stagnant going over the road. it was roaring up the road. i had more than one life in mind, i had my life and i had my friend bob's life. and again, i had to make another decision. do i go for it? and it was like a really split
decision. and it was just that quick. it was just step on the gas. for a second, it was a slowdown. oh, [ bleep ] and then go. the adrenaline was pumping so much that i wasn't really sensing anything other than the heart beating and the ringing in my ears. the smoke is so thick, that you don't really see anything but the smoke. so i go, i break through the smoke and suddenly there's flames. and then it's like crackling yellow rage, right, like all around and you're like, you know, you just kind of like fall into it. you just kind of keep on going, you have to, you have to push through, you do not stop.
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