For a while class continued, but not for long. By two o'clock everyone was panicking and classes were dismissed. Hundreds of kids ran around looking for answers to their questions, but nobody knew anything for sure. The Elementary and Junior High Schools were evacuated to the football field. Georgia and her best friend Angie, searched for Angie's little siser for over an hour, through the sea of hysterical parents and screaming children until they found out she'd already been picked up. It was now three thirty and the fire was quickly moving closer and closer.
Georgia called home to see if I was there, than called her dad to come get her. By four o'clock Gene, still hadn't shown up and she was getting very nervous. Most everyone had been picked up by their parents and those who hadn't, were being evacuated to Laguna Hills High School. She waited in front of Laguna Beach High School with Angie, but with every passing minute her anxiety increased. The sky was red and black, and the smell of smoke filled the air like a dirty fire place fills a room.
Gene rushed to Laguna, only to find road blocks as the highway patrol turned incoming traffic around. When he finally got to the front of the slow moving line he told the police he was picking up his daughter up from school. He was asked to show his drivers license for proof of residency, but explained he'd just gotten divorced.
"Look," he said, "My ex-wife and daughter, live up on the hill that's on fire. My ex-wife isn't home, and I got an emergency call from daughter."
They realized he wasn't a spectator, and waved him through. About four thirty, Georgia saw his truck pull into view, and finally felt safe. Gene got out of the truck and hugged her and Angie, but before going home to check on our house, he took Angie to her parents. Angie was hysterical because she'd not been home to save her things. Georgia comforted her, saying, "everything will be fine." Never imagining there might be something for her to worry about. After dropping Angie off, she asked her dad, if they could stop by the house, just to check on everything and make sure it was Okay. He looked at her like she was crazy, but said, of course.
Their eyes were burning, like when you sit too near a camp fire and Georgia began to panic. She couldn't think, she didn't know where to begin. At that moment, Gene said, "Okay, what do we always pack first when we go on a trip.....underwear!" So, she dumped her entire underwear drawer in a bag. She didn't have time to pack for a trip, so she grabbed as much as she could..... pictures off the wall, jewelry, yearbooks, her favorite stuffed animal, and of course, more underwear. Next, she tried to save everything of mine. She packed my entire underwear drawer first. She said, It felt like a game show, where you only have thirty seconds to fill their cart with as much stuff as possible.
After about ten minutes of frenzy, they both noticed the fire through the open bathroom window, facing the hill. Georgia said she wanted to call her Grampa, in Palm Springs and ask him where I was. She dialed the phone and my dad immediately answered.
"Grampa," she cried, "our house is on fire and I don't know where mom is."
"I don't either, honey," he said, "but don't worry, I'm sure she's okay, you just get out of there as fast as you can, and go with your dad."
My dad, was so touched by Georgia's tear filled call and so worried about me, that when he got off the phone, he turned to my brother Preston, and said,
"Press, right this minute, nothing in the world means anything to me, but knowing Sharrie, and Georgia are safe."
the fire had now taken over the entire hill and was Bee- lining straight for our house. It looked like an enormous red tidal wave enveloping everything in its path. Georgia stopped at the front door. She saw the family pictures and manuscripts for my Maybelline book. Gene tried to pull her out the door, but she fell to the floor unable to speak a full sentence.
Again, Gene tried to pull her up and get her to the car, but she resisted, pointing to my boxes of files, mumbling, "Mommy's work, Mommy's work."
Gene told her they had to get out fast, but she refused to leave, until he picked up a few boxes and screamed,
"okay, move! let's go!"
Gene headed to the car with boxes under one arm and Georgia under the other. As they made their way to the truck, Ginger, the cat ran up the stairs. Georgia tired to catch her, but she was so scared she turned and ran up the hill towards the fire.....Georgia couldn't stop her and Gene couldn't wait.
Gene finally got Georgia into the truck, just as sparks flew onto the roof tops of other houses in the neighborhood. He paused for one final look at the house we'd lived in since Georgia was a baby. It was a peaceful moment in the midst of the chaos, lasting only about ten seconds before our roof caught the blaze and they had to go. As they drove away from the only home Georgia had ever known, they saw our neighbors, Mark and Barbara stoically packing Barbara's new Jeep..... They all looked at each other with blank expressions and waved good-bye.
By five O'clock, a 90 foot wall of flame consumed our house, causing it to explode then burn to the ground. Georgia and Gene watched the horror from the High School. Georgia fell to her knees and cried
as she clung to her daddy's legs.
"My house is burning," she said with tears streaming down her cheeks, but people were too speechless to reply. Finally the police forced everyone to leave, fearing the High School, might be next, followed by the whole town..... down to the ocean. The fire department gave up trying to save any houses on the hill. The blaze had become a firestorm, they were under-staffed and all the fire trucks were in Emerald Bay and other parts of the County.
They finally decided.....
Part two of Channel 5 news coverage.