I returned to the Altadena Mines for the third time today. With me were Erika, Patrick and Anne Marie. We visited two mines, I explored the smaller claustrophobia-inducing one further this time, and we were making good time traversing the steep climb to the third cave. We stood at the summit taking a small break before entering the last mine shaft. Erika smelled smoke. Then, I heard crackling. Patrick pointed out a patch of smoke. Ahead, across the thin ravine, dancing up a hillside was a growing flame. It was moving quickly and growing steadily. Adjacent was the path we had taken into the gorge.
There was no time to waste. The route to the third mine is roughly thirty minutes of climbing rock faces ranging between five and fifteen feet, a few mildly precarious. The climb is dry, dusty, and littered with pebbles intent on tripping anyone not paying special attention to their footing. We launched down the mountainside. Sliding, jumping, slipping, occasionally climbing. We moved as quickly as possible without risking plummeting over an edge. As quickly as we moved down the mountain, the fire doubled moving up the opposing hillside. Erika and I slid into the gorge. Across from us, Patrick was waving us toward a somewhat slippery and dusty steep slope that would bring us to the exit path much sooner. Anne Marie was nearly at the top and smoke was beginning to roll in.
We jogged down the path towards the park entrance. Firefighters with hoses and fire trucks passing us along the way. The top of the nearby hill was already black and burned through. At one point, flames flickered along the edge of the trail. A helicopter passed overhead. We approached the street, a news van parked along the curb, spectators gathered outside their homes and near their vehicles staring into the distance. We were filthy, bruised, scraped, but we were not on fire.
I wonder what would have been the turn of events had we made it to the cave five minutes sooner. How strong would the blaze have been when we exited? Some hikers were air-lifted to safety. We were lucky enough to see the fire start and escape before it got too large. We were also lucky the weather wasn’t against us.
Al-Insan asked us not to do anything new and exciting without him. I hope he’s not too upset.
News Report by ABC