A FORMER Malpas resident has spoken of her experiences of being 'prepared to evacuate' from her southern Californian home because of the ongoing forest fires.

Rachel Clibborn, 72, moved to the US in 1970 and now lives in San Diego, California in an area currently being ravaged by a large forest fire, along with two other states.

Rachel says she was told at one point to prepare to evacuate while the fire raged.

"Fire, and its effects have been part of my life, and my family's for a very long time," she said. "I grew up in Malpas, and moved to the States in 1970.

"When I was a kid Dad and I used to jump in the car when we heard the fire alarm go off in Malpas.

"Back then it was exciting to go with him to follow the fire engine which might have been going out on a haystack fire, or the like.

Some may remember my Dad, Phil Clibborn who used to own Clibborn and Company in Malpas, Cheshire. He sadly died in a house fire in 1993.

"This is often on my mind at this time of year, when we are heading into autumn."

Rachel says that autumn always leads to the possibility of forest fires, and heavy rains earlier in the year have increased the growth of vegetation, exacerbating the issue.

"Autumn is a very dry and dusty time for us in southern California," she added.

"It hasn't rained since the spring and we probably won't see any until the end of October.

"Last season we got a tremendous amount of rain which meant huge growth of vegetation in the back country.

"Historically this is when our fires start, now due to the climate crisis we are told fire season can be (all) year round."

Although the fires threatened to be as devastating as the 2007 fires, Rachel believes she has 'dodged a bullet', with the fire lowering in intensity.

"We are now under a fire watch from the Valley Fire in East County San Diego," added Rachel. "It looks like we might have dodged a bullet this time.

"We have been evacuated once, in the Witch Fire in 2007 but nothing since. We never know, as we live in a fire prone area, right on the edge of the rural area known as the back country.

"We were told by the fire chief that we had a sleeping giant in the back country ready to wake up and we had better prepare. We got an alert on the phone at 4am to prepare to evacuate.

"Well this particular giant is a lazy old thing, because he hasn't woken up at this point. The winds have been far less ferocious than anticipated.

"Even though 25 families have lost their homes and 17,665 acres have burned so far, the fire is now 32 per cent contained."

Rachel has credited the efforts of the 'hotshots' – firefighters specifically trained to deal with forest fires up close – in helping tackle the fires.

"These hotshots are the men and women who go right up to the fire to cut line," she added. "It is extremely dangerous work.

"Every year someone is lost by a dead tree falling or they can get overcome with smoke or fire.

"If they get overtaken by the fire their last resort is to jump into their fire shelters, which are like a foil bag you would put a turkey into the cook it.

"Being a hotshot is extremely dangerous, they have no breathing equipment.

"The US Forest Service wildland firefighters are not trained to put out house fires."

An added difficulty is Covid-19 with virus-related restrictions causing a shortage of potential firefighters.

"We are very short of firefighters this year as most of the eligible prison inmates who could come and fight the fires have been sent home from prison because of Covid," added Rachel.

"There is a shortage of equipment, too, because everything is on fire.

"The entire west coast is requesting help and equipment from as far away as Quebec.

"Right now because they are so short staffed, the firefighters are working two 24-hour shifts back to back, no days off.

"They get pulled off the line for rest periodically. You may have seen them zonked-out on a pavement or sitting up against a tree sound asleep."

Rachel has personal knowledge of what those who are currently fighting the Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest are going through.

"My grandson is currently on the Creek Fire in the Sierras," added Rachel. "This is a devastating inferno, which has been burning since September 4 and has burned 163,138 acres.

"As of this writing it is nought per cent contained.

"It will be weeks before it is under control and won't be out until the rains and snow come.

"He is reporting this fire is so intense that they are having trouble breathing and seeing.

"The fires make their eyes and lungs burn."

Despite personally being spared from the worst of the fires this time round, Rachel says this is the worst series of fires she has seen.

"In 50 years of living on the West Coast of San Diego I have never experienced anything like this," she added. "It seems like the west coast of this continent is on fire, from Alaska through Canada and down to Mexico."