Time to fire up the Alfa
1967 ALFA ROMEO GIULIA SALOON
OWNER: EVAN KLEIN
IT’S 5:43AM. The pounding on the front door is so loud I think the police are about to break through. Leaping from my bed, I shout ‘What?’ ‘It’s Don, your neighbour… FIRE!’
It’s still dark outside but the hill across the street is filled with orange flames. The neighbours start gathering; I grab my camera and we watch the flames. What do we do?
Fortunately, the winds are blowing towards the ocean, keeping the flames from moving towards us. One person says they won’t start dropping water with helicopters until sunrise. That’s at 6:48. I run inside and turn on the TV; the other side of the hill is in full flame and they’ve closed the freeway. While my wife starts packing things and throwing them in her car, I grab jeans, shirts and camera stuff and throw it all in the trunk of the Giulia.
Back outside, we try to assess how quickly the fire is moving and how much time we have. This is Bel Air… surely they’re not going to let it burn! Where are the fire trucks?
The flames are getting very close to the houses now, and as the sun rises the fire trucks start making their way down our street. Our house shakes as helicopters fly over, but why aren’t they dropping water? My wife says: ‘I’m going to work; let me know what happens.’ I hop in the Giulia and head to the end of the street.
There are giant plumes of smoke, the flames on the hill are much bigger, and now I can feel the sense of urgency as the helicopters constantly pull water from a local reservoir and unload it at the fire’s leading edge. Four large tanker planes are also dropping retardant to contain it from spreading, while 500 firemen are clearing brush ahead of the fire.
Police start evacuating the neighbourhood. I ask to stay; they take my name, address and phone number, and comment on how cool they think the Giulia is. They just want to make sure I’m OK.
It’s amazing how coordinated the effort is. A single aircraft flies in circles at a higher altitude to give directions, so that planes and helicopters don’t collide. Firemen are given instructions and positioned. Meanwhile, homes in the valley are burning.
At 4:30 the winds shift. The last home on our street has flames feet from its structure. The police are given the order for full evacuation and the fire department says we have less than 30 minutes. I grab the dog and sit her on the Alfa’s front seat. As I run to the driver’s seat, memories of cracked radiators, bad distributors and faulty alternators fill my head. I stare at the ignition key. Please, dear Alfa, all I ask is that you start. I put the key in, pump the pedal, and with a twist she starts. I look at the dog, she looks at me, and we’re off.
I drive between the 15 police cars stationed at the end of our street and head to another hill to watch the fire. When it gets dark, I drive back to my street, and the police recognise my car. I keep it running. As I talk with the officers, they tell me that windblown embers are now their biggest concern, because they can start fires again randomly. I feel relieved that we live next to a fire hydrant.
Next day, after spending the night with friends, I return. I feel proud: the Giulia hasn’t let me down, and at one point I come outside to see a group of firemen taking pictures of it. You don’t realise what’s important until you’re forced to decide. If this happened again, would I do anything different? Not at all. I’m just glad I only have one Alfa – otherwise I’d have to make a choice.
Clockwise from facing page, top This was the view from the end of Evan’s street; Alfa about to become a getaway car; aircraft and helicopters fight the fire.