Allyson Watson and her sister Ashleigh were trapped by the flames of the Paradise Fire 10 years ago this week. She spoke with NBC 7 about the moment deputies knocked on her family's door.
Ten years after a firestorm swept through San Diego County, a survivor remembers the moment deputies knocked on her family's door and urged them to evacuate immediately.
In three days in October 2003, three major fires burned in San Diego County killing 16 people and destroying 3,241 structures.
Combined, the Cedar Fire, Paradise Fire and Otay Fire burned more than 13-percent of the county’s land mass.
Many San Diegans will remember the injuries suffered by Allyson Roach, a young North County woman who lost her 16-year-old sister, Ashleigh when flames roared toward her family’s home.
Allyson, who goes by her married name Watson, is raising her 15-month old son Aidan who she describes as “the best thing that's happened to me in my entire life.”
She and her husband Chris live in Escondido and on October 26, she will be remembering the moment San Diego County sheriff’s deputies alerted her family to the devastating Paradise Fire that was marching through the foothills.
The fire started along Valley Center Road around 1:30 a.m.
“At 8:01, sheriffs rang our gate and said you have 20 minutes to get out,” Watson told NBC 7.
“In a matter of nine minutes, it went from being down at Harrah's Casino to my parent's front door step burning the front porch.”
In the firestorm, Watson's first getaway car crashed. So she piled in with her brother and sister. While the Roaches were driving through the flames, that car crashed too.
Watson and her brother, Jason, made it out but Ashleigh was unable to escape.
“When I woke up in the hospital two months later, I started looking around. There's mom, dad, Jason, where's Ashleigh?” she recalled.
Doctors put Watson in a medically-induced coma to help her recover from the burns covering 85 percent of her body.
Ashleigh would have been 25 this year, her sister said.
“I always think about things she's missed. On my wedding day I thought about her. We lit a candle in memory of her during the wedding ceremony,” Allyson said.
“My heart broke when I knew she wasn't going to be around for my son's birth,” she said.
NBC7 followed Watson throughout her recovery. San Diegans watched her undergo dozens of surgeries and then celebrated her wedding in 2009.
With her college degree and new family by her side, this fire survivor is enjoying overcoming new challenges.
“Keep your head high and that's what I try to do and know that I am successfully where I want to be and that's really what matters,” Watson said.
NBC 7 invites San Diegans to visit our Facebook and Twitter pages on October 25 and use the hashtag #CedarFireMemory to share your memories of the October 2003 Firestorm.