The Valley Fire, which has burned more than 17,000 acres since sparking on Saturday, has only brought out the best in the small East County community of Alpine.
It may be hot, it may be smoky and it may be dangerous, but none of that gets in the way of the resiliency of Alpine, a town of 14,000 that, once again, reacted to an inferno with the hashtag #AlpineStrong.
Could it be something in the air? Maybe -- at 1,800 feet of elevation, things feel a little different there. Just stop into Janet's Montana Cafe for a piece of the best apple pie south of Julian (and homemade ice cream) or wish yourself a Hoppy Birthday at the Alpine Beer Company, and you'll start to sense the strength of character of its people. #AlpineStrong got its start when the West Fire raged through the area just two years ago, burning 505 acres and destroying and damaging 49 homes.
You see just how strong Alpine is at Joan MacQueen Middle School. When the Red Cross closed an evacuation center at the school and focused its efforts at the evacuation site at Steele Canyon High School, in Spring Valley, Alpine School District superintendent Richard Newman reopened JMMS to beleaguered fire victims and their large animals, and folks were able to get a drink, a hot bite from the Alpine Kiwanis club and the 21st-century addition to everyone's evacuation kit, Wifi.
You see it in how Newman signs off on social media updates: "Proudest Superintendent on Earth."
You see it at the Tavern Road exit of Interstate 8, where a large red, white and blue mural shouts it out loud: "Thank You Firefighters."
You see it at the Alpine Taco Shop on Alpine Boulevard in Alpine -- sensing a theme here, no? -- where another red, white and blue mural runs 20 feet wide, with the American flag billowing across a yellow fence, burnished with the messages "Alpine Strong" and "Thank You First Responders."
"Alpine Strong has been around since the previous West Fire, and it's just synonymous with our town," said Claudia Sanchez, whose friend Jorge Estrada is the mural artist. "Alpine is strong and we always come together as a community."
Alpine's been in the thick of it before, and this likely won't be the last time.
"We just wanted to remind people that we are strong, and with this fire, with COVID, with anything that anything throws at this community, we're always going to come together and we're stronger together," Sanchez said.
We caught up with the 38-year-old Estrada after he finished work for the day at Alpine's Mountain Materials, where he can usually be spotted behind the wheel of a big rig. He touched up the taco shop's Fourth of July mural on Tuesday night after grabbing a bite at the taco shop. His second mural in as many days -- that's his work out by the 8 as well.
"I love the message that we put out, thanking everybody, thanking all the first responders for all the great work they've done," Estrada said. "And I'm pretty patriotic, so I love the flag."
"Although Alpine has grown from a stagecoach stop to a small town, it still retains its country lifestyle," the Alpine Historical Society opines, adding "Alpine is a special place to everyone who lives here," something all San Diegans can agree on.
And who was Joan MacQeen, you might wonder? A longtime educator in Alpine, the school was renamed for her in 1984, a year before she passed from complications of Lou Gherig's disease. A colleague said about her, "What stood out about Joan as a person is her courage, her gentleness, her dignity and most of all, her compassion and true caring about individuals as persons."
Sounds like MacQueen was #AlpineStrong.