Southern California Music Communities Reel From Fires

(+44)'s Mark Hoppus, As I Lay Dying singer, studio owner escape blazes but are shaken by the experience.

Just over a week ago, the members of Relient K and Switchfoot sat down to write a song called “Rebuild” in honor of their current tour in support of Habitat for Humanity.

On Thursday (October 25), Switchfoot singer and San Diego native Jon Foreman was trying to get his head around the irony of the song’s title.

“That song was written a few hours before [Relient K's] bus burned up, and we wrote it not knowing their bus would burn up — or that our town would burn down,” he said.

Less than two weeks after finishing construction on a Habitat home in San Diego, Foreman isn’t sure the building is even still standing, in light of the devastating wildfires that have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres and, at one point, forced more than a half-million people from their homes. While the disaster continued Thursday, some hope began to arise as the strong winds that had been exacerbating the fires began to subside. More than half the fires were completely under control by the evening.

MTV News reached out to a number of Southern California artists to hear their stories about surviving one of the worst wildfires in California history, and thankfully, nearly all said they were out of harm’s way, but clearly shaken by the experience.

Foreman, who is from North County, said he feels fortunate that his home was spared in the fires, but he and his bandmates have been checking in with loved ones and friends constantly from the road to get updates on the fires. “I just got an e-mail from my wife describing what she was going through,” Foreman said. “The whole scene sounds incredibly apocalyptic, where you wake up in the morning when it should be light and it’s still pitch black and there’s no power and you look outside and there’s ash falling from the sky. Those are the moments when I wish I could be home with her.”

Though his neighborhood was not evacuated, Foreman said his grandparents were forced to leave their homes and quite a few friends were evacuated, many of whom came to his home to wait out the fires. With $1 from each ticket on their current tour, called “Appetite for Construction,” going to Habitat for Humanity, Foreman said the charitable tie is much more poignant given the destruction in his own backyard. To date, eight people have died, more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed in the San Diego area and almost half a million acres have been scorched, with damage estimates topping $1 billion.

“The thing I love about San Diego, more than the climate or the views, is the people,” he said. “There is a real great community I grew up in, both the music community and the surrounding one, and I hope to see a lot of people coming together to help each other.”

Among the other musicians from San Diego and the areas in Southern California thought to be affected by the fire are Angels and Airwaves/ Blink-182 singer Tom DeLonge, System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, the members of P.O.D., Jewel, Dave Mustaine, As I Lay Dying, Augustana, Jason Mraz, Louis XIV and former members of Rocket From the Crypt. (MTV News could not reach all of the above artists to check on their status.)

One of the first fires to break out was near the San Marcos home of As I Lay Dying singer Tim Lambesis; he and his wife fled at 2 a.m. on Monday after getting a call from a friend. That fire was quickly snuffed out and Lambesis and his wife returned home on Tuesday morning — only to be evacuated again six hours later when a fire in a neighboring community threatened San Marcos again. “That first night I could see the fire coming toward us on the hill we’re on, and I was scared,” said Lambesis, who has lived in San Diego his entire life but never seen such powerful fires. Luckily, the winds died down again and his home was spared.

Asked what he grabbed in his rushes to beat the flames, Lambesis said, “I grabbed important photos, my dog, documents. I have a studio at my house, so I have 15 hard drives with recordings that I had to pile up along with three computers. It was hectic. My wife grabbed her wedding dress.” Luckily for Lambesis, the band’s van and trailer were parked outside his house, so most of their equipment was already ready to roll.

DeLonge’s former Blink bandmate, Mark Hoppus of (+44), now lives in Los Angeles but said his sister, grandmother, mother and stepfather were all evacuated. “My mom and sister and grandma were some of the first evacuees and they went as far as they could, to Oceanside, which is 45 minutes away. They stayed in a hotel there and watched it happen,” Hoppus said — adding that just days after his family fled to the hotel, it almost burned down when the fire caught up with them again.

As far as he knows, his mother and sister’s homes are covered in ash but OK, though his grandmother’s residence is in an area that was totally destroyed. “It was strange being in Los Angeles because there are so many fires across Southern California and the news here is focused on the Malibu fires and it’s been hard to find out what’s going on down there,” he said. “I couldn’t get hold of my mom for a bit there when the fires first started, but I knew she’d grab the important stuff, the family photo albums and documents.” Hoppus said he’s already started hearing from friends on the San Diego scene about benefit shows, and he’s willing to sign on to do whatever he can to help out his hometown.

Also spared in the fires so far was one of the area’s most high-profile recording studios, Big Fish Recordings in the coastal hills near Rancho Santa Fe, which has hosted sessions by P.O.D., Blink-182, As I Lay Dying, Megadeth, Rocket from the Crypt and Jimmy Eat World.

Almost 11 years to the day after studio owner Paul Waroff fought off another giant blaze that came within 20 feet of the studio — by standing on its roof with his dad dousing the grounds with garden hoses — Waroff was again packing up his prized possessions on Monday and hoping he’d be spared. “This whole area was evacuated and around 10 p.m. on Monday they said [the fire] was heading right this way and I could see the flames,” said Waroff, who is nursing a dislocated shoulder he suffered when scrambling to try and corral his cat as he prepared to abandon his property. “I could see a fireball in the distance and the wind was pushing it right this way.”

Waroff rushed to load up his most valuable studio equipment and although he was supposed to evacuate, he didn’t — and ended up alone on the property as the fire loomed. Luckily for him, he said (but not for those in a neighboring community), the fierce, blazing Santa Ana winds that have been feeding the fires — at some points nearing hurricane strength — shifted and the studio was once again spared.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium was turned into a makeshift refugee camp for evacuees this week, albeit one with free WiFi, plenty of food and clothes, toiletries and massages. Clay Colton was one of the many people who went to the evacuation center to offer support to the evacuees. The local musician, who was himself evacuated for a few days, said he felt like he had to find a way to help — so he performed. “We had to go north to escape the flames, and we came back and I’m sitting around and like, ‘I have to do something,’ ” he said. ” ‘All these people are sitting around here without entertainment, so just go out and play.’ It’s cool to bring music to people who actually need it, rather than people at a bar who’d just enjoy it.

“This is special … seeing the reaction from the people is a lot more fulfilling than it usually is.”

From a tour stop in London, San Diego singer Jason Mraz posted a long, irreverent diary of his experience with the fires on his blog. “I’d been receiving all kinds of reports of and from San Diego regarding the fires,” he wrote. “Anytime I turned my phone on or checked my e-mail in the last week it would light up so full of messages that it was almost annoying. I only wanted one report and that was the one from my roommates, Bush or Eric, currently evacuating the premises. It seemed a few of the fires were too close for their comfort.

“Plus, the police had arrived in the middle of the night to suggest the early departure. It was a harrowing feeling just experiencing some of it on the phone. Bush sounded slightly nervous asking, ‘Is there anything you want?’ He and Eric were loading up their cars to flee the valley. I was standing in a busy coffee shop in London. Helpless. I scanned the bedroom and closet in my head. I couldn’t think of one thing I needed them to grab.”

Before long, he wrote, he was on his way back home, hoping that the strong, old trees that hug his home would help protect it from the flames. He managed to get through a police line and get to his home, adding, “I walked thru every room in the house and surveyed it as if I’d sold the place and wasn’t coming back. I flipped the lights on in the studio and sang a loud note and listened to it merge with the silence near the ceiling. I thought the piano looked a bit dusty.”

To help victims of the fire, go to the Web site for the San Diego Red Cross.

To donate clothes or household goods, the Red Cross recommends:

St. Vincent De Paul: (619) 446-2100

Goodwill: (888) 446-6394

The Salvation Army: (619) 231-6000

And to donate food, contact the San Diego Food Bank: (866) 350-3663

[This story was originally published at 6:27 pm E.T. on 10.25.2007]

Often guilty, never convicted. Serving 15 years to life at MTV News.