Novelist T. Jefferson Parker trudged back and forth between his Laguna Beach hillside house and his Ford Bronco, carrying his most prized possessions: family photos, a few treasured books, five snakes and three dogs.
Just hours earlier, Parker had been pounding away at his typewriter and watching the thick, roiling smoke miles away. But by 3 Wednesday afternoon, as flames crept toward his wood-beamed stilt-supported house, Parker decided he was about ready to heed the police's advice and evacuate.
"Now, I wanna go out and see what's doing," he said by telephone. "I already loaded up and when I've decided that it's too dangerous, I'm gonna get the hell out."
From the windows of his home, about 500 yards up a wooded hillside on the east side of Laguna Canyon Road, Parker said he could see "a lot of flames . . . a lot of firefighters" on the other side of the winding two-lane road.
For two hours, Parker had been fielding calls from worried neighbors who lived in the "oddball, idiosyncratic houses, many of them all wood and with wood roofs . . . in our little forest here."
"We have been talking back and forth and just about everyone is packed and ready to get out, but only a few people have actually left," he said at midafternoon.
A longtime Orange County resident and former newspaper reporter in Newport Beach, Parker, 39, said he has seen the smoke from numerous wildfires over the years, "but this is the first time I've been in one."
As he rushed around to evacuate, Parker noted that he would have to leave his typewriter, where novel No. 5 was in progress. His most recent book, "Summer of Fear," is set in Laguna, and much of it centers on his house and memories of his wife, Cat, who died last year.
The last time he set a novel here, it was his first mystery. The title: "Laguna Heat."