Modjeska and Silverado Canyons and the 2007 Santiago Fire


Canyon resident

Phil McWilliams


OH 4150  
Narrator Phil McWilliams
Interviewer  Volker Janssen
Date May 3, 2008
Language English
Location Modjeska Canyon, Orange County, California
Project 2007 Santiago Fire
Format(s) Audio; Video
Other Field Notes; Photographs
Abstract An oral history with fire victim Phil McWilliams, a long-time Orange County resident. This interview was conducted for the Center for Oral and Public History and Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary about the Santiago Fire in Modjeska Canyon in October 2007. The purpose of this interview was to gather information about McWilliam's life in Orange County, his experiences in Modjeska Canyon, and the loss of his home during the Santiago fire. This interview especially focuses on his childhood in New Jersey, his teenage years in Orange County, his work as grants manager and part-time lecturer in philosophy at California State University, Fullerton; leaving behind suburban hustle and bustle; changes in Orange County since the 1960s; the affordability of canyon property; moving to Silverado in 1989; cell phones, the mail, and other services in the canyon; the fluid barrier between wilderness and human habitat; environmentalism in the canyons; individualism, community participation, and the "disdain for flatlanders" in the canyon; the joys of canyon life; Controversy over Modjeska House; small business in Modjeska; the limitations of the Orange County Fire Authority and the need for self-reliance; McWilliams' property before the burn; previous fires in the canyon; McWilliams' work on the Fire Safe Council; fire-proofing houses and fire safety requirements; canyonites and county government; the problems with insurance; the importance of human activity for an increase in fire risks; concerns with development; learning from environmentally integrated community planning in Europe; fire as an argument against further development; Santiago fire: watching the beginnings; firefighters in inaction; preparing for evacuation, things people pick in a panic; his regrets over evacuation; driving through the flames; the golden opportunity lost at Santiago Canyon Road; the emergence of Camp Silverado; watching the house burn down on television; community support after the destruction; visiting the burnt property; the role of FEMA.
Video Parts 1-4 (watch online - coming soon!)
Audio Part 1 (download.mp3)
Part 2 (download.mp3)
Part 3 (download.mp3)

This project is made possible, in part, by a grant from the California Council for the Humanities. The Council is an independent non-profit organization and a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For more information on the Council, visit www.calhum.org.