In historic downtown Julian, the Wednesday afternoon air couldn’t have been any clearer or crisper.

“I haven’t even smelled smoke one time,” said Doug Engel, a 56-year-old Julian resident. “Up here,” — he took a big sniff of air — “it’s just …”

His voice trailed off. The autumn air couldn’t have smelled more perfect. But the town had an eerie quiet. The Witch Fire, burning several miles away, still threatens to march on the town if the winds out of the east switch back.

Engel and Charles Scott, a wavy-haired, 49-year-old town resident, stood along Julian’s main thoroughfare swapping stories. Engel told a tale of a town old-timer — handlebar moustache and all — who somehow missed Tuesday’s blaring evacuation warnings coming from sheriffs’ deputies patrol cars. The guy showed up at the local sheriff’s substation wondering what all the fuss was about.

“I don’t know where this guy’s been!” Engel said. “Sleeping off a bender?”

Scott had packed up some belongings; Engel hadn’t. Their confidence that the fire would stay away echoed others throughout Julian who’d ignored the voluntary evacuation order.

“They don’t want this historic area to burn,” Engel said, gesturing at the wood-fronted buildings lining the street. “I figure if you come and stand right down here, you’ll be safe — even with the flames.”

Across the street from Engel and Scott, Christy Connell, the Julian Caf’é’s co-owner, was waiting for meat and beans to finish on an outdoor cooker. Burritos were a couple of hours away.

While she cooked, she implored me to share this message:

“We’re losing all of our money,” she said. In Julian, apple season has arrived.

“We count on this month to get us through everything,” she said. “That’s got to get out to the United States! That’s got to get out to San Diego! We’re not going to keep our doors open if we don’t get support.”

Susan Blauvelt, who’s lived in Julian some 40 years, interjected.

“The federal government?” Blauvelt asked. “Or business?”

“We need business,” Connell said. “We need the money.”


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