On Oct. 28 two golfers, nearing the 9th hole at the TPC course in Valencia, Calif., saw something strange: Hovering above a water hazard were several L.A. County Fire Department helicopters, sucking up water. Once filled, the copters roared off toward the wild fires raging five miles to the north—buzzing the golfers, who hit the deck as the choppers passed 10 feet over their heads.
It was a common occurrence in California last week—a sporting venue commandeered in the battle against the fires that have killed at least 20 people and destroyed nearly 4,000 homes. California Speedway, which was to host the CART season finale on Nov. 1, became a relocation site for displaced families, and the race was canceled. The parking lot at Qualcomm Stadium also became a relief site, forcing the Chargers to move an Oct. 27 game with the Dolphins to Tempe. Last week the fires came within a mile of the Chargers' practice field, forcing the team to hold a walk-through on a basketball court at the UC San Diego campus. The Chargers left for Sunday's game in Chicago two days early, the navel arrangements thrown together by team executive John Hinek, whose home was destroyed by the fires.
Sprinter Maurice Greene was luckier. "I got my bank and insurance documents, Olympic gold medals, world championship medals," he said on Oct. 27 as he abandoned Ms mansion in Indian Springs. "I'm putting everything in God's hands." The next day Greene returned to his house, which wasn't damaged. UCLA's and San Diego State's football coaches Karl Dorrell and Tom Craft were both, evacuated from their homes, and flames forced featherweight champ Marco Antonio Barrera out of Oscar de la Hoya's camp in Big Bear.
San Diego County high school sporting events were postponed last week, but with the fires largely under control, officials and players hoped the games would resume this week. "Five players lost their homes," said Scripps Ranch High football coach Sergio Diaz. "They're tired of watching the bad news on television. They see football as an escape."