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Entries in firestorms (2)

Wednesday
Oct242007

Keeping The Home Fires Burning

Mercifully, from my Bay Park section of San Diego, we have it good. Unlike the last fire of 2003, when we were holed up for days and the air was pumpkin orange on the first morning after the fire began in Ramona, this week has not been that intolerable at my house. We've been able to get out some and leave the windows open to some degree. The lack of humidity has been a bummer though as it has that dehydrating effect. So far the worst part for me has been the all day TV watching, and remaining awake through the night, not really getting any sleep till about 6 am on Tuesday. While neither of the primary fires actually are a direct threat, the unpredictable nature of the winds, and the ever growing evacuation zones have been nerve wracking to contemplate. Mercifully again, the winds on Tuesday started to blow their proper way from west to east, at least in part. Looking at the wind trends throughout the county has been interesting though, because it just is so wild, and certain places are blowing one direction in keeping with the east-west Santa Ana pattern, and other areas have the opposite. What is unnerving is how the fires are generally converging, and how we can be in this safe pod, buffered by maybe 15 and more miles of city and highly built out land, but the county around us is on fire, forming something of a C-shaped wall. We have three freeways out of here. I hope they all don't get shut down at once or too close to one another!

So, we're fine here in actual terms. No direct threat. An offer was made to stay at the intentional community/monastery where Kelli stays while at school (125 miles or so), but it seems better still to remain here with all our stuff instead of gambling on leaving and not having certainty that we could come back easily to get more stuff, or whatever the moment required. At this point, she and other commuter students seem to have abandoned school for this week, so they could keep on task at home. At least thinking ahead, we made our list of priority items, and in general, we doubt we should have to go, but it has been sobering to actually entertain how little we could really move given our little Noah's Arks. We also have Suzanne to think about (uses a wheel chair), as well as Buber the Dog.

Some friends or work contacts live up in the mandatory evacuation zones, and a couple are in the worst areas. One seems like he couldn't be but blocks from the RB fire. I can't help but wonder about any of my senior clients I once served in Poway, Scripps Ranch, RB, Penasquitos, and some of those places. I have no idea who is alive since 2003, but can you imagine dodging that year's bullet and living to see this?

All this makes it hard to carry on a job search. Who knows, maybe this might make it easier to find something? Damn irony. Won't place my bets on it though.

Monday
Oct222007

Dangerous Vu

ed and eda on a sunny day in the back yardStepmom Eda and me on the day before the massive fires in October 2003Well damn. I'm gonna have to stop seeing my stepmom in the last part of October. This is the second time I've done this on a nice bright sunny day, only to wake up to news the next day that my whole damned county is on fire! No shit! It happened in 2003, and here we go again. So far today the sky is not as filled with ash as it was four years ago. I also happen to be just a few miles away from there, and at this point, maybe that helps. But we shall see how long that lasts because in 2003 the whole place was overtaken for days. Grrr. At this point, I don't have any fear of the closest fire, which is still about 25 miles out. In 2003, the fires got to about five to seven miles out and that actually got a little scary considering how fast they spread and how they jumped freeways and seemed to be able to work across the vast Miramar air base. I actually began to make ready.

One man who I work for lives about a mile or two from the Rancho Bernardo fire. I hope he is okay. In 2003 Kelli lived up in that area in Poway and she had to evacuate down to my house in Clairemont but had to go north to go west to go south because the logical 15 freeway was in the firestorm. The fire back then came within about a mile from her apartment. Our friend Cindy has a house on the outer reaches of the developed part of Poway. Kelli used to live with her shortly before the fires. In 2003, Cindy also was in the process of becoming a grandmother just as the fires ripped through, and while Cindy was at the hospital with daughter Trinity and new granddaughter Natasha, Kelli and another friend-roommate clandestinely (sort of—the area was closed and she needed to show some evidence she lived there—an envelope with her name and the address did the trick) went and rescued the dogs and gathered pictures for Cindy. Welcome to this world, Natasha.

same yard, different sky---filled with soot and ash and the sun is filtered to an unearthly colorThe sky on the very next day, shot in the exact same position in the yard, facing 90 degrees leftAnd again, here is an illustration of the folly of the way we build across the landscape. Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Penasquitos are giant exurbs that are low density, and sit on the edges of canyons and other wild areas. It was exactly the same in 2003; Poway and Scripps Ranch are neighboring communities. I actually used to deliver meals to seniors up there in all those communities, and the whole exurban build-out was an eyesore and a pain to navigate as a driver. Each of these areas to greater or lesser extent has some faux-forested areas where the houses are meant to seem deployed in the wilds. As Scripps Ranch found out, that was its biggest fault, with explosive eucalyptus trees surrounding houses with wooden roofing. The place had large areas that were decimated. A debate followed about all that and codes were changed so that wooden roofed houses would need to be re-roofed with tile or other fire resistant material.

What else can San Diego expect if we have these exurban tracts which flirt with disaster by design? Maybe people will come to their senses with this second firestorm. But I don't think so. All around, invariably there is a chorus of "We'll just rebuild. We aint going anywhere!" Have it your way, people. It is a recipe for disaster. Do these people need their "space" more than the city needs to be safe? The low density development and twisty roads terminating in cul-de-sacs make it harder to navigate emergency vehicles, and the sheer sprawl of places makes it harder to get control over such fires. Our local canyons and hills make it hard to fight fires when the fire begins to shape the weather itself. Exurban houses are just in the way and are shown no mercy except in seemingly random instances where there will be an occasional house standing among other lots with nothing but destruction.

This is our Katrina; what will we do in the face of it? You think maybe Mother Nature is tapping us on the shoulder a bit more in all these recent disasters? Is Al Gore just making this stuff up? What do we have to gain by repeating the same patterns of building where we should never build?