Fire Blogging Part II
A Technological Refugee's Notes and Observations
Rather than using the second part of my fire blog for spot news, I thought I'd post some more observations using the a refugee point of view.
Fire Safety and Bugging out
First off, Reverse 911 emergency call systems rule. the first phone call from the Escondido police department came in mid morning on Monday. I had about three hours notice to get ready. I spent most of the time, making sure my home on my little mountaintop not far from the San Diego wilderness was "fire safe."
Briefly, by "fire safe" I mean collecting and disposing of all tinder that has accumulated near my house as a result of the wind storms. I than soaked the edges of my neighbors' uncut field and the row of scrub oak that lines the small private road winding up the mountain to my house. My final task was to fire up my yard tractor, pick a stretch of dying law, lower the blade till it came into contact with the earth and create a fuel free "safety zone." I actually did this twice: Once to create a fuel free zone to park my Toyota 4Runner in front of my house and the second time to create a place to retreat in case the fire broke through while I was still at home.
I then parked my tractor and ATV in safe spots away from the house left the keys in the ignition, and rechecked the contents of my "Go Bag" (a bright red Swiss Army back pack with a change of skivies, fresh socks,two days worth of prescriptions, some Tylenol, notepad and pen, digital camera, fully charged cell phone and notebook computer, appropriate chargers, cell phone and wireless Skype phone. I have two bottles of water on the outside of my backpack, one for me and one for my domestic pets.
The next to last things I threw in the back of my fully fueled Prius were pet food, a bag of kitty litter, a plastic litter tray and a case of bottled water as well as an extra set of clothes including a light weight jacket and extra tie-dyed t-shirt. The reverse 911 mandatory neighborhood evacuation call came early Monday afternoon.
When the call came, I stuffed my two useless cats in their crates, got hissed at, leashed up my bug-eyed PTSD afflicted chihuahua and got the hell off my mountain top.
I was interviewed yesterday by a couple of news people who are not native Southern Californians. Both people thought I had a "casual approach to being evacuated."
I was quite frank in my reply "I don't have a single thing that can't be replaced" and my personal worse case scenario is my house burns to its concrete foundations.
If that happens all that happens is that I rebuild on my mountaintop. I have good insurance, outstanding credit and am ready for some retail therapy anyway. When the call came, I was ...gone in two minutes.
Having worked as a reporter covering big wildlands fires that take out parts of towns, I've seen first hand what happens when people delay
evacuation. Burns are unbelievably painful and its not something I chance.
I did stop on my way to the evacuation point to make sure the two elderly neighbors at the base of my mountain were ready to go and out their doors.
As i looked east i saw the flames from the Witch Creek fire in the general area of two houses set in rural lots. Both houses were lost in the blaze and no one was hurt.
Surprise, Surprise, The evac center is full up
So I was directed to an "overflow center" about 1/2 mile away. I followed the line of cars, parked in a large parking lot away from trees and went in the school gymnasium to register. The process was simple, took almost no time and the center had chilled water, juice and snacks on hand.
I can't thank the staff and students at the Calvan Christian Academy in Escondido enough. There evac center was staffed entirely by volunteers from the neighborhood and the school and everything was, clean and well run. Even the "computer room" was open to evacuees.
Talk about the miracle of loves and fishes. The center served dinner at 6:30 for a crowd that I estimate to have been as large as 2000 people. No one went away hungry. By 9:00 pm, people were settling in for the night on cots or in the cars in the parking lot. Calvan did this without any help from the Red Cross and did a first rate job of providing emergency shelter and food. Outstanding.
Down the street at Escondido High School, the fenced PE field had been turned into an ad hoc horse corral. I am very surprised at the number of horses in Escondido.Even the live stock was well cared for by volunteers with horses and goats alike being fed and watered regularly. seeing some big red horses and a couple of huge mules made me remember how much I like horse flesh.
With the glow of the Witch Creek fire fading to my east, I returned home to my mountain top around 10 pm where i sat out on the porch listening to the winds, the sound of the fire and happily noticing that it had moved away from my neighborhood at last
Media Misses Mark Day One
On Monday of this week local media blew it. Most of the news was incredibly superficial and there was almost no granular detail on what roads were open out of San Diego. By Tuesday this had changed as the California Office of Emergency Services (OES)stepped in to make sure the 250,000 temporarily dispossessed residents o San Diego County knew where shelters were located, whether or not they were still "open" and most of all, where citizens could get more detailed information.
Once OES stepped in, the level of panic dropped noticeably and people at the shelters began to settle in. Also, the rambling, sometimes accusatory comments on talk radio dropped measurably.
Forest fire emergencies should not be used by talk radio to advance popular conservative causes. I freely shared my bottled water with any family I saw parked by the side o I-15, waiting for the freeway to clear. Whether they were legal or not wasn't material. helping my people is more important to me than a popular cause.
A public service message broadcast Tuesday advised horse owner that the SPCA and an equine rescue operation were accepting horses on Shelter Island. Wow, did that make me think, Swim horses and live stock through Mission Bay? Well Shelter Island is connected to civilization by a bridge, so getting "Swaps, Citation or Man o'War" over there shouldn't be much of a problem. by Tuesday evening Shelter Island was awash in horseflesh as well as the occasional goat "stable buddy." I admit I Find the image of horses going to an island funny in a comforting kind of way.
Two hours after I got home an explosion of fleeing sparrows bolting from the Forbes bird day spa and resort complex in my garden, followed by loud squawking made me look out the window where--two gray African parrots where feasting on the apple and jicama chunks in my bird feeder and then loudly taking a bath in the stock trough I use as a bird bath. Damn parrots left a ring of dirt in the bird bath after the flew away looking for avocados.
My dog has a definite case of wild fire related PTSD. This is his second fire and he's not very happy about smelling smoke.
Where's da planes, boss?
Local talk radio spent a lot of time crying about the lack of air tanker support early this week. The US Navy responded on Tuesday with a score of SeaHawk choppers (the Naval variant of the Army's UH 60 Black Hawk) that beat back flames throughout the county. the reason the large aerial tankers weren't flying is because of the shifting Santa Ana winds, which can change directions rapidly-- not a good thing for a plane carrying 20,000 pounds of retardant trying to center on a drop run.
C-130 air tankers are already on station this morning, 50 minutes before first light. Fortunately for air and ground crews, this will make air tanker operations safer.
With air assets in the air the Witch Creek fire should be stopped before it gets to Hawaii.
Refugee High tech
I never go anywhere without my notebook which has integrated 802.11 WiFi and broadband wireless. I used both extensively while i was away from my house. at the evacuation center, I spent about two hours sending emails on behalf of others gathered in the parking lot.
Another key piece of technology is my Belkin wireless SKype phone. If it's reasonably near an open WiFi network, it finds and logs into Skype where I use it to make out-of-network calls. It's audio quality is very good, it's easy to use and it has a very long battery life. I"m surprised more evacuation centers don't know about this technology since it can substantially reduce traffic on cell networks in emergencies.
Skype wireless phones may be one of the most important technology tools you can pack in your personal "Get Out of Town Bag."
Another great technology I use is ham radio. the emergency two and six meter networks in Southern California were up and running almost as soon as th first wild lands fire fighting rigs were rolling on responses. Listening to the traffic on my tiny hand held transceiver I was amazed at the coordination and help ham radio operators provided in this fire season. It's a long tradition I'm glad to see continuing into the 21st Century
I'm going to post this now. As i write this the only visible fies are to my north on Palomar Mountain and in Fallbrook. I can hear the engines of overhead air tankers and the distant sound of sirens as reserve fire trucks and dozers make their way to the fires. And as usual, my hats off and cold bottles of Coca Cola freely extended to the wild lands and city and county firefighters who battled he flames on four sides of my town to a standstill and probably stopped the Witch Creek fire from spreading to Hawaii. hack, hack, cough--Jim Forbes 10/24/2007 from smokey Escondido, CA.