Fire and Rain

Yesterday I reflected on the anniversary of the Thomas Fire and shared a photo of our hills burning. I took this photo today, of rain falling on them.

2018-12-05 14.13.58

What shall we say, shall we call it by a name,
As well to count the angels dancing on a pin.
Water bright as the sky from which it came,
And the name is on the earth that takes it in.
We will not speak but stand inside the rain,
And listen to the thunder shouting I am! I am! I am! I am.

– The Grateful Dead

Grateful

One year ago tonight, at this hour, the electricity was out in my home near Santa Barbara, California. In fact, it was out for many thousands of people from Camarillo to Goleta. That’s a distance of about 50 miles of mostly populated area – coastal cities and towns. There was a fire burning near Santa Paula and the worst power outage I’d ever experienced.

That night I wrote in my journal about the need to keep cell phones charged and batteries handy, mentioned the fire in Santa Paula – which I didn’t know had claimed so much in Ventura – and the power outage, and went to bed.

In the morning we knew that many homes had been lost as the fire swept across the Ventura hillsides, and a woman was dead. A hospital was destroyed and apartments, in addition to many single family homes.

The fire itself took two lives; ultimately 23 more a month later. But in my town, by the time the fire reached us here, days had passed, and thousands of firefighters had arrived in hundreds of fire trucks, with helicopters and airplanes. The winds were calm though there was almost no moisture in the air. This is from my journal:

12.13.2017. On Sunday morning December 10, the fire roared into Carpinteria from the northeast, and the north, from the hills near Divide Peak.

At 1:30 am we lost power and the glow could be seen. The lights went off many times and Dad and I didn’t sleep. An hour before dawn we watched the fire over the hills begin to take the facing side of our valley’s own hills, and spread and come down.

We watched the fire coming using apps, until we could see it descending on the town.

2017-12-10 17.14

On December 11, in the afternoon, I took this photo of the burning hills from the balcony of my condo. See how the smoke from the freshest flames wasn’t even burning toward us? The fire burned slowly down the hills toward the town all day,  with helicopters dropping water and planes dropping retardant, and an army of firefighters waiting for it at the bottom. We didn’t have the insane winds they had in Ventura, or Paradise, or Santa Rosa. And in the Woolsey fire just weeks ago.

2017-12-11 15.05.45a

Tonight I’m grateful for the absence of wind last year, for those many professionals, and for my family, and for the courage and constancy of my little town. I’m thankful for my home with Christmas lights twinkling on the balcony irons. I think about Paradise as I look up at those hills, now turning green with this week’s rain, and I pray for them.  And for Thousand Oaks, Malibu, and so many places in that area.

Kevin Webb

I’ve just learned through Facebook that my childhood friend and classmate Keven Webb has passed away. Kevin worked for the US State Department and all I know so far is that he died at his embassy post in Madagascar.

I wish I knew more about Kevin. I know he loved to travel, enjoyed music and comedy. He didn’t join in the chaotic political tribalism and hysterical celebration of random opinion that our culture is devolving to; he kept his head above the fray and stayed positive. He shared what he loved, not what he hated. Which I thought showed integrity, self-knowledge, and mature circumspection.

His life between school and middle age in social media is largely a mystery to me because we didn’t keep in touch. And I think that’s unfortunate. We didn’t go all through school together; Kevin went to high school somewhere else. Those who’ve known him as an adult have likely known him as quiet but friendly and compassionate. We don’t really change, you know? His friends in recent times have my sympathy, and in a sense, my envy.

We didn’t finish the race together but we started it just a few feet apart. Kevin is second row, far right. I’m second row, third from the left.

… lessons done, my friend.

Mrs Wilsons Class

Mrs. Lottie Wilson’s kindergarten class, Canalino School, 1966-1967.

A Titanic Storm

If your home is in the mandatory evacuation area, which looks to me like more than half of the Carpinteria Valley and most of Montecito, I’m sorry. It has to be terribly stressful to have to pack up and leave your home. Those of us who are not in the red zone will be looking forward to your return. But I have to say this: we who stay behind are not necessarily the lucky ones. Less threatened? Possibly. But we will be riding out a storm like we have never seen in our lifetimes.

The last pineapple express of this magnitude, to my mind, was in the mid-1990s. Some of you can remember the exact year, the Arroyo Paredon flooded the northbound 101 at Padaro and mud covered the freeway south at La Conchita. And that was with healthy hillsides covered with plants and trees.

Don’t let anyone tell you it’s like 1969 either. The Coyote Fire was 5 years earlier and there were no big debris flows in ’69. Just a lot of rain and brushy, unprepared creeks. That’s why they built the flood channels through Carpinteria; to handle water, not debris. I was only 8 but my parents tell me no one at the time mentioned that fire having any relationship to the flood.

So this is unique – historic – to have fire and epic storm so close in time. Am I being dramatic? I guess we’ll know when the sun comes up on Friday.

Stay or go, this is really going to suck. But I have faith we will survive. Pray for us who stay in the ship, and we’ll pray for you in the lifeboats. Godspeed.

evac map 2018.03.19

Aftermath: Thomas Fire/Mudslides

Fellow Carpinteria – Santa Barbara locals, I’m just wondering … How are you feeling? I mean after the fire and the mudslides, how’s your soul? It’s an impertinent question, I know, but it’s been not quite 3 weeks and the recovery has been a process on our roads, communications, not to mention the recovery of the lost.

I’ve read that even those of us who were not directly impacted by the loss of a home, a friend, or a loved one, are assuredly suffering from secondary PTSD. Even several miles away we’re not isolated, we’re grieving too.

And the fact that 2 young and very young people are still missing makes it harder not to.

Personally, I still feel a range of emotion from sadness to frustration to anger, then gratitude and appreciation. I’m grateful to God that my family and my area are OK. I’m grateful for the helpers, the police and fire, the rescuers from so many entities, the people who worked and are working so hard to save trapped people and animals, to clear the roads, rebuild power and communications, and prepare the watersheds for the next rain.

Rain will come and that makes me nervous. How ready are we now, really? The authorities just say to be afraid. We remain at risk throughout the rainy season. They’ve learned nothing from the disaster about communicating a realistic “gradient of risk,” showing that some areas are more dangerous than others. Such assessments are  inconvenient, difficult, but imperative.

I was relieved when the freeway reopened because it was a step toward normalcy. But now people are driving from the south toward Santa Barbara and slowing down in Montecito, to see what’s impossible to see from the freeway anyway. Traffic is backing up for 8 miles because of these jerks. That makes me mad. WTF are you looking for?

As for the 23 lost, from all walks of life, all ages, I am reminded of something Robert Pirsig wrote:
“We keep passing unseen through little moments of other people’s lives.”

What about you?

Powerless

My neighbors and I have received a postcard from the electric company. I don’t know how many of us received it, but it may be several thousand people. The eastern half of the Carpinteria Valley, which lies on a shelf of land on the California coast, under the coastal hills, near Santa Barbara.

They are going to shut off our electricity tonight just at the start of prime time TV, and it will be off for 10 hours.

I’m told they did the center of town 2 nights ago, but I don’t know for sure. 

Why? “Upgrading aging infrastructure or completing other repairs to make needed improvements.”

Sounds vague to me. Boilerplate language. But I think I can translate.

In order to increase corporate profits, we cut staff and deferred maintenance to a point that things have really gone to shit. We’re worried. Before the whole city goes dark for days or weeks on end, we’re taking drastic action regardless of the inconvenience. 

How do you think I did?

I have family close by, but part of me wants to cowboy up and ride it out here in camp.I have plenty of battery-powered electric lights; enough to dimly light my condo for several hours. It might be OK to shake off the video habits for a night, sit quietly and read a book. I have an iPod with tons of music, stories, poetry, if my eyes get tired.

But it’s hot. We’re having a heat wave, and I’ve been sleeping with a fan blowing on my bed. So I don’t know.