Monday, September 7, 2009

Bald and Beautiful

Like everyone around here, my vocabulary has expanded. Why, I’m practically an honorary smoke jumper, from a verbal perspective. My neighbors and I debate the advisability of prescribed burns in our hills, and then swap information from Incident Information Web.

I impress myself – which, according to those who know me is an all too common event. While taking a friend on a tour of the hills yesterday, I said something to the effect of, “According to Inci, the dozer lines stopped the fire on the eastern flank, and hot shots kept the flames from marching on to Echo Mountain.”

He said something to the effect of “insufferable.”

Over the weekend, there were quite a few garage sales around the Altadena area. After the past week it makes sense to shed stuff. When everyone considered evacuation a distinct possibility, I was amazed at how few things really mattered to me. How little I was psychologically invested in what I had.

Then again, I didn’t have to actually evacuate. The rubber didn’t hit the road.

One couple I know had an hour and half to lock the house and get off the hill. According to them, it was almost too much time. They had already stacked the essentials in preparation for this, but the additional time made them realize there were other things they really, really didn’t want to leave behind. So they added more and more stuff to the piles, and when only half of it would fit in the cars, had to re-evaluate everything all over again.

Maybe it’s like an IQ test. Your first answer is probably right.

And finally, I was amazed at the support and interest around the globe. Sure, we ended up losing the web top ten search to notables such as Whitney Houston and Katy Mixon (Katy Mixon? Mixon??), but we made brief appearances from time to time, maybe after some story claimed an actor lived here, or used to live here, or thought about living here, or once upon a time visited someone here.

Whatever. The air is clear, the birds are back, and the squirrels have returned to escalate their systematic war against my dogs. Mostly, I’m just grateful.


  1. You can talk "fire" to me anytime!

  2. Dare to dream. You didn't seriously think you could beat Katy, did you?


  3. Can one consider prescribed burns as a form of haircut or trim for the forest? I don't know what's the correct prescription, xcept whatever it is those in the know are doing hasn't appeared to be the best.

    As much as I would love living in de hills, I would decline for several reasons - just like I would avoid a beachfront house. Possible evacuations is one reason, not wanting to intrude on nature is another, etc.

    We need to give back to nature. Visit - not live there - would be my motto.

  4. This reminds me of the Northridge quake, when all ears were on Kate Hutton of CalTech. As we now learned terms like pyrocumulus we then learned terms like thrust fault.

    It also reminds me that the "experts" are just folks like the rest of us, just more education in a certain area, and have no more power to predict or control Mother Nature than the rest of us.

  5. I wouldn't want to predict or control nature. That would be a sorry state of affairs.

    I'm grateful, too.

    Hiker, your vocabulary has always been superlative. Anybody else refers to you as insufferable and I'll beat their sorry a$$. Soon's I'm 25 agin.

  6. The sense of belonging and community that great peril engenders is bewildering, isn't it?

  7. My vocabulary has been accused of being superlaxative :)

  8. Greg, who provided invaluable information during the fires, has started his own San Gabriel Mountain blog here :

    I don't know the prescription either CO, but I certainly put greater faith in firefighters than politicians. I want the people who know the hills and put their life on the line to make decisions about issues such as prescriptive burns.

    Earl and Petrea, let's get together and toss some of those terms around.

    Julie, astonishing, really.

  9. You're not insufferable, KB. Like me, I would also agree with the P: your bearable & tolerable.
    And, like Sweet Greg, your Super.

  10. Actually, I'm a big fan of Altadena garage sales. Tools of my trade.

    Was the other term "hot shots?"

  11. Firstly:
    wv coppub It still isn't as good as mershfig.

    Just be glad you're not learning the vocabulary for dealing with the insurance companies, and I'm not talking about Walter Tango Festus. They just keep passing you from on subcontracted claims adjuster to another so it has absolutely no effect.

    Ace reporting, KB. Hooya!

  12. Congratulations on your professional development--hey, tried to duplicate your hike--but it's closed. I thought, that wild woman, she slipped by the do not cross tape--

  13. I know it's shameless of me but I'd really like people to come over to my blog today. We're trying out our most vicious vocabulary (sans the 7 words) on taggers, litterers and the Station Fire arsonist. So far John is winning.

  14. See? Now there's some fantastic language. Come over to my blog and call me a Christless harridan.

  15. I always believe that you are super and the best..Great post..Unseen Rajasthan

  16. oh so they decided to tape it off now? Nothing when we were there before.

    For heaven's sake. What's the point? What further damage could we do to each other? Stupid kneejerk reaction.

    I've never been real good at obeying the law.

  17. wolfwatcher is right; we didn't cross any area marked "restricted." I am hoping Dez actually didn't follow our exact route and the trail remains open.

  18. Welcome back to your day job: keeping us in stitches with witty, fine writing.

  19. "Dozer lines" are about my favorite new vocabulary. Who the hell would know what that means who hadn't lived in sight of a megafire?

    Oh. Yeah. "Megafire," too.

  20. Word I know which I wish I didn't: phos-chek. Yucky stuff. Needful but nasty. All the trees left in my view are pink.

    I have also learned so much about aerial fire fighting that I'm nearly rivalling the pilot geek hubby in useless aircraft ID'ing.

    And, "firing" does not always involve one's job status.

  21. Wow, Petrea, that was fun. And totally worth it.

  22. And we are grateful as well KB. My, it was a ride I hope I don't have to take with any of you again. I can NOT imagine having to look at my home and make the choices so many of you had to make. I look forward to photos that celebrate the rebirth of your beloved countyside. Bring em on , Sistah!

  23. I hadn't known that it was arson. Wouldn't know any news without you bloggers.

    One of the 3 fires involving the Lake Arrowhead area several years ago was arson. Due to fire danger at the time, residents were told to put their winter firewood in a vacant warehouse... One of those people who have been described so well in today's blog lit the storage place and was seen running from the site. I could not even believe it.

    So, hurl the insults on to him or her as well. I call it Evil.

  24. And another of the 3 fires was caused by a "controlled" burn that got out of control.

  25. I dont understand the use of dozer-lines other than for vehicular access. Fires travelling that fast can jump 250m from tree-top to tree-top. Trees on t'other side of the DL just immolate due to sheer heat!!

  26. Aurora wants to know if Mt Lowe is ok. I'm thinking it is, elsewise we would have heard. Cobb is taped off, so no hiking there as now.

    Julie, this fire was different. There was no wind so it was a squatter. Maybe dozer line did help in this case. Wolfwatcher clued me in on this -- the fire sat and burned everything to the ground, through the ground, in the ground, before moving on. It was thorough, slow, and unique for these parts.

    Shanna, didn't that giant fire in New Mexico start as a "controlled burn?"

  27. Hiker, I am unaware of the New Mex. one that you mentioned. So I don't know.

  28. There is an extensive description/analysis of the Feb Victorian fires on wiki here . It seems fairly straight without too much beat-up.

    They were fanned by extreme heat (46C over a long period), low humidity (6%) and a lot of dry tinder. I say fanned because the cause is more complex. However, they were estimated to have the energy of 1500 Hiroshimas. These conditions mean that fires leapt not just 250m but actually further - this is why the extreme loss of life. The fire did not need to be connected to another tree on fire: they combusted on the next ridge and the next. Dozer lines are rarely useful here. Another reason for the extreme loss of life here was the fire was so powerful that it just sucked up all the oxygen and people did not burn but were suffocated.

    Horrid isn't it ... as with your area, we have areas that are immolated every so many years. Yet people still live there ... people who love the bush ... and people who can afford to live nowhere else.

    Our devastation looks similar to your devastation. I can understand your shaking your head in disbelief. Not often I say that I can understand another's feelings as I am not in their shoes. However, here I feel as though I have been in your shoes ...

    And from Victoria I live about a 12 hour drive. However, in another life when I lived in a green part of Sydney, I spent a number of days in my pool with ash tumbling down around me and being able to see cumulo-smoke all around and then the next day realise that people died in their pool as the flame flew OVER the top but sucked all the oxygen ... they did not burn. they did not drown. The coroner found that they suffocated.

    Nature is a tough mistress.

  29. I think I'm a little bit awestruck by your grasp of it all. In spite of the serious nature of such things, you did make me chuckle. I'm so relieved it's all settling down there.

  30. I'm glad the fire is over.And nature and normality came back.
    PS: I hate squirrels!

  31. Hmm. My (much earlier) question about controlled burns is most definitely answered.