Thursday, September 3, 2009

Station Fire, View from Altadena in a few too many words

Tonight Pasadena hosts a community gathering with members of INCI, no doubt some politicians, and the public. Let the finger pointing begin. Blame, we must lay blame. That nasty index finger is itching for a target. So I'll be skipping that meeting.

Our Assemblyman has asked for a thorough review of the Station Fire. Which can only mean he’s poised and ready to point with two index fingers as far away from his own self as possible. I don’t really know his job description, he appears to be about as remote from us as the governor, or the president, or the queen. He was no fount of information during the worst of the crisis, although his site has all kinds of updates now. I make it a policy to ignore those who show up so very, very late to the party.

Every fire is different. In our case, each fire feeds off a unique meal of temperature, wind, humidity, vegetation, and hiding places in inaccessible canyons. The biggest crime will be if officials try to lay blame on some earnest individuals who put their heart and soul into fighting it. Even if mistakes were made, who wouldn’t make some mistakes under such conditions. As long as the mistakes were without guile, forgive them. (If they were made with malice or greed or inattention, that will be an entirely different matter.)

Even from the beginning, there was an air of defeat about this fire, as if the fighters had been dreading this scenario for quite some time because there would be no clear way out.

How about this – we live in fire country. We choose to live in brown hills. We build further into the hills. History has told us, come lightning or some crackhead with a vendetta, these hills will burn. Some of the native fauna will only germinate and grow after a burn.

Once the real smoke clears, a whole new smoke screen of political rhetoric will find logs to throw on their burning self interest. What follows will have nothing to do with the inevitability of nature and the heroics of men and women that we witnessed this past week.


  1. I"m with Margaret on this. You've summed it up very well.

  2. Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice...

    R Frost


  3. Ditto here.

    The upwash from the Victorian fires in January saw many an index finger. However, the report of the investigation has some useful managment ideas to avoid what is avoidable in the future. I am sure your investigative folk will come up with similar ideas.

  4. Our memory is short and the real estate slump will pass. Unfortunately we possess the technology to build properties that can cling to hillsides. Look at the crap thats climbing up the Verdugos. On a more positive note a huge development that was planned for the Verdugos was stopped back in 2003 and with the help of a politician no less

    (a bit on that)

    "The Verdugos have a long history of being a target for development; at least one sprawling project that would have crept well up the hillsides was halted recently.

    In 2003, Glendale won a 10-year battle to stop 572 luxury homes on 244 acres of land deep in the Verdugos. After a decade of lawsuits and community opposition, the developers agreed to sell the land to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Glendale.

    That year, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel pushed through an ordinance to protect prominent ridgelines in the Verdugos. The law stopped grading and development on the dramatic slopes that rise above Shadow Hills, Lake View Terrace and Tujunga.

    The plan bars development within 60 vertical feet of ridgelines visible from six scenic corridors.

    Though activism has concentrated on saving the ridgelines, this battle at the more quiet and rural northwestern end of the chain has drawn little attention."

    (I'll probably be spending more time in them dar hills)

  5. Well, there is much to report from tonite's community meeting at Pasadena Nazarene Church. But, it's getting late. I'll just report this for now:

    1. SRO! In the hall & with the parking. PACKED!!
    2. Jody Noiron the Angelus Natl Forest Supervior did confirm it was started by an ARSONIST. Homicide is now the result. That got the most angry response in the hall.
    3.Of the 4-5 speakers, hearing/seeing Forest Supervisor JodyNoiron made be the most uneasy. I don't know why. She may be the best at her job. Maybe it's becuz she easily gave the most pessimistic report of all the officials. I dunno. Just know I left wishing in this situation, we had someone else in her position.
    4. Noiron also said to expect the forest to be closed to the public through at least the first rainy season.
    5. Overall, our mountains have/are taking probably their hardest hit in history and will need time to recover.
    6. This is the largest fire in the history of Angeles Natl Forest and is, or will be, the biggest in LA County!
    7. Altadena & Mt Wilson are looking good, but you aren't out of the fire woods yet.
    8. Noiron: this is history in the making. Life isn't going to be the same as we know it.
    9. I have much, much more to report but so little time now. I'm sure others who attended will fill in some blanks. I'll try to get something more on my blog on Friday, if I can find the time.

  6. Interesting report from CP above me. I find it hard to reconcile the approach to the official with the realistic assessment of the impact.

    Life here is not the same after the Victorian fires either. We have had our first fires in our State already and this is the first week of Spring. However, our agencies are also implementing some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission: especially the stay or go policy.

    It is already too late to entertain back-burning for the coming fire-season. Vigilance is essential. We have moved further and further into the bush too. All very nerve-wracking.

  7. Your photo reminds me of this quote:

    "The poetry of the earth is never dead." ~ John Keats

  8. What is the fire season in Australia, Julie? Here, our worst has been autumn, but I heard the forest dept say we're now in fire season all year long.

    CO, I think 99 percent of the lay people knew it was arson.

    PA, keeping land out of the hands of developers seems to be pretty much up to us supporting conservancy groups in a very real way through $$. I like that councilwoman, though.

    Greg, Ah, so that's the name. And thank you for all your help this week.

    Terri, Lovely Keats.

  9. We have the same problems with wetlands here, as well as condos on the beach. Barrier islands need to shape shift at will but without that ability (read beach renourishment)beaches are now dangerous even on good days because of the riptides. But they still want to build. It's crazy. It's good to know that people are working to preserve your wilderness.

  10. Absolutely well said. I think you should send that in to the Editor of your newspaper, with a carbon copy to the Assemblyman's office.

    I trust there were no lives lost in the valiant efforts to control the spread of fire.

    I'm about as non-political as they come. In large part because I have yet to see a politician who doesn't talk out of his a**, point a finger at the other guy, and act like a complete innocent when things go south.


  11. I have to make a comment because my WV is "unbent."

    Thank you, Cafe. Good reporting. I don't know Noiron, but if honesty makes us uneasy, then we should be uneasy. I want honesty from our officials. Good for her for giving it straight. (Unbent, as it were.)

    One of my neighbors asked why we don't do regular controlled burns to prevent this sort of thing? I don't know.

    I haven't heard anyone say this, but surely it must be true: this globe is warm. Warmed. We're running out of water and it doesn't rain enough. It's going to burn more and more, in more places. Fact of life. That's the future. Invest in water.

    Carolynn, two firefighters died seeking an escape route from a burning mountain for their crew when their truck went off a steep road and the fire caught up to them.

  12. nature takes everything back one way or the other....Waldo

  13. The reading I've done about prescribed burning is that it can be very tricky to control given our steep terrain, canyons, inaccessible areas,sdrought, etc. Look at how quickly and completely this fire got out of control; the actual firefighting started when the fire was very small (10 acres? 100? I forget).

    So maybe they will decide to do more prescribed burning, but it's not an easy answer.

  14. Petrea, some friends and I were discussing the whole "controlled burn" thing the other day. Because on the face of things, it sure seems like managing a lot of little fires would be better than one great big whopper that makes a moonscape out of the entire south face of our mountains.

    I'm used to the concept of controlled burns in some places I visit like Yosemite, ROMO, Glacier, etc. But the consensus is that sort of thing wouldn't work as well here.

    For one, its a different sort of habitat, the flora here would take less kindly to repeated, rapid burns than that of, say, the Sierra.

    Secondly, tying back into one of the original points, we're just a whole hell of a lot more populated than areas where you generally hear of controlled burns happening. Who is going to be the person to pull the trigger on a controlled burn above Sierra Madre, with the very real possibility that it gets out of control? I can't imagine ANYONE going for that.

    It's a tricky situation, for sure.

  15. Those are good answers. I'll tell my neighbor to read this thread.

    Still, we know it's going to burn sooner or later, right? I wonder if there's anything we can do, or if we just have to wait for the catastrophe.

  16. Isn't it interesting how firefighting really remains more of an art than a science. Sure we have some newer tools -- infrared maps and retrofitted 747 and fire retardant. But it still largely depends on weather and luck and courage; age-old techniques such as back fires and fire breaks and hot shots.

  17. Thanks for these updates, Karin.
    We don't always get the straight skinny in other parts of the country. (minnesota)

  18. Continued good luck.

  19. Here's an amazing song, a true story about some smokejumpers who fought the Mann Gulch, Montana fire in 1949.

    My name is Dodge, but then you know that
    It's written on the chart there at the foot end of the bed
    They think I'm blind, I can't read it
    I've read it every word, and every word it says is death
    So, Confession - is that the reason that you came
    Get it off my chest before I check out of the game
    Since you mention it, well there's thirteen things I'll name
    Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters

    August 'Forty-Nine, north Montana
    The hottest day on record, the forest tinder dry
    Lightning strikes in the mountains
    I was crew chief at the jump base, I prepared the boys to fly
    Pick the drop zone, C-47 comes in low
    Feel the tap upon your leg that tells you go
    See the circle of the fire down below
    Fifteen of us dropped above the cold Missouri waters

    Gauged the fire, I'd seen bigger
    So I ordered them to sidehill and we'd fight it from below
    We'd have our backs to the river
    We'd have it licked by morning even if we took it slow
    But the fire crowned, jumped the valley just ahead
    There was no way down, headed for the ridge instead
    Too big to fight it, we'd have to fight that slope instead
    Flames one step behind above the cold Missouri waters

    Sky had turned red, smoke was boiling
    Two hundred yards to safety, death was fifty yards behind
    I don't know why I just thought it
    I struck a match to waist high grass running out of time
    Tried to tell them, Step into this fire I set
    We can't make it, this is the only chance you'll get
    But they cursed me, ran for the rocks above instead
    I lay face down and prayed above the cold Missouri waters

    And when I rose, like the phoenix
    In that world reduced to ashes there were none but two survived
    I stayed that night and one day after
    Carried bodies to the river, wonder how I stayed alive
    Thirteen stations of the cross to mark to their fall
    I've had my say, I'll confess to nothing more
    I'll join them now, because they left me long before
    Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri waters
    Thirteen crosses high above the cold Missouri shore

  20. Might I suggest another digit for your politicians??
    What a terrible tragedy and now this???? I've raised a finger in their "honor".

  21. Oh It's terrible to read these bulletins...