Monday, August 31, 2009

On Fire

You may not believe this dear readers, but where I live catches on fire almost every year.
Talk about being redundant!
Not my box specifically, no its constructed of water and fireproof, super tough and allergenic cardboard, secretly developed by the Halleburton Company for use as body armor for our soldiers fighting overseas.
Not even downtown Los Angeles, although it has its fair share of fires in buildings from time to time.
I'm talking about all of the brushland and mountains that surround the city and its suburbs. Wikipedia tells us this about L.A. "The most prevalent botanical environment is coastal sage scrub, which covers the hillsides in combustible chaparral." The key word there is "combustible."
The temperature here lately has been in the high eighties, to low nineties, with not a great deal of humidity (damp air). Just a few weeks ago as I was riding the bus downtown back to my box on a nice sunny day, like today, and the thought of wild fires entered my vapid head, thinking this was just the right weather for them. At the time there were none. There are now.
I was speaking to my lovely sister, Cheryl, on the phone Saturday afternoon, and we spoke briefly of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. She had driven through the affected area a short time after the storm hit and witnessed its devastation first hand. She lives in that area sometimes, and we have great friends of our family who live in Alabama. At one point the discussion turned onto the choices we make on where we live.
Some people choose to live in areas that are prone to natural disasters. Those people certainly don't want to get hurt, or lose their homes or property. They live there because they've always lived there, or for most of the time everything is fine. Only occasionally do circumstances get real, real bad.
I live in such an area (to some degree no geographical location is completely exempt from possible harm. I could live in the most geologically stable area on the planet, with a solid history of mild weather, and get smacked by a moderate meteorite while walking the pooch). The whole west coast of the United States suffers large earthquakes every decade or so. I've lived through two of them in my almost 46 years in the area. The first was in 1971, the Sylmar quake, that occurred in Sylmar, a small suburb northwest of downtown L.A. It struck at six o'clock in the morning and me and my dog, Buttons, slept right through it, sort of. I was living in Northridge, which was very close to Sylmar, and we had structural damage to our house, the waves in our pool reached six feet high, and the cupboards in the kitchen opened up, threw everything out, then closed up again. My psychotic stepfather at the time ran out of the house naked, which shows a great deal about his character.
We had to evacuate that house that day because of the fear that the damn Van Norman Dam, which was made out of dirt, would burst, sending four feet of muddy water into our living room.
It didn't, but that quake totaled two hospitals, two freeway exchanges, killed at least 65 people, including 49 in the Sepulveda VA Hospital, which shows a great deal about the structural integrity of VA hospitals.
That was a 6.6 magnitude earthquake. The other major quake I experienced centered where I used to live in Northridge, in January of 1994, when I was living at the Salvation Army in Pasadena. All that one did to me was to knock all of my books out of my closet onto the floor, but that one was a 6.7, and nearer Northridge caused about 20 billion in damage, killed 72, and injured about 8,700.
Earthquakes happen everyday around here, but most of them are so small you can't notice them, and I've experienced many that you could notice which didn't cause any damage. But the big ones, from 1971 to 1994, don't occur very often.
People who live on the east coast of the country though, especially Florida and the Gulf Coast, can expect hurricanes every year. People who live on the plains in the country's interior can expect tornadoes as often. Still they choose to live there. They hope the hurricane will land somewhere else, or the tornado will pass them by, and I hope so too. But it remains a pretty chancy deal.
We have fires around Los Angeles almost every year, but I choose not to live, or buy property where they most often break out. If for some reason I had to live near these brush fire prone areas I'd make sure my house was equipped with an independent water supply and sprinkler system, tied into the public supply, that hopefully would provide some measure of protection against expected fires (plus a Star Trek Force Field). Otherwise, I wouldn't live anywhere around there, no matter how pretty it was, or peaceful when not on fire.
But that's just me.
My Uncle Hank and Aunt Ruth, lovely people, used to own a home that was propped up on stilts on the steep slopes of the Hollywood Hills, not too far from where I live now. My family used to visit them every Christmas Eve and have dinner. All the opulent houses around them were prone to the effects of landslides, and fire. The houses were all very nice and the view of the city below was fantastic, and nothing ever happened to them as far as I know, still I would have second thoughts about actually buying a house like that for myself and family. I'm weird.
But the fires we have are no joke. The current ones we are experiencing have killed two firefighters so far, destroyed 21 homes, and have forced thousands to evacuate.
This is the largest of the fires currently plaguing the state, but there seem to be seven others, with one north of the capital, Sacramento, which has burnt 60 structures over the weekend. 5,000 acres have burned inside Yosemite National Park, and a 1,000 acre fire is threatening 2,000 homes east of L.A. in San Bernardino County.
Some people near the fires in Los Angeles and the Angeles National Forest have refused to leave, and have now got trapped. 5 are currently stuck at a ranch and have not been able to be rescued yet. 2 thought jumping into the backyard hot tub would save them. They're currently being treated for severe burns.
This fire is expected to reach the top of Mt Wilson tonight, where 20 or so broadcasting towers are located which transmit a good deal of the television and radio for the city. Their ability to broadcast will most likely be interrupted. And there's a little observatory up there where in 1929 discoveries occurred that made the idea of an expanding universe acceptable.
Fortunately the winds have been light, and the temperature is slowly decreasing. Still, the last time I saw the figure, this fire has only been 5% contained, and the Weather Service has extended a weekend warning of extreme fire conditions in the central and southern California mountains.
I sincerely hope these fires are stopped in the shortest amount of time, and I extend my sympathies to all of those who have lost their homes, or property, and those who have died or been injured. And I applaud the efforts, skill, and determination of all of our fine first responders.
Yet it might be a good time to consider, just consider, moving somewhere else.
For the time being... I'm going to continue living right where I am, waiting patiently for the next big one.

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