Monday, October 29, 2007

Big Fires and Little Fires

One of the things I have to deal with whenever disaster strikes is a feeling of futility. When 9/11 happened, I went into a funk that lasted over a month, and some of those feelings continued for almost a year. Most things that I dealt with seemed insignificant, and I felt like my job, my service work, the TV shows I liked, the books I was reading, all these things seemed to shrink into unworthiness, when compared to the tragedy that the nation was facing.

I live in San Diego county, and my community from time to time has to deal with wildfires. In 2003, the Crest Fire burned down the home of one of my best friends. This week, San Diego was hit by the worst firestorm in recent history. In this fire, the same person was evacuated, and while he didn't lose his home again, while he and his family were still under evacuation orders, his father passed away in the hospital from an unrelated illness. I got through the crisis myself just fine, other than some minor inconvenience and drama, but when I see people all around me whose lives are so affected, I have to stop and think.

click the map above for an interactive version

The firefighters themselves were absolutely impressive. The dedication and commitment of professional firefighters amazes me every time I hear about them. I have nothing negative whatsoever to say about the men and women who met these fires head on. Who else runs toward danger, rather than away from it?

The government's handling of the situation, and the bureaucratic bungling of the resources needed to fight the fires are another matter. Supposedly the fires are in their "last throes" as I write this, and there are several things about this series of events that are starting to spark a bit of anger.

The first thing that pisses me off relates to the administrative mismanagement of the firefighting effort. There are some press reports stating that there were not enough aircraft to fight the fires, at least initially, and that bureaucracy hampered the efforts. Scharzenegger denies it, but those reports are backed up by a statement by the Fire Chief in Orange County, Chip Prather: “It is an absolute fact: Had we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire." Bureacracy slowed the utilization of these resources, and this put a huge obstacle in the way of getting these fires under control.

San Diego investigative reporter Michael Turko, from KUSI local news,
interviews Ruben Grijalva, Cal Fires Chief (click above for video link)

There is an ongoing but (at least as far as my research has uncovered) unsubstatiated rumor in San Diego that during Bush's visit, the aircraft fighting the fire were grounded while Bush was in town. This rumor has been aired on local talk radio but only when brought up by people who call in. There was apparently an interview with a firefighter about this on KUSI, but I am unable to find a transcript. There are hearsay reports on blogs that mention this, but no person who has first-hand knowledge of aircraft being grounded has come forward, and no media report can be found online that mentions this at all. Even if the rumors are true, this comes as no surprise.

One thing that is verifiable is that Bush's visit caused a major traffic jam, stopping evacuees from returning to their homes.

My own congressman, Duncan Hunter, has repeatedly jumped into the limelight, trying to use the fires to fuel his limping Presidential campaign. On FOX news, he tries to portray Democrats as using the fires for political purposes, while using that appearance and others (click here) (and click here) to keep his face in front of the cameras.

I find it interesting that the proposed Blackwater West Mercenary Encampment, an new training facility project under review by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, is located in Portrero near the source of the Harris Fire. I would have thought it likely that Blackwater USA might have had a motive for causing this kind of local disruption, but since the fire affected their construction site, it is within the realm of possiblity that they are as much a victim of the fire as the rest of the county.

Facility currently at the proposed site for Blackwater West

Firefighters onsite at proposed Blackwater West area

Graded road built on property for proposed Blackwater facility
(do they have a road grading & building permit?)

(thanks to Ray Lutz for these photos, they were taken by him while he was working as a cameraman for a New York Times reporter covering the fires)

What is certain is that the residents of Portrero have suffered, and that the proposed Blackwater project would increase the long-term risk of fire.

Meanwhile, back in the city of San Diego, donations of food, necessaries, blankets and clothing stacked up at Qualcomm Stadium, and evacuees at Chicano Park in San Diego went without. Many hispanic immigrants (most of them legal residents) who were evacuated to Qualcomm and other evacuation centers were given short shrift on supplies by non-hispanic officials.

I do know that regardless of the chest thumping and attaboys by Schwarzenegger and Sanders, there were significant problems with the evacuees. Something that has been basically unnoticed by most of the mainstream media is that while Qualcomm was used successfully during the week as an evacuation center, the San Diego Chargers kicked about 500 people out of their parking lot on Friday.

All this drives home to me, especially as a resident of San Diego County, that the lessons learned at Katrina were most assuredly applied here. The rich white people evacuated from million-dollar homes were well taken care of and paraded in front of the cameras, while the poor brown people were hungry and cold, and kept away from the media. Relief efforts to the remote community of Portrero were hampered by San Diego County Sheriffs despite the urgent need of residents, FEMA gave a press conference that was carefully prepared to portray them in the best light, and as usual, the national mainstream media failed to cover the real stories, and the Bush administration succeeded in distracting attention from itself.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Charger Day Freeway Blog

The last week has been rough in some ways. My office was closed for the week because of the wildfires ravaging San Diego County. The fires have really affected everyone, and though I was fortunate enough that no members of my immediate family were evacuated or lost their homes, I do know several people who were evacuees. I work for a large company, and I'm sure that when I get back to work on Monday, there will be some bad news regarding co-workers, I know that many people I work with live in Encinitas, or Campo, or Poway.

The time off has given me time to reflect, and to make signs. My good friend Kate the Freeway blogger (see San Diego's Newest Freeway Blogger) and I spent a lot of time this week hanging out, and Friday I brought over a big pile of my signs, and Kate and I combined efforts to complete both mine and the ones she had made (mine are the ones in Jester Font). She has a great system of putting gromets near the corners and edges of the signs, and using zip-ties for attaching them to chainlink fences. This works much better than bungies (though we still use bungies for salvaged signs and to reinforce if there is wind). The signs with gromets are harder to take down without tools, but it still doesn't damage fences.

Sunday seemed perfect for blogging. The Chargers and the city of San Diego evicted the evacuees from Qualcomm Stadium so that the all-important football game could be played on schedule. This happened sort of low-key after most of the TV cameras had left, and I'm sure that Mayor Sanders and the Governator were careful to take credit for the good job that they didn't do with keeping evacuees safe and warm. Our friend Barb suggested that we go out on game-day morning to make sure that all the fans driving to the Q would have the benefit of our hard work.

Sunday morning at 5:15 we met at a parking lot somewhere in San Diego County, and set out. The first sign we set up was a large "Arrest Bush sign on a berm overlooking Highway 8. The previous week we had set up a similar sign, but it either blew over or was taken down by someone. We staked the new one into the ground, and later, after the sun came up, got a couple of good shots of it from across the freeway.

Barb brought some big chalk pieces, and she (and we) had fun with those as well.

After that we headed to one of our favorite pedestrian walkways, and hung another sign. It was still pretty dark so some of the shots came out hard to see, but we came back later and got some good ones.

Throughout the rest of the morning we hit all the best spots, some in old territory and some in new as Barb says (she absolutely knows most of the best blogging spots all through the greater San Diego metropolitan area).

We even did a bit of train-blogging.

One set of signs was still up from two weeks ago, we will keep track of those moving forward - week 3 and counting!

We had some trouble with a few of the signs.

A few signs were torn down (probably by some neo-con football fans), and we came back, repaired the damage, and hung them right back up. The first sign from early in the morning on the berm overlooking Hwy 8 had been staked into the ground. Someone pulled up the stakes, and used one of them to stab into the sign several times. One stake was thrown about 30 feet away, and the sign was tossed down the embankment (does someone need anger management classes?).

We salvaged the sign, and took it across the freeway, and hung it up facing the other way. This picture was taken while I stood at the place the sign originally stood. The holes that were stabbed into the sign actually made it easier to hang.

We had salvaged the sign we put up from 2 weeks ago at the berm that had come down, and this weekend we put it up on the College Avenue overpass, which is right on Hwy 8, on the way to the Stadium from east county. It came down after only a few hours, but with the traffic on game day - easily several tens of thousands of people saw it.

After that we drove around getting a few better pictures of our signs, then Barb dropped Kate & I off by my car. We went to breakfast (coffee and eggs always taste better after a morning of freeway blogging). We talked about the day, and then just had to go back and get (just a few) more pictures of the day's work.

All for now,

P.S. Our friend Jeff missed hooking up with us this morning, but posted this sign by himself. I just got the info, here's the pic:

Now that's really it...