“Santa Barbara”

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No tweets on #jesusitafire OR #santabarbara OR roque OR jesusita in the past three hours. That’s because it’s 5:45am in Santa Barbara right now. Not because nothing is happening. Check this scary image, from 3:25am.

I’m listening to KCLU. They did  good job last night. So did KTYD/99.9, the audio of which was substitued for the usual programing on sister stations KTMS/990 and KIST/1490.

Now it’s 6am, and KCLU only reports that three Ventura County firefighters were injured, some seriously. KTYD is taking a break from music programming to talk about what’s happening. Mostly it’s school closing.

KNX, at 6:05 has a reporter “live from the fire line.” Another at the fire command center. A story about a guy on Palomino Road (where some of our closest friends live) who did something with bush reduction that saved his house and those of neighbors. Doing correct pronunciations, too. “San Row-kee”. “La Coom-bra”. Well done.

Among the local TV stations yesterday, KSBY was the most helpful, because they had a helicopter parked a few hundred feet above the Foothill/San Roque intersection, looking for good video in the burning residential areas, that appeared to run west to east from upper San Roque/Santa Terasita to Tunnel Road. The shots I put up here were mostly from KSBY’s copter.

(Not quite oddly, KSBY is a San Luis Obispo station. SLO is a long drive over and around several mountain ranges. Over the air, KSBY’s signal is already weak where it’s walled off by the Santa Ynez mountains. But it doesn’t matter because almost nobody watches over the air TV in Santa Barbara anyway. There’s only one local English-speaking station (KEYT). If you want more TV, you get cable or satellite. KSBY is a cable station in SB.)

6:15am Pacific. KNX has a guy from Spyglass Ridge, who says all the houses on Holly Road burned, while Spyglass Ridge was spared. The fire jumped over his whole neighborhood. When a fire “jumps” it is usually by dropping burning “debris” at a distance from the fire itself. A the vertical winds in a fire can be high enough to lift burning shingles, bark, hunks of fences and whole flaming bushes, high into the sky, and drop them, still burning, up to half a mile or more away. The Oakland fire in 1991 leaped from Hiller Highlands across Temescal Lake, and two highways — 13 and 24 — to set the Piedmont district on fire. Well over 3000 homes burned in that one. It was easily the most amazing thing I have ever seen. At the height of the fire, a home was blowing up, literally exploding, every four seconds. We had friends who lost houses in that one, and not even the chimneys were standing. The heat at the center of the fire was several times that required for cremation. Cars were reduced to puddles of metal and glass. Once a fire like that gets going, “fighting” it is an optimistic verb.

This is the risk in Santa Barbara. The Cheltenham area, shown on the near side of the smoke in this shot here, is very much like Hiller Highlands and the Upper Broadway sections of Oakland, which burned in that ’91 fire. It’s a neighborhood of closely spaced homes on narrow winding roads, packed with beautiful yet highly flammable forests and landscaping. In other words, the kind of place that can go almost at once, and fast. Santa Barbara’s Riviera district is also like that. So is Barker Hill. And so were some of the regions burned by the Tea Fire.

As of right now, 6:25am, the winds are still calm. But the fire is 0% contained, and burning away on the face of the Santa Ynez mountain range that rises like a wall behind the city to nearly 4000 feet (at La Cumbre Peak). The woods here are dense with what they call “fuel”, and can be an abundant source of burning debris if the winds shift back south toward the civilization and the sea. High winds are expected later today.

So how can we keep up with news?

First, there’s Twitter. At 6:29am, the latest tweet on this search is from 3 hours ago and says

zbasset: #jesusitafire Has anyone been outside to do a visual this morning? How does it look? about 3 hours ago from web

This is actually helpful. So are any other tweets with actual reports, or links to useful information. Most of them are. Kudos to the tweeters.

It’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come since @nateritter started @sandiegofire in 2007. That showed what Twitter can do. In Santa Barbara it did much more in the Gap Fire and the Tea Fire. But now it’s mainstream. Every radio and TV station that wants to play in the clue flow has a Twitter account. The problem is, most of them are clueless in other ways, mostly because they still don’t realize that they are no longer the only lighthouses on the coast. There is an emerging ecosystem of news now, and it’s one in which everybody pariticipates. The result looks and sounds more like a trading floor than a newspaper or a radio or TV dial.

Speaking of which here’s a good list of local radio stations in Santa Barbara.

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It all started here.

It all started here. With Platform A: the first of thirty-some oil platforms built in the 1960s off the coast of Southern California. To anybody looking seaward from Santa Barbara, the platforms are nearly as much a fixture of the horizon as the Channel Islands beyond. The three closest, Platforms A, B and C, are just several miles out.

On January 28, 1969, Platform A had a blow-out. As much as 100,000 barrels of oil rose to the surface and spread. Had the oil been carried away from shore, the event might have been small news. But instead it gunked up the coast, ruining Santa Barbara’s harbor for a time, and treating the world to the first of many iconic visuals: tar-covered sea birds.

Long story short, Earth Day followed.

Some pictures from the time.

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This LA Times editorial says,

…when many of Santa Barbara’s most determined anti-drilling activists teamed up to back a deal that would allow an oil company to drill under state waters off the city’s coast, it was a jaw-dropping moment.
Just as surprising, given the deal’s powerful backing, was its collapse Thursday, when the State Lands Commission rejected it on a 2-1 vote. The failure shows that, despite high oil prices that turned “Drill, baby, drill” into a Republican mantra last year, it remains phenomenally difficult to expand drilling in California...
Under the publicly disclosed terms of the deal, Plains Exploration & Production Co., which owns a platform in federal waters just beyond the three-mile limit controlled by the state, would have drilled several wells from the platform into oil reserves on state property. In return, it would have closed that platform, three others it operates off Santa Barbara and two onshore processing facilities by 2022 and donated 4,000 acres of land for preservation. Over the life of the project, the state would have collected up to $5 billion in tax revenues.
Bizarrely, the company and the environmental groups that were parties to the bargain kept the rest of its terms confidential. It is not unheard of for environmentalists to sell out the public interest for political or financial reasons, and no elected official should ever approve a secret deal that affects public resources. The company finally announced that it would disclose the full agreement during Thursday’s Lands Commission hearing, but that was months too late.

To this Santa Barbarian, who loves views of the sea, the oil platforms have their charms. They protrude from the planar Pacific like little square islands with christmas lights. And, as infrastructural studies, they’re rather interesting. It turns out that they’re also welcome offshore habitats, as are scuttled or wrecked metal boats.

Which are worse — oil platforms, or the hills of Los Angeles prickling with pump jacks? Pick your poison. Both bargains are Faustian.

The environmental damage risked, much less caused, by offshore drilling, is not a large part of the whole. Lost in most arguments about drilling in Southern California is the fact that up to hundreds of barrels of crude seep into the ocean constantly there, most of it right by UCSB. It stains the water with long streaks of gray-blue oil, much of it spreading from methane — natural gas — bubblings, some of which are trapped and captured by underwater contraptions. Also lost is the fact that offshore drilling on the West Coast contributes a trivial sum to U.S. energy independence.

Civilization is an open laboratory of trade-offs, with a time horizon that is never geological — and human only to the degree that it considers the wants of the living.

I think the best energy bargains are ones involving sun and wind. But there’s not enough of either to satisfy the energy appetites of a human population that has swelled to many billions. So we must continue to eat the Earth until its dead stuffings fail to sustain us.

After that? Who cares? We’ll all be dead by then too. Maybe some successor species will mine our cemeteries.

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On New Years Day we had breakfast on the Wharf, then walked around the harbor to the breakwater, and then out across the rocks to the beach at the tip of the breakwater that forms one side of the opening to the marina. Part of our purpose was exercise and general sight-seeing, but we were also curious about the amazing explosion in the population of pelicans.

The birds have been common as long as we’ve lived here (since 2001), but outnumbered by gulls, which are by far the most common shore birds, pretty much everywhere in temperate climes. But here the gulls now seem crowded out by the California Brown Pelican, once an endangered species.

Thousands, it seemed, now all but owned the beach at the end of the breakwater. So the kid and I went out there to investigate the matter. This photo set follows the walk, and shares some of what we discovered.

I neglected to take my good camera with me, which is a bit of a bummer: no art shots or close-ups. But I still got some good-enough shots with the little pocket Canon, plus a video I’ll put up after I get back to Boston and better bandwidth.

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So I’m here in the Bolt Bus from Boston to New York. There’s wi-fi on board, and power outlets in the backs of most seats. But the wi-fi is slow, so I’m on a Sprint EvDO card. Getting about 1Mb down and .6Mb up. Not bad.

Anyway, I’ve recently uploaded a pile of photo sets to Flickr, where my inventory of photos is now approaching 26,000. Here is a list of just a few sets, mostly shot from airplanes and other moving vehicles:

Wow. It’s snowing now. Hard. We’re still in Connecticut, approaching the Westchester border. The Weather.com map is quite colorful:

Hm. Not taking. Guess I need a separate post for it.

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Nothing, I hope, will ever impress me as much as the Oakland firrestorm of October 20, 1991. At its peak a house was blowing up ever four seconds.  Hiller Highlands, a dome of land the looks straight west at San Francisco across the length of the Bay Bridge — one of the most desirable views in the entire world — was obliterated. The fire was so aggressive, so overwhelming, that at least one fire truck had to be abandoned.  The fire lobbed so much burning debris in its path that it leaped over two highways — 24 and 13 — and the Temescal Reservoir, to bring devastation to Oakland’s Piedmont section as well.

Close to 4000 residences (including houses and apartments) were burned in that one, in an area not much more than a mile across. I was on the Palo Alto Red Cross board at the time, and among those brought in to check out the devastation a day or two after the fire was out. Houses were erased by it. Cars were melted into puddles. Square holes in concrete, with puddles of metal around them, marked where deck timbers had stood. For some of the dead, there was no sign. Heat at the center of the fire passed 6000°, several times that required for cremation.

I’ve written about this before. I’m writing about it again (and again) because the subject is, well, close to home for me. We were in the evacuation area for the Tea Fire in Santa Barbara last month, and thoughts about how close it came — for the whole city —  still give me chills.  I was reminded again of the devastation by this Gigapan photo from West Mountain Drive. And revisiting this remarkable Google Map by grizzlehizzle. If you want an example of citizen journalism at its best, this is one fine example — from somebody who declines to say who they are, exactly.

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I just put up a gallery of shots I took as the sun was going down today, and the evacuation barricades were lifted — at least from some of the Tea Fire burn area.

The aerial shot above is from the excellent Live Search Maps. If you want to look around, the top shot is in this view here.

Most of my shots were after the sun went down, so they’re not the best. But they reveal some of what went on at the western edge of the fire perimeter.

Most of the houses north of Sheffield Reservoir (which is now buried beneath a park) were spared. But many along Gibraltar, El Cielito and West Mountain Road (such as the one above, a beautiful house with a view across a pool and Parma Park) were burned. It wrenched my heart to see residents visiting some of these homes. They weren’t all “mansions”, as the out-of-town media called them. Many were not even especially upscale. But most were beautiful, and all were in a beautiful setting. And they were homes. They contained the lives of their residents. Lives that will have to start over in many ways.

We know people who lost homes here. Our hearts go out to them.

One thing that amazed me was how good a job the firefighters did protecting many homes in this area. One official said it would have been reasonable to expect to lose 500 or more homes in a fire like this one.

I head back to the place our kid calls “alt.home” or “shift_home” in Boston tomorrow. Meanwhile I am appreciating every minute I’m here.

Meanwhile, here’s a thankful shout-out to the firefighters who did their best to save what they could. Which happens to be the rest of Santa Barbara.

Bonus pic: Here’s exactly the same area, after the Sycamore Canyon fire in 1977.

[Later…] I’m on a pit stop at the Starbucks Coffee & Reggae Disco in King City, where the music is so loud that people go outside to talk on their cell phones. Just did that myself.

It was weird to hit SCAN on the rental car radio and have it stop at 87.7, where KSBY/Channel 6 in San Luis Obispo was running a live press conference on the Tea Fire from Santa Barbara. I stayed with it until the signal gave out around San Ardo. Meanwhile, here’s what I picked up that matters: Homes were lost on the folowing roads:

  • Coyote Road
  • Coyote Circle
  • East Mountain Drive
  • West Mountain Drive
  • El Cielito
  • Gibraltar Road
  • Las Alturas Road
  • Orizaba Road
  • Orizaba Lane
  • Conejo Road
  • Stanwood Road
  • Sycamore Canyon Road
  • Ealand Place (not sure, but I think so)
  • Mt. Calvary Road (including the Monastery and Retreat Center)
  • Westmont Road/Circle Drive (not clear about this, but I believe so)

They said 210 structures were lost. More than 5000 homes were evacuated across a large area outside the fire perimeter, ours among them.

Only residents with government-issued IDs will be let into the main burn areas: Mountain Road, Conejo, Coyote, a few others.

Okay, hitting the road again. Next stop, SFO. Then BOS and back to work.

[Later…] I’m at SFO now. No time to say more than to look at this map, this City 2.0 summary, and these images and headlines.

Oh, and look at this. It’s the same scene after the 1977 Sycamore Fire. Some home sites have burned three times: In the 1964 Coyote Fire, the Sycamore Fire, and now the Tea Fire.

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Well, the Tea Fire has been upstaged by the Sylmar Fire. (Both links are to LA Times stories. Do LA Times stories still drift behind a paywall after a week? Not sure. If so, I’ll change them to more permanent pages later.) Here’s the latest I’ve heard from KCLU radio…

  • The official toll of burned structures is now 111, although the real number is likely higher than 150.
  • There are still small ground fires to put out along the north side of Mission Ridge Road, and that’s what’s keeping the evacuation roadblocks up.
  • The fire is officially 40% contained.
  • Officials are hoping to lift evacuation notices by the end of the day.

Noozhawk says the number may be as high as 200. Here’s more.

I’m heads-down, finishing a major writing assignment, and won’t be revisiting fire matters until later today. Meanwhile it’s clear that the Tea Fire is in the mopping-up stage, as the life-rebuilding stage has barely begun for hundreds of people here.

A friend just called and said that the barricades are still up, but the cops there also said they expected some areas to be opened within an hour. If you’re in an evacuated area, check with SB County Fire or Montecito Fire.

Other links: fire.ca.gov on Tea Fire, Edhat news, Noozhawk news, SB Independent news, City 2.0 bulletin boardHere are some pictures of the Westmont campus. Amazed it wasn’t much worse.

More later. (Including the pictures I just put up.)

[Later…] Back home. Other parts of town are still barricaded, but ours isn’t. I’m at my desk now, getting to work.

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The fire in Santa Barbara is officially called the Tea Incident, because it started near (or at) a (or the) tea house, on Mountain Road in Montecito. (Here? Ah, no, here.)

There are lots of good places to see what’s happening. One of the best is this Google Map. KEYT, Edhat, the Independent, Noozhawk and others are helpful. Inciweb has nothing so far, perhaps because the Tea Incident is not yet an official wildfire. It’s usually very helpful once it gets rolling on a fire. And the MODIS maps are great. That’s a screenshot of one, above.

It’s also a little too interesting that temperatures will be as high as 90° today (unusually hot for here) with strong winds from the northeast. Which will be bad, if any of the fire is still going. Some of it will be, but it’s clear that this is not a rolling conflagration like the Oakland fire in 1990 or the San Diego fire last year. Watching the Montecito and Santa Barbara fire chiefs and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum in a press conference right now. The phrases “damage assessment” and “mopping up” are being used. Also “narrow window of opportunity” to contain the fire.

So right now the top thing people want to know is, Which houses have burned down? Can we be exact about what has burned? Saying “over a hundred homes” gives us a quantity of nothing.

If anybody has something exact — streets and neighborhoods, if not addresses — let us know in the comments below. Meanwhile I’ll be headed out shortly to check things out, or at least to sit at a coffee shop and hang out with concerned and/or evacuated neighbors.

[Not much later…] The County Sherrif is on now, and giving specifics. The Mount Calvary Retreat House and Monastery is completely distroyed. (A beautiful place, and a terrible loss.) Areas where many homes burned: Las Canoas, East Mountain Drive, Gibraltar Road, Scofield Park. Mostly inside a triangle between Westmont Collage, the East Riviera and St. Mary’s. (By Rattlesnake Canyon.) Over 100 homes lost, but many also saved.

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