“Santa Barbara”

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The mudslides we feared in Southern California didn’t materialize when I posted about the topic on January 21st. Now they are feared again, as a new wave of winter rainstorms passes through. Some slides have already happened. More will. Count on it. (And if you’re at serious risk, really please do GTFO.)

Meanwhile, back here in Boston, a winter snowstorm is headed our way, after treating D.C., Maryland and the surrounding regions to another heavy layer of snow, atop the deepest in memory, which hasn’t had a chance to melt. (One relative there went for many hours without power, looking out on a scene where his car appeared only as a low hill in snow through which only trees and houses protruded.)  We’ve mostly been spared this winter, as have the ski areas to the north. Those will probably be spared again, since this storm is expected to do its heaviest dumping south of here. Bummer, that.

On Friday we fly back to Santa Barbara for The Kid’s winter school break. There are mudslide risks there too, though not as severe as in Los Angeles. (Our hills are mostly rock. L.A.’s are mostly dirt. Think of L.A.’s hills as sponges — because that’s what they are. Place a dry sponge on a steep incline, drip water on it, and see what happens when it fills.)

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll miss the rain there, and get treated to some of those sunsets we’ve been missing. Hope so.

[Later...] I just got a call from my wife, awakened at 3:3oam in California by a call from the school here. A snow day has been declared. Doesn’t look like it yet, though. There are details in the clouds, like scales on a mackerel. But, as we can see from the radar, it’s coming.

[Later still...] It’s now 2:30 in the afternoon, not long before school gets out, and there has been approximately no snow at all. Just a mix of light flakes and drizzle. Good, I guess.

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Come on by

citslogo

For my readers in Santa Barbara, I highly invite you to come over to the open house, Noon-2pm today at CITS — the Center for Information Technology and Society at UCSB. This is a great bunch of people, doing great work, in a nice new space that I wish I could be in myself. Alas, I have a prior commitment on the East Coast, where I am now (keeping me away from the last day of IIW as well — and that’s an event I helped start).

CITS is at 1310 Social Science & Media Studies Building. Some details about that here.

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It’s been a long travel day, and we’ve got an hour to go before getting unstuck here in the Denver airport, which is in Nebraska, I think. Got an early flight out of Boston, then failed to get on by standby with two flights so far. But we’re reserved on the third, and due to arrive in Santa Barbara an hour and a quarter before tomorrow.

Anyway, my normally sunny mood, even in the midst of travel woes (one should appreciate the fact that commercial aviation involves sitting in a chair moving 500 miles an hour, seven miles up), was compromised earlier this evening by an unhappy exchange with Enterprise, the rental car company. I wrote about it in Unf*cking car rental, over in the ProjectVRM blog. It concludes constructively:

So I want to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody in a responsible position anywhere in the car rental business to work together with us at on a customer-based solution to this kind of automated lameness. It can’t be done from the inside alone. That’s been tried and proven inadequate for way too long. Leave a message below or write me at dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

Let’s build The Intention Economy — based on real, existing, money-in-hand intentions of real customers, rather than the broken attention-seeking and customer-screwing system we have now.

There’s the bait. We’ll see if anybody takes it.

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Here we burn again

The country behind Santa Barbara is burning again. This one is the LaBrea fire, east of Santa Maria. It has grown past 36,000 acres and is 10% contained. This is far north of the fire in Santa Barbara earlier this year. Still, it’s a big one.

Here’s a mashup of MODIS data with Google Earth:

labrea_fire11

The view is toward the east. The LaBrea Fire is on the left, on the north side, and the little dots along the coast on the right are visualizations of MODIS data from the height of the Jesusita Fire earlier this year. In the foreground along the coast is Vandenberg Air Force Base, plus lots of sand dunes, advancing southeastward.

Bonus link.

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One of the best things about living in (or just following) Santa Barbara is reading Nick Welsh’s Angry Poodle Barbeque column each week in the Independent — one of the best free newsweeklies anywhere. This week’s column, El Corazón del Perro, is a classic. One sample:

For those of us without the heart to pursue our own dream, or even the imagination to have one, Jackson provides cold reassurance. If someone so rich, so famous, and so hugely adored could wind up so agonizingly wretched, maybe the moral of the story is that one’s bliss was never meant to be followed.

This, however, isn’t just another knock on the late Jacko. It’s a column about afterdeath effects in Santa Barbara County, which was home to Jackson through his Neverland years:

This past Tuesday, a coterie of key county executives from law enforcement, public works, fire protection, public health, planning, emergency response, and communications spent the better part of the day shuttling from one emergency meeting to the next, trying to figure out what was real and what to do about it. No less than five employees of the Sheriff’s Department spent their day fielding calls from media outlets around the world. Associated Press dispatched a reporter to stake out the County Administration Building all day. By 7 p.m., Tuesday, no actual communication had taken place between county government and the Jackson camp. Instead, Sheriff’s officials relied upon contacts they have with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for whatever vague rumors and rumblings they could get. Somehow through this opaque and osmotic chain of communication, county officials are hoping to persuade the Jackson clan to call it off, if in fact it was they who started something in the first place.

Some in the Sheriff’s Department expressed confidence that the whole thing has been an exceptionally expensive and elaborate fire drill. Personally, I like the idea that the whole thing is a big fake-out, an angry practical joke on the county that prosecuted Jackson. When Paul McCartney’s former wife, Linda McCartney, died several years ago, I remember how rumors were strategically planted that she died in Santa Barbara County. In fact, she did not. The County Coroner complained he spent so much time fielding media calls that he couldn’t get any work done. Cadavers, he said, were piling up in his coolers like firewood. Ultimately, we would discover the whole thing was an elaborate dodge so that the McCartney clan could grieve unmolested by the paparazzi. But not before Santa Barbarans — ever willing to embrace the rich and famous, even if they never lived here — held a solemn and tearful candlelight vigil at the County Courthouse’s Sunken Gardens.

Some of the worries in the piece are stale now (a Neverland funeral appears unlikely), but it’s still a good read.

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So I’m walking across the Harvard campus, going from one Berkman office to another, listening to KCLU from Santa Barbara on my iPhone. The guest on the show is Berkman’s own John Palfrey. I think, that’s coolwhat’s the show? The tuner doesn’t tell me, because (I assume) KCLU doesn’t provide that data along with the audio stream.

To find out, I just sat down on a bench, popped open the laptop and started looking around. KCLU’s site says what’s on now is OnPoint. That’s because the time on the scuedule block says 9:00am. It’s currently 10:45am, Pacific. The next show block on the schedule is Fresh Air at 11:00am. John isn’t listed as an OnPoint guest, so… what is the show he’s on?

I wait until the interview with John ends, and then I learn that the show is Here & Now, which KCLU says comes on at 2pm. Here & Now has the JP segment listed. Says this:

More Countries Use Internet Censorship
Listen
We’ve heard about countries like China, Iran and North Korea censoring websites. But our guest, John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berman Center for Internet and Society says the practice is becoming more widespread—more than three dozen countries do extensive censoring, even France, Australia and the U.S. engage in some type of censorship.

Now it’s 11:00am Pacific, and KCLU brings on Science Friday. Also at variance from the schedule.

I’m not sure how to fix the problem of not including show data in a stream (or, if included, getting it displayed on software tuners), though I am sure it’s fixable. More importantly, I am convinced of the  need of listeners to know what they’re hearing, to bookmark it, and to find out more about it later. At the very least they should be able to find the answer to the “What was that?” question — without spending fifteen minutes surfing around a browser on a laptop.

Being able to know what you’re hearing would also inform decisions about, say, how much money you’d like to throw at the station or a program, if you’d like to do that. That’s what EmanciPay (which I wrote about yesterday) would help do.

Anyway, that’s why we’re working on Listen Log, as a variety of Media Logging. Input welcome.

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jesusita_google_modis8

(Scroll to the bottom for my latest. Not the latest, just mine.)

The shot above looks west from the eastern flank of the Jesusita fire, above Montecito.  The overlays are MODIS (the dots and squares) and GEOMAC (the red line). I think the GEOMAC data is older, but I’m not sure. Both were downloaded at about 4:42am, Pacific time. The newest detections are red and the oldest are yellow. They are from instruments on satellites and may or may not indicate major fire activity. One during the Tea Fire suggested that the fire had spread far down into the Riviera district and toward town. When I checked the spot, it turned out to have been a fire in part of a small isolated oak tree. No fire had spread to or from there.

Still, the data do show changes in the fire’s approximate perimeter over time. Step through this photoset and you can see how the fire has gone over the past few days.

Sean Trek has a way of seeing MODIS with radiative power.

It looks to me now like the next challenge, after saving lives and homes, is keeping the fire from burning for many more days or weeks across the back country. The trick here is to let the fire take nature’s course while also keeping it away from civilization. It is a significant fact that California’s state tree (the Coast Redwood) and state flower (the California Poppy) are both adapted to fire. One might also make the case that the latter is adapted to earthquakes.

I don’t doubt that if any of the three most recent fires — Gap, Tea and Jesusita — had hit fifty years ago, much of Santa Barbara would have been cremated by this morning. Since we are among more than 30,000 current evacuees, that might  have included our house too. Firefighting and team coordination have vastly improved just since the 1990 Painted Cave Fire, when more than 600 homes were lost. Experience from that fire led to many of the improvements that saved homes this past week. (For a history of Santa Barbara’s wildfires, go to Santa Barbara Outdoors, and read the remarkable series that starts here. It covers the eight fires between 1955 and 1990.)

Life everywhere is a losing game with death. We just hope that the substantive things we do and build will outlive us. In much of California, the chance that our homes will outlive us is smaller than most other places. Some homes lost in the Tea Fire had replaced homes on the same property that had burned in 1964 Coyote Fire and again in the 1977 Sycamore Fire. Among disasters that might befall homes in California, only earthquakes are more certain to occur, and in more places. Hence the higher insurance costs.

But still the graces of living here are exceptionally high. Mild, sunny weather. Clean air. Beautiful mountains and beaches. Wonderful people. Excellent university. So we do.

And every day we should thank the heroic work required of the firefighters who keep the worst of nature at bay. Posted 5:38am, Pacfic.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see the subtitle in Gretchen Miller’s report in the Independent, Fires Burn In Canyon Near Painted Cave: Favorable Weather Conditions Keep Fire Under Control. From around 10pm last night. 6:20am

The LA Times has a story on the fire, dated 10:28pm last night.

Last night on KCLU before going to sleep I heard that the Gane House at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden was destroyed. This confirms it. 6:28am

A news conference is scheduled for 8am. Just heard that on KNX, which has done an excellent job covering the fire.

Okay, the press conference just ended. KCLU, KNX and KTYD (and, presumably, some or all of its four sister stations) all carried it. KCLU bailed before it was over. So did KNX, though they stuck it out a bit longer. Only KTYD stayed until the end. (Bravo for them.)

The news that matters is that the fire is “contained” along the northern border of Santa Barbara. Thus spake SB Fire Chief Andrew DeMizio (who always starts by spelling his name). He was glad to see “that black line” on the new Incident map. Contained does not mean put out. He had another word for that, but I forget what it was.

The language is interesting. A fire is an “indicent”. Police, fire, Red Cross and other personnel are “assets”. Lifting an evacuation order is “repopulation”. My kid just said, “I thought ‘repopulation’ was what you got after the first population has died”.

Inexcusable, if true: No questions about locations still apparently threatened. (Could be that somebody asked and I didn’t hear it.) Specifically, the only two communities up in the Santa Ynez Mountains, overlooking the city: Painted Cave and Flores Flat. I gathered from the Indy story mentioned above that Painted Cave was okay. But the only way I knew that Flores Flat survived was from a little human interest feature that KNX has been running over and over again: comments by a woman who gave advice about what to take and what to leave behind. She said she had resigned herself to losing her home in Flores Flat, but was surprised to find it had survived. Frankly, I’m amazed that Flores Flat is okay. I’ll bet the firefighters gave special attention to that one. Maybe one of the places where the DC-10 laid down some of its 12000+ gallons of fire retardant was between Flores Flat and the fire.

Flores Flat is far up Gibraltar Road, between Gibraltar Peak (where many of Santa Barbara’s FM stations radiate from, including KCLU and KTYD) and the site farther up the mountain face where hang gliders and paragliders launch toward the city when the winds are right.  From the looks of the map and overlays above, the fire movement was eastward away from Gibraltar, and up and over the crest of the ridge near Montecito Peak to the east and LaCumbre Peak to the west.

The Tea Fire surely created a fire break as well. It burned much of Gibraltar road, and up the face of Gibraltar Peak, where it roasted the antennas of KCLU and many of the other stations there. KTYD and its AM sister KTMS are located a few hundred feet above and behind there, so they survived.  To the west of there are some of the main power lines that supply the city. As I recall those lines are draped quite high, and I suppose survived the fire as it approached Gibraltar road this time. Other high power lines coming into the Goleta side of town were hurt in the Gap Fire last summer, knocking out power for much of the city at the time.

The weather is much better now. Cooler, and moist, with marine layer fog moving in off the Pacific Ocean to the south. Vari0us officials cautioned that this could change, and in fact it probably will. Typical late Spring and Summer weather is early morning fog, burning off as the day goes on. Whether hot “sundowner” winds return is still an open question, but various weather sources suggest that won’t happen. On the other hand, if the fire gets into Paradise Valley on the north side of the ridge, the story might be different. The climate there tends to be much hotter and dryer than on the Santa Barbara side of the mountains. 8:50am

We have friends in Worchester who were going to Santa Barbara to see Katy Perry’s last show, in her home town. That last link is from Noozhawk, which I’ve neglected to follow more closely. The reason is that Santa Barbara is being repopulated with a raft of new and improved media sources growing like a ring of redwood sprouts where a mighty tree has fallen. That tree is the Santa Barbara News-Press, a once fine newspaper that was (and remains) in a much better position to survive than papers in other cities that are owned by stressed public companies or private individuals with shallower pockets. The story of the News-Press’s meltdown is not yet the stuff of legend, only because it’s still going on. Kind of like a fallen tree with a few intact roots, staying alive, but barely. For more on that, just look up Wendy McCaw on Google. Or read Craig Smith. It’s his main beat. A sample:

A major fire in town didn’t stop the Santa Barbara News-Press from doing business as usual. In this case, “business as usual,” meant laying people off.

This time, the unlucky employee was Jued Martinez. He was a digital image technician for the paper, the “go-to-guy for Photoshop issues,” as he put it, working in the camera (pre-press) department for many 15 years.

He announced his own layoff via Twitter around 1:40 Thursday afternoon by saying, “Wow! I’m available for Design work now. Just got laid off from the SBNP. Feel a little better now, not worrying about it.”

To witness how retro and self-destructive the News-Press is, go to their Jesusita Fire Coverage page. Click on a story. Say, this one. You get one sentence. Then you’re told to long in. Subscribers only. Hell, even when we were subscribers, we couldn’t get in there. I’m sure it all disappears or scrolls behind a paywall after a few days in any case. Gone like snow on the water.

Except as a source of fodder about itself, the News-Press plays a self-minimized role in the local news ecology. For getting news on the fire, that includes:

  1. Twitter search for Jesustiafire or Jesusita (@latimesfires uses this search)
  2. Google News search for Jesusita (most recent)
  3. The Independent
  4. Edhat
  5. Noozhawk
  6. City2
  7. KNX
  8. KTYD
  9. KCLU
  10. KCSB

With the radio stations, I mean their streams, not their sites.

I’ll add others later (including stream addresses). Gotta go. Here’s a photo pool in the meantime. 9:33am

And here’s one last photo, courtesy of the only commenter so far on this post:

jesusita_google_modis9

Thanks, nathan. 10:19am

They’re “repopulating” at last. The worst is over. 10:48am

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jesusita_google_modis4

The shot above, a screen capture of a Google Earth view, with a .kml overlay from MODIS, shows the first fire detections (that I’ve seen at least), south of Foothill/Cathedral Oaks and west of 154. It also shows the first detections across the spine of the Santa Ynez Mountains. 3:02am. (All times Pacific.)

These detections do not mean fire spreading. During the Tea Fire, there were many detections that didn’t spread, at some distance from the fire itself. Still, this map gives a good visualization  of the growing fire perimeter. 3:03am

KEYT/3′s 3:00am video report. 3:04am

Far as I know, only KTYD is covering the fire live right now, at 3:10am. All the talk is about evacuations. Nothing about homes burning. KTYD’s four sister stations are also carrying the same audio. Click on “Listen Live” on the website. 3:13am

The latest from the Independent:

The fire is only a few hundred yards from Foothill in the San Roque area, but doesn’t appear to be burning any houses at the moment thanks to the firefighters concerted effort to hold Foothill Road.

Firefighters extinguished a small spot fire at Steven’s Park and trying to save homes at Canyon Acres off Ontare. One structure is already burning there; firefighters requested three to four extra engines to protect approximately 12 houses. 3:28am

Collected Independent coverage. 3:28am Copied from a byline: Ray Ford, Matt Kettmann, Chris Meagher, Ben Preston, Nick Welsh. These guys are doing a great job. Near as I can tell, the Indy is the only news organization with reporters working the fire around the clock. Outstanding work.

Hats off to Edhat as well. There are 328 comments so far to Ed’s latest report. 5:32am

From among the Edhat comments, this collection of GOES-10 satellite photos. Interesting to see where the smoke goes. 5:35am

John Wiley has lots of photos. 5:41am

I listened to the first three or four speakers in the 8am press conference, and then made the good chap I had an appointment with wait while we both listened to see if anybody would say what listeners most wanted to hear: what homes were lost, and what homes were most in danger. I hate to be critical of people doing heroic and much appreciated work, especially when it is quite true — as these speakers said — that many more homes were saved than lost, and at great risk and effort. I’ll just say it was frustrating not to get specifics about homes. Maybe they came around to it eventually. I don’t know. Eventually I had to turn off the radio (actually an iPhone tuned to KTYD) and get on with my meeting.

On the positive side, dig what Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent wrote in Assessing What’s Burned: Damage Report, Updated Friday:

Although the task can be difficult in a wildfire zone — especially one with as many twists, turns, and long driveways as the foothills of Santa Barbara — The Independent’s reporters are trying their hardest to deliver what everyone who’s evacuated wants to know: the addresses of homes that have not survived the Jesusita Fire.

And deliver they do. First, the disclaimer:

We are fully aware that mistakes in this sort of reporting could be horrible for homeowners who get the wrong information, so we’ve strived for the utmost accuracy. Furthermore, based on responses we’ve already received during this fire and others, we believe that this public service is one of our most valuable roles as a media entity, and hope you find the information useful.

As of 1:30 p.m. on Friday, the following is what The Indy’s team of reporters has been able to put together.

Then the list, with very careful qualification. Excellent stuff. If the Indy doesn’t get an award for its fire coverage, there is no justice in Officialized Journalism.

Here is a recent Google Earth shot with a MODIS overlay of fire spottings by satellite. Note the difference between this one and the shot at the top from early this morning:

jesusita_google_modis5

The nearest red spot is above San Jose Creek in the canyon above Patterson Ave, near some orchards or vineyards. This is in or below the area burned by the Gap Fire in July of last year. Perhaps more scary is the set of new red squares advancing northwest toward Painted Cave, which is on the left edge of this shot. Here’s a better view:

painted_cave

The last big fire in Santa Barbara — and the biggest ever in terms of home loss — was the Painted Cave Fire of 1990. More than 600 homes were lost. But none in Painted Cave itself. The fire started near there, but advanced straight down toward the sea. Many of the houses you see on this picture between the 101 and 154 symbols on this shot were burned in that fire. 5:09pm

There’s a press conference going on. I’m listening on KNX/1070. Also KCLU/1340/102.3. The KCLU stream (which is what I’m now listening to, here in Boston) is here. 5:14pm.

30,500 are evacuated. (That includes us, by the way. We’re kind of extremely evacuated, staying about 3,000 miles away.) “There will be no re-population tonight.” Shelter is available. Room left at the Multi-Activities Center at UCSB. Find it off Mesa. “A supurb evacuation center.” Special needs folks should go to the Thunderdome on the campus. KCLU is summarizing now. KNX continues to carry the audio of the conference. Surprising since KNX is a Los Angeles news station that covers all of SoCal, and needs to run advertising every few minutes. So they’re eating that income. KCLU is back to its regular NPR program. 5:22pm

Inciweb has a Jesusita Fire incident page now. For earlier fires, Inciweb has been the canonical (if unofficial) source of data. KNX just directed listeners looking for non-Santa Barbara news to KFWB, its sister station in Los Angeles. KNX has a strong signal in Santa Barbara. KFWB has none and is much more local to L.A. itself. 8:27pm

They’ve been using “multiple arial assets” including a DC-10 that can deliver large payloads.5:32

Getting close to posting addresses and other “assessments”. “Confident we’re moving towards” posting those. In the next two days. Close to 2500 personnel. More than 200 fire engines. Massive mutual aid program. 5:33pm

Can somebody ask about Painted Cave? 5:34pm

Pictures from Mercury Press. 5:40pm

Ray Ford has another excellent piece in the Independent. To answer a commenter, below, Cocopah was okay. Ray names names on other streets as well. 7:31pm

Here is a view toward MODIS fire findings. I’ve added Gap and Tea Fire perimeters as well. When this thing is over, we’ll have a charred mountain face, but not a bad fire break. For a short while, anyway. 7:38p

jesusita_google_modis6

Okay, that’s enough pictures for your browser to suffer. I’m heading for bed. It’s 10:39 here and I need to be up early. 7:39pm

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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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Picture These

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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House cremation revisited

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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Before:

After:

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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