Friday, November 14, 2008

Santa Barbara Ablaze

[photo from - thanks Peter]

I've had a few e-mails from friends and readers about the fire here in Santa Barbara. I just sent this reply to Elyse Umlauf, a writer friend in Chicago. Thanks to everyone for their thoughts.
Elyse: Thanks for checking. It's a raging inferno, but not of any immediate threat to me. My full-time job is with the City of Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department, so I spent the night as an emergency service worker, running the logistics command post. I started my shift around 7 pm and got relieved at about 2 am. 100 homes lost in the wooded and brush foothills. One of my son's friend's home was the first to go.

The town is blanketed in smoke and ash this morning - bit of an Armageddon vibe, but the weather is in our favor right now. Virtually no wind, but that could change by sunset - that's when the hot 'sundowners' can kick up, but the meteorologists are optimistic. We had 70 mph gusts in the fire areas until abut 10 last night, then the wind laid down for the rest of the night. This is the first time we've had night vision helicopters picking up water from the ocean and doing a few drops. Today we get jumbo flying tankers laying down retardant. The raging orange flames I saw as I reported for duty subsided before I left the command post at about 1:30 a.m.

All I could think about was how many homes could have been saved if people understood and heeded the principles of fire-wise landscaping. My TV partner, Owen Dell, and I produced four shows on the concept of Firescaping that aired last year and are still on-line starting with Episode Six. Owen and I also completely redesigned the City's Firescape demonstration garden to help inform homeowners in fire prone areas how to create defensible space. I'm hoping that a lot of people took the message to heart and made changes to their landscaping. I'll be interested to hear how many of the lost homes ignored the admonitions.

I have a song lyric going through my head – Joni Mitchell’s ‘Help Me’. Her song is about love, but it applies today.

It's got me hoping for the future
And worrying about the past
'Cause I've seen some hot hot blazes
Come down to smoke and ash

Nuff for now - bg


Zoƫ said...


I hope you stay safe and well!

Mother Nature's Garden said...

I think I would want all succulents with a huge fire break. Take care.
Prayerfully thinking of you,

Claude said...

I was listening on NPR all day about the fire, and I was wondering if you were doing ok... glad to hear you're doing fine. The pic is both beautiful and terrifying... really, an awesome shot.

Anonymous said...

I saw your gallery of landscape blunders on EDHAT. LOVED it....please post more pics and commentary.

Rob H. , SB

Kathryn/ said...

My heart is with you. After all the fires we went through the entire of July, and I found myself having to wear a hepafilter mask on my face to even go water my garden. Scary times, and there is no denying that. We still think the smoke affected our gardens. May the weather stay calm and may they get a grip on that fire as soon as humanly possible. Guard your lungs and tend your heart. xox

Robert Sarkisian said...

It seems plant material around our homes is the single most important factor in reducing the threat of fire. Building materials and development patterns are a clear influence too; that withstanding I am watching the news right now and homes in Yorba Linda with red tile roofs are up in flames.

I have viewed several of your informative Garden Wise Guys videos regarding firescaping. Episodes 7 & 9 especially useful.

It seems us Califorian's are still capricious, planting what we want where we want it. Just like the Joni Mitchell song you referenced, the lyric continues "and you love your lovin' but not like you love your freedom".

I certainly hope the worst is over for the fires in Santa Barbara and that you are indeed safe and well.

Ross said...

Good Luck, Hope all goes well, and you guys get on top of the fires

Rosemary said...

''what a scary situation. thinking of all of you.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Garden Wise Guy update:
It's Sunday afternoon (fire started Thursday night) and the fire itself is not spreading and close to containment. The weather cooperated on the second day and by the end of Friday people were realizing the worst was over, assuming the weather didn't change. But the losses, both emotional and physical are huge.

One of my favorite clients lost his home and everyone in town knows someone who has been affected.

Thanks for the kind thoughts.

Aiyana said...

Hope all is well. That is a sad but beautiful photo.