Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mabel and Little Blue Shoe

September has been a rough month... aside from what seems to be my only blog topic (fire), my car and my mouth have been giving me fits. Both combined have added about $3,100 to my debt.

Last weekend, the car was in the shop for several days. The part was ordered and, as my mostly wonderful mechanic is apt to do, work began around 4 on a Friday afternoon. It was quickly discovered that the wrong part was in the right box, leaving my car in a non-running condition. After two days of no creek and knowing I had an ISGB (bead) meeting in Orange county, this situation just wouldn't do.

I jumped on Priceline and made an offer of 15 bucks a day for an economy car...which, after all the charges charges, stupid taxes and really stupid taxes, came to around 22 bucks a day.
The BFF drove me into Burbank last Saturday to pick up what could only be described as a little blue shoe.

The car - a Chevy Aveo5 - was tiny...but it worked and got all my errands run. But Miss Mabel's opinion of said car was another matter entirely.

I laid down the rear seats to give her the most room...but she still filled the whole back of the car. Riding to the creek, I was terrified I would throw on brakes and send her flying out a window! Then, when we got there, the electric windows were so quiet, Mabel didn't hear them rolling up and I caught her head in it! I made my baby cry!

She was so anxious to get out. We ran into friends and hiked long and hard and when we got back to the little blue shoe, Mabel did not want to get in. It took 20 minutes of coaxing. Still, I drove by both the Hiking Buddy and BFF's houses to have them come look at how funny Mabel looked in that car!

The hike the next morning was no better. I opened the trunk and the rear doors thinking that giving her options would help. It did...she got in the trunk and ran out the side door. So much for options. I shut the doors and begged her to get into the trunk by shrieking in my over-excited Mommy voice, "We're going to the CREEEEEK!"

Once in the little blue shoe, she was not a happy camper so I got in the trunk with her. Now considering the skinny one of us took up the whole area, both of us in there was just comical. I writhed and twisted my body around having entered on my tummy, and finally worked myself upright. I showed Mabel the little step created by those folded rear seats. I thought she would love that with her greyhound heiny. (Her knee caps rub on her ribs and hurt when she sits. Mabel likes to sit with her hind legs extended somewhat.)

She did love that seat and was quite happy there. I jumped out and shut the trunk and hit my girl in the head with the rear sloping window!

We made it to the creek and I hiked her deep into the valley, almost to the freeway. My hope was that she would be so tired when we got back to the little blue shoe, she would jump right in. She did not. When she looked up and saw that car, the look on her face was the human equivelent of "You must be kidding!"

We eventually made it home. I had screwed up and left my wallet at home and then I realized I had to make a few phone calls. Getting her back in the little blue shoe was yet another ordeal that was only overcome by promises that Mabel's favorite waitress was on duty and that she would be most handsomely rewarded for this ride.

I made it half way up the mountain when I realized Mabel was leaning on the passenger headrest for stability. I pulled over, moved the passenger seat as far forward as it would go and then reclined it backwards. But no amount of coaxing would get her to to sit on it. We made it around the corner when I decided to break my doggie rule of no dogs in the front seat. I had to beg but she finally jumped up front and sat on that reclining passenger seat. And then I had to hit the breaks and realized her nose was hitting the front window! Oh! My poor baby!

Breakfast was worthwhile...the girl scored BIG TIME! All the while, I kept reminding her that this wonderful meal was all because of her bravely riding in the little blue shoe. Getting back in the car, Mabel refused to get into the front and in true Mabel Lou fashion, finally sat on the headrest of the passenger seat, working it out on her own. It only took us two days to figure it out.

Still, on the way home, people pointed and laughed at us all the way down the mountain. Bessie the jeep returned home on Monday to kisses and happy dances. And after reading this, I pray those animal rights folks aren't going to arrest me for animal abuse!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Just the Numbers

I swore I was done with fire posts... Just yesterday, I was discussing with friends how the fire just sucked ten days from our lives this month. When it was in our backyards, there was nothing we could do but stay in away from the smoke, call and check on each other, watch the constant news coverage and stare out our doors at the fire.

And even though the fire moved deeper into the forest...it's STILL not out! 98% and counting. It started one month ago by the calender date but it's technically 4 weeks and 3 days. I've learned more about our local mountains, the terrain, the fuels, the people and equipment used in fire fighting than I ever wanted to know.

Reading on the Inciweb site tonight, the raw numbers astounded me:

Fire Name: Station

Geographic Location: Hwy. 2 North of La Canada - Flintridge, CA

Acres Burned: 160,577

Start Date: August 26, 2009

Time: 3:20 p.m.

Percent Contained: 98

Estimated Containment Date: Unknown

Cause: Arson

Injuries: 22

Structures Threatened: 0

Commercial Bldgs. Threatened: 0

Residences Destroyed: 89

Residences Damaged: 13

Commercial Prop. Destroyed: 26

Commercial Property Damaged: 22

Outbuildings/Other Destroyed: 94

Outbuildings/Other Damaged: 22

RESOURCES [currently being utilized. During the worst of the fire, there were over 2,000 personnel]

Approximate Personnel Assigned: 614

Helicopters: 5

Air Tankers: 0

Engines: 22

Hand Crews: 12

Dozers: 25

Cost to Date: $89,923,086

Of course, the highest cost is not on this list...the lives of the two firefighters that were lost early on in the fight.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Station Fire - Signs of the Times

The Station Fire, at 93% containment, is making news again. Mount Wilson is once again in danger as thermal imaging has shown there are many underground hot spots. Apparently, fire can burn down a root line and create underground embers which can be blown by wind and create a larger fire. And the Santa Ana Devil winds are due to hit tomorrow night.

Before moving on from this topic, I wanted to share some of the many signs that have cropped up in town after the fire. This one is on the back of a motor home near the (closed) entrance to the forest.

This is at the entrance to the Deukmejian park. You can see the old winery clearly from the freeway. It was saved but the park remains closed.

I can't resist a little marketing 101 lesson. Up until the last week, it was a common to see firemen coming off shift and stopping to get a bite to eat as a group. These heroes look tired and worn and dirty. Their faces are often smudged with soot.

I saw a group of them leaving Starbucks one morning and it brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. Apparently the gratitude is a group sentiment. People are walking into restaurants and picking up the dining tab for firemen.

So there's a local news guy doing a remote from the burger joint up the street - Tommy's. His spiel goes like this:

"We're here at Tommy's burgers where a group of firemen are having dinner. [Camera pans to firemen and then cuts to a field piece of other local restaurants and shots of firemen eating.] Everywhere you go here in Sunland - Tujunga, residents are so relieved the fire has moved on and so grateful to the firemen, that people are spontaneously picking up the dinner tab for the firemen. Over at ___________ [local sit-down mom and pop restaurant], a woman walked in and saw a table full of firemen, asked for their tab and paid it. It was $180 with the tip. We were down at Taco Bell and witnessed people insisting on paying for the meal of the firemen walking in. And at ________ and __________[other restaurants], the owners picked up the tab. Clearly, the people here are so grateful that this fire has moved away from their homes and deeper into the forest.

The camera cuts back to the reporter in the field. "Yes, indeed, the folks around here are indeed grateful and here at Tommy's, the food isn't free but the people dining here have been so happy to see the firemen, hugging them and giving them the thumbs up."

OY! If that's not a marketing opportunity missed, I don't know what is! The BFF and I were sort of shocked. The manager at Tommy's was so generous with us when we managed the football snack shop, allowing us to purchase their famous chili for a song and resale it at the school for a handsome profit. We can't imagine him missing the chance for good publicity. But there must have been a disconnect somewhere.

The newcast must have had some impact because, the next evening, this sign appeared:

Residents have put up signs. This one was two houses away from an arm of the Mt. Luken's fire.

Alpine Village showed their gratitude too. And so did businesses.
And now, their are signs up everywhere adversing duct cleaning, ash removal and of course from contractors wanting to rebuild.

Which has led to the appearance of these signs:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Station Fire - Scenes from Alpine Village

During the heat of the Station Fire (still at 87% containment), I got several emails from folks who had moved away from this area and wanted more info. One was from a lady who had lived in Alpine Village, a lovely subdivision on the northeast corner of town with magnificent views of the Angeles Forest and Big Tujunga Canyon. No homes were lost in Alpine. Kudos again to our amazingly wonderful Fire Departments.

I've always wanted to post a picture of the road to Alpine because it's one of the most dangerous looking roads with a very steep drop off the north side. I just love those barricades... clearly there to say "Pay Attention!!" rather than "Don't worry, you can't drive off the edge."

I hike the ridge above Alpine regularly and the changes to the trail were immediately evident. The Fire Department had removed the barricade that prevents local Yahoos from joy riding on the Mountain.

Not only had the foot trail been widened and packed to handle the weight of the fire trucks. There was also a totally new road carved out of a steep embankment to the right.

Another view of the new road.

Fire Crews still on patrol...
Forgotten in a backhaul???
Info on fire equipment and backhauls from the Inciweb site:
"Firefighters out on the line often require additional equipment or supplies to do their work. An army of people works to support the firefighters by ordering, tracking and transporting to them everything from drinking water to generators. And what goes into the fire area must come out! While the fire is active and when it starts to wind down, the materials no longer needed must be transported back out of the fire area. This process is called backhauling.

A common item that is backhauled is 100-foot long fire hose. During the peak of activity on the Station Fire, over 13 miles of hose per day were delivered to firefighters on the line. After firefighters use the hose, it is backhauled, pressure tested for leaks, washed, dried, and rolled up.

Other items often backhauled are communication radios, repeaters, generators, packs, portable tanks, pumps, hose fittings, nozzles, ice chests, empty fuel canisters, lights to illuminate night operations, and garbage. Any broken or damaged equipment that is repairable is sent to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, where employees repair it for reuse.

Whatever firefighters can't backhaul in their fire engines is transported from the fire site in stakeside trucks and pickup trucks. Sometimes firefighters and equipment are delivered by helicopter to remote locations, and the backhaul operation must be carried out by helicopter."

Next, you can see how close the fires came

Another shot of the burned mountains.

The little Creekhiker surveys the damage.

And, this trio is another smogset.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Station Fire Aftermath Photos

The Station Fire is still burning deep in the forest but is 87% contained as of this writing. We still smell smoke on the wind and I'm afraid we will until our rains show up sometime in November.

Here's a few photos of the aftermath.

Our mountains look naked. It's really eerie driving along the 210 where you can compare what the mountains should look like on the south side with the burnt ones on the north.
All around here, you can see where the fire burned up to backyards but the homes are fine. My breakfast joint was buzzing with tales of the fire trucks pulling up, the firemen dragging hoses to the back and standing their ground.

It's not unusual to see Hot shot or Coal Chaser crews in the local mountains even though there hasn't been an active fire on this side of the forest in close to a week. You can see the top of a fire truck on the mountain road above the houses in this next photo.

Lots of animals have come down out of the forest looking for food. I was taking a photo of the backyard of this home when I noticed the deer in the front, eating. Notice his behind has some burns.
I found a man in Seven Hills installing sprinklers on his roof. His home was several blocks from the fire which is very close, but I think I find this funny because...there's very little left to burn. The sprinklers were painted match his house.

The last flare up I've seen on Mt. Lukens, taken from my back porch.

We later learned this was a controlled burn.

I still have photos from Alpine Village and other cool shots I'll get up later in the week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Flare Up

Full Moon during the Station Fire

Our recent fire (still ongoing - 71% containment) brought flames, destruction, ash and smoke and it cost two men their lives. But the other thing that came with it was a collective bad mood.

And not just in our little foothill communities directly threatened... the whole city seemed pissed off. Maybe it was just the August heat. Or the collective worry. Or the smoke cloud that hung over the city. Usually, you hear of tough situations bringing out the best in people... but not all the people.

I had two total strangers curse at me for what seemed like a minor transgression on my part. It was bad enough to be a virtual "shut in," not venturing out because of the heat, smoke, ash, flames and the fear of not being able to get back to my house... but when I did go out into the world, I was treated so poorly, I was glad to get back home!

The first was Mabel's fault. After the fire above the creek, I stopped to check on Uncle Bill and Ivy. They are both elderly and couldn't hear me knocking but I could hear them in the kitchen, so I went to the back door. Mabel was in the car, windows 3/4 down. I chatted with Uncle Bill for maybe all of two minutes and headed down their driveway when I was aware of a large black dog...and she's chasing something...THAT'S MABEL!!! AND SHE'S AFTER A CAT!

I gave chase to the end of the driveway and knew I was no match for Skinny Long-Legs, so I jumped in the car and drove about six houses away where Mabel and the cat were having a standoff. I stopped my car blocking someone's driveway and raced over. Within a few steps, I realized I didn't see a water hose in that front yard and I would never get Mabel off that cat without ...something. All the while, I'm screaming bloody murder. "HELP ME!!! SOMEBODY HELP!!!"

I dash to the car for Mabel's leash and see a man standing in his front window across the street...staring. I point at him. "COME HELP ME!" I get the leash and a man and woman emerge from the house where Mabel is hovering over this poor cat, trying to find a place to bite. I tell them to please get water and spray the dog. The woman did just as I landed a blow with the leash. The shock of both sent Mabel scurrying.

I gave chase again and caught her two houses away. In my panic, I couldn't figure out how my leash worked so I wrapped it around Mabel's head about three times and walked her to the car. The man and woman were on their knees talking to the cat, who was on his back and in shock...frozen in a fear pose.

As I put Mabel in the car, I realized the windows were still down and Mabel would / could just hop right out again and that my lights were on. I've always had battery issues with this car, so I wanted to turn them off and make sure Princess Jackass didn't jump out again. I opened the driver's door and the man got up and ran into the street toward me.

"Where the fuck do you think you're going?"

"I'm not going anywhere sir..."



As soon as he realized I really wasn't leaving, he calmed down but I was still pissed... Why speak to total stranger that way?

By now, the stray kitty is sitting up staring at the three of us but as we start to check his injuries, he ran and hid in the shrub. Another neighbor joined us and the four of us spent a good ten minutes cooing into the bushes, "Here Kitty. We want to help you Kitty. It's OK Kitty."

The cat was fine and thanks to all the calm, sweet noises, the tempers were all calmed as well. We apologized and went on with our evening.

The very next day, I went to Costco....HUGE mistake before a holiday weekend. If there's one thing Creekhiker doesn't do...it's shop with millions of sheeple! I shop when it's not crowded or not at all!

As I circled the parking lot, I decided to buy gas and go home. As I turned onto the main thoroughfare leading from Burbank Blvd. to the front of the store, there were two assholes young men, walking side by side. Each was pushing a cart filled to the brim with beer, chips and toilet paper. (Hey, they've got their priorities, ya know!)

We inched along and I realized there were now five cars behind me, all of us waiting for these two bozos to realize they are in the middle of the street. I put a big smile on my face and gave the most gentle toot my car horn gives, hoping they would look and I could plead with my eyes... but no, they both turned around and regaled me numerous "FUCK YOUs" and "FUCK YOU BITCH" all while waving me on with their middle fingers.

I'm always sort of amazed at a man that treats a totally strange woman that way... Is that the way they talk to their girlfriends and wives? Seriously, I've dumped guys that behave that way! If you think it's fine to behave that way around a stranger, how will you treat someone you are totally comfortable with?

But as the fires receded back into the forest, cooler temperatures and clean air seemed to send flaring tempers elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The End of My Peaceful Summer

09/09/09 - I've had that date in my head for months and not for the reason you may think. That's the date school starts here in my neighborhood. Anyone who has followed this blog from the beginning knows my very first post was a gripe about living across the street from an elementary school.

If I've learned anything buying and selling real estate in California it's that you should NEVER buy near a school. People often say to me that it must be reassuring that at least one neighbor is quiet at night. I usually set them straight in short order. Yes, it is quiet for about two hours from 8 - 10 p.m.

Many people don't realize schools get deliveries 24 /6 (Friday seems to be the quietest day.). The first driver arrives around 10 at night. Another at 11, then 12 and 1. 2 a.m. and all is quiet...that is until Mr. 3 a.m. arrives. I can often tell you what time it is without a glance at my clock by the way the driver handles the locks on the gate...Mr. 3 a.m. struggles with it so. Mr. 1 a.m. drags the gate. There are other deliveries at 5 and 6. What on earth one small elementary school needs with so many deliveries bewilders me... any why can't they get it delivered between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. ???

I had lived here eight months when I got a new neighbor on the other end of the block. He and his wife had retired and bought in this neighborhood to be near their two children and several grandchildren. I had learned to sleep through all the delivery trucks and dragging gates and jangling locks... but my new neighbor was dying to fight city hall. He passed out petitions and held meetings. I gladly signed but had little hope. And then one day, a nice man and woman from India introduced themselves to me... they had bought that little house on the corner! The man and his wife had lived there barely three months!

Aside from the deliveries, schools have a lot of noise. There are the parents parking and honking and even yelling at each other from 7:15 a.m. on. There are the kids screaming in the school yard...another noise I've learned to block out but I have to watch Mabel. I once did not realize the electric gate had failed to shut and couldn't find her. The sound of the kids was just too tempting...she had crossed our busy street and was playing in the kindergarten playground with all the little kids!

And then there are the bells. The school bells ring all day long but the ones that bug me are their security alarms which often go off repeatedly in the middle of the night. Or the holiday bells. The powers that be over there never remember to turn the bells off on holidays so the whole neighborhood is up early on every holiday!

Add in the parents that see nothing wrong with blocking our driveways or parking in them..."because I was only going to be a minute." It's never just a minute. I can't begin to count the number of reprimands I got from my last real job because I couldn't get out of my own damn driveway in a timely manner!

And let's not forget the garbage. I find complete lunches discarded in my shrub, homework on my porch and dirty diapers on my lawn...with a trash can less than 20 feet away.

So NO, schools do NOT make good neighbors!

But why is this back to school date different from any other??? Because for the first time in the nine years I've lived here...I've had more than the usual two weeks between sessions.

California is broke and we simply could not afford summer school! So I've been living in quiet, garbage-free, come-and-go-when-please bliss for three whole months!

As far as I'm concerned, California can stay broke!

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Big Picture Blog

The Big Picture blog has collected the best of the news photos from our fires... these are amazing to see.

Of special note: #23, Mr. Hamm was racing to save his wife's favorite tree.

#36: It's bad enough to simply fight a fire with the heat and smoke and ash. But our firefighters often have to climb a mountain to get there... and check out all the gear they are carrying!

I've taken a bunch more pictures of the aftermath but have just rested this long weekend. Today is the first morning I could open the door and not feel like I was putting my head up a chimney. Yet our fire rages on...one front is due north of Sunland. 56 % contained...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ahh...That's Better

First, an update. The hillside fire shown in my previous post's photos was set by the fire department to protect the homes. While the perspective from where I shot my photos made the fire seem on top of the houses, it was actually in a valley I never realized existed in all my years of hiking there. It was covered by brush...hence the burn. The homes on the mountain are safe but residents were still not allowed to return until 11 p.m. on 9/2 because of spot fires and embers.

While the Station Fire rages on, the good people of Sunland are feeling a bit of relief. There are no visible fires on our mountains. Gone are the neighbors gathering on any high peak for hours on end to watch the fires. Gone is the constant fear of the fire spreading into our valley. And as I write this (3:28 in the morning), for the first time in week, there are no helicopters and planes flying constantly overhead....but it was a fire truck that woke me an hour ago.

Still lingering behind, we have white columns of smoke rising on the mountains. Our daily smoke and ash assaults are still occurring in the wee hours of the morning and only giving us a break in the late afternoon. With that comes stinging eyes and the struggle to breathe and the need to be indoors - that last part is huge obstacle to our normal way of life here in the foothills.

There is also a lot of sadness - for those that lost their homes and for the precious firemen that lost their lives. And there is hope that they get this inferno under control as it continues east through the Angeles National Forest.

The smoke hanging in the air has made for some gorgeous smogsets sunsets. These were taken 9/1/09 at the creek.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

9/1 Station Fire Update

Facebook friends... this blog post is media rich and may be viewed more easily on the Creekhiker site.
Last night, the flames on Mt. Luken's were the biggest I've seen. As I stood on my porch watching, I had the realization that one windy gust and my entire beloved valley would be a pile of dust.

Mt. Luken's burning 8/31/09

Another angle Mt. Luken's burning 8/31/09

And a video... flames were around 50 feet high.

Every night, sleep comes in fits and jumps.... drifting off to be jarred awake by heroes in helicopters and low flying planes. Or the air conditioning - which I'm NOT accustomed to - waking me. Sometimes it's the sheer panic that sends me flying out of bed to look out the window or check the porch before I'm fully aware of being awake.

Charred Mt. Luken's 9/1/09

Today, the ash was the thickest...It literally looked like it was snowing. The sun couldn't be bothered to make an appearance until around 6 p.m. - the smoke and ash were just too thick. That made the overall temperature cooler but we have a hurricane coming up Baja which made the day as muggy as any I've ever spent in Louisiana.
Ash on Mabel's bed 6 a.m. 9/1/09

By late afternoon, having spent the day alternately trying to nap and burying my head under the covers, I could see thick smoke coming from the creek. Around six, the overall smoke had dissipated and it was cool enough to venture out. Mabel has only been for two short walks since all this started...she's as stir crazy as me!

We ventured down to the creek and found two fires burning above the end of the levy. We stayed well on the South side of the valley near some houses. Tons of folks were there along with a news crew shooting photos.
Two spot fires burning above the creek. The levee is barely visible below the left fire.

I shot some video hoping the chopper would put an end to it.

And... the two shall be as one.

And it just kept growing....

I was amazed to see some kids sitting on the levee, RIGHT BELOW THE FIRE! But the wind (that stuff they've been predicting for days but, Thank God has not shown up!) was so calm, I ventured down to the golf course with Mabel and another friend we know from the creek. As we walked parallel to the fire line, I was awestruck with just how big this particular blaze was!

We watched darkness fall as the flames approached that house.

One last shot of Mt. Luken's, shrouded in smoke. Only one tiny fire still burning on the south side.