Thursday, September 29, 2005

FireWatch 2005

News headlines like that make me wish that broadcast journalism would fuse with reality TV so that reporters aren't just watching the damn fire, but competing with other networks in structured little games like "Who can assemble a firehose and put out a campfire fastest" and "Who can keep a straight face the longest". Viewers could text message their votes for most white trash interviewee, which is announced at the end of the broadcast and accompanied by the presentation of an "I'm #1" wifebeater to the winner. I mean, journalism in this country could use a bit of sensationalism--how could the population at large possibly be expected to follow something that's, like, all serious and stuff?

But I'm watching anyway, largely because I noticed smoke (which I first took to be a rain cloud that was, um, coming out of the ground) out my office window yesterday. When I did figure out that it was a fire, I still dismissed it: we have firefighters to handle things like that. It was when I was driving to work this morning that I remembered that I live in Southern California, prey to the apparently arsonist Santa Ana winds, which had blown a huge plume of smoke all over the west end of the valley. A number of people at work had been evacuated late the night before, and the air outside got darker as the day progressed. By 4 o'clock, the outdoor patio smelled like a barbecue (note: there is no barbecue on the patio) and there was a distinct glow that looked like a nice orange sunset at first glance... until we realized that the sun doesn't set in the north. There were rumors running rampant that people wouldn't be able to get home because of road closures, or there wouldn't be a home to go back to at all because the fire was practically across the street, or that anyone who wanted to go loot the Target down the street should meet at 7 on the third floor. (Regretfully, I couldn't make it, but did put in a request for the Lost Season 1 DVDs, if anyone happened to wander through that section.)

I remember hearing about the fires last year, with the polluted air, the ash raining down, and (what no one mentioned but am sure was the case) the pervasive smell of charcoal. I was hoping the Westside would be smoke-free but no such luck. I was looking forward to sailing to Catalina this weekend, but a radar image (or whatever) showed the smoke being blown in a straight line from the fires to Catalina Island. If that wind holds to get us over to the island quickly, I'll try to make peace with it, but seriously, I don't think it's too much to ask for a little fresh air 24 miles out to sea.

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