Wednesday, May 09, 2007



the green on the upper left is all charred now

Yesterday I was so busy excoriating Chris Carney for lying to me about his position on equality when he wanted Blue America support, that I didn't pay any attention to anything else. So when my ex-roommate, Roland, called as he was driving home from school-- he teaches in Compton and, like me, lives in Los Feliz-- his news surprised me. "Get out of there," he shouted. "The fire is headed right towards your house." What fire? "What planet are you on?" he asked. "Are you sitting and working on that crazy blog of yours all day? Turn on the TV." He called about 30 minutes later and I had to admit I hadn't turned on the TV. At that point it was something like 3PM and I still didn't know there was a fire other than having heard it from him-- and he tends to get dramatic sometimes.

Through the rest of the afternoon he'd call now and then yelling about the fire and I finally turned on the TV set and found some station covering it. It did look ominous and I recognized the area burning as pretty much where I hike every morning. Uh oh. I kept the TV on and got back to dealing with the flood of comments-- like 600 of 'em-- on my DailyKos diary about Carney's perfidy. Just before sunset I started smelling smoke. I went outside for the first time since morning and all my neighbors were milling around, looking worried. Some were packing their autos and driving away. I walked over to one who was wielding a hose and watering his... house. I asked if the fire was that close. "Yes, it's coming down the ridge at the top of the street," he said. A police car pulled up and a loudspeaker blared: "Mandatory evacuation. All residents must leave the area." Then there was something about going to the local high school. I ran back inside. I could see neighbors deserting the hood. There was even a mini-traffic jam in front of my house. I had a couple of more stories to do.

Roland called. "Are you still there? Are you nuts? The fire is burning up your whole hill. Get out of there now." I tried to sway him; he's from Maine and I told him that I was working on putting together a live blog session with Tom Allen who had just declared he was running against Susan Collins but all he could hear were the damn wailing sirens behind me. But we compromised. I agreed to pack a bag if I could just finish editing the piece Neil Pope had written for DWT about the Republican depredations in the Mariana Islands.

I threw my insurance papers, checkbooks, passport, 2 days worth of socks and underwear, my 26 little containers of vitamins and supplements, a book and some reading glasses in a bag and packed up my travel laptop. I put them near the door and got busy on the Marianas. "Bam, bam, bam." It was the police. They were yelling that I had to get out-- "NOW!" I yelled back that I'd be there in a minute. He started screaming "NOW!" and threatened to put me on a list of people who refused to leave. (I found out late last night that "mandatory" doesn't actually mean you have to go and that, indeed 25 brave souls stayed in their homes. But at the time I didn't know about that option.) I ran into the pool to shut the windows and noticed out the back picture windows that flames seemed to be burning just a few trees away from my property. Oh well.

Roland called my cell as I was driving away to tell me he was watching the Griffith Park Observatory burning and that all the houses on the hill were on fire. (This turned out to be untrue.) I was glad I had my insurance papers with me but I started thinking about how the scumbag insurance companies cheated so many people who suffered from the ravages of Katrina, looking for excuses to not pay them, and wondered what that would be like. I have no patience with bureaucracy to begin with. Irwing, Craig, Russ & Rebecca, and Matt had all called offering me a place to stay. Irwing's fiancee is in town; Craig has the lead singer of a band he manages staying in his guest room, Matt lives far and has a bunch of small (noisy?) children. Russ and Rebecca's house is luxurious and far better than the 4 Seasons and I know Russ likes staying up late to talk and watch TV. Plus they have a great puppy and a huge fridge filled with healthy goodies.

Russ and I stayed up watching news coverage 'til midnight and then I retired and fell into a deep sleep, waking at 8. What a luxury for someone who is grateful when he gets up at 6 instead of 5. When I did wake up I switched on the TV in the guest room. I had declined Russ' offer to show me how to work it last night and wound up not being able to change the channel. It was on the local Fox "News" affiliate. I had never watched. Apparently "news" in Foxland means a lengthy, moronic report on that tv talent contest show. For the life of me, I couldn't change the channel. Nor could I get the wifi to work. So I decided to leave and see if I could get back into my house.

I stopped at the local health food store to stock up on provisions. I was eager for what my friend Jane calls a Howie breakfast. I especially needed blueberries. They charged me $7.99 for a small package; last week it was $2.99. Is that "market forces"... or gouging?

OK, then it was time to somehow get through the police barricades and back onto my hill. The barricades were everywhere. There was no way to turn onto Los Feliz Blvd. Of course, I know every secret pathway. I took the one past the Buddhist lamasery on Rowena. But even there, I found a lightly-manned blockade directing oncoming Griffith Park Blvd. traffic away from my hill. There was just one cop, no backup, no car or motorcycle that I could see. It just took a second and I was around it, the rent-a-cop taking a couple of desultory steps in my direction. But it was 90 degrees already and the hill is pretty steep. He turned back fast.

My neighborhood was like a ghost town, not a soul in sight. It always so busy and noisy with gardeners and construction teams. Now the only sounds were the water and retardant-dumping helicopters flying back and forth every few minutes. The firemen had somehow turned on my sprinklers and I haven't figured out how to turn them off. This is going to cost me hundreds of dollars in water bills.

A house down the street with a shake roof is on fire and the wind is starting to pick up again-- bad news. My friend Fred called from Baghdad to ask if his house was on fire. The fire actually had come to about 100 feet from his street but I told him that the firemen had that area under control now. I suggested he stay as far from anywhere Cheney goes today as he can.

I'll update if anything developes.


The L.A. Times makes it sound like everything's ok and although I haven't ventured near the TV after that horrible Fox experience, I can see my neighborhood slowly coming back to life. Still... 817 acres of the park were burned and my neighbor's roof caught fire.

I noticed the media is back to Britney, Cheney and Paris Hilton so we must be safe and I can presumably sleep in my own bed tonight.


Every morning I get up at the crack of dawn, go for a swim and then take a 2 mile hike with my friend Cynthia. This morning I was a little nervous about the air quality but Cynthia said the wind was blowing in the right direction and the air would be ok. We walked up into the burn zone. We didn't have to walk far. Basically there's only one house between mine and my friend Jim's. His pooch Murphy is the first of 6 or 7 neighborhood dogs I bring goodies every morning. Murphy is the loudest dog in the hood and he hears me as soon as my front door opens.

Murphy, of course, was evacuated-- along with Jim and his family-- Tuesday night and Wednesday. They were staying with friends and like all of us, were glued to tv sets. Jim, alert to the tv screen, noticed firemen kicking in a very familiar front door. It was his front door. Embers had set fire to his cedar shake roof. Jim's a well known film director. He has a really beautiful house. This morning when Cynthia and I walked by he was in good spirits and invited us in to see his "new skylight." The firemen had none a spectacular job of saving the house (and the neighborhood). He'll get a new roof.

After we left Jim's house we started getting closer to where the fire incinerated large swaths of the park. What had been beautiful groves of old-growth sycamore and oak trees looked like scenes of devastation-- or like the moon. The fire is 75% contained but we could still see fire crews pouring water onto hot spots. The helicopters are still flying overhead dumping water and chemicals.

Most of the other dogs I bring treats for were indoors or still evacuated.


At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Howie, I dearly hope you don't lose your house! Thinking of you, Lauren Oliver

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great account Howie, but damn, when somebody screams at you to turn on the TV, TURN ON THE TV!

Be safe and good luck.


At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The blueberries save the blues! And you didn't even mention art or what must be a fabulous music collection!

Glad you are alright and hope the casa is as well...)

Eureka Springs

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Eric said...

Yikes, Howie, this is awful. I'll keep my fingers crossed that your house survives. And don't worry about the blogging-- there will be plenty of Republican scandals left to blog about in a few days... we got plenty...

At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wowie Zowie Howie!

Mother always said men will be boys at first sound or sight of fire engines!

Always thought she was just kiddin' you rascal.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger AB said...

You snuck back to the house??? Jeebus, man, get whilst the gettin' is good!

Be safe, and hope your home is spared.

At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update Howie.

Those shake roofs are bad, tho part of CA building tradition.

Hope you don't have a shake roof.


At 8:26 PM, Blogger woid said...

I've heard of missing the forest for the trees, but the forest fire?

You've made previous mentions of living adjacent to the south end of the park...

Last night, as I was driving from Stud City across the top of the park, then down the east side on the 5, the highest hills were on fire, with flames leaping up dozens of feet from the summit, and fire burning downward toward the golf course, the carousel, the pony rides... A pillar of grey white smoke towered above and bent toward the south. The air smelled like ashes. (And somehow you missed this.)

I know a few people who live pretty close to the park, but you're the closest by far. Closest by far? Why, that's ridiculous. So, as I drove by the closed Los Feliz Boulevard exit I thought of you among others.

At the Trader Joe's at Rowena and Hyperion (organic blueberries at a fraction of the price), you could see burning hillsides looming in the background, and the tower of smoke, which had turned a creepy brown-black.

Later, driving west on Sunset in Silver Lake, coming around a turn, suddenly the whole view down the end of the street was mountains on fire. From that perspective, they looked like they were blocks away. My daughter and I said together, "Oh my god."

We had comfort food at a wonderful Mexican restaurant, Alegria on Sunset, where the waitress told us that all night, there'd been a high demand for roasted items. And that there'd been a lot of spilled drinks (besides mine). An unconscious attempt to put out the fire? Or... klutzyness?

Your house is MUCH closer to the fire than I ever got last night... which was scary enough. Glad you and Casa Klein are OK. (Good thing you weren't depending on the federal forces to show up and put out the fire.)

At 8:42 PM, Blogger quixote said...

I'm another SoCal blogger. I had no idea you were. I live under a rock. I didn't know about the fire either. I don't even own a TV -- one too many brushes with Foxland -- so you're not alone that way. I live up the road from you (about 50 miles up), but I remember the day a few months ago when I stepped outside and the sky was that odd orange color. There was a fawn-colored cloud spreading over the sky, and then I noticed everything was getting dusted by a fall of white ash flakes, including me. Who needs a TV?

At 1:04 AM, Blogger Batocchio said...

Hey, Howie, I live only a few miles from ya. Some funny details in there, but seriously, I'm glad you're all right. Stay well.

At 1:56 AM, Blogger SteveAudio said...

Anyting like this ever hap[ens again, you're more than welcome at our house.

You have the number, call anytime.

At 8:22 AM, Blogger VoxTest said...

Check out the local CBS coverage on the fire, it's free and you can use it in your posts:


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