Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The LA wildfires

Hello from the giant ashtray that currently is Los Angeles. Our house is okay and thanks to you who have inquired. We live in Westwood, near UCLA, where the only major threat to us is earthquakes so we have great peace of mind.

But the entire region looks like nuclear winter. The sky is an eerie gold. A layer of fine ash is everywhere. The air tastes like stale mesquite. It’s odd to pick up the LA TIMES and for the weather prediction, where it usually says sunny or partly-cloudy or rainy is says “smoky” today.

NBC’s Brian Williams has said the mass evacuation as a result of the fires is the “Largest Peacetime Movement of Americans since the Civil War.” On the other hand, surfers who have been able to get to Malibu have reported that the waves are currently fabulous. Cowabunga, dudes!

Wildfires are a game of Russian Roulette hundreds of thousands play here in Southern California. Especially with real estate prices so high, younger families must move farther and farther away from the city. New communities pop up in remote canyons. Where brush fires once charred empty acreage now they’re threatening countless homes… and lives.

All of us are affected, even those in safe terrains. Eric Pierpoint, one of the actors from my play on Monday night, came to the theater after evacuating his home. My partner’s living room is filled with possessions from a friend who had to evacuate. Many Angelinos have taken in emergency houseguests. Your heart goes out to the over 500,000 whose lives have been disrupted and especially to those who’ve lost their homes and memories.

And there’s nothing you can really do to avoid such natural disasters.

It’s the old story – where you gonna go? After the big ’94 quake many residents considered relocating to a safer part of the world. But just where is that? Who doesn’t have floods, giant snowstorms, hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, earthquakes, avalanches, pollution, terrorists, monsoons, wildfires, tulie fog, bees?

Needless to say, television and radio news crews have been all over this “National Disaster”. For my money, the best coverage has come from KNX radio’s Dave Williams (pictured left) and KFWB radio’s Jack Popejoy. For all the helicopter views, field reporters, update crawls, and graphics on local TV, there’s still nothing like the immediacy and intimacy of radio. KABC’s coverage has also been excellent. And their promos should win awards.

As for TV, when not stepping aside for ACCESS HOLLYWOOD and WHEEL OF FORTUNE the local stations have provided extensive coverage that ranges from outstanding to idiotic. The usual bobbleheads are filing on-scene reports. This is where you can really separate the reporters from the swimsuit models. Being able to talk on your feet, offer clear concise reports, and answer the often stupid questions from the anchors while on live TV is a talent few possess. Best in LA: Mary Beth McDade from Channel 2.

And then there’s Clete Roberts. No one is or has ever been in his league.

Roberts was the reporter in the famous MASH episode, “The Interview”. But in the 50s he was a local TV news reporter. I remember vividly watching him file a live report from the Benedict Canyon fire. He was composed. He was informative. In the background was a house burning to the ground. His house.

The winds seem to be dying down and the heroic, tireless firefighters are starting to get a handle on things. And always looking for good news, the LA TIMES had this article Wednesday: “The fires could end up being a boon for construction.

My best wishes and prayers to all affected.


Ian said...

Great post tonight, Ken.

RAC said...

Glad to hear you're safe and sound, and that your sense of humor is keeping things sane.

Mitch said...

Hi Ken,

I have some footage of Clete Roberts covering the 1956 Newton fire, which burned parts of Corral Canyon. It's an amazing piece of film. In it, Roberts interviews a young man who helped his family evacuate their home. In a low voice, he talks to the teenager as a father would, counseling him to leave the area until the danger passes.

In another scene, Roberts is running down a fire road, waving his cameraman on, as flames jump along the side of the road. He looked like a kid at an amusement park. You could tell how much he loved his work.

Then there's a shot of Clete helping a family haul furniture out of their fire threatened home -- talk about reporter involvement!

Clete was an original. For years he wore a trenchcoat -- even when the weather was warm. The big pockets came in handy for carrying extra cans of film.

Nick said...

Wow, I've been reading your posts lately, and I think I should be checking back more often. Thanks, Ken. :)

VP81955 said...

Have been regularly listening to KNX radio online, and they've been doing a superlative job. Have some personal concern, as a nephew of mine lives in San Diego. While his family's house wasn't anywhere close to a fire, he may have had to evacuate nonetheless.

Glad to hear you are doing all right, Ken. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone in SoCal, from Malibu to Lake Arrowhead to Camp Pendleton to San Diego.

D. McEwan said...

In the immortal words of Boris Karloff: "Fire bad."

But the important news, at least according to Billy Bush, is that Marie Osmond is okay, and will be up and voting for Mit Romney in no time. Meanwhile, EXTRA and ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT continue to bring us the fast-breaking updates on which celebrities have had to evacuate to their other houses. Over on BRAVO, QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT DISASTER's Carson is providing emergency information on what colors to wear with an orange sky. And Geraldo Rivera hasn't slept in days. He's at 36 hours of asking people in shock stupid questions. My favorite: "How did you feel watching everything you own destroyed?"

But nothing yet on the real victims, the soap opera fans who now have to stay up all night, because DAYS OF OUR LIVES is running at 2 AM. They're sleep deprived and punchy.

Oh, if only we had the pot fields of Marin County in Los Angeles, all this smoky air might be more enjoyable.

Meanwhile, all agree, this is the biggest disaster since VIVA LAUGHLIN.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

I forget which channel he's on, since I spend more time joking with my sister about the TV reporters covering this fire (if some of these women are reporters, then I'm a multi-million-dollar football player), than noticing which channel I've stopped at, but I swear that Dave Lopez looks like a latino Buddy Hackett.

Dhppy said...

There's a former Real World member (Seattle) who has been covering the San Diego pilgrimage live, and... well, she seemed confused, to put it mildly.

On the other hand, there seem to be a fair number of reporters who refuse to leave the scene in a reasonable amount of time, which must piss off the firemen to no end. I'm not sure why journalists have to get their truck singed (or completely engulfed which happened a few years ago) in order to prove their commitment to the story.

Tallulah Morehead said...

For those of you watching the California Conflagrations on TV this week and shaking with terror that my magnificent home might be threatened, relax. I live several miles up PCH from the fires. Besides, the churning , fecund breakers constantly roil and crash against the giant twin boulders that flank the base of mighty Tumescent Tor, which thrusts insistantly skyward, astride the mighty knob of which my house, Morehead Heights, is firmly mounted. These endless surging fluids keep the air around Morehead Heights eternally full of spray, to the point that my house is always too moist and damp to catch fire. Helps keep my skin moist too. Mold and mildew I have to contend with, as does my house, but you couldn't set my mansion on fire using napalm, and believe me, people have tried. (Foiled again, Delores!) I have spent my life living in a big damp spot.

As for all of the smoke in the air, well I am 110, and there's nothing better than smoking to preserve old meat.


davewilliams said...


Nice of you to mention our coverage of the fires. As you know we've had seven to nine reporters on the ground and as many as three flying reporters at one time around the clock from Canyon Country to San Diego. They do the hard stuff. My job is basically just to tell the time and introduce people. Still, it's nice to have KNX noticed and acknowledged.

blogward said...

500,000 evacuated is a quarter of the (estimated) number of displaced people in the Darfur (Africa) civil war, which boggles the mind a bit. I do wonder whether news crews can ever produce reports as telling as the satellite images of the smoke from space. From space! Talk about 'interesting times'.

Denise said...

Ken, I know this is off topic, but if the writers do go on strike, will you keep posting to your blog? I hope so.

Mary Stella said...

Glad to hear that you and your home are okay, Ken. This is horrible. I live in hurricane central in the Florida Keys where, thankfully, we've had an uneventful storm season. From previous years, I'm used to evacuating, but when I leave I usually expect my home to still be here when I get back -- even if I have to deal with damage. It's heartbreaking to see so many California homes burned to the ground.

It made me sick to hear on the news today that two of the fires might have been deliberately set.

Anonymous said...

A Clete Roberts story...

When I was a student at UCLA, I worked as a weekend gopher in the news department at the CBS TV station in L.A. Clete was the weekend anchor. After running scripts, I'd hang out in the studio, put on a headset and watch the show.

One night, the director called a :90 second spot break, so Clete walked over to chat with the crew. No big head, he.

The director made a mistake. The spot break turned out to be a :60.

When the break was over, "Take One" revealed an empty podium. Clete was on the opposite side of the room!

The director screamed. The FD was madly waving his hands to get Clete's attention.

When Clete noticed the situation, he slooooowly walked to the podium, confidently entered the shot and commenced reading from the teleprompter, as if this were planned.

Clint Eastwood acts cool. Clete Roberts WAS cool.

Clete was a gentlemen who treated everyone with respect and dignity, which is a more valuable lesson than any other I may have remembered from college.

annie said...

Please note you did this post right after one entitled "Barbeque of Death." I will say no more.

your sick daughter

Tom Quigley said...

Glad to hear you and your family are OK, Ken... I think it was a year ago this week that we had coffee at Jerry's...

My years in LA consist of a lot of memories of earthquakes and wildfires, (not to mention the Rodney King incident, trial and subequent riots, OJ, El NiƱo, Malibu mudslides, etc. -- God, what a decade the 90's was!) Probably the best reporting I remember was KTLA's coverage of the 1993 Topanga/Malibu fire... I recall Jennifer York at one point doing an 18-hour stint in her chopper covering the situation, for which I think, she won a local news Emmy...

On another issue -- Ken, I hope you're not going to let your blog become a dumping ground for bad CHEERS specs (otherwise you might get a few of mine -- just kidding!)...

RAC said...

Score one for Annie.

ted said...

And then there's channel 4. Before the commercial break, a big graphic fills the screen that reads KNBC.COM - and INSIDE the letters there's a blazing fire! Nice going, Paul and Colleen.

Michael Zand said...

Oh my God, Ken. Eric is a friend of mine. Thanks for the heads up. I'll check in on him today.

Michael said...

You wrote: NBC’s Brian Williams has said the mass evacuation as a result of the fires is the “Largest Peacetime Movement of Americans since the Civil War.”

I don't know how many have evacuated the fire areas, but 2.5 million evacuated the Houston area just two years ago in advance of Hurricane Rita (Houstonians were freaked out after seeing Katrina's devastation in N'Awlins just a few weeks before, but people didn't stop to think that much of it was because N'Awlins was below sea level).

Paul said...

Glad to hear you're okay, and my condolences for those affected, but . . .

Are you kidding me? Younger families moving farther and farther away? The fires started in Malibu. Younger families looking for cheap homes don't move to Malibu or "remote canyons". Not unless they win the lottery.

And did you honestly imply that nothing could have prevented these fires? How about rich people not building in areas where development is dangerous? As long as these morons keep building mansions in delicate wildlife areas like the hills of Malibu, consequences will arise.

It's a shame these fires spread and affected people elsewhere, but I have no sympathy for the selfish toads who keep squeezing more homes into environmentally dangerous areas. They reap what they sow.

Ken Levine said...

Malibu was just one of many fires, most of them affecting middle class families. And many of them residing in relatively new developments.

estiv said...

It's a shame these fires spread and affected people elsewhere, but I have no sympathy for the selfish toads who keep squeezing more homes into environmentally dangerous areas. They reap what they sow.

Paul, the problem with that argument is that very few of the people affected have any knowledge of such things. (Yes, I know that ideally they should, but for everyone to be aware of all possible problems in life just can't be done.) The real culprits are the developers and city planners who ignore known dangers in certain environments because those dangers are sporadic and unpredictable, and there's money to be made. Those culprits are not the ones affected by the current situation.

In the same way, houses are being built on some beaches that will be destroyed by storm eventually--but since such a storm may not occur in any given fifty-year period, the houses are approved by government officials, built by developers, and bought by the innocent, who trusted the judgment of the government officials and developers.

Same thing with these fires. There are people who knew better. It just wasn't the homeowners, who are the ones paying the price today.

Anonymous said...

Ken--where you gonna go? Why Phoenix, of course. Never a hurricane, the monsoon rains are generally benign and do not require evacuation, no tornados, no floods now that the government has dammed up all the rivers, forest fires are always a few hours outside town, and earthquakes? Once in a while, the pool water sloshes, letting us know you have had one. And the heat? Well it's a dry heat, LOL. As long as there is electricity, and A/C or swamp cooling, no problem.

Of course the downside: every time something happens in California, builders throw up more subdivisions along I-10 and more Californians buy homes.

I could make the same argument for Albuquerque or Tucson, except Tucson floods at times and both cities get snow.

Max Clarke said...

The Clete Roberts comments here are the best I've read on a single topic since Ken started his blog.

Anonymous said...

The place I live only has pollution and bees. Other parts of the country have floods every year tho, and every year they go on tv saying "we have 8 children, we lost everything", and I always point at them and laugh. It's like those guys who run in front of the bulls every year.

DodgerGirl said...

This is one of the few things I don't miss about living in SoCal. In fact, if we had stayed in Santa Clarita before moving to Maryland, we would have evacuated. Oh, and our home wasn't built in a place did that sympathetic soul put it? "the selfish toads who keep squeezing more homes into environmentally dangerous areas."

It is good to see that FEMA seems to have learned their lesson from Katrina, at least.

John Leader said...

"Best in LA: Mary Beth McDade
from Channel 2."

Now THAT'S funny!

Best what?
Hair extensions?
Phony, lowered "newsguy" voice?

eChuckler said...

Where I live in Michigan, there are only threats of severe t-storms, tornados, floods (if you live by some water), sleet, snowstorms (but, if they happen in January, the snow will melt by May!), sometimes wind and, in northern parts of the state, wildfires. We just don't get huge, widespread wildfires, and no hurricanes. (Downside? It's a 4-season state with minimal sunshine.)

Glad to hear you are doing alright.

cgeye said...

“Largest Peacetime Movement of Americans since the Civil War.”

Doesn't the Civil War not count, since it was, you know, a war?

I wonder what was the movement of Americans, non-war related, that he meant to say.

Anonymous said...

Well, it wasn't Hurricane Katrina because everybody there just sat on their butts waiting for somebody to save them--up until the water levels reached their nostrils -- and some even then.

What could he possibly mean? In the spring of 1864, probably 3,000 civilians remained in Atlanta when the Confederate army was forced out on September 1. Days later, Sherman ordered almost all noncombatants to leave town.
Angels’ Stadium holds approx. 45,000 which disperses into Orange County on a regular basis.
Hey, Brian, when’s your contract up?