Thursday, December 07, 2017

Coping with the Skirball Fire

First off, thanks to everyone for showing concern. I love you guys.  Now to the post...
Yesterday was sure fun.

Awakened to a call stating there was a fire of close enough proximity that it might be good to pack up in case we had to evacuate.  Holy shit!  That’ll send you scurrying to the TV.

The blaze was the Skirball Fire that began just after 5:00 AM across the 405 Freeway from the Skirball Museum in the Sepulveda Pass that is the main artery between West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.

Due to the fire the 405 was closed completely.... during morning rush hour traffic.  I imagine commuters from yesterday still haven't arrived.  

The path of the fire was headed towards Bel Air, a very chic hillside community. I live farther east and south near UCLA. The local elementary school two blocks from my home remained in session so that was a good sign.

The big X-factor was the wind. We’re in the throes of Santa Ana winds that at times are fierce. Adding to that we’ve had very little rain this year. And this is just one major fire. There are five scorching the Southern California region. Homes have been lost and fires have jumped freeways. But the greatest concern was that Rupert Murdoch’s mansion and vineyard was in jeopardy due to the Skirball skirmish. Those MUST be saved. 

We were generally confident that we were safe but heeded the warning and gathered some precious items like documents, photographs, and my daughter’s Pez collection. Have you ever had to evacuate your home? Or even had to give some thought as to what items you might take in that emergency situation and what you could live without?

There was a ballplayer on the Dodgers in the ‘80s named Pedro Guerrero. During an earthquake he strained his back lifting his big screen TV into his car. That was the one irreplaceable item he owned? (Of course this was the same ballplayer tried for selling cocaine and the defense was that he was too stupid to know what was going on… and he won.)

So we basically hung around the house, watching TV updates, and staying indoors. Ash from the fire turned the entire city into the bottom of an ashtray. And the sky had this weird FAHRENHEIT 451 glow. You could smell it. You could also taste it. 500 miles of a mesquite BBQ that needed cleaning.

In the past I anchored fire coverage for KABC radio. My goal was to be accurate, reassuring, and when I had guests on the line (like a spokesman for the fire department, evacuation centers, etc.) I simply asked the questions that I as a listener would want to know. I then took down any pertinent information and relayed it back to the audience during my frequent “here’s what we know” recaps.

Since this fire occurred in the morning hours, most local TV stations had their morning news anchors handle the coverage. That’s when you learn the men from the boys. A few were excellent but others were just dunderheads. Their idea of coverage is to just tell you everything you’re seeing on the screen. “There’s a helicopter. And now it’s circling. And there’s some people standing on their lawns looking at the smoke. Can we see the smoke? Yes, there it is. That fire looks pretty bad.” Great analysis. Of course stations generally put their B or even C-teams on the early morning newscasts. Same with the field reporters. They should wrap up their reports by saying: “Just graduated from Chapman College, this is Suzy Creamcheese, Channel 2 News." 

One station meteorologist said don't breathe in the ashes because that could cause "premature death." Forget that hike I was going to take.   

If you log onto an industry trade paper online version you’ll see such fire coverage headlines as “SWAT forced to postpone production for second day. Or: "among the evacuees is Chelsea Handler.” Oh yeah, and people are losing their homes.

Facebook and Twitter came in handy for me.  I was able to update my concerned friends all at once.

At 11:00 PM I watched the local Channel 2 KCBS News.  The winds were really kicking up.  And I'm writing this four hours before posting and at this moment the Skirball Fire is not any worse.  (Some of the others are unfortunately.  My prayers to all involved.)  But as I watched the local news I thought things have really changed.

When I was a kid there was the big Bel Air Fire in 1961.  I vividly remember reporter Clete Roberts (the same Clete Roberts who was in the famous MASH "Interview" episode) giving a live comprehensive report while HIS house was burning in the background.  Last night the KCBS field reporters were mostly attractive young women.  And one was even named Crystal Cruz.   Really?  How do you have any journalistic credibility with a name like Crystal Cruz?  I wonder if her sisters, Princess and Carnival are working at competing stations. 

The wind and dry conditions are expected to last until the weekend so who knows how long these fires will last and to what extent will be the damage? My eternal gratitude to the first responders and emergency crews. My heart goes out to anyone who lost his or her house in this tragedy.

Now I fully expect to see our beloved President arrive on the scene and toss Wet Naps to displaced homeowners.


Andrew said...

You're description of the news commentary reminded me of this now-famous clip:

Glad you're ok, Ken.

Mike Barer said...

Thoughts are with you!

Darlene K said...

So glad you and your family are OK. I was very concerned. Great commentary on the commentators! Ditto! My heart goes out to those affected by the fires.

Mitchell Hundred said...

Okay, but who's going to be cast in the movie about this fire? We need to get the ball rolling on it if we want to have a premiere in time for awards season in 2018.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Handler was blaming Trump's presidency as the reason for the fire. She wasn't kidding.

Anonymous said...

We evacuated when a fire came very close to our home, making sure to get through a mountain pass before the fire shut down the only real way out of the community.

Heres a tip that might help--take pictures or video of your possessions for insurance purposes.

Prayed for you Ken. Keep safe.


The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

oh...and good luck Ken. Best wishes and prayers for everyone's safety....

I saw a joke online today. "EVERYONE please pray for the lives of everyone affected by the fires in California. Lord knows, they're all atheists and won't be praying themselves."

Alan Parks said...

Glad you're doing okay. I live in Napa. I had the same evacuation advisory on my neighborhood in October. It's very stressful. Seriously, use a mask if it's smoky. I'm still coughing up crud.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Friday Question: Recently on the Big Bang Theory there was a storyline involving Bitcoins. The main characters said they had some wanted to sell them now that the price of Bitcoin had reached $5,000 each.
The same day the episode aired, Bitcoin had been in the news because it had passed the $10,000 mark. Now, Bitcoin hit another milestone and it's trading at $15,000.

Is it a mistake for a script to put in a specific dollar amount for a real item as things change? Whether it's Bitcoin or saying they had shares of General Electric or that gas is $2.55 a gallon, would you avoid specifically defining an amount that could change rapidly?


littlejohn said...


My wife and I live on 10 acres at the end of a dead end road in the Central Valley. After our first fire scare my wife and I sat down and thought about what is really important to save. So we have a fireproof "safe" that is actually a hard sided briefcase with a handle. Wills, deed, wedding photos , etc are all in the case. In case of an emergency, you grab the case, and our two pups and out the door.

Everything else can be replaced .


RyderDA said...

Having lived through a natural disaster (in my case, a flood), you discover very quickly that the power of social media is NOT to send cat videos, but in fact, rapid factual and accurate communication in times of crisis.

Glad you're OK.

Cowboy Surfer said...

Got thru the 405 south just before the closure.

Suzy Creamcheese - Line of the day...

Brian Fies said...

I lost my home to the northern California fires two months ago. Seeing southern California burn now makes me feel sick. Those poor people. As to what you grab, most people--including my wife and me--were pretty rational about it, if they had a chance to grab anything at all. Still, every day we look at each other and say, "You know what we forgot?" and each one is a stab in the heart.

My only advice to my So Cal brothers and sisters: If you're evacuating, assume it's real. My neighbors and I all thought we'd be back home in a day or two; we were wrong. Treat it as if you'll never see your house again. If it's safe to do so, take one more walk around to grab things you missed. Have three backup evacuation routes in mind. Then get the hell out.

bel44 said...

I'm local to LA, and with much concern I turned on KTLA this morning to see any updates on the fires and if anything was affecting my commute, and the first thing I saw was Sam Rubin with the lower third chyron headline being: "Paris Hilton Evacuates Home". Aaaaaaaaaand I was done.

Roger Owen Green said...

There's a wind/fire advisory in San Diego County, where my sister and niece live, so I get your situation - best of luck

By Ken Levine said...

E. Yarber's post accidentally got deleted. Here it is.

Got the robo call at 5:30 yesterday too. I live about a mile south of the evacuation zone. The mail carriers and even a couple of clerks in the stores were wearing face masks because of the smoke that's been filling the streets since Tuesday.

John Hammes said...

littlejohn said...
So we have a fireproof "safe" that is actually a hard sided briefcase with a handle. Wills, deed ... photos ... are all in the case.

Thank you littlejohn, for sound, hard sided wisdom we can all handle.

Gonna have to check into that kind of briefcase. We all have to up and relocate on short notice here and there (if we haven't already), and those would certainly be the necessary items, along with medical records.

And, as you said, everything else can be replaced. Kind of helps a person with priorities.

YEKIMI said...

Sorry to anyone who has to go through this. If it was me, I'd probably freak. Closest I came was when I rented a shitty apartment back in the 90s and had a gas supply line to the stove burst and pilot light ignited it. Nothing like hearing some hissing noise and then walking into the kitchen and just as you hear a "WHOOOMP" and flames shooting across the kitchen. After an investigation the fire department said the gas line that ruptured was from the 1930s and should have been replaced decades ago. The building owner tried to blame me. He was given a big "fuck you" and notice that I was moving immediately. I hope it doesn't turn out that some psycho arsonist was out there setting those fires. I have thousands of vinyl records, some dating back to the 1920s, cassette tapes, CDs, etc. and a vehicle that's not large enough to get them all in. I'd probably die trying to save them all.

Paul Duca said...

What's in the Skirball Museum and is it all right?

ADmin said...

On a "lighter" note... ;)

A fireman walks into a bar. He asks the bartender for a beer and offers to tell a joke about policemen.

The bartender replies in a warning tone, "Look, fella, I'm an ex-cop, that guy sitting there is a cop and the guy 2 seats down is a cop. You still want to tell that joke?"

"Nah," the fireman says, "I don't have the energy to explain it 3 times."


Tickets! Lots of tickets! said...

What's in the Skirball Museum and is it all right?

Tyler Perry's Skee-Ball collection, I believe.

Mike Bloodworth said...

We Angelinos are either the bravest or most insanely foolish people in the nation. I've lived through two major earthquakes, Sylmar, '71 and Northridge, '94. Plus all the little ones in between. There have been mud/landslides, wild fires, torrential rains, unbearable traffic, heat, smog, droughts, high taxes, a DEEP BLUE, "nanny-state" government (although many want that. But this is not a political rant) Not to mention all the rejection and heartache that comes from trying to make it in Hollywood. Yet here we stay. We're the proverbial desert plant that thrives in the harshest conditions. We're like Job. One plague after another afflicts us, but we persevere. And yet, the most insane thing of all is that people still want to move out here and be a part of this. I have an excuse. I ate some lead paint chips when I was a little kid. And I smoked a lot of pot in high school and college. My brain is fried. I can't speak to other people's rational.

Earl Boebert said...

To John Hammes and all: the best hard-sided cases remain Zero Halliburton. Used ones are quite reasonable on eBay. IMHO and all that :-)

YEKIMI said...

By the way, I've been convinced to start uploading my collection to a couple of computers and then to the cloud. It just may take me YEARS to do so. Last time I tried I had a 500 GB hard drive that I filled up and estimated that it held only about 3-5% of what I had collected. The worst part is that I wouldn't be able to physically handle the albums/45s/CDs or read the liner notes.

Rich Shealer said...

Nine years ago on Monday of Thanksgiving week we had to leave our home of 18 years due to a fire that was started by kids playing with a lighter two houses down. We lived in a row house and were among the seven households that were severely damaged.

We had minutes to grab and go. The one thing I wasn't able to save were two of our four cats. One survived under a couch in a relatively undamaged part of the house and the other we never found a trace of even later after removing items for recovery.

I still feel a little sad that I delayed getting them right away as I thought we had more time. Luckily the firewall between our house and the neighbors saved the front of our house where my wife had irreplaceable pictures.

It was weird seeing all of it on the news and in the days following. We were safe and I found out that we had a lot of friends.

littlejohn said...

To clarify, the hard sided case I was referring to, is fire and water resistant, not just a hard sided briefcase. These type of cases are usually rated about 1500 degrees for 1/2 hour, etc.

Ours is roughly 6 inches by 12 inches by 16 inches, but you can get them in all sizes. We just wanted something we could grab and go. A small kitchen fire is one thing, but the types of fires we have seen recently are nothing to joke about. If the fire department tells you to go, you need to go.

A friend of my brother lives up in the Santa Rosa / Napa region. They were awoken at 2am to evacuate. By the time they got his elderly mother up and out the front door, a tree had fallen across their driveway, blocking them in. They had an old truck on the street that was tough to start. By the time they got it started and were driving down the street, they were driving through walls of flame, with the truck on fire. All survived fine, but nothing to joke with.

VP81955 said...

Came across this 1978 broadcast on the 1961 Bel Air fire, narrated by Glenn Ford:

Earl Boebert said...

For fans of Bloom County: Berkeley Breathed just posted on his Facebook page that he is evacuating.

Edward said...

Have you ever had to evacuate your home? Or even had to give some thought as to what items you might take in that emergency situation and what you could live without?


I live on the beach in South Florida and had to haul ass out of town in September when the hurricane was heading my way. Luckily, the storm missed my home! As far as possessions, most are digitized (documents, photos, music, money, etc). My furniture, car, appliances, most electronics, clothes, and other assorted items are replaceable. Actually, I moved earlier this year and threw out plenty of stuff that accumulated over 15 years and not one item has been missed at all.

I would need my iPhone and iPad (and chargers), my wallet and I'm good.

John Nixon said...

It's been driving me nuts all day so I just looked up Skirball and no it's not a is in the name of Jack Skirball and in their own words it is described as... "The Skirball Cultural Center is a place of meeting guided by the Jewish tradition of welcoming the stranger and inspired by the American democratic ideals of freedom and equality." What a wonderful legacy to this man...sounds like a great place to visit.

The other thing that's been driving me nuts all day is Suzi Creamcheese---that is a reference to Frank Zappa---so I've had various Zappa/Mothers songs going through my head all day.

I hope this fire burns out soon and you can return to some semblance of normalcy.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected by these fires.

As for your assessment of local television news people, Mr. Levine, I couldn't agree more. So many seem to be camera-loving "television personalities" rather than solid reporters and writers.

Here in Lexington, Ky., one (likeable) newscaster reports on fires, shootings, robberies, and wrecks in the morning, then performs comedic bits on a chat show in the afternoon.

I recommend to all television reporters two things:

-View on YouTube clips of NBC's television coverage from the afternoon of President Kennedy's assassination. Despite early technical gaffes and primitive facilities, Frank McGee, Bill Ryan, and Robert MacNeil exemplified grace under pressure and provided superb ad-libbing and reporting.

-Tape to your bathroom mirror this admonition from Jim Lehrer: You are not in the entertainment business.

Barry Traylor said...

I doubt you will see trumpy out there as you are a Blue state.

Lorimartian said...

My heart goes out especially to the firefighter who risks his/her life to protect strangers' homes from destruction while his/her own is in jeopardy and burns to the ground. At least 40 lost their homes in Northern CA and one in the Thomas fire. God bless them.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

The Bumble Bee Pendant: by the time that episode of TBBT is rerun, bitcoin will have crashed back down. In this lifetime of reruns of that TBBT episode, bitcoin will become a historical curiosity remembered like the Dutch tulips.

Mike Bloodworth: You have listed all the reasons I don't want to live in LA. :)

Ken: I'm glad you're all right. But given that very few people pick their own names, why not give Crystal Cruz a pass for hers?


Liggie said...

I propose the United States establish a national holiday honoring First Responders.

I also propose it be in August. We have no national holidays, day off or not, I'm that month, and it's fair to give them a day off in a nice summer month.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Hey Wendy, I was also thinking "tulip bulbs." Great minds, huh?

John said...

That would be Chapman University, not Chapman College...It hasn't been Chapman college since 1991.