The Glow of Flames and the Moon

The sun has set on another day of fire in Southern California.

My eyes and my sinuses are irritated by both the dryness of the air and the faint, acrid odor of ash. As awful as the fires that have raged continue to be, the smell reminds me of those early November days from my childhood, days spent raking leaves and then burning them.

Every Fall we enjoyed a colorful carpet of red, orange and gold leaves. They fell from the big oak and maple trees in our yard, shielding the slowly browning grass from the increasingly frosty evenings. As the weeks passed, we threw them at each other, rolled in them, stuffed them down shirts, watched them wither around the edges and, finally, turn brown under bushes.

Once the browning began, the day of reckoning was inevitable. We raked the leaves into piles and carried them bit by bit to a big oil drum of fire set securely in the center of the driveway.

I'd watch the flames from a distance, watch them lick and curl around the mouth of the barrel. They'd devour every scrap of fuel till the leaves that had covered four or five big trees in our yard were mere inches of gray, lifeless ash.

And now, my car has a light dusting of gray ash on the hood from leaves I have never seen, never touched, never thrown over my head while spinning in circles. The closest fires, flames that have burned leaves, trees, animals and homes, are at least a thirty minute drive away, not counting traffic. My family is safe. So, trust me, I'm not complaining too much about my eyes and sinuses.

But there are plenty of people out there who are complaining. There were a couple of firefighters in my local Starbucks this morning and I found myself wanting to say something encouraging to them. I wanted to give them some sort of verbal high-five. But before I could collect my thoughts and open my mouth, one of the other patrons decided to throw her two cents into the mix.

"Maybe if some people weren't sitting up in Starbucks ordering lattes, folks wouldn't be losing their homes!"

What, what, what??? Wow. I guess every single firefighter in LA is supposed to abandon their posts and head out to the boondocks. Never mind that they may eventually be called to duty putting out a fire in the city.

But the two firefighters classily ignored her as they waited for their drinks. Everyone else also ignored her as she continued to sputter about firefighters being a, "waste of tax dollars."

One heavily tattooed customer complained to her friend that she might have to buy a gas mask, "Because this air is so f***ed up."

He consoled her by telling her how at least we Californians know how to handle a disaster better than, "those people" in New Orleans. He started to talk about how only five or six people here in Cali have died as opposed to the, "dummies in New Orleans who wouldn't evacuate".

Was he trying to say "Those people" + "dummies" = black people??? Hmm...

I came home tonight and turned on the TV, only to see that the political grandstanding and finger pointing about these fires has definitely begun. And in the meantime, leaves, trees and homes are still burning.

Now the almost full moon is rising above Los Angeles. According to NASA, tomorrow when it's completely full, it's supposed to be the biggest and brightest full moon of 2007. But to my eyes, it's a bit yellow, surely tinged a bit by the ash floating through the atmosphere.

I hope it's glow is a bit brighter for you.


thailandchani said…
We've been hearing similar remarks here, people comparing SoCal to New Orleans. Truthfully, I'm not sure whether they are making the comment about black people or poor people.

Many of the people evacuated are wealthy enough to be concerned about getting their insurance checks.

So it seems to be more classist than racist.

It wouldn't surprise me though if those comparisons continue for a while.
The comments on the news to me seem to be more about class and the benefit of hindsight. This time instead of fighting among themselves, local, state and the federal gov'ts are working together. There are black folks (yes most are wealthy) who are also staying at the San Diego stadium.

I will never forget the images from the Superdome. It was a complete disaster and broke my heart to see something like that going in this country.

On the other hand the comments you heard re; dummies at your local Starbucks sound racist to me. The two situations are completely different. It wasn't the hurricane that caused the most destruction in N.O. is was the damn levees breaking and the flooding.

And the woman who made a comment about the firefighters is an ass. I hope she never has to deal with her place catching on fire. I'm sure at that point she will be hoping "the waste of taxpayer's money" shows up.
Jameil said…
TERRIBLE!!!! i'm just praying it all gets under control soon.
Mes Deux Cents said…
Hi Liz,

I have noticed a lot of people trying to make comparisons between what's going on at Qualcomm stadium and the Super Dome. It's almost as if they are saying look at how civilized we are compared to those New Oreleans people.

I think though that some of it is elitist as NYC/ Caribbean Ragazza said but some is racist as well.

And about the moon, it was soooo bright last night that it seemed like someone was shining a flashlight into my bedroom.

I hope your eyes feel better soon.

Arianna said…
My house caught on fire in 1993 (no matter what anyone "official" calls it, that was the Topanga fire). Without the incredible efforts and bravery of firefighters, we would have lost absolutely everything and our entire neighborhood would have been destroyed; I cannot think of a better use of taxpayers' money. Had I been in Starbucks, I would have smacked that woman in the face.

Well, at least verbally.
Shai said…
I hope things let up soon. It looks scary watching how the fires are sweepin across the cities.

How are you doing?
Ian Lidster said…
My feelings for you in SoCal and may it all be over soon. Your overheard comparison with New Orleans was odious, but too human, alas.
I live in forest fire country so I can empathize to a degree.
none said…
It seems Cali is being handled much better than New Orleans. I think an inept government in Louisiana has a lot more to do when comparing death tolls.

Imagine Nagin and Blanco being in charge of the Cali fire evacuation?
The comparison that occurs to me is how quickly both the state and federal governments declared California a state of emergency while after Hurricane Katrina, our esteemed president refused to send help to the people of New Orleans while the Red Cross hijacked most of the money raised for people who had lost everything.

The devastation in Southern California is ghastly and shocking. But equally shocking is the fact that many who lost their homes will be able to rebuild within a reasonable time, while in New Orleans, most are still unable to resume any kind of normal life after all this time.

I think that anyone who abuses firemen is sorely tempting fate as well as making a huge moral error. Firefighters do an incredibly dangerous job that most of us would never consider doing for any amount of money. It is hard to imagine such a lack of grace, even in Starbucks.
Anonymous said…
Greetings readership, I am from little old England, UK. I would just like to add to the discussion and give it an international perspective. I was a bit irritated by President Bush and his rapid response to this situation in Cali. Why was he not so quick to respond to NO's?
Its once again all about politics, race and class! Strange world that we're living in - management of the media, communications and information is so critical to our perception of things and to the control of people. I have been watching it on Sky TV News and they show it like its a good news story because President Bush has personally gone in on the ground and dealt with the matter himself. How heroic. (What a vote winner)! Sorry about the cynicism.
It made me so scared to think that our future is in the hands of a bungling totally inept administration who cannot even deal with the smallest of problems in their own backyard, yet want to tell the rest of the world how to run theirs!
Where was the foresight and forward planning? Are fires something new? As it never happened before?
Power to discernment and faith!
Liz Dwyer said…

Two good news stories in the LA Times this morning:

This one about options the wealthy have that everyone else doesn't

and this one
about the NOLA/San Diego comparisons

Yeah, the class/race thing is proving to be very interesting. Interesting how people here are being called "evacuees" instead of "refugees". And how folks are getting Red Bulls and massages. I'd like to think that we've just learned from all our earthquakes and previous fires and so the response is the result of that, but a sort of cynical part of me knows there are a lot of wealthy folks in the areas that got burned and are still burning. History shows people respond faster in that instance than in one where it's poor people of color.

Exactly! I sooo wanted to put my two cents in to the convo I overheard at the Starbucks between tattoo girl and her friend. I wanted to say, "Hey, the people survived the hurricane, not the levees breaking!"

And, the woman talking about those firefighters...she seriously needed to just go back to bed, get up and live her whole morning all over again. She needs prayer or something!

I know. Me too. The weather has definitely shifted and things have cooled slightly, but I just know it's so dry that there's plenty of fuel for these fires. :(

In the second article I linked to above about the comparisons, they talk about how some website is basically saying that San Diego has there stuff together because they're mostly Republicans -- and what's implied is that it's because they're white as well. People are really sick, you know?

Oh, I wish I wasn't missing the moon. Tonight was so overcast. Wish I could see it.

LOL about the verbal smackdown! I'm sure some people were thinking that lady just forgot to take her medication or something. Thank goodness your house survived in '93 and wasn't threatened in this blaze My brother in law is a firefighter and they definitely work hard at what they do.

I'm doing alright...I could do without my insomnia, but I'm hanging in there. I'm living with a box of Claritin and some eye drops. :) The fires do look scary on TV. I can't even imagine them in person.

Thanks, Ian. I am hoping it's over soon as well. I love many of the areas that are burning, especially around Lake Arrowhead. I'd live out there in a hot second if I could. It's so beautiful. I suppose you all get much more rain than we do so everything isn't a gigantic tinderbox waiting to erupt into flames. But I'm sure you must worry about fires like this.

I think Schwarzenegger is doing an okay job, but gosh, New Orleans was just a complete wreck. Folks in San Diego can go to the coast, they can come up here to LA...and they have the money to stay in a nice hotel at $200 a night if they didn't feel like staying in a shelter.

There's still plenty of power and resources in SoCal. Louisiana is a poor state whearas if California was it's own country, we'd be in the top ten wealthiest nations in the world. There aren't dead bodies floating down the street and an entire city isn't underwater. Plus, these Santa Anas hit every single October so we know they're coming, we know fires are coming, every year.

I'll give Chertoff credit when he said that they've learned lessons from 2 years ago. I'd have hoped they'd learned something because the state and federal response were ridiculous.

Yes, we got declared really quickly and that has definitely made a difference. When I went to to New Orleans in March, there were still miles and miles of homes that had not been rebuilt. There was nothing there, absolutely nothing where the wrecked homes had been cleared away. And insurance companies got away with murder in New Orleans. Ugh.

I'm glad for the people that the response to these fires has been so swift, but I feel what you are saying. Why was the response to New Orleans so slow? George Well, I do believe Kanye said it most honestly! Gosh, I just watched that clip again and the look on Mike Myers' face is priceless.

You're right when you say these fires are definitely not new. They happen every year, but sadly, arsonists and drought have made this year much much worse. We need rain here in LA like nothing else!

As far as Bush, he's trying to stay relevant by raising the world's fears about going to war with Iran and vetoing health care for kids here in the States. We have to work together as a planet to solve the problems facing us and combat the decisions those that want money and power are more cowboy diplomacy.
Mes Deux Cents said…

Thanks for the LA Times stories. Private firefighters? Wow, I would have never even thought that kind of service existed.
thailandchani said…
Mes Deux Cents - Oh, yes. Private everything. Private security patrol. Responsive insurance companies. It's a whole different world. When I was a kid, we used to make fun of the "rent-a-cops" who patrolled our neighborhood each day and night. Our first inclination that it was different elsewhere (outside of a kind of marginal knowledge provided by the TV and news) was when our neighborhood was invaded and scarred by Charles Manson. Everyone stood around like deer in the headlights, saying "not here!" It's like living in a bubble.

It really is an insane world where those kinds of disparities can exist and most people find it acceptable.

Rather disgusting, actually.
the last noel said…
I hate it when we treat firefighters like "the help." They should always be working, always scrubbing floors, always doing laundry. And when they get a chance to breathe, they're considered lazy.
wow...folks are amazing. there's always some crank sitting in starbucks, hyped on coffee and poppin' junk. since i lived in nyc during 9/11, as are as i'm concerned, firemen rule. now, lets all sit down and waych "rescue me."
Ian Lidster said…
The big Martin Mars water bomber that has been helping with your fires finds home at Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island,just a few miles from where I live. It is an incredible aircraft and the largest flying boat in the air today.
Hey Liz,

Come on over and receive an award!
Liz Dwyer said…
It's a trip, isn't it? The myth of America is that we're all the same, salt of the earth and all that. It's just not true.

I always get ticked off when I hear people say, "This isn't the kind of neighborhood where that goes on," whenever something bad happens. It's an acknowledgement that they know bad things happen in other neighborhoods but the choice has been made to tune out, to be okay with bad things happening to other people. It is sickening and it'll only stop when people see each other as brothers and sisters in one human family, when people see it as immoral to let other folks live in violence and misery.

I sometimes think folks believe firefighters just sit around in the fire station cooking vats of spaghetti and looking at porn. It's nothing like that. They get called out all the time on non-fire related issues.

Folks say the craziest things in Starbucks. I could have a whole blog called "Overheard at Starbucks". It's like folks forget they're in public when they're in there. Or maybe they don't...and they might be hyped up on something other than coffee. I wouldn't be surprised. And yes, "Rescue Me" is a great show. I've only seen it twice but each time it was magnetic.

I've seen it on TV a few times and it's really made a difference. I can't believe how much water it holds! It makes me love technology!

An AWARD!?! Oh wowzer, I can't wait to see what for!

Popular Posts