As long as massive sky-crane helicopters still fly over the Crescenta Valley like lethargic locusts and the occasional tendril of smoke from a hot spot still rises here and there from our newly-monochromatic hillsides, I’ll take this opportunity to douse some of my own embers of observation that have been smoldering since our latest wildfire experience.
First up, is it just me or do others out there get all misty eyed as you pass a hand-made sign on a building, fence or freeway overpass thanking the firefighters, or “… heroes” as quite a few of the signs call them. Gratitude is a wonderful thing.
Gratitude can take many forms, like the mountains of bottled water, cookies, energy bars and other goodies I saw stacked at many of the evacuation checkpoints along Orange and Santa Carlotta avenues. I’m sure the scores of sheriffs stuck with this monotonous duty appreciated the many goodies donated by grateful locals. In fact, you could see the evidence of their appreciation by the abundant quantities of snack trash and debris littering the front seats of the Sheriff cruisers I happened to glance into.
Speaking of gratitude, I wish I could work some up for the TV media, but I can’t – their initial coverage of the fire was so sadly anemic. During day two or three, for example, at the peak of the fire’s rapid growth and as thousands of acres of 60-year-old fuel exploded in flame, the oblivious news directors at ABC, CBS, NBC, KTLA, FOX, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and others were seemingly riveted by the non-stop marathon event that was the Ted Kennedy canonization, er … funeral. While what would soon be L.A. County’s largest wildfire in history grew with devastating ferocity, every news outlet on the aptly named idiot box had their cameras glued to images of bored people waiting endlessly along city streets for a glimpse of Senator Kennedy’s funeral procession. Hour after hour after hour of riveting stuff. Yes, indeed.
Maybe if we’d had a car chase on Angeles Crest or the 210, the TV crews would have shown up. When they did notice the fire, most of the reporting was limited and late at best. Countless times over several days, I would stop to watch “breaking news” reports only to see a “live” shot of the same helicopter filling the same bucket from the same pond at the La Cañada Country Club. The networks’ up-to-the-minute statistics had often already been broadcast or posted hours or even days before on the radio or online.
On the other hand, if you were lucky enough to already be on the e-mail contact list for this paper, you received regular, accurate updates written by Mary O’Keefe and Robin Goldsworthy. Great reporting, ladies.
One last thought. During the fire, one of my sons did something wholly unexpected that – I must say – made his parents quite proud. The three of us were at a popular restaurant on Foothill, sitting near a couple of exhausted firefighters taking a dinner break from the fire lines. While we ate, my son kept shooting sideways glances at the two. A sophomore in college, he has talked about a possible career as a fireman or in Forest Service once he graduates – so I assumed this was the reason for his interest in the two firefighters.
However, when he saw the waiter bring the firemen their check, he jumped out of our booth, grumbling under his breath, “I can’t believe the restaurant isn’t going to comp their dinner!” He stopped the waiter and asked for the firefighter’s check. Before my wife and I could react, our son had taken out his own debit card and asked the waiter to please put the firefighters’ meals on his tab. I could hardly speak when the heroes in soot-covered yellow coats came over to shake his hand and thank him for his gesture. Like I said, gratitude is a wonderful thing.
And with that, I’ll see you ’round town.
Jim Chase is a freelance writer and longtime CV resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org