Thomas Fire: Day 6

I haven’t left my house since Monday.

At first it was the sore throat and congestion. Then the air quality kept me inside with every window shut tight and air filters going.

We decided to catch up on errands and see a movie, Jane, today.

The new Santa Barbara International Film Featival Headquarters and the Lynda and Bruce Riviera Theater are beautiful.

Since we were in the area, we drove up to Francheschi Park to see how the town’s air quality was faring. Here’s what we saw.


Thomas Fire: Day 5 and Evacuation Opinions

Good morning, and welcome to good fire news!

Winds are cooperating and the fire did not move much overnight. It is still only 10% contained, but uncontained in unpopulated areas. I grieve for the trees and wildlife of Los Padres National Forest, but am glad the coast is safe.

Air quality in SB is much better.


Some of you may not know, but this is the third fire I’ve seen living in SB. I voluntarily evacuated my childhood home during the Painted Cave Fire in 1990. At a time without cell phones, everyone in my neighborhood walked up to the side of our street where we could see the fire burning. Sometimes the flames ran toward us, then the rapidly changing winds turned them away to the south…until the wall of fire swung back our way again.

I will never forget that unending summer evening. I captured a dozen birds from various aviaries and put cats into pillowcases for transport. I kept running up the street, concocting little landmarkers in my head: If it reaches THAT ridge, we’re leaving.

I made calls to friends asking who could take birds, who would allow cats, and who had beds for myself, my little brother, and a friend staying with us for the summer. I was 17, plenty old enough to be tasked with the responsibility of loading cars and evacuating the homestead, right?

My decision was the go/no go decision. You do what you have to do.

I think my father’s night-shift started at 5PM and he had over an hour commute. On his way out the door he said, “Everything is insured, just keep yourselves safe.”

My mom called soon after, and when I told her my father’s instructions, I thought she was going to have a stroke. She was hundreds of miles away for work, so the next half-hour was me taking notes of the documents, pieces of art, and precious possessions that COULD NOT be left behind. We raced, collecting items and animals for hours.

We left after all lives were secure, feathered, furred, and skinned. Sometime around midnight I think, I climbed into a bed at a friend’s house. I had no desire to wait for an evacuation order, continuing the Now? What about now? suspense through a sleepless night. I sobbed out my terror and relief alone in the dark. No one comforted me because no one heard me. Or if they did, what comfort had they to give?

My house didn’t burn down. 427 houses did. These experiences are not ones you easily forget. They are the memories that become real again under similar circumstances.


The psychology student in me has been utterly fascinated by the various human responses to authority, crisis, and panic during the Thomas fire. Thanks to messaging and Facebook, the thoughts and feelings of those affected are just scrolling by for the reading.

There has been a visible lack of thinking and acting in a way I judge “rational.” I fully recognize this is me being judgmental, by the way. On the internet and at community meetings I have watched a–to me, distinctly bizarre–tendency for people to be angry with the commanders and Sheriffs intent on saving their lives.

In particular, I am surprised that people are unwilling to lock up and leave when a voluntary evacuation order is given. Sure, it isn’t mandatory, but why wait? Do these folks fear theft of what they leave behind? If that is the case, how do they leave their home to go to work everyday?

Do they fear lack of control? The existence of a raging fire is the definition of ‘lack of control.’

Do they not trust the authorities? I trust anyone who gets between me and a raging fire.

Or maybe they have a deep fascination that pushes away fear? Another friend of mine (who did voluntarily evacuate before nightfall on Day 3), put it humorously but with a great deal of self-awareness, when I asked on Facebook, didn’t he want to leave:

Heck no. This is a surreal Temporary Autonomous Zone. The internet is back, and perhaps more importantly, I have chips and salsa…I’m not under evac notice and this is fascinatingly surreal. I must have the foreign wartime correspondent gene.


Whatever reasons each of us have to stay or go are developed gradually by beliefs, values, and life experiences, catalyzed with lightning speed into decisions and actions by the threat of fire.


This is my blog, and I have a very strong opinion: Get. Out.

Let firefighters do their jobs. I am of a fundamentally lawful alignment.

But I know people who stayed, and I wonder why. I wonder how long they would have held out. One big question for me is, are these people so panicked that they are considering solely their own well-being?

If you are in this camp, I ask, How long would you stay?

Would you stay even though civilian evacuations can impair the firefighting efforts?

Would you stay until when your turn comes, you are trapped in a slow moving traffic jam, trying to drive to safety with other panicked neighbors, watching flames chase you in a rear view mirror?

Would you stay even though the water may not be safe to drink?

Would you stay until you put an officer or a firefighter’s life in danger?


The thing is, no one, whether they evacuated or entrenched, has all the information. We make decisions based on what we know and feel at the time. As humans, that is all we can do.

Some of us get a request from an “authority” and we say, as I did when I was 17–as I would do under a voluntary evacuation today–“Sir, Yes, Sir!” Because I respect that the authorities would not ask me to voluntarily leave unless it was for the greater good.

I pay the salaries of “authorities” through taxes, in order to keep us all safe. The best thing I can do is make it as easy as possible for them to do the job my taxes pay for.

Other people are not in my camp.

I would like to understand them better, to understand our differences, but I know, no matter what their reasoning, I am as entrenched in my beliefs as they are. I will always move to safety voluntarily. One, because I trust authority, and two because if I am safe, I am available to provide support to the community.

I said yesterday, the best thing you can do is be prepared.

The second best thing you can do is know where you stand and why.

Once you’ve weighed the risks and consequences, you are solid in your decisions, your actions, you are less likely to change your mind, panic, and become part of the problem, not the solution.

Because whether we like it or not, we are all fighting the fire together. Some with funds, with space, with one less worry for a deputy knocking on doors. Some with hoses and hope that they will make a difference and be spared.


Thomas Fire: Night 4

Emergency preparedness, CHECK. I’m missing some water bottles, but otherwise the list looks good. I’ve staged true emergency items. Will pack a bag with clothes in the AM.

I also began to contemplate how photos and photo albums could best be transported, and decided the answer is old luggage and duffel bags with handles and wheels.

Watched the meeting and discussion by all the local Sheriff, fire, and elected officials. I’m feeling good about where the professionals are setting dozer lines (as in bull, not fraggle) to ensure the fire doesn’t have a chance to cross into SB County.

Feeling ‘Prepared not Scared’ as my friend Marco reminded me this evening. Had some brandy spiked egg nog followed by a brandy spiked ginger beer. I think I like brandy. I’m relaxed and looking forward to a better nights sleep.


Thomas Fire: Day 4

Thomas Fire: Day 4

Thanks to the WiFire tool, it is possible to scare yourself shitless while waiting to see whether your beloved city will be destroyed by fire.

From their website:

WIFIRE is an integrated system for wildfire analysis, with specific regard to changing urban dynamics and climate. The system integrates networked observations such as heterogeneous satellite data and real-time remote sensor data, with computational techniques in signal processing, visualization, modeling, and data assimilation to provide a scalable method to monitor such phenomena as weather patterns that can help predict a wildfire’s rate of spread.

Minute by minute this incredibly useful tool combines all the data gathering and processing power to show us when we need to evacuate or die.

If you look at this image, newest data is indicating that, much like a massive, high fantasy army of orcs, trolls, or medieval foot soldiers, the fire is trying to flank the coast of Santa Barbara County.

To be very clear: that would be crossing the streams bad for our fair city.

The prevailing winds this time of year, called Santa Anas or Santa Ana Winds, blow hot, in a downslope, southwest direction. Therefore, whatever is downwind of them is toast.

Not delicious, golden buttered toast, no.

An inedible husk of carbon.

The kind I make in my overzealous toaster oven on two out of five days a week.

The kind you want to be able to blithely toss to the dog, before putting in another piece of bread and vowing to watch more closely.

Vowing to watch more closely.

Today I am checking my emergency backpacks.

I am making a quick video of my house, room-by-room.

I am thinking through what, if anything (besides the bird and dog) is precious enough to me that I would pack it in my one (maybe two) carloads of evacuation possessions.

My belief is that this fire will not reach the City of Santa Barbara.

Not THIS fire.

But someday, a fire will probably come for me and mine.

Instead of biting my nails and letting the horrific images of destruction terrify me into being an unthinking zombie, I am revisiting and revising my Plans A – K. No better time than the present. Literally.

I suggest everyone do the same. It WILL make you feel better. Better prepared, certainly, and just plain better to face the reality of natural disaster head-on. Get fired up! Go fight fear of fire, with a fiery intent to survive and thrive, no matter what happens.

And above all: Stay Safe.

PS: If you need help Building a Kit, here’s FEMA’s List.





Finnemore Fridays: Train Travel

Finnemore Fridays: Train Travel

Amtrak and I have a love-hate relationship. I love the uninterrupted (except by beautiful views) work time. I often choose the train to travel so I can QC audiobooks, write, and occasionally catch up on sleep from late-night recording sessions.

Something about the Ca-Chunk, Ca-Chunk rhythm (modern trains do not clickety-clack, alas) and the camaraderie of the dining car desserts makes for a bubble of time and space that is removed, unique, and productive.

Of course it often takes ten hours when it should have taken six. And sometimes you get a seat-mate with sharp elbows. The wi-fi never works well. And the menu is at best unchanging, at worst targeted at a senior crowd of travelers who enjoy fresh mussels (a thing that should NEVER be eaten on a train!)

Still the train has a great charm, something my Comedy Hero, John Finnemore must know because he has some *great* train-bits. I can’t share them with you directly anymore because linking to YouTube was (I know) a copyright violation. But I DO want to continue to promote and share John Finnemore’s Work, so that more of my friends and family will get the “in” jokes.

My one-woman quest to expand the popularity of this comedy genius goes full steam ahead! If you have purchased (or downloaded John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme: The Complete Series 3 & 4 (which I absolutely suggest you do immediately using the links) at Track 2, 8:20 you’ll hear a brilliant skit about a Train Manager and a Train Driver. Give it a listen. It’ll make your next train trip much more fun.






Finnemore Fridays: Interfaith Conference

Thanksgiving is about friends and family coming together, sharing a meal and gratitude, regardless of their disparate beliefs or points of view.

I adore the smarty-pants nature of this Finnemore sketch that brings beings together, called “Interfaith Conference.” It is especially poignant right now, after the end of Daylight Savings Time, when the sun simply up and disappears all of a sudden, middle of the afternoon, without seeming to work a full day. Kind of like contractors.

Nope. I’m not bitter. Not me. Have a laugh. Laughing is all I have…<sob, sob, sob>

Series 3-4, Track 10, 4:22



Finnemore Fridays: Alchemy

We don’t talk about this kind of thing in our culture, but recently, I made a bit of money. The way I did it was very 2000’s, terribly old-fashioned: I “won” the startup lottery – a small bet I placed on a company I worked for in one of my past lives.

Good thing too, because the living room remodel was over budget, leaving the kitchen remodel with a shortfall. My unexpected windfall has plugged the financial gap between projects, for which I am extremely thankful. The money was needed, it arrived, it is spent, like it never happened.

This does happen in the world sometimes: You get exactly what you need when you need it. There’s no knowing when, no control, no way to include it in planning or the risk/benefit analysis. You have to jump and hope.

Or, believe that a grand and glorious conspiracy of Alchemy is on your side. Sometimes I believe this, but I know it will only serve me if I do good in the world.

So to all the friends I’ve ever loaned or given money too, all the causes I’ve donated for: Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve. It makes it easier to say, “I deserve this good financial luck. I did good, and it always comes back around.”

Series 2, Track 4, 13:00




MOXI REPORT: Nerdy Good Time on a Friday Night

Yes, I’m a big nerd, and my idea of a fun Friday night is a science lecture. With a side order of dissection. Fair warning, there are pictures, so avert your eyes if filet of cow eyeballs isn’t your thing.

My friend Lisa invited me to a member only night at MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation. It was my first visit and pretty much confirmed that the museum is Santa Barbara’s mini version of the Tech Museum in San Jose.

It is full of beautiful interactive exhibits, labs for hands-on learning, and crafty creative space.

We nibbled on veggie spring rolls, bacon wrapped dates, and chicken salad puffs prior to a lecture by Dr. Dante Pieramici. His presentation was called A.I. and The Management of Eye Diseases. He covered basics about what A.I. is (and is not), recent advances, and potential advantages of having A.I. support the diagnosis and treatment of macular degeneration, specifically. He also covered the basics of the eye and evolution of the eyeball.

Because my local SB ophthalmologist is old school, I had forgotten that much of the modern eye exams is all about looking at images of the eye and comparing annual optomap retinal exams to previous images.

Narrow A.I. could be trained to compare an image of a patient retina, to, say, a database of previously labeled “healthy” and “detached” images. The “narrow” comes from the fact that the A.I. would have a slim focus: only identifying pictures that, in comparison to hundreds or thousands of similar images, show the likelihood of a health issue or risk. On this simple comparison task, A.I. has a very high degree of accuracy and is much faster than humans at processing data.

It was fun to hear about the efficiency to be gained, especially once we are all DIYing our eye exams with an attachment to our iPhones. (Might be awhile.)

After the lecture, we had time to play in the museum and wait for our lab time. We visited the Inhabitat exhibit but skipped the line for trying out the VR (Not worth it without the hand-held controls, IMHO).

At another exhibit, we tried to align our eyes in an intimate mirror helmet. Called The Mirrorbox, it was created by artist Megan May Daalder. To get the name and info I contacted MOXI who said:

We’re so glad you enjoyed it! If you want to learn more about it, check out Megan’s TedTalk here.


The item looks like a conglomeration of the cone of silence, funhouse mirrors, bizzarre lighting effects, and two conjoined black steampunk dive helmets. Each partner put their head into one side of the contraption and the experience went from total blackness through a number of lighting shifts.

It was disconcerting to see my eyes with Lisa’s hair, or eyes of green and blue together, or her very long black lashes and high cheekbones under my green eyes. It was a few solid minutes of staring into her eyes, but I think we got aligned so quickly – both of us entirely unafraid to immediately make eye contact – that it didn’t take much effort.

At 7:40pm helpers from the California Retina Research Foundation took pictures of us while we dissected the eyeballs left over after last week’s steak dinner. The dissection experience in the Exploration Lab was interesting, in a squishy way. I have a tactile appreciation for my own floater-filled, Vitreous Humor, and my too human lack of a tapetum (the bit that allows animals to see better in the dark, and flashes scary green/blue at night when they look straight at the camera).

A really good time that was a much-needed break from NaNoWriting and a rough week.