Thursday, September 3, 2009


I live in the Hollywood Hills, just like the protagonist of my pet-sitter mysteries, Kendra Ballantyne. The back of my home faces the eastern San Fernando Valley. I never thought a whole lot about how much of the San Gabriel Valley it also faces, till this past week.

I usually adore the broad view from our back patio, overlooking the Valley, lots of palm trees, downtown Burbank and the Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport and more. But this week, I’ve had a horrendously scary view of what has been dubbed the Station Fire. It’s a huge fire that has engulfed a lot of the Angeles National Forest and beyond, damaging communities such as La Crescenta, La Canada Flintridge, Glendale, Sunland Tujunga, and north to Acton and beyond. Fortunately, there’s been little wind to increase its progress. Unfortunately, many of the areas affected are steep and remote and filled with dry brush that had not been burned off for decades.

Most of what I’ve seen is an increasingly vast field of fat, rising plumes of smoke beyond the mountains that stretch along the foreground. Now and then, I’ve seen smaller smoke plumes on this side of the mountains. And at night, while it was dark, I’ve gasped over the fortunately few, but irregular, patches of flame on the Valley side of the mountains--and the orange, pulsating glow emanating from the other side. For the last two days, there’s been such a pall of smoke covering everything in that direction during daylight that I can only see individual smoke plumes occasionally.

Sadly, two firefighters lost their lives in the fire. Others--firefighters and civilians--have been injured. Many homes and cabins were destroyed. Large numbers of people faced mandatory evacuation, although some defied the orders and stayed at their houses, watering down the dry brush and rooftops, in attempts to save their homes.

And then there were the animals. I can’t even imagine how much wildlife was killed by this horrific conflagration. Representative were some of the photos I saw online: a fleeing deer, a confused-looking rabbit. I heard, on a traffic report, that a baby mountain lion had died on a road and was affecting the flow of vehicles in one area.

Shambala, the wildlife preserve started by film star Tippi Hedron, had flames approaching from across the street. I read about how the brave staff, who trained often for what to do in this kind of situation, stayed to douse the fire and protect the animals--even while preparing to put the rescued big cats and others into crates to be taken away. Another wildlife preserve, Wildlife Waystation, chose to evacuate at least some of its animals, and called for volunteers to bring trucks to help. Apparently some of the Wildlife Waystation animals were taken in temporarily by the L.A. Zoo, and a couple of chimpanzees escaped for a short while! How ironic it felt for me to be proofreading the typeset pages for my upcoming Kendra mystery HOWL DEADLY, which takes place largely at a fictional wildlife sanctuary, while all this was going on.

Some people took their large pets like horses to places like the L.A. Equestrian Center and Pierce College to keep them from harm. Others had to leave them home and hope for the best.

One very tiny, but significant--to me--sign of hope in all this is that on Monday, I heard a thunk on my living room window. Much too often, that means a bird has flown into it and fallen to the paving below, dead. This time, a bird had indeed made the noise, a little female finch. When I went down to check on her, she was on her feet but didn’t move for a very long time except to blink, even letting me get close. I called my local veterinarian, and was told it would be best to bring the poor thing in to be euthanized, rather than let her suffer in the heat and smoke, and then die anyway. I sadly prepared to do so, getting a box ready to carry her. When I went down again to decide what to do, she still hadn’t moved, and I feared that this was, in fact, the best thing for her. Just in case, I clapped my hands to startle her--and she flew away!!!

And then there was the baby lizard that climbed out of our garden and came all the way up to our deck off the kitchen.

How about you--have you ever experienced a ray of hope during a difficult situation?


Janie Emaus said...

I think that people seem to bond together and show their better sides during emergencies.

I'm so glad that baby bird flew away!

Linda O. Johnston said...

I agree, Janie. Seeing the courage of the firefighters and residents dealing with the fires was amazing. At least, today, the fire is 38% contained, and the sky here is mostly blue instead of smoke gray. And I keep looking at the birds in my yard, wondering which one was the one who revived!

Betty Hechtman said...

I'm glad the bird flew away, too. I am much further from the fire and most of the effect has been an eerie sky and a moon that looked orange.

The other night my son and I went up to the park at the top of Reseda. The San Gabriels' were outlined in a red glow and spots of fire were visible. It was a surreal scene. And then behind us, the Santa Monica mountains were dark and quiet.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I even saw some of the red glow when I went to LAX to pick up my son and husband on Monday night, Betty. My son took some daylight photos of flying near the smoke during daylight.

JanG said...

Linda, your description was so powerful. Even one bird's life seems so much more valuable with the backdrop of carnage and destruction behind it. To think an arsonist thought this would be -- what? A bit of excitement in a boring life? Ask my friends how they feel about such a destructive act as they see ashes where they had a home.

Looking forward to the next novel, as always.