Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wildfire damange

I took these pictures Friday morning in Rancho Bernardo's Westwood area, where 270 houses were destroyed when the Witch Creek fire roared through. (Click on any image to view it larger.)
Westwood is about 20 miles north of my neighborhood in the center of San Diego.

This might be the highest concentration of destruction from the fires. On some streets, brick chimneys and charred trees are the only things left standing for several blocks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fortunately, it's no Superdome

I learned an important lesson today: If you have to be in a disaster, do it in California.This was the scene at Qualcomm Stadium, the largest evacuation center for victims of the fires burning in this part of SoCal. Some people have actually compared it to the Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.

I know what you're thinking: "Are those evacuees getting massages?" Yes, they are.
And this guy is having an acupuncture treatment.
The stadium had the look and feel of a neighborhood festival and business convention expo. There were balloons and food (some evacuees complained that there was too much to eat) and plenty of water and sodas and army cots and newspapers and children's corners and performances by improv theater groups. And, oh, did I mention massages and acupuncture?
These evacuees were checking e-mail on laptop computers and watching a movie on high-definition TV at the AT&T tent. Yes, there were many corporate-sponsored tents lining the walkway around the stadium that normally is home to San Diego's NFL team, the Chargers.
For those who just couldn't bear any more food or drinks or massages or balloons, there was refuge in the stadium's comfy seats that offered views of televisions broadcasting live local news coverage of the fire disaster.

You won't be surprised to learn that I saw no one starving, no one dying without their medication, no guns, no broiling tropical heat, no packed crowds covering ever available square inch of space, no one hopelessly searching for his missing relative. Oh, and the fire wasn't burning all around the stadium.

Qualcomm certainly is no Superdome. And the wildfires are no Katrina.

That's not to say that there isn't plenty of suffering going on here. Thousands of people have lost their homes, businesses and possessions to the infernos. At least one person has lost his life. And it could be months or years before the lives of victims are put back together.

But Qualcomm Stadium has managed to be everything the Superdome wasn't - a refuge, a source of comfort and a ray of hope.
Except for the blue-gray haze and the smell of smoke, it's hard to tell from the center of San Diego that a disaster of near biblical proportions is unfolding only a few miles away.
More than a few people are wearing masks over their mouths and noses to keep from inhaling the particles now filling the air.
That might not be such a bad idea. I woke this morning to find my car covered with a thin layer of ash bits.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

San Diego fires

We returned home to San Diego tonight where fires continue to burn around the city and county. These pictures were taken last night and early this morning by our friend Fergal with a zoom digital camera from his third-floor balcony less than a mile from my apartment and Rex's house.
They show the Harris fire which has been burning across the city's southern side.
Here is a map of San Diego County (click on it for a larger view). The red, orange and yellow dots are where fires have been burning. The yellow thumb tack in the middle of the city is located over my neighborhood. Rex's house is only a dozen blocks away. (If you have Google Earth on your computer, you can see the latest version of this map here.)

We're safe for now. The fires' advance toward the center of the city slowed tonight as the winds shifted, but it's impossible to say where the infernos will go next or how long they will continue to burn.
I shot these photos from the plane tonight as I flew across the the central part of San Diego County. I was sitting on the right side of the plane looking north toward the Witch Creek and McCoy fires. If you click on the first pic to blow it up you can make out the orange light of flames at the base of the largest plume of smoke rising from the mountains in the background.
This view is further west and the orange dot in the middle is a large fire visible through the thick layer of smoke.

I'll update my situation here as often as possible.

You can see Rex's postings on the fires on his blog here.

And for the very latest news about the disaster, go to The San Diego Union-Tribune's fire blog or its Web site at SignOnSanDiego.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's all relative

In just four days I've managed to visit my parents, two sisters and their families, a great aunt, an uncle, two aunts and 11 cousins. Here I am with my mom (right) and two of her sisters who also happen to be Catholic nuns. I guess you can call them sisters squared.
My brother-in-law, twin sister, nephew, niece, mom and dad.
None of these people are related to me, but the handsome guy on the billboard is Cliff. The signs seemed to be everywhere in my hometown in southwestern Louisiana.

I went to high school with Cliff. We were both in the marching band - I think he played trombone. I remember him as a really nice guy with a playful sense of humor. At some point during high school he discovered Jesus. I guess he never got over it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

All good things must come to an end

We ended our night of LSU football with the Tiger Marching Band singing the Alma Mater acappella.

The game

Here we are in Tiger Stadium Saturday night watching LSU's nail-biting game with Auburn.
The Golden Band from Tigerland got things started. The stadium was packed with 92,600 fans.
The fronts of these t-shirts read "Auburn Sucks."Mike VI gets a big welcome from the student section. (Click on any pic to make it larger.)
Here come the Tigers!
It was a crazy game with LSU staging an exciting comeback in the fourth quarter to score the winning touchdown on the last play of the game.
We came. We yelled. We left exhausted.

Tiger pep rally

We got primed for the game by the Golden Band from Tigerland during the pep rally held by the Tiger Athletic Foundation a couple of hours before kickoff in the basketball arena located next to the football stadium.

Rex didn't seem too troubled by my enthusiasm.


I bumped into friends Harold and Scott while we roamed around campus Saturday afternoon before the LSU-Auburn football game. I know Harold from my days covering the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the agency that regulates power utilities. Scott was a business section intern at The Times-Picayune two years ago, and he returned to LSU this fall to attend law school.
Rex wanted to see the fancy new habitat that is home to Mike VI.

The weather couldn't have been better for a day of football - temps in the upper 70s, low humidity and crystal clear skies.
By mid-afternoon, the campus was packed with more than 100,000 fans, such as these Law School students who stayed true to ancient LSU tailgating traditions.
These fans had their hands full keeping up with cocktail orders.
It's amazing what you can do with a beer keg and 50 feet of plastic tubing.Another creative use for kegs. I'm not sure how this thing works . . .
But it produced these yummy-looking kabobs.
The parade ground in front of the Law School Building.
The Journalism Building where I attended classes in the late 1980s. It served as a temporary newsroom for The Times-Picayune staff when we evacuated to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Down on the bayou

Our visit took an unexpected turn Friday after my cousin Victor died. So we headed south to Morgan City to join my dad's clan for the wake. To get there, we traveled for nearly two hours through sugar cane fields, past petrochemical plants and across the Mississippi River on the Sunshine Bridge.Rex was captivated by the scenery, the English of my Cajun cousins and the dinner we ate at Landry's Seafood House along Highway 70 in Pierre Part. Here, he's trying fried alligator for the first time.
Dad had a delicious plate of turtle sauce piquante. (That's my twin sister next to him.)
I had the seafood platter - fried catfish, shrimp and oysters. We all had the sweet potato fries - they were heavenly.