Category Archives: Disasters


After we had a reminder that we live in earthquake country the other day I was talking online with someone about the experience of living through a big earthquake and how the worst part for me was the aftershocks.

I hate aftershocks.

The absolute worst were not the ones five minutes, five hours, five days after the big shaker. It was the ones five months and twenty-five months later, usually just about when you suddenly thought to yourself, “Hey, self, it’s been a while since we had an aftershock or an earthquake!” Just when you thought you were safe. Just when you thought that your life could get back to normal.

It has often occurred to me that there are similar patterns (which I hate similarly) to other monumental events in life.

For example, many years ago when we were visiting Montreal, our rental car was broken into. Among other things stolen were my briefcase with an assortment of documents, credit cars, my checkbook, and so on.

I got a new rental car, got back to Vermont, wasted some vacation time in the local library (mom’s house didn’t have internet) cancelling accounts and getting new credit cards sent and so on. It was a pain in the ass (much like a major earthquake) but in a day or two I thought we were back to normal.


Once I thought I was safe, once I thought things were back to normal, the “aftershocks” started. I go looking for some document or piece of camera equipment or credit card or something – only to realize it had been in that stolen briefcase and now not only wasn’t there when I needed it, but that I had yet another mess to clean up. It got gradually better with time, but it was a pain.

I think of this tonight because I suddenly recognized that it’s happening again. This time the “major life changing event” isn’t an earthquake or a theft, but the fact that we’re selling our house and into full pack and panic (not necessarily in that order) mode.

Over on FaceBook and Twitter there are starting to be postings about the best places in the Lompoc, CA area to see the Insight launch in four weeks. Insight will be launching from Vandenberg AFB about three hours north of Los Angeles, headed to Mars.

I would love to see that launch. It’s currently scheduled for a Saturday and because of that, unless the launch date slips, I’ve got it penciled into my brain as a day to spend three hours driving north to watch a rocket launch for five minutes and being 10,000% worth it.

Better yet, there’s a NASA Social for the launch. A three-day long NASA Social, including up-close VIP seating for the launch itself. I’m not sure how I would get the Thursday and Friday off work (*cough* maybe I’m coming down with something already?) but I would figure out something. So I applied a couple weeks ago, and for the first time in several years I didn’t get turned down outright. (I’m not complaining, I’ve been to five NASA Socials and figure they’re spreading the wealth around.) I didn’t get an invite, but I did get put on the wait list in case one of the primary invitees can’t make it. That’s got me very excited!


We’re in escrow and have months worth of work to do in the next fifty or so days. I get home from work, usually at 19:00 or 20:00 or later at this time of year (audits, tax returns) and now I’m up until midnight every freaking day packing and panicking, while also trying to squeeze in the occasional minute or two of CAF work. And I’ve got a five day trip to Toronto to squeeze in there as well.

Barring a literal “act of God” there is no way I can afford to take a whole Saturday off to go see the launch, and that’s a zillion times more true about the idea of taking a full three days off for the NASA Social.

Just when I thought I was safe. Just when I thought there might be the tiniest sliver of normalcy to be found in the chaos…


There will be more. They may keep getting bigger and/or more frequent.

I hate aftershocks.

Now if you’ll pardon me, it’s only 23:40. I have at least two or three more boxes to pack tonight before I can go to sleep.



Filed under Castle Willett, Disasters, Space

The Fires Continue

We’re fine – still nothing that close to us, although another new fire has apparently started up over to the east by Monrovia.

Being Saturday, I was out at the hangar in Camarillo. The first big fire in this current sequence of six or seven fires started not too far from there and is still burning.

Map from Google.

For reference to assist those not familiar with Southern California, this is Ventura County, just to the north of Los Angeles. We live at the far west end of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County – on the right-hand border you can just see the edge of the dot that indicates where. The Camarillo Airport is just under the “101” icon between the words “Oxnard” and “Camarillo.”

For scale, from my house to the airport is about 35 miles on the freeway, almost exactly 25 miles as the crow flies. From my house to Carpenteria, on the far left edge of the map and just south of Santa Barbara, is about 50 miles directly.

This is not a small area. It’s “local” by Southern California standards, but it could cover the better portion of several states in New England.

Here’s what’s burned in this fire (which is in turn, as I said, one of about six going on right now):

Map from Google and CalFire. Scale is similar to the one above.

The fire started near Santa Paula on December 4th, spread toward Ventura, and is now moving up into the mountains and up the coast toward Carpenteria.

What’s that look like from the ground at Camarillo Airport?

On the far left you can see the smoke plume from the main fire up toward Carpenteria. Straight ahead you’re looking up toward the Santa Paula and Fillmore area. When I got there this morning things had started to die down a bit overnight, but the winds were starting to blow again.

By lunch we were looking at 30 mph winds with gusts to 45 mph. In the mountains and canyons where the fire was, it was worse. Naturally, this led to a number of flareups.

Looking toward Carpenteria.

Looking toward Santa Paula

I also learned that two of our CAF SoCal members lost their homes, burned to the ground. One of our members got out with literally just the clothes on his back, managing to get out in his wheel chair in the middle of the night when he woke with the house burning, finding his cars on fire in the driveway, and saved only because a neighbor saw him as they were bugging out and drove him to safety.

The winds are supposed to continue into tomorrow and then start dying down in the next week, but there’s no rain in the foreseeable future and these fires are now pushing up into the mountains where they’ll be very difficult to fight. There’s a lot of brush after a very wet winter last year and most of these areas haven’t burned in decades. These fires may still be burning well into 2018.



Filed under CAF, Disasters, Photography, Weather

What To Take, What To Abandon

(We’re still fine – the winds of last night caused some serious problems up in northern Ventura County [35-50 miles away] and tonight the winds have kicked up down in San Diego County [80-90 miles away] but things near us seem a bit more calm. Still many schools closed for the rest of the week, still some scratchy eyes and sore throats from smoke, but that’s the worst of it. For us. For now. Things can change in an instant.)

Back in the day I used to love playing a computer simulation game called Outpost. The Earth’s going to be destroyed, you can put together one ship to go elsewhere and build a colony, and so on. Sort of like Sim City with a bit of Armageddon thrown in for kicks.

You started the game by figuring out what you want to take. It’s all a juggling act limited by mass and physics. Lots of people? Great, but you only get to take enough food and water for a month. A couple years’ food and water? Great, but you only get to take a dozen people. More seeds or more machinery? A full nuclear power plant, or a windmill (plus a lot of food and people) and hope you find a planet with wind? A set of weather and communication satellites? Or take your chances with ignorance and whatever comes over the horizon, just like the good old days?

Last night was a bit like that.

Scenario One: You wake up at 02:34 AM with the fire department pounding on your door and the sky orange, smoky, and making it almost impossible to breathe. You have thirty seconds to get out with your life. You take…

Without preparation, you pull on clothes, take your car keys, wallet or purse, phone, maybe a briefcase that might have an iPad or other valuables in it, and you hope to get out with your car and your life.

If you’re playing the game, you do all of that and you grab that “red” box that you put by the front door with the credit cards, passports, birth certificates, death certificates, spare cash, and a few days of your medications.

Scenario Two: Same, except you have five minutes

Without preparation, you run around like a lunatic and get to safety, only to spend the rest of your life second guessing yourself, wondering why you left this and that to burn to the ground while you took clothes you hardly ever wear, a television that you could have replaced in five minutes for $300 at WalMart, and a generic set of pots and pans.

If you’re playing the game, you have a list and you’ve double checked where items on the list are and verified that they’re ready to grab and go. (If the fires are a bit closer and more likely to move in your direction, you probably have everything on the “five-minute list” in the hallway by the front door, right next to the “red” box. If the fires are really threatening, you probably put it all in the car now, just to be safe in case five minutes turns into thirty seconds.)

Also, if you have pets, plan for them. Do you have carriers for them, or leashes? Food? Water? Treats? Toys? Meds?

This is where the juggling starts. You can play these scenarios all night long. What’s on the “five minute” list? What slips to the “fifteen minute” list? What do you jam into the van if you have an hour? Two hours?

For me, five minutes gives time (with proper preparation) for the wedding photos, jewelry, computers, photos, suitcases of clothing (if they’re pre-packed), family movies and video.

Fifteen minutes lets me start grabbing the unique and irreplaceable items, as well as the simply expensive. Signed books. The good wedding china and silver. Paintings. Sports memorabilia.

Once that’s done, depending on time and space (sound familiar? do I need to bring a backup lander or hospital?), once I’ve secured all of the one-of-a-kind items that simply can’t be replaced at any cost, then it’s time to start prioritizing what to take that can be replaced but would be expensive or difficult to replace.

Play the game now. Do it in your head. Take notes. Play it in slow motion with no actual life-and-death emergency staring at you right outside the door. Run through it again and see what you missed. Re-weigh your priorities. Walk around and see again what you might have missed. Then make those five minute, fifteen minute, and one hour lists and put them someplace where you can grab them in thirty seconds.

It doesn’t matter where you live, there is something out there that’s gonna bite you in the ass one of these days. Fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, mudslide, volcano, tsunami, Republicans – something’s coming that you’re going to have to run for your life from.

Be ready.

Clock’s ticking…

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Filed under Castle Willett, Disasters

LA Continues To Burn – We’re Fine For Now

As I wrote earlier tonight on Facebook in response to a number of friends from back east who were asking:

Thanks to all of you who have asked about our situation in relation to the brush fires going on in LA. Right now we’re fine. It’s an inconvenience but no actual danger, at least not to us.

Some smoke to make our eyes scratchy and allergies kick up, plus lots of horrible traffic as major freeways get closed for days. The wind that’s driving the fires is also a pain, but so far our only damage is to our Christmas lights and a handful of small branches broken off of trees..

The fires themselves are all at least 10-15 miles away from us – LA’s a really, really big place. Our biggest danger would be if another fire broke out upwind of us (Simi Valley, Porter Ranch, etc) and was driven in our direction. Then we might need to think about what to put in the car and things can change quickly. (The fire in Ventura County went from zero to 40,000 acres in less than twelve hours.) But so far, so good.

That was four hours ago. Then all the phones in the house went off at once:

This warning was sent out by text message to over 10,000,000 phones in Southern California.

Apparently the relative humidity is already in single digits and is expected (in some areas) to drop down to about 4%. The winds are expected to be at 40-50 mph with gusts in the mountains (where the fires are) and below the canyons (where the fires are) up to 80 mph – or worse.

We woke up this morning to a fourth major fire, this one right in the Sepulveda Pass, between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica, along the 405 Freeway which normally carries a few million cars a day. I’m sure you’ve seen the video.

So, we’re good. For now. But it’s enough to have me spending the evening pulling some boxes off of the shelves and making a couple of lists and being ready. Because we may get that 30-second or 5-minute or 15-minute notice to evacuate.

I would rather think about it now, than a 04:23 AM.


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Filed under Disasters

And We’re Burning Again

Nothing particularly close to us, but three large, larger, and freakin’ huge brush fires have broken out within about thirty miles of us, with at least a couple more fires further inland out toward Riverside and San Bernardino.

From my office this morning the clouds of smoke from the fires in Sylmar and Santa Clarita made the sun reddish-brown like a dirty sunset.

As of this evening’s update from CalFire:

Creek Fire, Sylmar, 11,337 acres, 0% contained

Rye Fire, Santa Clarita, 5,000 acres, 5% contained, 1,300 homes evacuated

Thomas Fire, Ventura County, 50,000 acres, 0% contained, 27,000 homes evacuated

It will be days before we have a true handle on the extent of the damage. For example, in the Thomas Fire all they’re reporting is “150+ structures damaged,” but one of the structures in question was a 60-unit apartment building (burned to the ground) and another was the Vista Del Mar Hospital. Looking at local television coverage from the air, the number of houses that have burned to the ground will likely be far, far higher than 150.

Welcome to Southern California! Bring Bromotrifluoromethane!

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Filed under Disasters, Photography

That Moment, September 5th Version

…when you realize that the primary reason you don’t just start primal screaming in the middle of your day (aside from the way it tends to freak out your office mates) is that you’re not sure you’ll be capable of stopping.

I know that it’s good that I’m not in Houston, still be underwater.

I know that it’s good that I’m not in Oregon, burning and choking on smoke.

I know that it’s good that I’m not in South Florida, looking down the barrel at the biggest, baddest hurricane in recorded history in the Atlantic.

I know that it’s good that I’m not in Bangladesh, where 41,000,000 (not a typo) have been affected by their worst flooding in history.

But some things still suck and make me want to build a pillow fort under my desk with a big bag of Oreos and M&Ms and a good book and hide there until it gets better.

Adults don’t get to do that.

Or so I’m told.

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Filed under Deep Thoughts, Disasters, Paul

A Not-So-Friendly Warning

There’s a very large brush fire burning into its third day about 100 miles to the northwest of here. Dozens of houses have burned, whole towns are in the fire’s path, Highway 101 between Southern and Northern California has been shut down with flames on both sides of the road, and the “sundowner” winds have been gusting every night, fanning and spreading the inferno. As of tonight it was 20% contained, but there were concerns that it could get completely out of control again if the winds didn’t die down.

This morning, with the winds shifting from the north, LA was brown and smoky, over 100 miles away. I guess that’s not as surprising as it might have been a few weeks ago, when we saw that huge fire in Canada spreading smoke all the way to Atlanta.

As if that isn’t enough, it’s going to be a scorcher all over the US SouthWest this weekend. We’re expecting 94°F tomorrow, 104°F on Sunday, and 109°F on Monday. Up there in the fire zone, aside from, you know, the radiant heat of thousands and thousands of acres burning in your face, it’s only supposed to be 97°F.

On the other hand, in places like Phoenix, Arizona, it’s supposed to be 119°F on Sunday, and I notice that the forecast there is for the highs to be 112°F or above for the next nine days, as far as the current forecast goes out. There are whole swatches of this part of the world that are expecting the highest temperatures EVER RECORDED at those recording sites. Not the highest temperature on that day in history – the highest temperatures ***EVER*** recorded at those spots.

Then I saw the news that the very last recording station on Earth that was still seeing CO2 levels under 400 parts per million has finally reached that symbolic level. It’s in Antarctica, about as far away from anything human as they can put it. The last time the CO2 levels hit this height was over four million years ago. From this point onward we almost certainly will never see any spot on Earth recording less than that in our lifetimes. Or our children’s lifetimes, or their children, or their children…

All of that made me think that, in an effort to be totally transparent and up front with everyone, I should let y’all know:

If you ever, EVER come to my site, my timeline, or my face wanting to tell me that CO2 isn’t causing climate change (100% bullshit), that human activities aren’t driving that CO2 increase and climate change (unbelievable 100% bullshit), that scientists haven’t really proven that there’s climate change (you’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me 100% bullshit), that it’s “just a theory” (bullshit 100% ignorant of any clue what the scientific method is or what the word “theory” means), or anything along those lines, I will as politely as I can ask you to piss off and never darken my door again.

If you’re stupid enough to ignore that request (and I’m betting you are if you’re spewing any of the aforementioned bullshit) then I will do everything I can to show the world what a moronic, ignorant, clueless, illiterate, uneducated, imbecilic, cretinous, witless buffoon you are. I don’t for a second think that any of the mountain of evidence and facts that I’m going to shower on you will change your mind, but the rest of us will have fun laughing at you and pointing.

Then I will block your ass and take whatever measures are necessary to never hear from you again. Life’s too short to spend it putting up with the intentionally ignorant.

For those who think this is a policy which stifles a free exchange of ideas – get a clue. Look up “false equivalency” for starters. Put simply, if I say 5+5=10 but you think that 2+8=10 and someone else says 15-5=10, we can discuss how each of us got to ten. On the other hand, if I say 5+5=10 but you say 5+5=37.89927837128 because there’s a conspiracy founded by some secret society and the aliens are really running the whole thing, then we have nothing to talk about and it’s a waste of breath for me to do so.

I just wanted y’all to know!


Filed under Disasters, Freakin' Idiots!, Los Angeles, Politics, Weather