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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Jerkoff (s) of the week, maybe the whole year

Between 2001 and 2004, I was stationed onboard the Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser, USS Valley Forge homeported in San Diego, and so we found ourselves living in Southern California. We rented a house in the (relatively) small town of Fallbrook, about 40 miles north of San Diego off Highway 15 between Escondido and Temecula, up the hill from USMC Camp Pendleton and the Naval Weapons Station.

As such, in October, 2003, we were smack dab in the middle of the wildfires that raged across Southern California. We were surrounded by huge fires on all sides. During the week of the 20th, there were fires burning on Camp Pendleton to our west, fires north burning around Temecula, and to the east the sky glowed an evil hellish orange from the huge fires burning around Julian and Mount Palomar. The air was filled with smoke so dense you could hardly see and the smell of fire was everywhere.

At the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego, ships were kept in a high state of readiness, prepared to put to sea if necessary. On Valley Forge, we rotated the crew through duty cycles, keeping one quarter of our complement onboard (the minimum necessary to get underway) for 24 hours, and sending the rest home to save their families. About ten percent of the crew were directly threatened by the fires burning in Scripps Ranch, Chula Vista, and La Mesa and couldn't make it in through the fires to stand their watches. Some, who fled the fires with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing, including our Captain who nearly lost his life saving some of his elderly neighbors in Scripps Ranch, ended up in shelters trapped in the chaos trying to save their families. We didn't hear from some of them for nearly a week. We made do, working around our missing shipmates, hoping to hell they were OK. Some critical specialists, like the engineers, stayed onboard the entire time, filling in for those who were missing, putting their duty and the ship above their own personal concerns (on the other hand, Navy families are pretty dammed good at taking care of themselves).

And so it was for me and mine. I packed up our utility trailer with our camping gear and filled the back of the jeep with our important papers and computer harddrives and emergency supplies. My wife loaded up emergency food and the things she would need to take care of herself and our six-year old son. I hooked the trailer to the Jeep and left the rig sitting in the driveway, ready to go at a moment's notice. Becky and I discussed what she should do if fire threatened Fallbrook (at that time we could see flames more than two hundred feet high to the east, across highway 15). We were basically surrounded, so we decided that if it came down to it, she would take the Jeep and attempt to cross Camp Pendleton and reach the Pacific Ocean (driving straight into the sea, if that's what it took). And me? I did one of the hardest things I've ever done, I took the truck and headed south to San Diego to do my duty, leaving her and my son to fend for themselves. South to Escondido on the 15 wasn't too bad, but I was stopped at a police roadblock just before Miramar. I showed my military ID and they shrugged and waved me through. There were flames fifty feet high on either side of the highway and I dodged fire trucks and fire crews for several miles. Seconds after I passed the the Miramar exit, a wall of flame a hundred feet high washed across the highway, and I sped south to the roar of F-16's and C-130's thundering off the runway at Miramar, heading out out to safety in the sky.

I made it to Valley Forge and assumed my duties as the ship's Force Protection Officer. There were four of us Officers onboard and we, along with the duty section Chiefs, gathered in the Wardroom to lay out a watchbill and divvy up responsibilities should we have to take Valley Forge down the channel and to sea by ourselves. We were all pretty experienced people, but getting a Cruiser away from the pier and safely out of the harbor by ourselves, without tugs, without two thirds of our crew including the CO and XO, wasn't something any of us wanted to do. I spent most of that night, and the following one, on the ship's bridge wing, watching the fires that raged in the dark above San Diego and reading reports coming in over our communications circuits. I spoke to my wife via cell phone when I could, she was still holding position at our house in Fallbrook listening to the sirens, watching the fires burning on the ridge lines above the town and waiting for the evacuation order.

After two days, the winds died down, the weather cooled, and the fire teams began to make progress. My relief finally made it in through the disaster and I gratefully headed home through the charred remains of Scripps Ranch and Miramar. The fires came within four miles of our house (4 miles seems like a large distance, but when the Santa Anna is blowing fires can cover that distance in minutes) but never threatened my house directly, and, thankfully we never had to put the ship to sea. When it was over, more than 500,000 acres had burned, hundreds of homes and billions of dollars were lost, hundreds of thousands were displaced, and 24 people had died - including a family who waited too long to evacuate, and were burned alive in their truck attempting to flee outside of Julian.

It was a close thing, and I was grateful that it hadn't been worse. But that gratitude turned to anger when I learned that the Julian Fire was started by some idiot hunter, who had gotten himself lost and fired a flare to attract help. It is not possible to get lost in Southern California, if you don't know where you are, sit down and wait, and within ten minutes there will be fifty people along up to see what you're doing. That was bad enough, but my anger turned to white hot rage, rage I still feel, when I learned that at least half the fires were set deliberately by arsonists. Pathetic, wretched little assholes whose daddies didn't buy them a pony when they were children, little paste-eating fucks obsessing over the fact that they were picked on by the cool kids when they were in junior high school twenty years ago or couldn't get a girlfriend or whatever. These sorry excuses for human beings wanted to make things worse because, like cockroaches, they thrive in chaos and disorder and because their sick deformed minds take delight in the tragedy of others.

And so it is again today with the current disaster unfolding in Southern California. Yes, it is beyond stupid that California refuses to mandate steps that would reduce the fire danger that the state faces every year, things like outlawing asphalt shingles and flammable house siding, things like calling tinder dry chaparral "wild life sanctuaries" and refusing to clear those areas or create permanent fire breaks. Refusing to mandate neighborhood emergency citizen fire fighting teams, and stationing permanent diesel water pumps and hoses at every golf course and neighborhood pond, lake, and swimming pool. Yes, there are many, many things that Californians could do to lessen the danger every year, and don't. But, this is no excuse for the actions of the arsonists. I hope the authorities catch these sick sons of bitches, and I hope that they are brought to swift justice. I think the death penalty is too good for these bastards, I think they should spend the rest of their pitiful lives at hard labor, rebuilding what they have destroyed. They love chaos, pain, and fear? Let them rot in it.

5 comments:

  1. Amen, brother.

    One of our best friends almost lost his home in the Hayman Fire, and five firefighters lost their lives trying to bring it under control. The woman who started it, Terry Barton, was a forest service employee, and is currently rotting in prison on arson charges. She ranks right up there with Anne Coulter as one of the few women who have earned the dreaded "C Word" moniker in my book.

    I've been unable to come up with some form of Karmic justice that is suitable for such scum. The mind boggles.

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  2. *Puts on editor hat*

    Why would California outlaw asphalt shingles? Most are pretty decent at being fire retardant, especially if they meet the "Class A" designation. Or did you mean Cedar Shakes?

    *Takes off editor hat*

    *Shakes fist at arsonists, promising Karmic Justice*

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  3. Janiece, even class A asphalt shingles will burn above certain temperatures. Every single house in Scripps Ranch that burned had asphalt singles, and in between those smoldering heaps were the houses that were roofed in terra cotta tiles. Embers, blown by the winds, and fanned by the those same winds, landed on rooftops. Those with asphalt shingle caught fire and burned, those with cement, metal, or terra cotta tiles didn't. House clad in aluminum siding, or stucco, resisted small fires, but those with wooden siding burned almost immediately. If you drove through the ravaged neighborhoods after the fire, the difference was striking. The were blocks of nothing but ashes and smoking foundations, and then right in the middle of it all were the houses with stucco walls and terra cotta roofs, nearly untouched.

    Then, when the burned house were rebuilt, many were roofed in asphalt and those are the same houses burning now.

    Cedar shakes? You might as well just douse those houses in kerosene.

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  4. Interesting, thanks for the insight.

    Of course, the answer to such questions is always "money."

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  5. My uncle and a friend of mine were both evac'd by this fire, and I was across the bay on Stennis in 03.

    The thing that boggles my mind most about Californians (at least in this instance) is that they go about things as if there isn't anything to do to prevent it, as if they're Brits under a perpetual, unstoppable, almost yearly blitz. You're right, they could do quite a few things. It's gonna take a seriously above the norm set of fires to wake them up. The quakes finally mandated certain construction upgrades back in the 90s, maybe this will be a catalyst for construction regulation and some sort of tax break or state funded retrofit to existing structures. I mean, you know how Californians love their programs....

    Somebody wake up the Governator and let him know his constituency isn't just on fire now, but will likely be a year from now.

    As for the arsonists...public exposure on a massive scale. Humiliate them beyond belief. Then, and only then, deliver sentence. Because we all know how Californians love their courtroom dramas, too. Is Judge Ito retired? I keep seeing Shapiro on some stupid commercial. Maybe we could make it a reunion or something.

    ReplyDelete

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