Re: 'KTLA' vs residents

Steve Maack (steve_maack@QMBRIDGE.CALSTATE.EDU)
Wed, 3 Nov 1993 10:39:37 U

Dear Reed Riner and ANTHRO-L listmembers,
Thank you for your concern, and thank you not calling me at 5:10 a.m. (as
my father-in-law did on Thursday(?)) to make sure the family was okay. I
live in the hills above UCLA on the west side of Los Angeles. We live in
one of 58 townhomes which UCLA built for sale to faculty under certain
terms (like we sell back to other faculty). These are in the Beveley Glen
neighborhood which is literally on the hills between Bel Air and Beverly
Hills -- so the homes around us are worth a small fortune, while the
faculty housing is the "poor" housing on the block. There was a bad Bel
Air fire many years ago which makes fire insurance hard to get in some of
this area, but State Farm went up and actually looked at our site, decided
we were not 50 feet (or is it yards) from a hillside with chapparal on it,
had fire hydrants on the streets, etc. so writes policy in the immediate
vicinty of our homes. For reference, our homes have real tile roofs
(rather than flammable wood shingles as found on many Laguna Beach homes)
and are made of stucco (whether than just wood). Some of the homes
destroyed were built in areas of fire danger without such construction
precautions -- which local building codes do not demand.

The nearest that the first round of fires came was about 20 - 25 miles from
the area where I live -- both west (Malibu) and east (Altadena). The
current fires, in the south part of Malibu, now spreading toward Pacific
Palisades, are still 15-20 miles away, along the coast. The Getty Museum
and Pepperdine University have been threatened during the last day or so by
the Malibu-heading-toward-Pacific Palisades fire, and put on evacuation
alert, but not yet evacuated as of this morning. Unlike during the L.A.
riots, there is nothing burning along my 39 mile (one way) commute from
home to Long Beach, where I work. Pacific Coast Highway, which goes right
along the Pacific, has been closed off at 4th Street in Santa Monica (just
before the I-10 freeway feeds into it), because of fires north of there.
Kanan Road, probably 30 or more miles west of my house, and Topanga Canyon
Boulevard (the part which winds through the wooded canyon from I-101 to the
Pacific), and another road (which goes by Pepperdine) -- both closer in to
me -- are closed. A fire on Topanga Canyon near the Pacific was stopped
this morning there, but burning back up into the hills (part of which is
Santa Monica Mountains parkland -- but Topanga Canyon Boulevard itself has
a hippy kind of community along it in the area now threatened by fire).

The 600-700 homes burned are a tragedy in anybody's terms, I think.
However, Los Angeles is one of the largest urban counties in the United
States in area, and those burned homes were in Los Angeles, Orange (south),
San Diego (farther south), Ventura (west), and Riverside (east) counties.
Fires now going in Banning are what -- maybe 50-60 mile from my house and
90 miles from Long Beach, if I have my geography straight. San Diego
County fires are even farther away. So when you see the flames on TV RIGHT
NEXT TO THE CAMERAS, it doesn't mean that they are necessarily anywhere
near anyone you know in L.A. The media is really hyping these. (We heard
no news this morning on yesterday's elections -- just mostly about the

L.A. is kind of accustomed to the natural tragedy of earthquakes. People
here seem to respond to natural tragedy with general concern for those
affected, but after checking that they themselves and their family are
okay, with curiosity after that. People do respond some in small ways
(clothes, food, calling friends they know in affected areas), but there is
usually not a great big outpouring of support, except perhaps in the areas
nearest the tragedies. On the other hand, local outpouring of goods,
clean-up help, and general support within Los Angeles itself was much
greater after the L.A. riots than after the earthquake the following month,
or the fires (so far). Even people no where near the riot areas felt their
lives much more disrupted than during earthquakes or these fires, it seems.
The riots were in the middle of the urban area, so to speak -- along
commuting routes, and up toward Hollywood -- so may have been more
immediately visible to those not LIVING in the riot areas. (I drove past
smoldering buildings in Long Beach and a telephone pole on fire on my way
to and from work at the time of the riots, and the smoke smell was much
stronger in the air than it is with these fires. Building toll then was
over 1,000 buildings burned ..... It is an intriguing comment on cyberspace
concern, that only one person (from Pittsburgh) tried to reach me by e-mail
during the L.A. rioting (but e-mail behaved erratically then), while
several have contacted me recently.

Another factor here may be that many of the areas being burned now (Laguna
Beach, Malibu, Woodland Hills, part of Altadena, Pacific Palisades) are
really upper-middle to upper-income areas in which people presumably have
fire insurance and can afford the losses financially (if not
psychologically or socially). The residents of these areas choose to live
there because of wanting to be near the natural beauty of hills, mountains,
woods, etc., so have deliberately taken the risk of putting themselves in
the way of fires. Laguna Beach residents for decades have been warned by
officials that the building styles they favor for the "quaint" feel to the
town are very prone to fire. The human tragedy is definitely there, and no
one should have their home burn, but these residents probably have
monetary, legal, political, and social resources on which to fall back.
Besides which, the fire fighters have done an excellent job evacuating
people early, so that no one has died yet in their homes (and I hope this
continues) -- and that, friends, was a lesson from the Oakland fires (which
ALSO affected wealthy hillside areas).

Anthropologists affected that I know of include Bob Harman (CSU, Long
Beach), who has e-mailed me from Thailand (!!) that his friend Alison had
had to evacuate her townhouse in Irving because of the Anaheim fire, but is
back in her home safe and sound now. I have not yet contacted
international development anthropologist Barbara Pillsbury, who lives in
Malibu, but am increasingly worried about her and her family. Will keep
you posted if I learn more about Barbara or anyone else that those in
anthropology circles may know.

Steve Maack