Steve Maack (steve_maack@QMBRIDGE.CALSTATE.EDU)
Thu, 4 Nov 1993 08:53:53 U

This is Thursday morning, about 7:58 a.m. Since Donna Winham's message to
ANTHRO-L from about 11 a.m. did not reach me until 5 p.m., I think messages
are going out from here faster than they arrive. Donna Winham was right on
about the ashes falling in West L.A. My car was covered with a thin layer
this morning. As yesterday, I am writing you from about 35 miles away from
UCLA in Long Beach, California.

Mostly good news this morning. Just after 6:30 a.m. the fire officials
declared the fire "70 percent contained" (up from 60 percent) and expected
to have it fully contained by 4 p.m. if nature cooperated, and competing
ocean and Santa Ana breezes didn't mess things up. Even better, no
residential areas are currently considered to be in danger. Cool, wet,
light ocean breezes and fire retardant dumped yesterday have helped a lot.
Some of the firemen actually got a chance to rest a little last night.

Personal news. Marija Gimbutas, UCLA emerita professor of archaeology
(European archaeology, Slavic languages and literature) and author of
"Language of the Goddess" lives on Entrada Road in Topanga Canyon. Entrada
Road intersects with Topanga Canyon Boulevard just north of where Old
Topanga Road does, and heads east toward Pacific Palisades (while Old
Topanga Road heads west). As best I can tell, the worst fire areas were
west, along Old Topanga Road area and the firefighters were valiantly
trying to keep them from spreading toward Pacific Palisades (over the next
hill), so would probably have been trying to protect Entrada. As of just a
few minutes ago, Professor Gimbutas home phone is still ringing, but no one
is answering. That may mean that her house is okay. I would not expect an
answer yet, since Topanga Canyon residents were ordered to evacuate
yesterday morning, and when told many were already packed and ready to go.
I would guess that Professor Gimbutas herself is safely away from the fire
area, staying with a friend or in a hotel or shelter somewhere. Officials
won't be allow anyone back in there until much later than this morning. If
anyone does hear from her, please post to ANTHRO-L, since Maureen Korp has
been asking about her.

I talked with international development and health anthropologist Barbara
Pillsbury last night, about 7:30 p.m. in Malibu. My first call to her
office, which is about 200 yards from her house, got an answering machine
message which said the fire was 1 mile away and she was evacuating that
site. I nevertheless tried her home (since I was not sure at the time
where he office was). To my surprise, a child answered and then got
Barbara. Barbara and her family were among the 5 percent of the Malibu
residents who chose to stay with their houses. Barbara said the office
message was from Tuesday, and that ANOTHER closeby fire had just popped up
about 1 mile away on another ridge. She was going on about 1 hour sleep
but was confident that the worst was over -- which was what officials had
started to say. Barbara had been without electricity part of the time, and
was depending on calls like mine for news from the "outside world." There
were firefighters near her area, for whom she had been baking cookies and
making coffee during the day. She said that they, too, seemed reassured
that the worst was over there. Barbara said that no one was being
permitted into the area, and that she had all her anthropology on computer
disks ( :-> ) in a box, ready to evacuate on a moment's notice, if needed.

Why did she and her family stay? Lynn Maner's message of yesterday to
ANTHRO-L is relevant here. Barbara's husband designed their home and she
said that he strongly believes in building ecologically appropriate
buildings. In Malibu, in Southern California, that means building to resist
earthquakes and fires. Her husband was basically confident that their
home, designed to be fire resistant, would survive -- and he appears to be

John O'Brien's daughter lives in Woodland Hills, behind a bookstore owned
by the daughter's grandmother. I have no specific information for John,
but hope he will post something if he has heard from his daughter by now.
There was some fire threat to Woodland Hills yesterday, but the news has
quit talking about it, so perhaps it was quickly handled. John, please
send a telephone number if you would like me to try to call -- it may be
easier for me to do a local call and then e-mail you information, since the
long distance phone lines into the city have been jammed lately.

For more perspective on all this, consider the following. Mayor Riordan of
the City of Los Angeles announced yesterday that no homes within the city
had burned from wildfires. According to the 1990 census, the City of L.A.
had 1,219,770 households (i.e., occupied housing units), and 3,485,398
people. The rest of L.A. County (which includes Malibu, Long Beach, etc.,
etc.) 1,774,573 households and 5,377,766 residents in 1990. I worry about
specific individuals like Marija Gimbutas, Barbara Pillsbury, and John
O'Brien's relatives, and will do my best to try to learn something about
their situations. I sympathize with the trauma of people who lose their
homes. The broader perspective here, though, is that the trauma is
localized in a few parts of this county AND in four nearby counties, but
well over 99 percent of Southern California residents AND THEIR HOMES are
probably safe from these fires. Even those directly in danger's way may be
spared -- as were almost everyone who had homes in Malibu in the thin
stretch between Pacific Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean, where only 4
homes burned (and only one completely lost). So far there have been some
injuries, but no one has been killed, and people in the way of the fires
have been told early to evacuate. So ask me about specific people, giving
names, addresses, and telephone numbers, and I'll try to check them out,
but don't worry overly in general about all of us, okay?

Since ANTHRO-L likes references, I thought I would close with this one from
an applied anthropology source. :-)
John Lozier 1976 "Volunteer Fire Departments and Community Mobilization,"
Human Organization 35(4): 345-354. Thanks for all your concern. I'll
pass on more if I learn of it. I am your disaster reporter in L.A.,
Steve Maack