By David Rolland

Hot, hot heat

The last week and a half has been a bit of a blur for a lot of us. I myself dropped into the San Diego County Conflagration, quite literally, on Monday, Oct. 27, when the plane I was riding in touched down at Lindbergh Field amid an orange glow and raining ash, and I haven't thought of much of anything but the wildfires ever since. It seems like the wedding I attended in New York on Oct. 25 happened months ago.

For a week and a half, I've been reading the stories in the Union-Tribune under those maximum-strength headlines, watching the, um... colorful local TV news broadcasts and listening to the shoot-first-ask-questions-later noisemakers on KOGO radio.

Defensible space, shake-shingle roofs, Santa Ana winds, fast-burning fuel, hot air, moist air, Gray Davis, Duncan Hunter, Diane Jacob, Dick Murphy, CDF, FEMA, Red Cross, homes destroyed, people overcome by walls of flame, insurance moratoriums, C-130s, federal government, state government, county government, city government, unify the fire districts, clear out the forests, stop building houses in the woods, more taxes, less taxes....

Sure, 15 more Americans died in Iraq, but Geraldo's in Julian, dammit.

The wildfire attack we've just endured is a big story, deserving of all that attention-even if some of it was a bit melodramatic. Nature, with the help of malicious or dull-witted humans, awoke, and she was in a bitch of a mood. At last count, 17 people died in the San Diego County fires, and, as we're told daily, that number is sure to rise. More than 2,400 homes and roughly 400,000 acres were consumed by flames.

If you're tired of fire coverage, you might want to skip ahead to Page 21, because starting on Page 7, it's all fire, all the time. If you're not sick of it, dive in.

In our lead story, contributing editor John R. Lamb analyzes the fires from a political perspective. Meanwhile, Edwin Decker offers his bartending-in-a-disaster take, and Ms. Beak urges against responding too quickly with bags of money for fire departments.

Will Carless and Alana Causey tell two tales of men ignoring evacuation orders to defend homes in Scripps Ranch and Tierrasanta, while Daniel Strumpf reports one of the many stories of families-a lower-income, uninsured clan from Crest-who lost everything, and Ilana Mignon relates a more positive story of 110 rescued horses in North County.

Associate editor Kelly Davis pulled triple duty this week-she spent some time with a fire crew from the city of Davis (no relation), reported on the fate of a trailer park outside of Julian and checked in on the status of the Indian tribes ravaged by fire. As for me, in addition to trudging up a ridge, while following hand crews creating fire breaks on a mountainside just south of Julian, I got to know the small village of Harbison Canyon and watched as a handful of spirited community leaders launched the recovery effort there immediately after the Cedar fire destroyed more than half of the canyon's homes.

(We particularly hope you appreciate the stories and photos Kelly and I produced-in the process of retrieving them we were nearly crushed by a falling tree and cooked by a fire "chute" at a bend on Highway 79. Take it from us, that highway was closed for good reason.)

I considered, for a moment, not covering the wildfires in such depth-after all, the bulk of the damage was done more than a week ago. But these events are too big to cover superficially, and, as we say in the biz, this story's got legs. There will be much more to come as San Diego County recuperates.

What's more, while the Union-Tribune did an outstanding job with some of its coverage-the reportage on the Cedar fire's first hours and the piece on the awful circumstances surrounding the deaths of some Wildcat Canyon residents were especially good-we thought pinpointed stories of individual people and places were also needed.

One final note: with the exception of one highway patrolman (whom I encountered about midnight Tuesday outside of Julian) who didn't quite understand California law, the police and fire authorities were pretty good about allowing the media to do its job, to get to where the drama was unfolding. The firefighters themselves were polite to the extreme and understanding of the job reporters and photographers had to do, even when members of the media did foolish things.

Comment on our coverage and about the last two weeks in general: editor@SDcitybeat.com.