Print 15 comment(s) - last by feraltoad.. on Oct 29 at 1:32 AM

Finding out that your home is still standing means the world when you're an evacuee.

The phone rang and we heard a recorded voice telling us to leave home immediately, and bring only what we could carry. It was the dreaded call that hundreds of thousands of families like ours have gotten since the mass evacuations of San Diego County began on Sunday.

So we loaded up our “family”  – a combination of children, dogs, cats, horses, and a lone rabbit -- and made our way to a nearby horse ranch that lies just outside the immediate evacuation area. Here we sit, breathing the fumes of the fires and the stables, wondering about everything we left behind.

That wondering, as it turns out, is worst thing about being an evacuee. Ironically, the one item that has brought the most solace to the families gathered here has turned out to be a little gadget about the size of a pack of gum: Novatel's cellular USB data modem, sold by Verizon Wireless as the USB720 NationalAccess Broadband device.

Even with the radio and TV broadcasts we can receive, we were soon frustrated by the lack of specific information on our plight. Local stations focus only on the biggest fires ravaging our area, and have no time or personnel to report on our tiny blaze, which has consumed only 7,500 acres, 200 homes, and evacuated a mere city of 40,000. Public agencies are too busy fighting fires and saving lives to update their telephone information lines. While our community newspaper publisher has valiantly updated her lead story every few hours, it hasn’t been enough to satisfy the refugees, each one hungry for details on whether their own homes and loved ones have survived the ordeal.

In the end, we have relied on three main sources of information: two are online, and one is decidedly low-tech:

1.    The California Highway Patrol’s real-time incident log (
The log is designed for CHP officers logging on from their cruisers, reporting their activities in the field. The information is full of police jargon and traffic-related minutiae, but occasionally it contains references to where the fire is erupting or being extinguished. Because the data is all recorded in real-time by first responders, it’s a godsend to information-starved evacuees.

2.    Impromptu user forums in the comments sections of articles published by our local “rag,” the North County Times (
The articles themselves were nominally valuable, but readers interacting spontaneously in the comments sections were priceless. For example, I came across a post last night where a woman mentioned that her elderly mother had just broken the evacuation order and returned home. I recognized the lady in question as my next-door neighbor, and the post confirmed that my home was also still intact.

3.    A 10-year-old fax machine.
About as low-tech as you can get, the fax machine sits in my home office. Every so often I call it from my cell phone, just to reassure myself that the house is still there. As long as the machine picks up and screeches back at me, I know we still have a home to return to.

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RE: Fax machine...
By jskirwin on 10/25/2007 1:29:52 PM , Rating: 2
Peoples are dying and you propose they use UAV's?

Death. So far exactly ONE person has died from the fires, killed by the Harris fire on his property on Sunday.
Before you criticize someone else get your facts straight.

In the meantime several hundred thousand people are standing around at shelters, schools and sports stadiums waiting to see if they've lost everything. They're not dead, but they are suffering.

It takes a crew of 16 to fly a single UAV, and some can stay aloft for days. I don't know if they have them at the Marine corps base at Pendleton, but it would be nice if they did and they could fly over the neighborhoods taking low-altitude recon pics.

By your logic, the jugglers entertaining children at Qualcomm stadium should be at the fireline with shovels and picks.

It's all part of helping people out.

RE: Fax machine...
By GaryJohnson on 10/25/2007 8:43:33 PM , Rating: 2
I think the AP is saying the number of people who have perished do to flames is up to 7 and the number of deaths attributed to other aspects of the fires is also up to 7, so 14 dead.

I'm sure there's plenty of aerial reconnaissance going on, probably including unmanned aircraft.

RE: Fax machine...
By Reignfyre on 10/25/2007 8:52:00 PM , Rating: 2
Well said.

And for what it's worth I believe if the military UAV's aren't flying recon yet then Governor "Ahnold" should ask for them pretty quick.

RE: Fax machine...
By GaryJohnson on 10/25/2007 10:44:21 PM , Rating: 2
There's some irony here: apparently some plants where they build UAVs (among other things) have been out of operation because of the fires (due to road closures).

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