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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

A MALIBU FIRE , CIRCA 1090

  =B OTH PARTS  "A" AND "B" - DESCRIPTION  OF THE  FIRE ARE POSTED BELOW.  ... BUT THAT IS ALL I WILL POST RIGHT NOW  OF AN ACCOUNT OF MY SIX YEARS IN THE MALIBU AND ITS HILLS AND ITS HILL CRITTERS!




A MALIBU WILD FIRE, CIRCA 1990

THE FIRE

A

The advertised Santana started to materialize in the evening in ever stronger bursts until turning into a fierce steady storm, between 50 and 75 miles I judged. I started to worry about the tin roof of the shed being torn off, and what then of my papers spread on the tables, and that the huge Juniper tree at the edge of the shed might snap - the soughing of wind in needles was a feature of my childhood sound scape, a re-assuring susurrus as the lapping of waves on a shore, though I could not recall having experienced this kind of wind in Northern Germany. Vornbach-am-Inn, in South-East Bavaria, at the edge of the Bohemian forest, had a visitation one winter that flattened half the fir trees in the forest – now that was impressive, however I had been secure in the fortress monastery with its three feet thick walls and had slept through the event. Sleeping during this kind of wind in present circumstances seemed impossible. - I had also heard of the famous event in Siberia that had flattened the trees in the whole huge area – I had not only heard but read about it - momentous events of that kind inscribed themselves impressively on me, I recall their making me feel awfully little, memories and thoughts of that kind infused my nervousness. However, when the roof seemed to hold and the Juniper did not snap, around midnight, I decided to take a chance and laid down on my pad in the south east corner of the main space of the shed.  If the insecure cement blocks started to cave I would have a few seconds to bound to my left and onto the kitchen area which was secure,  solid ground. – I lay down, the wind, rattling the adjacent garage door, the pepper tree whipping huge scratches on-to the tin room like a berserk drummer’s brushes, an analogy that made the sounds, the cacophony, more interesting; though I had to admit that brush work of that kind had invariably been of the most delicate kind, brushes were used to accent – compared to the amazing drum solos I had heard, from just about all the great jazz drummers of that era.
   The way I lay, my head slightly elevated my sightline, to the west-northwest, during daylight it would reach as far as the crest of Deer Creek Road, at about the spot where my dirt Houston Road diverged from it as I saw a spark, electrical, yes there was a box there on the light pole as I noticed that the electricity which had been flickering was now no more: the electric clock on my night table would show when the box blown… as a slight glow burst into flames and what became known as the Deer Creek Fire was on its way. And I stood up and went to the far west window to make out what was transpiring, an instant conflagration at the ridge that the wind swept into the canyon where it propagated itself “in leaps and bounds” was the expression, it leapfrogged in the form of red hot embers that set an array of fires – I sure had never seen or imagined anything like it.
   I had fought fires in Alaska, there the chief danger was from hot-spots that the fire dug in the permafrost when it went underground, you might step inadvertently into a hotspot – that advertised itself with white hot ash – and have your foot blown off.
I had been dropped in front of a line of advancing flames in a grass-lake, a thin wave of six foot high flames and had not been worried in the least, that was straw burning and it barely singed my eyebrows as I walked into it and beat it down. The idea of confronting a wind-driven chaparral fire in the same manner was nothing short of terrifying. Dense Chaparral brush burnt hot and thick and smokey: Would the Swiss hippie contingent at the bottom of Deer Creek Canyon who lived by a spring that was sheltered by a fine set of California Live Oak survive was an instant thought, would the fire suck up all their oxygen if the Oak Trees did not protect them? I had now gone outside to the steep edge of the DeWitt property. The wind was not driving the fire in our direction but straight down into the canyon – swiftly was not the word, I think within 15 minutes the entire canyon was aflame down to the PCH.
   B      

Having stayed up late to watch the conflagration reach PCH and leap to the ocean and then subside I woke late of course and immediately wanted to check what if anything the fire might be up to; but, on stepping outside and rounding the shed to accomplish the view from the veranda escarpment front of the main house, what if my landlord, all 6 feet 6 beanpole Ysbrand DeWitt, gun-nut and photographer of porno shoots, an oedipal case if ever I had realized the moment I saw him flinch when his father Maarten had called him while ringing the cowbell – instant transport back to the lowland farmers of my youth it had been - garden-hose in hand and spraying across the edge of the deck… Pissing to put out the fire? which I noticed was creeping up along the canyon edges, half a mile across it was midway up and threatening Dick Clark’s  TWA Kennedy airport terminal style fortress compound, though it looked as though the fortress’s immediate surround had been cleared – Dick Clark a millionaire of American Bandstand Fame our nearest wealthy neighbor, Ysbrand telling me that nonetheless Dick Clark had been observed scooting away in his car, a jeep if I recall correctly.    
   The fire obviously was no longer propelled by Santana winds from the north east, which only rolled night-times down from Nevada and Utah, accelerating all the way, but was now assisted by the ocean breeze nudging it upward both to the right and left of the canyon – if the wind would change to an easterly or westerly the fire would be driven into Ventura or the  Malibu part of Los Angeles. At Deer Creek Canyon it basically straddled county line, the big divide. We live at the mercy of the jet-stream and in Malibu at the whim of the wind.
   On our eastern side the fire was threatening perhaps the oddest of the invariably odd structures that the individualists who lived in these unincorporated parts of Ventura had erected: a three-story-high palisade tower built of logs…. not plain old log-cabin logs but of logs that had been laminated with a precious extra shiny plastic that made the tower glisten like a jewel in the year-round sun. - What was the purpose of this structure? Who had it built on seeming no-man’s land? A deer look-out? Perhaps, not many deer, but some Lynx and my beloved coyotes, I had spotted on Deer Creek Road driving my 1974 Malibu sedan.
   The fire – brush, chaparral fire –surrounded the structure on all sides. You need to appreciate the density of this chaparral, it is not navigable like ordinary woodsy brush, it is dense, great for rabbits and coyotes, not permissive of larger animals. The area around the tower had not been cleared the advisable 75 to 100 feet, but some clearing had occurred during the construction process, 20 to 40 feet which however is not enough distance to protect a structure from a chaparral fire. It is not just the flames, but the heat that an intense chaparral fire throws out that endangers everything near and dear - as it did in this instance, with the fire all around within 20 to 40 feet  the entire laminated three story structure had been baked from all sides and instantaneously burst altogether all three stories into plastic enhanced flames, in other words: the all around heat had heated the entire structure to the point where it exploded and imploded, burnt spectacularly and collapsed in a heap of cinders.
   Whoever the owner had failed to avail himself of the services of the only two useful workers in them thar hills, my friends the Sanchez brothers who made a good living bulldozing 100-foot clearings around these often hugely expensive properties that their owners wanted to protect from the inevitable wild-fire.
During my first week in them thar hills I had lived with the Peacock of the two Sanchez brothers - he was such a one and had a collection of them prancing in his property – who told me that Ysbrand DeWitt was looking for someone to look after his aging parents while he was at work. Aside the Sanchez brothers [the third had been the Mayor of nearby Oxnard which had a huge Mexican strawberry pickers populace] I could not think of a single useful person in these hills once old Maarten DeWitt, Ysbrand’s Dutch milk-boy to wealthy and lucky flower farmer, had expired of an aortic aneurism at age 88. A retired hoofer at the inception of Houston Road, whom I rather liked for her New York humor and hoofer spirit, had built herself a fairly normal two story Dutch-style big craftsman house; the retired, perverted weird primary school graduate WW II palm tree gunner Georgia beekeeper Marvin Bell whose garage I would rent in a few years, had a built a normal ranchette type house; Suzy, L.A.’s most expensive brain surgeon’s millionaire divorcee sought to turn a magnificent improbably huge Adobe structure at the edge of Breadloaf valley into a “party haven” and she and her closest girl friend both flew to Mexico on weekends to get laid {in Suzy’s own small plane}, it’s triangular guest house I occupied when she needed someone to look after the property and her two Lhasa Apsas…  I for once smart enough to avert her overtures: fucking your divorced super-horny land-lady could not end well - I loved the guest-house and the view of Breadloaf valley all the way to the the Camarillo madhouse, the top of Bony Ridge nearly toppling us each time there was a serious tremor, until it was sold from out under me and I moved a half a mile west along Boney Ridge road to Marvin Bell’s.
 Where I lived was just a hop-skip whence the Manson gang had hung out, an area rife with crack dealers. The Swiss hippies must have had foreign sources, I liked the blonde and spry head of the family, they partied at night where they resided at the bottom of Deer Creek Canyon, at the spring, the inception of the creek, under cover of the live oaks, cocaine - I had had my fill of it in New York, Ysbrand’s wife to be, a dental assistant, the hugely overweight 23 year old daughter [“I an American girl” singing}
of one of the richest men in the peninsula,
supplied the laughing gas and would be the death of poor foolish Ysbrand - I had never lived among a collection of such odd and useless folk - who found me, working 12 to 16 a day as a writer scholar [I didn’t tell them that I was pursuing a second analysis and contemplating becoming a shrink} and who did a lot of walking on the dusty chaparral paths – “bizarre” Suzy’s word for me. One of the men whom I came to know at Neptune’s Net, the local surfers’ eatery at the bottom of Yerba Buena Road, whence I dropped down for my morning coffee and the papers [an L./A. Times then ambitious to become the nation’s best] was in the business of towing cars and had the kind of tow-truck onto whose bed you could pull a car, he careened up and down exceedingly tricky dangerous Yerba Buena. Lots of folk with mishaps who ventured into these canyon roads. Neptune’s net was run by what I told myself was the “Elaine of West Virginia Crackers”, that is she was a good business woman and had a sense of humor but didn’t take any gaff, with her two cracker brothers, the aboriginal American angry whit men, they were so angry their prominent neck veins had visible stents, they were so near bursting.
On the road down to Breadloaf Valley - where the Sanchez brothers’ father had been the foreman before the farm had become part of the St. Monica Mt. Preserve - one of Hollywood’s most imaginative production designers had assembled a Shangri La of sorts, a wonderland of fantasies some of which had been part of productions, others were superfluous rejected designs. My own favorite beings in the area were the Quail – what I loved most about them was that their young seemed to roll after the mother in the dusty paths as though they were still inside their eggs.
   With the fire at most an hour I judged before it would reach the shed I decided that I better pack my computer – I had one of the earliest, a Leading Edge, and the most important manuscripts. Ysbrand objected that I ought to help him save the property. I did not feel that the German-built brick and boulder main house stood in danger, unless the surround of spruce trees caught fire. But one more garden hose was not going to save my shed or anything else. But as I was packing the Ventura County Fire department finally showed up, about 12 hours after the fire had started, and in sufficient force to stop the fire cold on both canyon sides. There were of course fires in or around Malibu nearly every year, major or minor, but the one in Deer Creek was my only dangerous call.


  



  w

 







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I had lucked out, most improbably, and found myself living in an unimaginably – I could not even have imagined a more idyllic spot: a Dutch flower-farmers former flower shed at the end of an agave-lined dirt road at 1500 feet above the Pacific Ocean, a pepper-tree sprinkling pepper corns and a Juniper dripping sap onto the tin roof; song-birds, Colibri; a south-facing beach and the swell from the south-sea storms pounding at long intervals, a distance-muffled sound that spelled what the former inhabitants of these hills, the Chumash, had called Ma-li-bu – huge carpets of water, wave-swells breaking in stages, the ultimate whale-tail slap onto the beach is was what did it. Windows at the south, ocean facing, and on the west mountain sides.
I had lucked out, most improbably by taking a side-road to escape Los Angeles Freeway madness – madness the experience of finding myself in ten-lane traffic after years it seemed in the sanity of  Wild West Billie the Kid world – dirt roads, gravel. From the pacified Wild West via Interstate 10 via and 29 Palms to unpacified traffic madness, I had been terrified. How do I get out of this and to the ocean? Ah, there was a State Route, # 23, that would do the trick, and what a tricky mountain road # 23 turned out to be that evacuated me onto PCH and the beach in Ma-li-boo; Malibu  part of an itinerary that was designed to take me North. - I had been in Malibu, nearly 20 years ago, to visit a room mate whose mother had a beach house – an experience that had not made Malibu part of prospects of mine.

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had 


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