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18 min 16 sec ago

July 9, 2020

Lighting a fire for public radio in Santa Barbara

Where are you going to go for live information when a life-threatening wildfire bears down on your town?

That was the question on the table over dinner the other night. The person asking it was my friend Michael, a botanist, a founding figure in Santa Barbara County's wine industry, and an observer of wildfires since 1964, when he helped fight the Painted Cave fire by a fortunate shift in the sea breeze. Between those experiential bookends he also witnessed the Sycamore Fire of 1977, and the Wheeler Fire of 1985.

So he knew what it meant two Saturdays ago, when he saw dense brown smoke coming from what appeared to be Mission Canyon. Within five minutes he saw ash raining on the beach. Naturally, he turned on the radio. There was nothing. Not on the local news station. Not the local talk stations. Not any of the music, sports, Spanish and religious stations that pack the rest of the dial. He checked on local TV, and found nothing there. He got on the Web, checked with the Santa Barbara City and County fire departments, and InciWeb, which is the Official Source for wildfire information. There was nothing on any of them.