Now a veteran of two local fires which have destroyed my property, I can tell you the first question I have every time someone tells me the neighborhood’s on fire.
Which way is the wind blowing?
Because the rest is largely irrelevant.
Though we caught a break this time and the principal residence did not burn – though for the life of him, Fire Chief Joe Dell can’t explain why.
I had been told the house was gone – or maybe I told myself the house was gone, so it was with shock that I walked through the neighborhood looking for my dogs and noticed that the house was there. That was around 7 p.m.
Fire behavior is so strange.
As I walked down Watterson Rd. toward the front gate, the white picket fence to my right in front of the house was completely intact, while the Cadillac and livestock trailer to my left were burnt to a crisp.
How does the fire jump a house and a fence and burn a vehicle parked not 20’ beyond that fence?
I walked inside and found two dogs cowering under the bed. Neither would come. I dislodged the Lab with a gentle push of a broom and picked her up, all 80-pounds or so, and walked her halfway down Watterson. She followed the rest of the way to the truck.
Then returned for the chihuahua. Who seems like she’s aged five years in the past week. Smoke inhalation.
Other livestock and pets were not so lucky.
And my neighbors were not so lucky. I don’t know if they were insured or how well. That’s one thing I would tell people to do right now – go look at your coverages, because inflation has torn a hole through assumptions which may have seemed reasonable even 12 months ago.
Private insurance companies are damn smart. My homeowners insurance was non-renewed back in January. I was told the property’s fire rating had ballooned from an “11” to a “96.” (I’m unfamiliar with the scale). So my brilliant insurance broker, Mr. Eric Olson, cobbled together coverage between California’s FAIR plan (insurer of last resort when no private companies will take you on) and other private insurers who would cover personal property and the like.
I imagine the hike in the fire rating had something to do with the neighborhood not being equipped with a fire hydrant.
That proved costly last Friday when firefighters ran out of water at a crucial juncture.
I asked Inyo County Supervisor Matt Kingsley about that this week. He said fire hydrants are governed by the Rural Fire District board – that it’s not under the Supervisors’ purview.
And I said Matt, it would seem that the County should assume one of two responsibilities. Either you help us with preventative measures (like hydrants) or you at least commit to helping clean up the mess afterwards.
He said the County could never afford the risk of committing to potential clean-ups, regardless of size.
And then I made a smart-aleck comment referring to the Supervisors’ giving themselves fat raises last year, and wondering how many hydrants that could’ve bought for my neighborhood, or Mustang Mesa or Rovana or Forty Acres or a dozen other little places which are completely vulnerable.
That was petty. Kingsley (bless him) didn’t take the bait.
I’m embarrassed to say that in seven years of living in the neighborhood, it never occurred to me that there wasn’t a hydrant. And I’d never bothered to go searching for one.
I just hope the County and the service districts work together to get moving on equipping the many areas which lack basic fire protection. Because this fire is merely a preview of coming attractions. Best be ready.
… And let me give you a little vignette which will show you what you have to look forward to if you’re dealing with the FAIR Plan versus a private insurer.
My Cadillac (below) was covered by Nationwide. Within a day, the company had opened a claim. Within a week, it had already sent a wrecker up from Bakersfield to remove the vehicle. They are pro.
FAIR Plan? As of today, they haven’t opened a claim despite dogged, repeated requests by Eric Olson. “Three to five business days” they told us.
That’s fine. I can afford to be patient. But perhaps some of my neighbors could be in a different position.
Per usual, this being the Eastern Sierra, everyone on the fire call was brave and tireless, friends exceedingly generous. We saved most of our livestock thanks to friends who loaded livestock trailers full of animals. Jared Waasdorp and Lea Belgarde and Lea’s sons Blaine and Jace Spoonhunter and Zach Smith and Virginia Thorsen and Gustavo Mora and his brother and cousin, and Gerald Howard and Randy Gillespie and Jeff Romero and Kristi McKee and Troy Lavelle and many others whom my wife can’t name because she was too locked in the trauma of the moment. Then there was Curt Van Nest (after showing me the scar from his recent open heart surgery) who hauled his fifth wheel out to the Fairgrounds and hooked it up so we had a place to live. The Fairgrounds staff provided a pen for the animals. Smith and Thorsen brought feed. Local restaurants like Yamatani and the Pupfish Cafe have fed us. Many folks have offered places to live, cash, tequila, whatever.
One particular irony of the whole thing. Last year, a change in our property’s FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) designation meant that I also had to start carrying flood coverage, though the property, to my knowledge, has never flooded in 72 years.
In the climate change era, you gotta be insured against everything.
Inyo County is working with the Salvation Army regarding support for neighborhood residents who may need help. If you feel like making a donation, start there.
But if your donation is tequila and beer, maybe call me first.
Inyo County Administrator Leslie Chapman said an item will be on next Tuesday’s agenda which would waive inspection fees for those residents wishing to rebuild. The County is also working on strategies to help residents with lot cleanup.
And from Crocetti’s desk …
President Biden made an executive order passed last Friday for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take action within the next 30 days to ensure that federal agencies support access to women’s reproductive healthcare, including protecting the right to abortions across the country.
Following this, information regarding the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) has affirmed that certain “emergency care” abortion services are enshrined by federal law, even if outlawed within a certain state.
EMTALA is not a new policy. It was put into place in 1986, and is what requires doctors to stabilize and treat anyone coming into an emergency room, regardless of whether or not they can pay for the care. It allows doctors to provide “life” -or “health”- saving care to patients on their own discretion, including terminating a pregnancy if it means that the pregnancy could “seriously impair a patient’s health.”
In a press release, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra stated, “Federal law preempts state abortion bans when needed for emergency care. Protecting both patients and providers is a top priority, particularly in this moment. Health care must be between a patient and their doctor, not a politician … As frontline health care providers, the federal EMTALA statute protects your clinical judgment and the action that you take to provide stabilizing medical treatment to your pregnant patients, regardless of the restrictions in the state where you practice.”
This “stabilizing”, “emergency” care therefore allows doctors to terminate a pregnancy for circumstances involving things that threaten a woman’s life or well-being; this includes some obvious circumstances, such as ectopic pregnancies or pregnancies involving severe preeclampsia.
But what about less obvious cases? Where is the line drawn around “health-threatening” circumstances? What is considered “health-saving” care?
Can a mother’s mental health be taken into consideration?
The use of these emergency procedures rests upon the judgment of physicians themselves; but be wary – EMTALA also does not prevent a doctor from getting sued.
Much more legal tango is expected to happen around EMTALA in the coming weeks.
And from Gray’s coverage of Mono Supervisors …
A local organization, Clean Up The Lake, that finished a 72-mile clean-up around Lake Tahoe is coming to June Lake. Its professional team of scuba divers, scientists, and filmmakers aim to retrieve as much trash below the surface of June Lake as possible. Since 2018, the organization has collected 42,514 pounds of trash from lakes. Last year, California named Clean Up The Lake non-profit of the year. Its founder, Colin West, joined the Supervisors’ meeting to share his vision for restoring the lake floor as well as preventative measures moving forward to help prevent trash from ending up in the lake again after the cleanup. You can donate to this organization at cleanupthelake.org
The county also reported that a program aimed at being a bridge to mental health resources for government employees, EAP, has been underutilized among those that qualify for it.
Only seven people in the previous year used free therapy sessions.
The decline in use is frustrating for those that run the program considering the current mental health landscape.
Finally, from Klusmire:
It looks like The Sheet is a front runner in the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce contest to win the prize for “Mammoth Business With the Highest Percentage of Homeless Employees.” The winning business gets coupons for free showers for its employees and a letter allowing said homeless workers to spend all day in Starbucks sucking up free wifi without having to buy a $6 latte.
And Klusmire adds, after going oh-for-2 on land, can we suggest possible new, fire safe domiciles for Lunch:
A houseboat anchored about 100 yards from the shore of Crowley Lake (make sure everyone knows how to swim, just in case).
A generic, three-bedroom home completely wrapped with the same fire-proof aluminum blankets used to protect Yosemite’s sequoias.
Truck Bay #2 at the Mammoth Lakes Fire Department firehouse.