(Look, this has to be promoted, despite the author's wish that it not be. A congressional candidate volunteering to head out in the woods and battle a raging fire? Is there any better expression of leadership? This should be on CNN. - promoted by David Dayen)
(This is a x-post from Daily Kos; accordingly, this was written for a less California-centric audience, but it should be OK here.)
Many people have contacted me over the past few days asking me whether Ron Shepston (aka CanYouBeAngryAndStillDream on DKos), whose campaign for Congress I'm managing, is OK. Ron lives at the top of Silverado Canyon, in the Silverado 92676 zip code that has taken much damage from the Santiago Canyon fire. I last spoke to Ron on Monday morning when I was at the airport preparing to fly back from Chicago; I encouraged him to post an update for people who knew he was in the area and might worry. Since that noon PDT comment, neither I nor anyone from the campaign had heard from him, which is why I haven't been able to reply to questions.
I just spoke to his wife, Belinda. He's OK. He dropped Belinda off from the danger area and then went back in. His friend and neighbor is an ex-fire chief living in the Upper Canyon, and if I understand correctly Ron is involved in efforts to protect the canyon from fire jumping over from Modjeska Canyon.
I usually include in my diaries a disclaimer that the diary at hand is not associated with any candidate or campaign. In this case, I'll say that it's not associated with any campaign, which is one reason I am posting using my own account, but it /is/ associated with a candidate and with the district in which he's running. I'm not sure I'm making the right choice regarding title and tags -- I'm labeling it as I do to attract the attention of those who are interested -- but in any event this is not a "vote for Ron" diary but an "answering your questions about how Ron is doing" diary.
1. CA-42 and the Santiago Fire
The big story today is in San Diego (and now San Bernardino) counties, which are being covered by the incredible live fireblogs, but Ron's story is in Orange County. Here's some background.
Much of the area scorched by this week's fires in Orange County is in Ron's district, which includes the canyons and Cleveland National Forest separating Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills from Mission Viejo. I believe that the other fire areas within OC are in Steve Young's CA-48. Santiago Canyon Road peels off east of the "grid" that covers most of Orange County's suburban streets, past Irvine Lake, and heads south to a set of sparsely populated canyons: first Silverado, then Williams, then Modjeska, and then as it becomes El Toro Road at the Portola Hills it spawns off Live Oak Canyon Road that curves into Trabuco Canyon.
The fire was evidently caused by arson at the mouth of Silverado Canyon, where it branches off from Santiago Canyon Road. As of yesterday, most of the fire had spread on the side of that road opposite the canyon entrances, some northwest but mainly southwest, south, and southeast of it into Limestone Canyon Park. Some fire crossed back into Modjeska Canyon, though, and some was heading towards Santiago Canyon Estates. The fire also threatened Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills to the south.
As summarized by a blogger at Liberal OC earlier today:
So far, some 19,200 acres have been scorched by the Santiago Fire, and at least 10 homes in Modjeska Canyon have been destroyed. However, residents may be allowed to return to Modjeska soon, once the threat is gone. Mandatory evacuations are still in place for the canyon areas off Santiago Canyon Road, between Silverado Canyon Road and Live Oak Canyon Road, including the Santiago Estates neighborhood and Jackson Ranch Road. Neighborhoods along Live Oak Canyon Road through Trabuco Canyon, including O'Neill Regional Park, to Trabuco Creek Road also are included in this mandatory evacuation. Voluntary evacuations are also still in effect for Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills.
Culturally, the rural canyons are not like the rest of Orange County. Silverado is an old mining town that is divided into three parts: Down Canyon, where the town's Post Office, church, and restaurant are; the Mining Town above that, now mostly residential, and Up Canyon, near the entrance to the Cleveland National Forest. Ron lives Up Canyon.
Silverado reminds me much more of the small towns where I briefly lived in Indiana and Arkansas -- except for its having gorgeous canyon scenery -- than it does Santa Ana and Tustin ten miles to the west. This is one of the places where everyone knows one another and people chip in to solve problems as well-oiled volunteers. They know that they are largely cut off from ready emergency access by county services and that they have to be self-sufficient.
(2) Silverado Canyon and the fire
After Ron dropped off his wife, he went back into the canyon with his Up Canyon friend and neighbor, an ex-fire chief who is allowed to go up and down the canyon even during emergencies like this. Ron's house lost all services on Monday and still lacks them, which is why he has not been answering his home or cell phones. I don't know whether it is appropriate to call Ron an volunteer fire fighter or not, because I don't think that things are quite that formal in Silverado. The neighbors are expected to pitch in and defend their land, and they do.
I remember the first time I visited Ron in Silverado earlier this summer to work on the campaign, I looked around at the lush canyon and asked him about the fire danger. He said that evidently, because of how it was situated, Silverado (and especially Up Canyon) were historically secure from fire. Fire tends to go downhill and he's near the top; the winds are not that likely to carry embers from elsewhere.
We didn't talk about Modjeska Canyon, one canyon to the south, and what happens if /that/ burns. What happens then, evidently, is that the Silverado Canyon residents come together and build barriers to try to block wind-borne embers from Modjeska to their canyon. That's where I understand Ron is now. From what I can tell looking at the fire maps, he should be safe, and he should be able to evacuate if need be. (The "back way out," the entrance to Cleveland National Forest, is barred by a steel gate, but I have a feeling that would not stop people if need be.) He's not going to be watching the World Series tonight, most likely, but he should have enough work to keep him busy, and people will share food.
I apologize to those of you to whom I could not reply with information about Ron's whereabouts and status before now, but I literally had had no idea what was going on with him. I'm happy both that he's safe and that he's working with his community for their mutual safety, and I appreciate all of the questions and expressions of concern.