It's a busy day in our newsroom as we're on day 3 of the fire burning in Santa Barbara, and it did the unexpected overnight -- which is to blow up with later-than-expected winds and head to the north and the west.
I've been all over the Internet and on the phone with reporters in the area all morning, trying to get information on homes for people who live there and have evacuated. Word came around 1am that a dear friend of mine had lost her home; a reporter who was shoulder to shoulder with me on many fires like this one. The TV station that reported this, KEYT in Santa Barbara, is where Martha and I worked together for most of the 1990s.
My friend Martha is unreachable this morning, but on day one of this fire, was on the phone with us, on our air, here at KNBC telling us what she was seeing from her house. She also went on the air with our sister station in Sacramento, KCRA -- you can hear her talking with the anchors here. (The female news anchor you hear speaking with Martha also worked with us at KEYT -- and was sending me e-mails during her newscasts asking if I'd heard from Martha, and if she was okay. I happened to be on the phone with Martha and told her "hang up, KCRA is going to call you and put you on the air.")
I hope the reports about her house aren't true; for once I'm hoping my colleagues got it wrong. As reporters we're so used to seeing people in awful situations, and invariably they tell us, "we never thought it could happen to us." Martha always opened up her home to friends who evacuated over the years due to fires and floods (most recently, the Tea fire in November) and I hope, wherever she and her husband are this morning, someone is showing the same kindness to them.
So, I'm more than just a little bit distracted this morning in my search for information on this fire. It hits us often, as reporters, how important it is to be specific and add as many details as we can to the stories we cover. The houses we are showing the world, on fire, belong to someone -- and many times, we hear later, that the owners of those houses were watching it unfold with us.
Yesterday, our reporter Natasha Ghoneim was just a few doors down from a house that belonged to a friend of mine, who emailed me while we were on the air. Was the house still there? Could Natasha look? It has a beige Volvo in the driveway. I sent Natasha a text message, and, during a commercial break she replied with exclamation points. The house was still there!!!
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I wish we had good news for people more often. And I'm still hoping KEYT got it wrong.
(update: Martha tells us her house survived the firestorm, but embers got in underneath the eaves and it burned from the inside. She's grateful she, her husband and the cat are all safe, but their house is gone.)