Thursday, January 25, 2007

rescue me

life in the canyon is always an adventure, and this week was no exception. on tuesday night a fire broke out at a residence on kirkwood, just south of us. i was still at work; 00soul called to tell me that traffic was at a standstill. a friend of ours who was on his way over to listen to records with mr. soul got caught up in the chaos and took hours to get to our place. poor guy. a few hours later, when i made my way up the hill, the traffic had cleared out, but you could smell that burnt-structure smell, and when i passed through the intersection at kirkwood, fire engines were still parked up the street and a lot of water was running down.

as is often the case with stuff that happens in the canyon, there was no news report. but the next day i found the LAFD's blog and read all about how lucky we were. (click the link above to learn more.) a little more wind, a little less person-power, a little slower on the response -- and we might've been looking at a serious, serious blaze.

so, yay for the firefighters and yay also for their greatly informative blog.

ya'd think that would be enough with the emergency situations, but the canyon wasn't done with us yet. i am hoping we won't be hitting every type of major disaster, but, where tuesday night was fire, last night was flood.

somewhere around 11 or 11:30 p.m., i was sitting in the office at the back of the house, checking my email or somesuch, when i heard a sound that i at first took to be leaves blowing across the concrete patio, just on the other side of the wall/window. "is it really windy?" i asked rhetorically, and then went out the front door to check it out. it was sorta windy, but not blastingly so. around that time i heard a couple of fire engines go screaming up the street. "geez, not again," i thought, and returned to the office.

still with the sound, and then i realized it sounded like water running. rushed to the bedroom, flipped on the patio light, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a stream of water pouring down the hillside onto the south corner of the patio! for a second i thought that our own spigot had somehow busted or been broken, but when i opened the door i realized the water (and mud) was coming from somewhere above our property.

i called to 00soul, who told me to call 911 while he pulled on his boots, grabbed a flashlight, and hurried out into the darkness to find out what the hell was happening. when i got the fire department on the line, they told me that they were just responding to a call from up on rugby place, something about a leak or a break in the water line. the dispatcher kept me on the line while he got information from the firemen at the site. he said they had arrived and were trying to find a way to shut off the water. "please hurry," i squeaked. "the water is really running down, and there's a lot of mud!" he told me to call back if it started getting into the house.

well, 00soul had disappeared into the darkness. i called to him but couldn't see him. i put on my boots and wondered what to do. our back patio runs the length of the house and is fairly narrow, maybe six feet wide? (maybe a little more.) a low cinderblock wall holds back the hillside, and there is a narrow trench around the house to deal with runoff -- but this wasn't just water, it was increasingly thickening sludge. it had begun pooling up in that south patio corner, where the ground is a little bit lower. much of it was running down the side steps to the street, but some of it was beginning to fill up the rest of the patio. it wasn't flowing super-fast, but steadily, and i got it into my head that if i took our pushbroom and got onto the dry side of the patio i could shove some of that water/mud down toward the south steps and let it flow into the street.

by the time i got back from fetching the pushbroom from the garage, however -- it might have taken a minute at most -- the sludge was pouring onto the patio at a much faster rate. so fast that the whole patio was now engulfed in mud and there was no chance of channeling any of it away from the house with my puny pushbroom. 00soul was saying "there's nothing we can do," and i had to agree. we stood there helplessly and watched the patio fill up, the pile of sludge at the south end rise higher and higher, and the whole mess slowly, inexorably advance upon that little runoff trench, which was not built to handle something this nasty.

when the mud got even with the back step onto the patio, i called 911 back. they connected me to the fire dispatcher, who said they had shut off the water. i was like, "but it's still coming down so fast! we are about to be flooded with mud." i was getting pretty freaked out, and began to wonder if i should start taking stuff off the floor, or what to do. he said he'd send someone out to take a look, but reassured me that the water had been shut off and the flow should stop soon.

i went outside to wait for the fire truck. the street to the south of us was flowing with a muddy mess of water, dirt, and leaves and twigs. cars were skidding and sliding. our trash cans -- put out b/c today is trash day -- were stuck in a gooey clot of the stuff. our neighbor across the street came home and walked over to see what was happening. around then the fire dept. showed up. they did go back and look, and one of them walked up the hill to check out the flow, but they told us they couldn't really do anything for us unless the water was "threatening the house." well, to my mind, it was, but the firefighter disagreed, and who i am to argue? 00soul talked to them for a while, we thanked them, and they left.

indeed the flow had slowed, and soon enough became a trickle, but the mud continued to advance a little before finally beginning to solidify. it stayed where it was and didn't come into the house. we crossed our fingers that the water wouldn't break out again.

this morning when i went out to get the paper at 8:45, there was already a card from an "insurance claims adjuster" with a note to call him about the flooding. i had an idle hope that this was actually the insurance agent for the people whose water meter broke (we were told by the firefighters), but it was just the disaster version of an ambulance chaser. the patio is totally engulfed in crud, and we will have to get it cleaned up. who's gonna pay for it? i don't see why we should have to. either the homeowners up there on rugby or the city must be responsible. now comes the fun part.

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