Socal fires: It's hard to focus on anything else. At last count, more than 1,000 homes and businesses had been destroyed, but the numbers will certainly go up. For now, attention remains on San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, where damage appears heaviest by far. Here's a pretty sobering passage from an AP story this morning:
Fire crews and fleeing residents described desperate conditions that were sure to get worse. Temperatures across Southern California were about 10 degrees above average and were expected to approach 100 degrees Tuesday in Orange and San Diego counties. "We are getting very strong northeast winds. They are very erratic, causing us to modify our procedures," said Capt. Don Camp, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fires were exploding and shooting embers in all directions, preventing crews from forming traditional fire lines and severely limiting aerial bombardment, he said. "Lifesaving is our priority. Getting people out from in front of the fire -- those have been our priorities," Capt. Camp said.
At some point they’ll be talking more about insurance, and it's worth mentioning that companies have become more reluctant to provide coverage in fire-prone areas (here's an earlier AP story on the subject). It's way too early to know about rates; insurers typically don't base rate decisions on a single event, but how rates compare with their expectations (and fires had been expected in Socal). Here's an updated LAT story.
TV's costly coverage: Each station lost around $400,000 in ad revenues yesterday by going commercial free, according to Variety. For the first two days, coverage was pretty much uninterrupted, except for sports and prime time. Some of the stations used their digital feeds to juggle programming (KABC moved its daytime soap operas to its secondary digital channel in order to stick with fire coverage on the main station). As the week unfolds, expect more of this juggling. From Variety:
With so many fires hitting the region hard at the same time, maxed-out local TV news teams put aside some of their competitive ways in order to pool video coverage. In the process, local TV helicopters were stationed all over the region, rather than duplicating coverage of the same fire. "It's usually done ad hoc, with a couple of stations at a time," said [KNBC vp/news director Bob] Long. "Most of us only operate one machine, and we obviously can't be everywhere at once. We have long-standing arrangements with some of our colleagues. After all, helicopters have to land and get fuel. We'll protect a competitor while they're gassing up, and expect the same will be done for us."
Hotels filling up: Space is becoming scarce in OC and San Diego, as tourists leave and locals forced to evacuate their homes arrive. Some hotels were offering discounts to the evacuees. SeaWorld will be closed today, as will the Wild Animal Park. No word on the San Diego Zoo. Any major impact on the economy remains unlikely, but the San Diego folks are no doubt concerned because tourism is so important down there. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Steven Johnson, spokesman for the San Diego Convention Center, said only one major convention meeting, scheduled to begin tomorrow, has been canceled. The annual event, a gathering sponsored by Sharp Healthcare, draws about 12,000 to 14,000 mostly local attendees. Jerry Morrison, a local hotel consultant, said a few hotels that he works with have already had group meeting cancellations this week – one a meeting booked for 44 hotel guests and another for a group of 60. “Whenever there are these natural disasters, people stay away in droves,” Morrison said. “But it is usually a short-term thing; when the problem is over, people come right back.”
Health threat: For most of us, the fire's biggest impact today will involve breathing. Health officials urged the young and elderly to stay indoors until further notice, but even healthy adults were told to avoid exerting themselves outdoors. "We're doing this because the air quality is deteriorating," Jonathan Fielding, director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told the LAT. Apparently, the tiniest particles posed the greatest health risk and threatened to aggravate emphysema, asthma, heart disease and other medical conditions. (LAT)
Airlines waiving fees: Those are the fees for changing flights and airports because of the fires. United says the waiver covers 10 California cities, though policies are not as inconclusive for other carriers. (LAT)
Lacter on radio: This morning's business chat with KPCC's Steve Julian covers the economic impact of the fires, the local jobless numbers, and marketing efforts to get new leaseholders for Staples Center luxury suites.