San Diego Is Burning

San Diego is on fire.

Before going any further, Chabad of San Diego is helping people find shelter. They have Chabads in San Diego, San Bernardino, Poway, and around the country working together.

I had my political column about Presidential candidates prepared, and it will have to wait. Human life is more important. To save time, I have borrowed very “liberally” from a previous column I wrote about the South Carolina fires. I hope people have not forgotten the nine South Carolina firefighters, and I pray to God that this blaze gets under control soon. Also, for those who are worried about me, I am safe. I live in Los Angeles, which is 2 1/2 hours (90 minutes the way I drive) from San Diego. Also, I live near the water, which is cooler, and less susceptible to such tragedies. I do have friends in San Diego, and as of now, they are scared, but fine.

San Diego is grieving. We cannot heal their pain, but we must care.

For those of you who have never been, San Diego is one of the most gorgeous cities in the country. It is a city of very friendly people. It is the home of the San Diego Chargers, and I go down there to see the Oakland Raiders play them.

The city of San Diego is known for its love of animals, with the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park being the global standard for excellence. Today, however, San Diego is now a place of unimaginable sadness. An out of control fire has ravaged homes, and over three hundred thousand people have evacuated, more than an 1/8 of the population. There are only questions, no answers.

What caused this? Was it only nature, or did  man exacerbate the problem? Did environmental regulations make things worse? Will the national media drop the story quickly? Yes. I give it 24-48 hours at most. Will the politicians make pious statements about the situation and say all the right things? Yes.

Why am I lashing out at people who did not cause this problem? Because I am looking to blame someone. Until proven otherwise, terrorists did not do this. Nor did anti-war protesters, despite their hatred for San Diego’s rich military tradition.

This was not an act of out of control teenagers partying on Campus. It was not demented sports fans going ballistic a year after the Chargers had a good season.

So far, this seems to be an act of God, and I am not about to blame God. I can’t. I believe in God, which I am commanded to do always, not just when things are going well.

Yet despite being a city that is rather “religious (inbetween San Diego and Los Angeles, is Orange County, a white Christian conservative stronghold),” I could understand if people had their faith shattered. I would not be surprised if people were praying that this was arson, or faulty wiring, or anything but what it appears to be at this very moment…a tragedy with no explanations.

San Diego is a beautiful part of America from a nature and a people standpojnt. It has a large activist presence that supports conservative republicans. It is the home of Military soldiers, and a place for teenagers to vacation on Spring Break. Yet Malibu, a place for wealthy, liberal democrats, is also burning. God does not vote democrat or republican. I pray God saves all these people. As of now, the Malibu situation is less dire than San Diego, hence the focus on San Diego first.

Now it is the home of crushed dreams. This is beyond tragic because the greatest dignity is found in ordinary Americans, and the greatest loss is when we lose these unsung heroes. We rejoiced when the governor of Pennsylvania announced, after 9 miners were trapped underground, that “All 9 are alive.” We were stunned when 12 West Virginia coal miners went under. We rejoiced when we were told they had all lived, and then the grief was compounded when we were told that only one had actually survived. We cried when the Minnesota bridge collapsed. It just does not stop.

Firefighters risk their lives every day. They are as vital as soldiers, police officers and doctors. They keep us safe.

So what can we do to help? First, we have to wait, and be patient. People often want to immediately “do something,” such as with Hurricane Katrina. This is often not the wisest course of action. We need to absorb information about this situation rapidly, and then figure out what the people of San Diego want us to do, not what makes us feel good.

Yes, we can then do the typical perfunctory gestures, such as sending money, flowers, gift baskets, etc. I am not minimizing these actions, but the problem is that once we do this, the issue fades away in our mind.

The key is to make sure this story does not die with these victims. People are already done with the Virginia Tech Massacre, and I doubt many people remember the tornado tragedy that hit Kansas only weeks ago. Unless tragedies happen in New York or Los Angeles, the media quickly loses interest. Apparently Middle America is not sexy enough to be covered in depth. San Diego, being a quiet, sleepy oasis, is considered closer to Middle America than Los Angeles or San Francisco.

No, I am not blaming the media for this tragedy. I will, however, blame them if they fail to give this the attention it deserves.

 Like me, most people want to blame someone. There is plenty of time for that. For now, pray for them. Even if you are angry at God, ask him (or whatever you believe in) to help these families tonight.

The National Football League once needed a city to step up when San Diego had a previous crisis. Phoenix, Arizona stepped up big time. I hope Phoenix can do so again. 

Firefighters keep us safe. When they die, a piece of our safety dies with it. I pray that the entire nation knows the 9 heroes who died fighting South Carolina fires, and that San Diego does not add any more to the total. While we worry about San Diego, we must remember South Carolina. THose firefighters are as follows (Data from

The victims, their ages and their years of service are:

  • Capt. William “Billy” Hutchinson, 48 (30 years)
  • Capt. Mike Benke, 49 (29 years)
  • Capt. Louis Mulkey, 34 (11½ years)
  • Engineer Mark Kelsey, 40 (12½ years)
  • Engineer Bradford “Brad” Baity, 37 (9 years)
  • Assistant engineer Michael French, 27 (1½ years)
  • Firefighter James “Earl” Drayton, 56 (32 years)
  • Firefighter Brandon Thompson, 27 (4 years)
  • Firefighter Melven Champaign, 46 (2 years)San Diego is a part of us. What hurts San Diego hurts us all.May God bless the families, and pray for people from San Diego to South Carolina.
  • San Diego is burning. May God help the firefighters win this blaze before any more good people lose more of what they love.


    P.S. Seconds after I published my column, I received an email from Rabbi Jonathan Klein of Hillel at the Universit of Southern California.

    A Special Note for Those Suffering from the Fires
    From Your Friends at USC Hillel

    To the USC-connected Jewish Community:

    As we watch the fires blazing throughout Southern California, with half a million homes in the process of being evacuated, our hearts at Hillel go out to all those families struggling with the ravages of this disaster.  It is hard to believe that so many fires can rage at the same time, and that their containment is in many instances so far from a reality.  On Sunday, celebrating my son’s birthday party at a farm in Moorpark where one of the employees of thirty years told us that he has never seen such fierce winds, we left covered with a thin covering of soot on our cars and our bodies.  I can only imagine what it feels like to be forced to evacuate, leaving your possessions behind with a mere hope that the winds do not turn against you and consume the literal and figurative home you have made.


    With so many people affected by this experience, we want to know if you, or your family, has been hurt by these wildfires.  Within our own Hillel staff, at least two families are threatened, and we know of a few students whose families were told to evacuate via a reverse 911 call.  Please let us know if you are facing the same situation.  At Hillel, we recognize our role as community builders and want to help each and every family.  Our prayers go out to all those affected. 


    If there is anything we can do for you (add a name to a prayer for healing, check in with students if you are a parent or a parent if you are a student, etc.), please do not hesitate to contact us.  The tradition of g’milut Chasadim drives our efforts to help all those in need.


    With abundant prayers for your health,

    Rabbi Jonathan D. Klein

    Allen and Ruth Ziegler Rabbinic Director



    USC Hillel Mission Statement

    USC Hillel provides the foundation for Jewish student life at USC, offering a secure, inclusive and nurturing environment for all Jews who are part of the USC community. USC Hillel fosters social relationships and spiritual enrichment, enabling the personal and communal exploration of Jewish culture, values, traditions and scholarship and affirming the principle of Tikkun Olam.



    5 Responses to “San Diego Is Burning”

    1. micky2 says:

      I lived in Mission Hills for 6 years, a block from Balboa park. And lived on a 36 footer in Mission bay 5 blocks from Shamu for 2 years.
      I love San Diego, its almost perfect.
      I will pray.

    2. mad_adder says:

      “Firefighters risk their lives every day. They are as vital as soldiers, police officers and doctors. Firefighters keep us safe. When they die, a piece of our safety dies with them……”.

      Eric, I couldn’t have said it better!

    3. greg says:

      I used to live in Running Springs in the San Bernardino mountains. I have been monitoring the police and fire scanners there on the Internet and it appears that the two houses I lived in are both either in imminent danger or already burned. My kids’ grandmother, aunts and their families have been evacuated and their homes are also threatened, one of which I helped build.

      It is indeed a sad time and prayers for everyone involved are so richly needed. It’s also a time for reflection. I really don’t want to find someone to blame right now. I just want this test of our collective character, as individuals, as communities and as a nation, to bring us a bit closer together.

    4. Jersey McJones says:

      I’ve been trying to contact my cousin – to no awail. He’s Navy and he’s out to sea at the moment, but his family is in San Diego. No luck finding any of them. I hope they’re okay.


    5. NJ GOP says:

      I was in that region several times this year. It is very sad; and I recall experiencing those winds on a mild day and remarking about them, while my west coast colleagues were explaining to me just how intense those winds can be.

      I was really touched by the outreach efforts of Hillel. I have been saying for some time now that our church should have a plan in place (in advance) for emergencies and how we should be ready to minister to our community if ever necessary.

      Good post.

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