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The True Voice of Public Media

Off Mic

Four years didn't erase the look of the sky or the smell in the air; they were the first warning signs fire was here. Only this time, these fires would burn faster, bigger and even more erratically then the Cedar Fire. And they would chase 500,000 people from their homes.

By early Sunday afternoon, KPBS News Director Mike Marcotte was on his way to the newsroom and reporters were called at home and told to be on alert. Hours later the newsroom was in stage five of the crisis management plan, meaning the station would provide non-stop coverage. KPBS would stay continuously on the air for the next 75 hours, despite fire cutting power to its own transmitter. The first voices you may have heard Sunday evening: Mike Marcotte, Scott Horsley, Tom Fudge, Andrew Phelps, Alan Ray and John Decker. Reporters were in the field, getting information about the fire, about traffic, about where to find shelter for thousands forced from their homes.


But the voice that meant so much to everyone listening, the voice that told us where the roads were blocked, where flames were burning, how the smoke smelled, how the sky looked, was yours. We opened up the phone lines and you called. You called from your homes, from your cars, from the fields where you were trying to corral your horses and keep them safe. You told others which roads were clear and which were blocked or stalled with traffic. You offered your own vehicles and trailers to move people and their animals. You were listening to us because you needed information and in the end, you became the best source of information during those early hours when the worst was on its way.

I remember one call. I was driving from one evacuation center to another, listening to Tom Fudge and Scott Horsley take phone calls. It was about 10 at night. A woman called and said her son had been text messaging her. He was standing on a concrete slab in the middle of a field on a chicken ranch in Ramona, trying to fight the fires. He was trapped and "losing the battle" she said. Tom and Scott tried to get more information. Where was he? Maybe someone could help if they knew his location. The woman said he was texting just a few words at a time; "losing the battle" were the words I remember her saying more than once. Tom and Scott tried to give her comfort. If he had a phone, then maybe he could get help. Later, a man called and said some cell phones have a GPS; maybe the man trapped could use his to tell rescue workers where he was. It may have been a long shot, but it was something to hang a little hope on. (Click play on the audio player at the top of this post to hear the call.)

This woman called a radio station, hoping someone would hear her plea for help. All KPBS could do was let her tell her story. Maybe someone out there could help. That was how so many of the calls went that night and into the morning. People asking which way to turn on a dark, smoky road -- others giving them direction.

Megan O'Connor
October 27, 2007 at 08:16 PM
Do you know what happened with this caller's son? -----


joanne faryon, kpbs reporter
October 27, 2007 at 08:22 PM
I don't know what happened to the caller's son. I'm hoping someone will write or call us to let us know.

Valerie in San Diego
October 28, 2007 at 01:46 AM
KPBS' excellent coverage, Google map, and, most of all, Twitter coverage (24 hour for us insomniac evacuees) inspired me to become a member yesterday. Thank you for helping us keep a handle on the crisis.

October 28, 2007 at 11:18 PM
I couldn't even begin to tell you what your coverage has meant to me......thank you so very much. KPBS rocks!!!