Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wall Street Journal writes about Big Sur fire blog

The Wall Street Journal deviated from their usual fare of business articles to write about a blog that was created on July 3 to provide information to Big Sur residents about the Basin Complex fire which surrounded the community. Here is an excerpt:
In Big Sur, Web Site Run by Resident Is Key Data Source
July 9, 2008; Page A3

BIG SUR, Calif. -- As a wildfire that has ravaged 80,000 acres threatens their community, residents waiting for news about their homes and businesses here aren't waiting for word from fire officials at nightly meetings or from newspapers in the morning.

Instead, they are heading online to SurFire2008.org.

The Web site and blog are run by Lisa Goettel, a temporarily homeless Web designer whose move to a new Big Sur house about 150 miles south of San Francisco was derailed by the wildfire, which was 18% contained Tuesday. Ms. Goettel runs the site out of a coffee shop with free wireless Internet in Carmel-By-The-Sea, about 25 miles north of Big Sur. She depends on five residents and businesspeople who remain in Big Sur -- defying mandatory evacuation orders -- for on-scene reports.

The site has become a must-read for Big Sur residents, the media and even fire officials. It routinely scoops fire officials and newspapers. The site also provides displaced residents a space to find temporary employment or shelter. The blog has already received 73,000 hits since it went up on July 3.

After the evacuation order, Mayra Reyes and her father spent a couple of nights at a hotel, which charged them $40 a night. But then they visited the SurFire2008 site and found good Samaritans who had posted an offer to house Big Sur residents. "It was very helpful," said Ms. Reyes.

Retired lawyer Sam Goldeen said he checks the site three or four times a day. "It's all there is," Mr. Goldeen said. "These nightly meetings don't talk about [specific] homes and areas." Generally, he said, the fire chief doesn't know "because he's concerned about the big picture, and he should be."

The blog is updated several times a day by Ms. Goettel and correspondents like Stan Russell, the executive director of Big Sur's chamber of commerce who has been bunkered in the Post Ranch Inn here for the past week. The 52-year-old Mr. Russell, armed with a digital camera, a pair of binoculars and a laptop, walks around the ash-covered 100-acre property to take pictures and report on what he can see from the hilltop site. He sends a report to Ms. Goettel, who puts it online.

"The way we are doing it is certainly unique," Mr. Russell said. "I think people are going to look at us as a model...at how fast and efficiently we self-organized."

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