>>>Middle School Version<<<
>>>Elementary School Version<<<


Adult Homeowner Version

 

Mid Sierra Version Screenplay

Copyright © March 2015 by Steven P. Kennedy

The purpose of this film is to conserve wildlife, enhance habitat and especially to encourage local forest restoration initiatives through stewardship contracts on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Your constructive criticism of this film script will be greatly appreciated. More information about the video project and the author is on our web site at www.canonbal.org.

Storyboard Sketches by:

Alex Mizuno
650-758-3009

and

Alison Jeffs
801-360-2817
www.alisonjeffs.com
ali_jeffs@hotmail.com

We propose a soft sell fire safety video that will persuade people to do for mother nature what they aren’t always willing to do for themselves. Our goal is to get homeowners to take their fuel reduction problems seriously, in their back yards and beyond.

The target audience for this film is homeowners, age 35-85, living in the suburban wildlands interface zone. The perfect venue for this video is the annual meeting of a homeowner association.

Fire professionals may notice that no mention has been made in the script or the Chronology link about the hundred thousand acre King Fire. Our goal is to prevent another King Fire from happening again, not to fix blame for the disaster.

The goal of the opening scene at the Rail Side Café, is to introduce our protagonists and equate in the minds of our audience, the strength and power of a steam locomotive, with the strength and power of a runaway suburban forest fire.

 

Beginning of Screenplay

The Cannonbal acoustic guitar theme
was composed by Gerald McMullin...
mp3 file

Dedication:

This video is dedicated to the brave firefighters who fought the King Fire of 2014.

Opening Clips with footage from the King Fire.

1) Fire trucks with sirens and lights

2) Diagonal flame-fire in the tree tops

3) Marching firefighters

4) Helicopter

5) Air Tanker

6) Smoke in the air

7) Wind blowing tree branches

8) Untouched house with green lawn and lawn mower

9) Smoke wafting across the lake

10) Damage report by Sheriff

11) Burned homes and cars

12) Forest service update- the benefits of fuel reduction projects

13) Angry man with question

14) Weather report

 

Video Clips of the Western slope of the Sierra, snow capped mountains, red sunset, city lights, sparkling streams and green pastures.

Voice Over Narration:

El Dorado County is a beautiful place isn't it? Where else can you find such beautiful natural scenery so close to good schools, good friends and high paying jobs in the gaming, skiing and tourist industries?

Not surprisingly, many of the homes in your neighborhood are owned by out of town families who visit occasionally and aren’t aware of the fire risk their vacation homes face every summer. Out of sight. Out of mind as it were. They say that one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare and for Fire Marshals like me, this neighborhood has become a hundred million dollar disaster, waiting to happen. Like the residents of Pollock Pines discovered in July of 2014, your forest, your house and your neighborhood, could all be gone tomorrow.

With you and most of your neighbors concentrating on making a living, we’ve concluded that a more imaginative approach to fire safety is needed. We all know what it is like to be controlled by forces we cannot name, yet sense are omniscient. Having said that, I’ll quit preaching to the choir, forego the usual lecture on defensible space and give you something beautiful instead. So climb aboard The Cannonball Express and enjoy the show.


BIRDS CHIRP, MURMUR OF CONVERSATION,


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

SILVERWARE TAPS AGAINST PLATES.

PAN to elegantly dressed COUPLE (Helen and Jess).

PULL BACK TO REVEAL…

Couple sits at dining table between The Yosemite Mountain-Sugar Pine Rail Side Station Cafe and the forest.

Couple enjoys brunch.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Sound f/x locomotive nears

rush of fore wind. . .


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Narrator) (Voice 0ver) Trains are a lot like suburban brushfires. They come and they go in the wink of an eye.

Yet, the memory of their passing lives on, long after the smoke has cleared.

LOUD WHISTLE SHRIEKS WARNING

head-on shot…locomotive barrels down

(Title Shot) The Vegetation Management Video Project Committee Presents

The Cannonball Express

PASSING TRAIN RATTLES table contents & RUFFLES couple’s composure.

(Jesse) What was that?

(Waiter) The Cannonball Express, an historic steam engine. Wasn’t she beautiful? (waiter exits)

(Helen) You just need a cup of coffee.

(Jesse) I don’t need a cup of coffee after that.

(Helen) Jesse, we need to talk.

(Jesse) About what?

(Helen) About the house.

(Jesse) I thought it was perfect. It is perfect. It’s amazing. It’s everything we dreamed about.

(Helen) No, not quite. The Fire Marshal said…..

(Jesse) What were you doing talking to the Fire Marshal?

(Helen) You didn’t even notice. A house down the street nearly burned to the ground. And I got really worried. Do you know we can’t get any decent fire insurance because the insurance companies have red lined our entire neighborhood? It doesn’t make any sense to me because I thought you took care of it.

(Jesse) They haven’t red lined it. They are just limiting their exposure. Anyway, it’s beautiful, its quiet, it’s a great place to raise a family. And there’s not much we can do about it now. We’ve already moved in. I’ve got a friend from volleyball and he can come and take care of the whole thing for us, no problem..

(Helen) Ok, but I don’t think we can afford that. Ok look, talk to who ever you need to. Just go buy some gloves because we have some work to do.

(Helen slaps money down on table and leaves.)

(Jesse puts glasses on and obviously distressed, thinks deeply, scratching his chin.)

Mt xxxxx – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Even before the devastation of the King Fire of 2014, it became apparent to government officials from many different agencies that communities nestled in the hills and valleys of the Sierras were in mortal danger.

DAGUERREOTYPE SHOTS of Native Americans burning brush.

(Narrator) (V. O.) Where the Native Americans used to burn oak and pine forests in the Sierras every three to five years, there are now dense stands of brush, trees and deep accumulations of branches, leaves and pine cones on the ground. More than enough for a cannonball run.

Freight train blasts by on downhill grade– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) At one agency, the local water district, officials were concerned that a major fire would complicate the water treatment process.

Animal wildlife in forest – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) USDA Forest Service biologists were also concerned about the impact a major fire would have on native plants, fish and animal communities. The Forest Service is responsible a huge percentage of the land in the Sierras.

(Narrator) (V. O.) Given wide-spread public opposition to smoke from controlled burning, congestion from additional truck traffic and noise from chain saws, it was evident that a new approach was needed. Hand crews cost up to $5,000 an acre, so mechanized fuel reduction projects that cost less than $2,000 per acre, were started. But labor and equipment maintenance costs were high so large tracts of forest went untouched. These crews had still thinned a considerable amount of acreage, prior to the King Fire.

Vegetation shots – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) The US Forest Service has worked since 1987 to reduce fuel loads in the Sierras. Thousands of acres await initial treatment. The problem is that thinned land needs follow up work every 10 to 20 years. How can this forest maintenance be funded while initial treatment of fuel heavy forest acreage demands attention and scarce tax dollars?

Ext. forests and suburbs – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) With funding a perennial problem, agencies struggled to reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire while protecting other resources. The stakes were high. In the Sierras, the residents have relied on pure water pumped from deep aquifers. The high property loss of the King Fire means that toxic runoff from burned homes, cars and garages full of paint, pesticide and fertilizer that seeps deep into the aquifer, could negatively affect the water supply for decades. A plume of foul tasting toxic seepage could drift towards the water table and the rivers, for years. Tons of burned debris has been removed from lots in the Pollock Pines area. Rebuilding will create it’s own set of debris removal and water pollution problems. The cumulative effect of this decade long environmental insult to the water supply is unknown.

Mountain vista– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Creeks in the affected watersheds, generally flow into Folsom Reservoir. With Seasonal rainfall expected to return to normal levels soon and consequent post fire erosion expected to further impact the water supply, environmental concerns put the fuel reduction dilemma into the hands of the people, including individual homeowners and small wood lot owners whose property backs up to a forested hillside or canyon. There just isn’t enough tax money available or the political will power to tackle the whole fuel reduction problem in the Sierra Nevada, in perpetuity.

Ext. work crew clearing pine duff and trees– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) On the roadsides there are mechanized work crews doing fuel removal projects. You’ve seen the brush piles left behind by hand crews. But, all of these crews are generally restricted by their contracts to work on high priority projects on public property such as National Forests.

Land around private home – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Private homeowners and wood lot owners whose fire threat arises from land outside the scope of these work crews may sometimes need permits but can always hire independent contractors or do the work themselves.

Ext. Heavily forested hillside – day

PAN view of suburbia below.

(Narrator) (V. O.) In the larger scheme, a public private approach is necessary. (PAUSE) Let’s meet one of those independent contractors who’ll share some secrets of good forest management.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno


The Tree Cutter’s Lesson

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce the tree cutter, his tools and techniques to the homeowner and the homeowner association. This will help homeowners decide whether to hire a professional or do the work themselves.

Susan Donaldson, a weed expert and Ph.D at UNR, provided much appreciated advice for this scene re: weeds and erosion.

CAMERA FINDS BRIAN WALLACE, arms smeared with pitch and sawdust, as he cuts tree branches with a chainsaw. (NOTE: this scene represents a perfect opportunity for a lucrative product placement fee donated by a chainsaw manufacturer to defray the cost of miscellaneous video production expenses)

(Brian) STOPS.

Removes face shield. SEES Jess

(Jesse) Sorry to barge in on you like this.

(Brian) No problem. How’s the fixer upper? (Takes a sip of water from canteen. Sits down at crude table.)

(Jesse) It’s a half million dollar headache if you ask me.

(Brian) Aren’t they all?

(Jesse) Yeah, but it’s better than downtown Sacramento. I tell ya, hearing the birds sing in the forest is like watching a beautiful sunrise.

(Brian) Yeah

(Jesse) But I can think of a lot of things I should have noticed on the first walk through. Like the smoke detector going off all night. (with irritation) Anyway, Helen has this nesting instinct and all the trees around the place are making her nervous. She wants to do all the painting because she’s artistic. The problem is, she wants me to do the landscaping and I don’t know the first thing about gardening. Green thumb? I’ve got a bad case of mouse finger.

(Brian) The first thing you ought to do is get a ladder and clean out the rain gutters. Then measure the windows for storm shutters.

Take the numbers down to the hardware store, load up some plywood and the clerks will take care of the rest for you. And if a window ever gets broken, replace it with those argon gas filled, double paners. The argon is heat insulating and it will prevent your drapes from catching fire. (This factoid courtesy of Steve Chilton, a branch chief with TRPA.)

So what do you need?

Jesse: Can you come over and help us out?

(Brian) I wish I could. I’m booked solid for weeks.

(Jesse) Can you recommend anyone?

(Brian) Well, truth be told, it’s not as hard as it looks. There’s a lot you can do with a wheel barrow, a rake, some loppers, a bow saw and a pole saw. I bet you could do your place in a week end, three days tops.

(Jesse) It makes me tired just thinking about it.

(Brian) Well, look at this place, I figure another three hours on this project and I’ll have it clean as a whistle. You know, my business card says I’m with Bushwhackers Tree Service but that gives people the wrong impression.

Jesse: Like you go around whacking bushes ?

(Brian) You’re sick, Jesse, sick. And No, actually, that I’m some kind of a tree surgeon. I mean, I’ll take out ugly clumps of dwarf mistletoe from branches, if they want me to, for New Years eve or whatever, but actually, most of what I do is tree removal. We’ll also do trimming near power lines, windows and chimneys, topping, selective logging, brush chipping, stump grinding and wood splitting. Most guys in my trade use boom lifts but I prefer to strap on spurs and climb the tree the old fashioned, lumber jack way. It’s safe, if you know how to do it. I’ve been at this for 12 years and I’ve never taken a fall.

(Brian beams.)

QUICK CUT to Brian climbing and rappelling down a tall tree trunk.

(Brian feeds tree branches into grinder.)

(Brian) (V. O.) Usually, one hour of climbing and cutting makes for two man hours of grinding and hauling away.

(Back to Brian)


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Later)

(Brian GESTURES towards the house.)

(Brian) Now, while I’m being paid by the homeowner to reduce the risk that a fire might ROAR up the hill and take out his house. I am a member of the Sierra Club. And I do take the environment into consideration when I’m deciding what goes and what stays.

(Brian RISES. Walks towards tree.)


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Brian) Take this pine for example. The loggers took out all the big Ponderosa pines to shore up the mine shafts in the Virginia City mines, build railroads, hotels and houses. By 1900, most of the easy timber been clear cut. Back then, if a tree was left standing in a clear cut, they called it a mistake, not a seed tree. They were too busy building a nation to care. What came up over the decades was a thick forest of brush and shade loving, white fir. The brush grows up to 12feet tall and the firs hold on to their dead branches for years. Now the brush fields have tons of fuel per acre and the high altitude firs are old, mostly diseased, stressed by drought and dying off from infestations of pine bark beetles. Now, all that dry wood is just waiting to burn. The wood should be burning safely in a mobile co-generation plant with a smoke scrubber and generating electricity for working families, not laying around causing problems.

(Later)

(CLOSE UP Brian’s arms smeared with pitch and sawdust.)

(Jesse) Had any close encounters with wildlife lately?

(Brian) Not recently but I’ve seen some amazing critters in those trees. I see lots of hawks and owls. An occasional eagle eating a fish or rodent. Most of ‘em I like but when the squirrels chatter at me, I know they’re just jealous of my climbing ability. Usually if I’m up there cutting, they’ll jump to another tree or come down the back side of the trunk. I topped one tree with a squirrel in the top branches and he rode it down like Doctor Strangelove and ran off. I guess he felt lucky that day.

(Jesse) He should have been playing the lottery !

(Brian) Yeah. Pretty much.

(Brian looks around.)

(Brian) Don’t tell my wife about that one. She thinks the rascals are cute.

(Jess) reaction shot of shared mirth

(Brian sizes up his work thus far.)

(Brian) When I started on this project, it was really thick here. I’ve already made several trips to the dumps and it’s starting to look pretty good. (Brian’s arms stretch out towards the hill.) Look how steep this hill is! It could have been done with a boom truck but climbing a tree causes a lot less erosion than shoveling dirt and bringing in a truck. When I’m done clearing, I’ll re-seed it with wild flowers and grasses that are native to this area. (Makes a throwing motion as if scattering seed.) I told the homeowner, I could make it look like a park.

(Jess) I’m starting to get the picture.

(Later)

(Brian stands at pile of debris.)

(Brian) Most of what I take out is oak, fir, scarlet campion and brush.

(Brian extracts a campion plant from ground.)

(Brian) Scarlet campion is the worst of the exotics. It is beautiful but it is terribly invasive. You can still get Yellow Toadflax at some plant nurseries as an ornamental. It is invasive too. And if you can’t buy it then your clueless neighbors will give you some. That stuff comes in and the wildlife heads for the door.

(Turns campion over in his hand.)

(Brian) We just don’t have any insects or animals that go to town on campion. It looks nice. Got a pretty flower that bees like…but, it just takes over. It lines the logging roads in some areas. All it takes is some disturbed soil and a single seed to get an infestation going. The Invasive Weed Coordinating Group works harder than I do to map and control all kinds of weeds.

(Tosses campion onto pile.)

(Brian) Campion comes back quickly from seeds dropped the previous year. I’ll make a follow-up visit in six months to yank out volunteers.

There’s another one called knapweed. It occasionally comes in mixed with the mud on bulldozers treads, on loads of timber or framing from the Rocky Mountain states. It will even come in on an airplane that lands on weedy runways. The sediment yields of a football field size infestation of knapweed can be double that of a hillside covered with native bunch grasses and the rain water run off can be 50% higher.

(Author’s Note: these stats from a research study published in Weed Technology in 1989 per weed expert Susan Donaldson)

Roofs and decks aren’t half the problem that weeds are when it comes to pumping topsoil into the lake.

That run off means no soaking in and no ground water for the trees late in the summer. Knapweed and pepperweed acreage usually increases following a wildfire burn. The stuff just won’t die. A creeping ground cover called pinemat manzanita is good for keeping the weeds down if you want to invest the time and money to get it established.

(Brian walks up hill.)

(Brian) The natives that grow back here attract deer and rabbits with succulent new growth. The only trees I’m eager to take out are the ones that just don’t belong.

(FLAPS hand at digger pine)

(Brian) White fir is high on my list. It’s a native but it smells bad when it burns, it sucks up too much water and it contributes to global warming. It’s not even any good for lumber. Get this. Snow reflects winter sunlight back into space, right? Dark green fir branches absorb the heat and leaves it floating around here on earth. I never thought I’d complain about Sierra rivers being too warm. Go figure

(QUICK CUT TO MELTING GLACIER AND ICE BERGS CALVING INTO OCEAN.)

(Jesse) What about the King fire?

(Brian) (V. O.) A friend of mine from my firefighting days told me the duff layer was several feet deep in that area.

(Jesse) Wow ! No wonder they couldn’t stop it.

(Back to scene – day)

(Brian stands before thick brush)

(Brian) Hardware stores had a run on saws, rakes and loppers all over town the week of the fire. (Shakes his head sadly) Too little! Too late! A lot of the homes that survived had lush green lawns out front and bare ground in the back, which saved the house but screwed the Reservoir with nitrates and erosion. Where the fire got into the canopy along those streets, that was from houses going up. And all those long neglected piles of logs and branches didn’t help either.

(Brian down at truck.)

(Brian) Once the initial cleaning is done, annual vegetation management is easy. No real secret to what I do. Just be careful with the tools and watch out for power lines.

(Puts tools in truck.)

(Brian) Lots of my customers do the annual maintenance themselves, but, I keep tabs on ‘em. Good for business. Ol’ Bri is the cheapest fire insurance around.

(Brian waves to leave. Turns back.)

(Brian) Want to know more about native plants? Go see Jon Bellows.

(Jesse) From Sierra Club volleyball?

(Brian) Yeah that’s him. He knows more than me. Shoot! He even grows ‘em and eats them.

(Jesse) Hey, thanks for the advice.

(Brian) No problem. And if you break a leg falling out of a tree….don’t come running to me.

(Jesse) (laughs) I won’t. (waves good-bye to Brian.)

The Naturalist’s Scene

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents (who didn’t go to school locally) to the history of the area and to the plants and animals that can still be found in the nearby national forests (and often roaming through their neighborhoods at night).

Ext. canyon – day

CAMERA PANS canyon to Folsom Lake.

Ext. hillside with garden– day

Pile of pine needles and folded blue plastic tarp lay on ground.


Jon Bellows, athletic, outdoorsman, wood sculptor, methodically rakes up needles, separating out the pine cones.

(Jon) Hey, I know you. Don’t you play volleyball at Oak Ridge High?

(Jesse) I hack at it. I get in a good spike once in a while.

(Jon) Brian let me know you were coming. What do you need to know?

(Jesse) Brian said you knew a lot about native plants.

(Jon) Stalking the elusive sitanion hystrix are you?

(Jesse) I guess so.

(Jon sets aside rake. APPROACHES Jessie. Points to FENCE.)

(Jon) (Pointing) See that? I built that fence myself. Got my flower garden in there and my bee hive. (Motions with head) There’s deer in that canyon. And they’re hungry! Those succulent native grasses are for them. The garden’s for me. We have a short growing season and I need to make the most of it. I couldn’t find a bear proof fence so I built that beehive out of sheets of Kevlar I got from a kayak factory in Sacramento. That’s why it is outside the fence. It’s bullet proof. It’s anchored deep in the ground. After I replaced the Phillips head screws with somethin’ easier they started calling me “Wing Nut”. Hey, I just wanted to be able to pull out the frames.

(Jesse) reaction shot - chuckles

(Jon) Even the baddest bears give up on the idea of stealing honey from my hive after they’ve swatted it a few times and nothin’ happens except for a few bee stings on the nose. It takes a couple of hours for the bees to settle down and there’s no major damage to the bear. Ya know, African villagers have figured out that the elephants that raid their crops and get drunk on their corn mash are afraid of bees. The elephants get those angry African bees inside their trunks and ouch!, they head for the hills. So the agronomists tell the farmers to place their hives strategically and are working on a little battery powered device that buzzes like a hive of bees. Clever huh? All I gotta do is get a recording of whatever animal a black bear is scared of, a grizzly bear or Godzilla or whatever. I’ve heard that used kitty litter, full of clumps and whatever, will keep a bear away from your trash can. The bear’s instincts tell it that it’s a cougar and so the bear passes it by for easier pickin’s elsewhere.

(Jesse) Good idea.

(Jon) Anyway, about once a year a bunch of my bees take off with a new queen and find a new nest in a hollow log or somethin’. The black bears can have that honeycomb. I like my wild mountain honey and the wax is good for casting jewelry.

(Later)

(Jon sits. Looks up hillside.)

(Jon) There’s bobcats out there. Raccoons. Porcupines, Tree squirrels. Cougars I suppose. An occasional coyote, the econobox of predators and song dog of Indian legend. There's a group called The BEAR League that teaches people and bears about the boundary lines and the rules that both species must follow to co-exist in this shared mountain forest. All I can say is you'll never catch me taking a snooze 60 feet up in a pine tree. I’ve seen so many of them now, I know what they smell like. Like a big wet dog, times a hundred. (This factoid courtesy of Beth Moxley, owner/president of Rockwood Tree Removal.)

The BEAR people are on a first name basis with a lot of those bears and they really get upset when people plant fruit trees in their yard and then get a depredation permit from Fish & Game because the bears are coming to dine in their yards and breaking branches off their apple trees. Then poor Oliver gets shot and another young bear moves into the neighborhood and does the same thing.

We have a lot more black bears in California than we did 30 years ago, so they are expanding their range into suburban California and Nevada. The animal comes with the territory and especially in a drought year when nuts and berries are hard to find in the back country. You live up here, sooner or later you’re going to bump into a bear and hopefully you won’t hit it with your car. At minimum, it will trigger your airbags. That’s $800 plus a radiator and it’s a tragedy when there are cubs involved, which are traumatized and have to be bottle fed or whatever. If astronauts are gonna hibernate on their 6 month trips to Mars and back, then we got to learn more about bear biology. Simple as that.

(Jesse) We’re gonna look like fools if the Russians or the Chinese get there first with the most.

(Jon) yeah-up The last thing we want is a shortage of bears.

(Later)

(Jon) Yeah, I’m no rocket scientist but I do know a lot about native plants. I’m just getting into the grasses. I always assumed, the grasses were natural. But, no-oo! All of those hyper competitive annuals came over with the cows and sheep. Yup, this all used to be just logged over forest and overgrazed range land. Ya know. Fire doesn’t cause erosion. Fire and the hoof. Fire and the plow. Fire and the axe. That causes erosion. Scotch on the rocks. Rye on the rocks. Rum on the rocks. It’s not the ice cubes in your drink that gets you drunk. Anyway, let me show you what I’ve done so far. (cut away to grasses) They’re hard to re-establish once an area’s been disturbed. Some I bought in one gallon starter pots and some I planted as plugs from seed I got at a nursery.

(Jon HOLDS up pot.)

(Jon) This is pinegrass. It should do well, here, on the edge of the woodland with plenty of sunshine. It provides good forage and cover for wildlife. Good for controlling erosion. Tolerates sandy soil. Should grow about waist high.

(Jon picks up another plant.)

(Jon) This is a squirrel tail. Excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds.

(Jon pulls toadflax.)

(Jon) There’s not much that competes with toad flax. But, for fire protection, I’ve got blue bunch wheatgrass.

(Holds up pot.)

(Jon) It stays green late into summer without watering. So, it really has to be a hot day before it’ll burn. And, if I water once in a while, it really shouldn't. It’s also longest lived of the native grasses, so it’ll be here for awhile. I’m going to plant a lot of this. Here, take a packet of native grass seed. I’ve got plenty of it.

(Jesse) Thanks.

(Jon walks over to tarp.)

(Jon) And this stuff?

(FOOT POKES pile of pine needles on tarp.)

(Jon) Is going straight into the gully.

WALKS OVER to gully.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jon) This ditch wasn’t near this deep when I was a kid. (DUMPS IT IN) And this is just from street run-off. See the end of the culvert, there.

They finally built an infiltration pool and lined it with cobbles.

(Pan to culvert)

(Jon) (V. O.) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire, there’d be massive amounts of run-off every time it rained. There’d be nothing to throw in the ditch to stop the run-off.

Steady cam GOES WITH Jon’s return to work area. Grabs rake. Leans on it.

(Jon) There’s a gully across the canyon, there, that’s thirty feet deep with SHEER walls.

(Pan to gully)

(Jon) When it rains, all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon, then, out to the river. No chance to soak into the ground. It’s kind of like what happens with a bad fire.

(QUICK CUT TO King Fire)

(Jon) (V. O.) The pine needles in the soil gets so hot, the resins in the pitch can form a hydrophobic layer like wax cardboard, where the water can’t penetrate. It just runs off. That’s why there’s these terrible floods after every major fire. Dry country flash floods are a sight to behold.

(Stock shot of multicolored and sinuous, desert canyon wall)

(Jon) (V. O.) Water can’t soak in. There’s nothing to hold it. Mud City. Then, things dry up. People build a few more houses, it all grows back and the whole thing happens again. Crazy! The time to stop erosion is before it gets serious, you know.

(Jesse) There’s got to be a better way.

(Jon) Indeed ! Hey, tell Brian I said he should get a REAL job.

(Jesse) I will and thanks for the grass seed. I’ll see you at volleyball.

(Ext. Day Jesse leaves. Envelope stuffed with grass seed drops onto car seat. Jon kneels to tend his grass plugs. )

End of Naturalist’s Scene

(Narrator) As we’ve seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you’ve gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done.

(Narrator) (cont.) The wise homeowner who gets this far will re-plant with fire-resistant shrubs or native grasses. Even in the poorest soil, this will provide year-round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well.

The Botanist’s Scene

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents to local botany and to native plants that will:

a) offer little in the way of fuel to an oncoming forest fire

b) hold the soil in place during a heavy rain or sudden snow melt

c) offer food and shelter to wildlife such as quail

d) bloom in the spring time

Note: The plants mentioned in this scene are from an article written by Ed Smith, a Natural Resource Specialist with UNR Cooperative Extension. More information was offered by the botanically minded Shelly Perry. Further suggestions on appropriate plants are greatly appreciated.

(Ext. Front Yard Nursery – day)

(Narrator) (cont.) Let’s see how our newly enlightened first-time homeowners will simultaneously manage a fuel break for beauty, erosion control, habitat and fire protection.

CAMERA FINDS AND GOES WITH SUV as it cruises Mother Lode Drive past motels, restaurants and coffee shops.

TURNS INTO Front Yard Nursery.

Station wagon parks on shoulder. EXIT Helen.

Helen wears a long dress. HOLDS long shopping list in hand.

Blue Jay CALLS

Helen walks to office. Pokes head in.

(Helen) Hello-oh! Anybody here?

No reply.

WALKS down path looking at plants and garden art.

Female nursery WORKER clad in blue jeans approaches.

Slips cordless phone in back pocket.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Worker) Good morning. Can I help you?

(Helen) I want to buy some plants.

(Helen hands list to worker. Reads down list.)

(Worker) Some of these we have. Some we don’t. What kind of garden are you trying to grow?

(Helen) It’s not a garden. It’s to protect the house…from fire. My husband and I want good plants out back.

(Worker) You mean fire resistant? Plants that hold the soil?

(Helen nods.)

(Worker) I can help you. How many square feet?

(Helen) Our lot is about eighty feet wide. Some forest service men came in. The area they cleared is from here to that big tree.

Ext. Day Tall pine with wind chimes on lower branches.

(Worker) That’s about fifty feet.

(Helen) And, it’s all downhill.

Ext. Shot- Helen and Jessie’s property on side of hill – day

Burnt soil in back of house.

(Worker) (V. O.) Fifty by eighty. That’s four thousand square feet. One bush every ten square feet. That’s about four hundred plants.

(Helen) (V. O.) (In shock) Four hundred? Oh, no. Not that many. That won’t even fit in my car. (giggles) And money doesn’t grow on bushes, you know.

(Back to Front Yard Nursery)

(Worker brings wheelbarrow for Helen. Cameo shot opportunity for VIP/supporter here)

(Worker) Why don’t you put in the wheelbarrow whatever you can afford? I’ve also got wild flower seed you can plant yourself.

(Helen) Oh, wonderful. My children will love that. The workmen burned all that slash last week. Can we plant the seeds in the ash?

(Worker) Oh yes. Ash is good fertilizer. And the heat from the fire sterilizes the soil and kills the weed seed.

Any of the seed that doesn’t sprout this year, will sprout next year. It might have migrated downhill a little bit from the rain but its always worth the wait.

Ext. Helen and Jess’s property – day

(Helen) (V. O.) There was so much duff. And that blackened scar is so ugly. But, I guess they had to do it.

(Worker) (V. O.) Yes, pine needles keep on dropping.

Ext. King Forest Fire – day

(Worker) (V. O.) Forest fires have been part of the El Dorado County landscape for thousands and thousands of years. That is, until we came along. Anyway, after a fire, most forests will come back. Even stand replacing fires often leave islands of green among the charred ruin of the forest.

When a fire creeps downhill at night it usually isn’t doing much damage.

(Back to Front Yard Nursery)

(Helen and Worker push wheelbarrow down path.)

(Helen) (shocked) Does that mean that most of what the workers hauled away will be back?

(Worker) In time, yes. Unless you clear it yourself. Or, establish these plants, nearby. (holds Helen’s list) They’ll compete for available water and sunlight and keep saplings from getting a toe hold.

(Helen) (shakes head) I don’t like paying for permits and all that red tape.

(Worker) What permits ? County regs don’t cover normal veg management unless you plan to do some major digging or take out major trees.

(Helen) You’re right.

(Worker) All the natives are fire adapted. The plants on your list can be heavily pruned when they get too big. Then, vigorously, re-sprout like nothing happened.

(Helen) What do you have that’s on my list?

(ext. dogwood)

(Worker) (V. O.) We have dogwood. That’s over here. It has beautiful fall colors and bright red, bare branches all Winter long.

(Worker lifts one)

(Worker) They’re five bucks each and do best with some drip irrigation.

(Helen) We’ve got that installed already. I’ll take four.

(Worker hands Helen a dogwood in black plastic container. Tears off sprig from another plant. Crumples it.)

(Worker) Here, smell this.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Helen) (sniffs) Oh, that’s wonderful!

(Worker) It’s Sage. When it’s in bloom, the fragrance is heavenly. (PAUSE) This species is deer resistant and does best in full sun.

It also attracts butterflies.

Where do you live? Are you near the Lake?

(Helen) Sort of, we’re in El Dorado Hills.

(Worker) Does the hillside get afternoon sun?

(Helen) Morning.

(Worker) That puts you on a south facing slope. Fires burn hotter on the south face of a slope.

(Helen) And, we’re at the top of the hill.

(Worker) That’s a double-whammy.

(Helen) My husband insists we do everything fire safe.

(Ext. man on ladder cleans rain gutters – day)

(Helen) Every month, he’s up on the ladder, cleaning pine needles out of the rain gutters. He even wants to go in with a neighbor for one of those foam spray units to cover the house with foam.

(Int. Nursery aisle – day)

(Helen and Worker push wheelbarrow. Worker picks up another plant container.)

(Worker) This Mahala Mat or Squaw Carpet likes to grow on hillsides in part-shade. It stays very low and spreads widely without being invasive. That means it won’t be a good ladder fuel and carry flame into the tree branches. It is very fire resistant and deer resistant too. This ground cover, pinemat manzanita, (Arctostaphylos nevedensis) does a good job of holding soil. Also, it provides cover and food for mountain quail. A lower altitude alternate is Kinnikinick or Bear Berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Did you see our resident flock of quail, driving in?

(Helen) No, but I heard them. Such a beautiful sound.

(Worker) That’s the male calling his flock together.

(Helen) How much for the squaw carpet?

(Worker) One gallon container - $6. 00 each.

(Helen) I’ll take five. Do you take VISA?

(Worker) Of course.

(Wild strawberry plants.)

(Worker) (V. O.) There’s sulfur flower buckwheat and phlox over here. The buckwheat’s an herbaceous perennial. Needs a little water, now and then.

(Helen) (V. O.) No problem, there.

(Worker) (V.O.) Phlox is just wonderful.

(Ext: plants-day)

(Worker) They offer the best fire retardation and drought resistance.

You’re lucky you came here. Not all nurseries carry these native plants. Silly isn’t it?

(Helen) (V. O.) (Excited) Yeah! Let’s round out the wheelbarrow with those and come back for more.

(HELEN AND WORKER PUSH WHEELBARROW out to station wagon.)

(Helen) You’re a long way from the nearest fire station. What precautions have you against fire?

(Worker) A fire evacuation plan, if worst comes to worst. We’ve got a

rain barrel, where Kermit, our resident yellow legged frog hangs out. We use it to store rain water from the gutters, for spot fires.

(Worker) If it's half full, that's at least four big paint buckets of water we can throw at it.

We can pump water from the well. We’ve got floating, gas powered porta-pumps

to drop in the fish ponds if the electricity goes out.

(Coiled up fire hose)

(Worker) We’ve got fire hose all coiled up and… (Ladders against rear side of storage shed)

(Worker) (cont.)…a bunch of ladders against the back of that shed, in case, the embers start falling on our heads.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(SUV)

(Helen and Worker arrive)

(Helen) You know, getting fire insurance these days is difficult. They won’t write a new policy unless someone else drops out.

(Worker) Tell me about it. A lot of my neighbors own their homes, free and clear and don’t even have fire insurance. It is not required and a lot of them don’t want to spend an extra thousand bucks a year on homeowner’s insurance. They know the value of the property is in the land, not in the 50 year old cabin that sits on it. Some lots are worth more without a home than with one. Go figure.

(Helen and Worker unload wheelbarrow.)

(Worker) Plants we can re-grow. Greenhouses can be rebuilt. If we had to evacuate, there’re a few plants I’d grab. But I wouldn’t take any chances.

(Helen) (nods) Not worth the risk.

(Worker) (shrugs) A fire would prove how fire-adapted these natives are. It’d set us back but we’d recover. We all fear the worst, but hope for the best.

(Helen) It’s just one of those things you have to plan for.

(Worker) All of my friends who survived the big fire say it pays to be prepared.

(Helen) You know people who survived The King Fire?

(Worker) (triumphantly) Oh sure. My sister-in-law came through with flying colors.

(Helen) I'd love to talk to her. First hand experience is hard to beat.

(Worker) I can arrange that. Let me give her a call and ask if Ingrid can spare you a few minutes. I was going to deliver this packet of wildflower seeds I got but you can save me the trip.

(Helen) Ok. I can do that.

(Worker) (pulls out cell phone and talks softly while Helen loads up the car)

(Worker) I've got it all set up. She's expecting you. On your way out of town, take a right on Ice Mountain Road and head into Pollock Pines. She lives on Grizzly Mountain Court. You can't miss it. There's a sign above the front door that says, "Casa Vanderheiden". It's the only house on the block that didn't burn.

(Helen) Thank you so much. I'll be sure to give her the seeds. And when I get home, the first container I’m going to plant is the sage. Whenever I smell it, I’ll be reminded of you and my first visit to Front Yard.

(Worker) Thanks, and you'll like Ingrid. She a great friend. See you next time.

(Helen waves and drives off)

(End of Botanist’s Scene)
____________________________________________________
The Survivor's Scene

The purpose of this scene is to teach homeowners what to do before, during and after a suburban forest fire.

(Helen parks her car, exits and approaches Ingrid, who is working on a motorcycle on the driveway.)

(Ingrid) (rubbing her greasy hands on a rag) Hi. How ya doin?

(Helen) Oh Pretty good. Nice bike.

(Ingrid) Thanks. It gets me there.

(Helen) Karen, over at the nursery, asked me to deliver this packet of seeds and uh,...I thought I could ask a few questions and get some tips on surviving a forest fire. (hands the packet to Ingrid)

(Ingrid) Sure, I'd be glad to. Oh this is neat. What have we got here? (reading the contents....)
Lupine, blanket flower, durar hard fescue, blue flax, Rocky Mountain penstemon, sulfur buckwheat, Siberian wallflower and scarlet gilia. hmmm...
This place could use a little color and some erosion control. (camera pans dead trees and fire blackened tree trunks.

(Helen) So where were you when the fire started?

(Ingrid) Oh, at home. Doin' the usual. I think I was on the computer when I heard the first siren. I didn't think much of it but then I saw the column of smoke goin' up and up. When they didn't have it out in the first 15 minutes then I knew it wasn't a house on fire. And then I started movin'. We already had the defensible space and the fire safe landscaping in place, Thank God.

(Helen) So what did you do?

(Ingrid) Well, the thing was, I didn't know how much time I had. So I did the most obvious things first. I put the bike in the metal storage shed. I turned the car around in the driveway and turned on the car radio so I could hear the emergency bulletins. I put an extension ladder up against the house so I could check the rain gutters for pine needles and left it there for the firemen. I got the garden hose and started spraying water like crazy. I think I even squirted water into the attic through the air vents. I filled buckets. I wet down the deck and soaked the garden. I set up the sprinkler and started grabbin' stuff out of the house.

(Helen) Like what?

(Ingrid) Oh and I called some neighbors and rang some doorbells. But they weren't home. I dunno. Stuff? Well let's see. I got my jewelry and Carl's saddle. That went into the trunk of the car. I grabbed what financial records I could find and some pictures and DVD's and stuffed them into my pillow case. I must have looked like a burglar runnin' out the door like that. I was looting my own house!

(Helen) I guess

(Ingrid) And then I heard more and more sirens and started smellin' that smoke and then I started goin' nuts. I yanked down the drapes and curtains away from the windows. I closed the blinds. I shoved the couch away from the picture window so the radiant heat wouldn't catch it on fire. I closed every door in the house. I said good by to the fish in the tank. I really didn't think this place was goin' to survive, but it did.

(Helen) You were really lucky.

(Ingrid) I guess so, but so many of our neighbors never bothered with the basics.
And they came home to piles of junk and ash.

(Helen) I saw it on the news.

(Ingrid) It was really sad. Go figure. And now it's hammers and power saws, all day, every day. The place will never be the same again. Most of our neighbors will be strangers again or people on vacation. It's really heart breaking. And now I've got survivor's guilt to cope with because I did the smart thing. We're going to have to paint and remodel this place now, just to keep up with the Jones's. This fire was like urban redevelopment I tell you. Wiped the slate clean.

(Helen) I guess so. I quit counting the destroyed buildings on my way in here when I got to thirty something.

(Ingrid) The total was over 75 but the economic damage to the economy of El Dorado County was probably more like a billion dollars. Tourists will be looking at that fire scar on the mountains for decades and residents will be wondering what happened to their nice view from the balcony.

(Helen) Yeah, I suppose. Thanks for the tips.

(Ingrid) Whatever. I hope you never need to use any of it and if you do, just remember that its not over until the last pitch of the last inning. I mean, you could have a little fire smoldering in the attic and not realize it because the smell of smoke in the air is so over powering.

(Helen) Yeah, that's right, 'cause fires really stink. Its like living in a bad neighborhood. You have to keep your eyes open all the time.

(Ingrid) One bad fire can ruin your whole day.

(Helen) I'd rather have a bad case of guilt and deal with clutter than have to start all over with nothing.

(Ingrid) That's it. Keep those two by fours, standing up in the forest and prevent global warming.

(Helen) Right! Can I come back in the spring and check out your flower garden?

(Ingrid) Sure. I'll look forward to seeing you.

(Helen) Thanks. I'll bring you some more flower seeds.

(Ingrid) bye (waving as Helen drives away).

(fade out)

(End of The Survivor's Scene)

Closing: King Fire clip: Smoking ruins of a house

Epilogue Screen #1:

The King Fire of 2014 caused millions in property damage, cost over 90 million precious tax dollars to fight and left families homeless. This stupendous damage tally continues to climb as tourism falls off, toxic run off enters Folsom Lake, the aquifer’s drinking water becomes tainted with carcinogens and burned area recovery teams struggle to control erosion and re-seed burned hill sides. A long lasting Wikipedia entry describes the King Fire as a billion dollar fire and if the weather had been worse, of course, the damage tally would have been much worse.

Epilogue Screen #2:

A lot more than a forest burned in the King Fire. Turnover in Pollock Pines will probably be close to 70% as old time families sell out and the nouveau riche take advantage of bare lots and bargain real estate prices. Animals suffered too, as they tried to escape the flames. Most of the animal victims had only faint collective memories of wild fire and so, few instincts to guide them. A lot of good wildlife habitat was destroyed and even with land rehabilitation, will take decades to return to what it once was.

Epilogue Screen #3:

A fire this socially and environmentally destructive does not have to happen again, although there may be other severe wildfires in El Dorado County in coming years. Keep your ears open, for the sound of The Cannonball Express.

Epilogue Screen #4

This film was funded with grants from the …………………..

(Closing Credits with Theme Music)

 

 

 

State of Colorado Version

Copyright 1994 by Steven P. Kennedy Revised 2003

Storyboard Sketches by:

Alex Mizuno
650-758-3009

and

Alison Jeffs
801-360-2817
www.alisonjeffs.com
ali_jeffs@hotmail.com

Special Thanks to Ruth Wilson who created a web site containing a list of plants for fire safe landscaping which was compiled by F.C. Dennis, a Wildfire Hazard Mitigation Coordinator with the Colorado State Forest Service.

Synopsis A docudrama, The Cannonball Express is the story of Jessie and Helen, their dream house in the Front Range and how they learned to protect it from fire.

Beginning of Script

The Cannonbal acoustic guitar theme
was composed by Gerald McMullin...
mp3 file

Prologue-Scene Four (Introducing the protagonist)

(Jessie-scowling) Ahh, waiter! What was that?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Waiter-beaming) That was The Cannonball Express, an historic steam engine, Sir. Wasn't she beautiful? Did you miss our announcement?

(Jessie-indignant) What announcement? The waiter could have told us....

((Helen) recovering/pleading) Would you stop that...I'm fine...just a little too much coffee.

(Jessie-angrily) Coffee! Well I don't drink coffee and I'm awake now!


(Helen) calmer but sternly) Jessie, I think its time we had a little talk.....about us.....about our future. I used to think you were such a hopeless romantic. I loved it. You'd take me to a secluded beach in California...the tide would come in and we'd be stuck for six hours against a cliff on a sliver of beach that kept shrinking. I was young then and rules were made to be broken. Or you'd take me up to Aspen.... and of course there's a blizzard and we'd get snowed in for three days....and I'm not done yet....which was fun when we were dating but we're married now and I'm beginning to think I'm outgrowing you.

And now, for reasons I can't figure out, you've doubled my commute time and tossed our life savings into a little place in the country and you know what? You can't even pitch a tent in the woods. Well, let me tell you something, I'd be a fool if I said I wanted to lose everything we've got to some...forest fire...and start over again with nothing. And now you tell me you can't even get reasonably priced fire insurance on this place because the insurance companies have redlined the whole neighborhood. It just doesn't make sense.


(Jessie-thinking fast) They haven't red lined it...they're just limiting their exposure and anyway, the guy at Lloyds of London said he'd get right back to me. West Creek is a great place to raise our family. It is beautiful there and its quiet.....and I know I'm not exactly a tree hugger when it comes to nature but hey anybody can learn, right sweet heart?

((Helen) threatening) Yeah, well you better get a good book because.....

(Jessie-Huh, I can do better than that....I've got some friends from volleyball and they'll be glad to....

(Helen) Well give me a report at dinner time and don't come home drunk as a skunk....Listen, I've got some errands to run and then I'm going shopping. (She gets up, pulls a bill from her purse) And tip the waiter, will ya?

(Exits)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie-calling in vain) Helen....all right, so I'll call in a few markers that's all. (to himself) I got friends that know this stuff. I help them fix their computers don't I ? I've gotten their butts out of a jam at least once. (Guilty tone) I knew I should have done it myself instead of walking them through it by phone. If I hadn't been so busy....and they know the house I'm buying is a fire trap. The ad said cozy and quaint didn't it? (With resignation) I should have stayed in Cleveland where all you have to worry about is twisters. (Pulls out cell phone as bus boy clears table.) I must have been (singing) Rocky Mountain Hi-igh Colorado...

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Scene Two (The Brush Cutter's Lesson)

The camera pans a brushy hillside with a view of suburbia.

(Cliff) Hi Jessie. Pull up a chair. (points to ice chest) Thanks for stopping by. That Windows Vista is the greatest. Plug and Play is just super. Thanks for helping me out there.

(Jessie) Hey, no problem. (modestly)

(Cliff) (Mops brow with handkerchief) Man, its warm today. (Takes sip of water from canteen, sits down at crude table and starts working on a chain saw with a rat tail file.) So, how's the fixer upper?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) Oh, pretty good. It needs work.

(Cliff) Don't they all?


(Jessie) (with resignation) And mine especially. I can think of a lot of things I should have noticed on the first walk through. The worst thing is the wife figures she can paint everything because she's liberated but I'm a city slicker and can't take care of the landscaping. The smoke detector is beeping every two minutes all night long and she's worried about fire danger.

(Cliff) Well try a new battery in the smoke detector and we'll make a six pack gardener out of you yet. Beer?

(Jessie) Thanks but I just had breakfast. Listen, I gotta ask a favor. I need to learn about "habitat values" and fast. She's got this nesting instinct and all the brush around the place makes her nervous.


(Cliff) Well, you came to the right place buddy old pal. Look around you. This place was as bad as yours. If you and your wife work together and do it smart, it'd take, maybe a weekend at most. Three days tops. Then, get a ladder, clean out the rain gutters to keep the sparks away from the rafters and you're through. And it wouldn't hurt to have some plywood covers cut for the windows just in case. Your lumberyard clerk will cut them to size for you. (Puts file down to gesture) Look at this job...

(Jessie) It makes me tired just looking at it.


(Cliff) Yeah, I figure another three hours on this project and I'll have this one clean as a whistle. And then it's on to another project in Watsonville and then to Corralitos for another. If I didn't have a way to do this methodically I'd be exhausted. Working smart makes me look professional, reliable and indispensable, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, I'm booked solid for weeks. Otherwise, I'd come down and help you out myself.

(Jessie) Well, just tell me how ya do it.


(Cliff) It didn't come easy. Some of these homeowners have handed me projects large enough to experiment with different methods of moving the brush I've cut down to the truck. I usually figure one hour of cutting the brush makes for two hours of loading it up and hauling it away. Some land I've seen in Bonny Doon has had fuel loads of up to thirty tons per acre. Some of that is heavy timber that stays put but you get the idea. On this project, I've rigged up a cable and pulley system to carry piles of brush across the hillside and then down to my truck. Come on, I'll show you how it works.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Scenes of hauling, winching, and chain sawing through the pile of brush in the dump truck. Cliff returns to table and sits down.)


(Cliff) I just found this to be so much faster than chipping the brush, you know..... one branch at a time (gesturing) "zing-zing".

(Jessie) And chippers are expensive.

(Cliff) Yeah, $300 a day for a trailer mounted one. That's why I prefer hauling it away. No muss no fuss.

(Jessie) And no credit card debt.

(Cliff) Right! Too soon old and too late smart. That's why, when I work around Bonny Doon, I take the extra time to fill out a permit with the County, even if I'm clearing invasive, non-native species like pampas grass and broom. The name of the game is minimizing disturbance, so I avoid rare wildflowers when dragging branches and occasionally I'll call in a biological consultant for help with identification. Those County fines and red tags are just bad for business. I even have to time my work to avoid harming endangered insects like the Mount Hermon June beetle and the Zayante Band-Winged Grasshopper, as they emerge from the ground and seek shelter.

(Jessie) Wow! Even the bugs....

(Cliff) You know it.

(Jessie) Cliff, I got to hand it to you....

(Cliff) It's just experience, lots of experience. (Pauses to reflect) Ya know, my business card says I'm a tree cutter but that gives people the wrong impression.

(Jessie) (SLYLY) That you're a lumberjack with an axe of evil?


(Cliff) When actually I consider myself to be in a growth industry (smiles) called vegetation management. I'm being paid by the homeowner (gestures) to reduce the risk that a fire might roar up the hill and take out his house right?

(Jessie) Right!

(Cliff) We're both members of the Sierra Club right?

(Jessie) Sure

(Cliff) And so we got to take the environment into consideration when I'm deciding what goes and what stays.

(Jessie) Yep!


A Folk Song:                       Listen to a happy tune while you read.


This is a story called, "The Cannonball Express",
a woman called Helen and her flaky husband Jess
and then over breakfast they were having a fight
and this old train gave 'em a terrible fright,
scared that is, sur-prised, heavy metal!

Well, the first thing you know old Jess is Britain Shicks
should'a spent more time, A HANGING OUT WITH HICKS!
And that's why he learns how to clear some brush
been fighting with his wife-he's in a big rush.
Teo that is, Don Coyne, experts in the field.

This couple bought a house, Lawdy it was grand
their next door neighbor, earned millions in a band
no firemen objected but their friends was all perturbed
'cause their old house was heavily insured.
Cash that is, federal loan guarantees, rebuilding money

Well now its time to clear away the brush and all the weeds
they are being careful for the birds and all the bees
You'll be invited back soon to watch this video
wish Good Luck! to Jess 'cause he'll be a daddy-oh
Jessie Junior that is
healthy set of lungs!
Want some ear plugs?
Ya'll be safe, hear!

Comin' soon...the MP3 version.



Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Cliff) (Pointing) Take this dead oak for example. It was tall and strong when the Spaniards arrived. Now the Sudden Oak Death syndrome has killed it and it shouldn’t even be hauled away for firewood. When it was a seedling the local Indians weeded around its base and for generations knocked off dead branches with long poles to stimulate growth and harvest the acorns. Anyway, its kind of scenic and it will make for great habitat for garter snakes, owls and woodpeckers for the next hundred years. (Heavy branch snaps off with a loud crack! and falls nearby with a thud)

(Jessie) Whoa!

(Cliff) (Angrily to the tree) If it does that again its gonna be a little less scenic!

(Jessie-laughs) Mother nature's revenge.


(Cliff) And there's another. ....poison oak and oak trees. (Heavy sigh) Now there's a combination. I use lanolin on my skin and I usually set up a gravity fed solar heated shower right on the job site.

(Jessie) Good idea.


(Cliff) Fortunately most of the oil that you got to worry about is in the leaves which turn red and then fall off in the winter. If it wasn't for the poison oak I could burn some of this brush in piles but there's a permitting process and its just more hassle than it’s worth.

(Jessie) More red tape


(Cliff) Yep. When I started on this project it was really brushy here. I've already made several trips to the dump and now it’s starting to look pretty good. I told the homeowner I could make it look like a park. Look how steep this hill is. When I'm done clearing I'll reseed it with native wildflowers in the sunny areas. (Makes throwing motion as if scattering seeds)

(Jessie) That'll look nice


(Cliff) Most of what I've taken out has been scotch broom, poison oak, coyote brush, sticky monkey flower, wild oats and even some English ivy. The scotch broom, the wild oats, and the ivy are the exotics and shoot.... this county loses more plant and wildlife habitat every year to exotic invasives than to developers putting in homes and roads. We just don't have any insects or animals that go to town on broom. It looks nice. Its got a pretty yellow flower that bees like....but it just takes over. And on a hot day the seedpods spread seeds like popcorn popping with a forty year shelf life. Anyway what natives that do grow back here will attract deer and rabbits with succulent new growth.

(Jessie) Oh, my wife just loves seeing the deer.


(Cliff) I'm also trying to ease up on the clearing just short of the property line so it doesn't have that clear cut look. It doesn't bother me that the guy next door wouldn't go for it. A good quilt of cleared and uncleared land makes for patchiness, which can be very rich biologically. A phased approach is best for wildlife. I have cleared a lot of backyards and I have got a map and database on every one of them. Sooner or later I will be back in the neighborhood and I'll talk to the neighbors. Scotch broom tends to come back quickly from seeds dropped the previous year so I'll make a follow up visit in six months to yank out the volunteers. Five years from now it will be due for a light trim. The only trees I'm eager to take out are the ones that just don't belong.

(Jessie) Like eucalyptus?


(Cliff) Eucalyptus is high on my list. It smells good but its always shedding bark and many native plants just get drowned out by the steady rain of debris. I heard once that eucalyptus created 80% of the fuel that went up in the Trabing Road Fire.

(Jessie) I saw that on the news (quick shot of burning eucalyptus forest spliced in).

(Cliff) They had a run on saws and loppers at hardware stores all over Santa Cruz County the afternoon of the fire. People were madly taking out bushes and trees from around their houses.

(Jessie-sadly) Too little, too late.


sketch by Alan Mizuno(Cliff) Several of our rare, special status manzanita species such as Silverleaf and Heartleaf Manzanitacannot re-sprout from the base.... so I do less pruning. It takes a long time for their seedlings to provide cover.

(JESSIE) TOO BAD.

(CLIFF) Acacia is another beautiful tree but it’s an exotic and I'll get the owners permission before taking it out. Once the initial clearing has been done the annual vegetation management is easy. There's no real secret to what I do. Just be careful with the tools and watch out for poison oak.

(Jessie) Been there-done that. (To himself....hey she forgot about that one.)


(Cliff) I know many of my customers will do the annual maintenance themselves from now on but I'll keep tabs on them just to make sure it doesn't get away from them. If I touch bases with 'em once in a while its also good word of mouth advertising. Ol' Cliff is the cheapest fire insurance around and you know, a stitch in time does save nine. (stretches and flexes)

(Jessie) Right! And let me know if you need help with a new hard drive or something.

(Cliff) I got your card


(Jessie) And the great thing about computers is that you can send a whole lot of Email at once. Have you ever thought about, you know, doing the whole neighborhood at once?


(Cliff) Yeah, when I get too old and famous to do this I might just organize an old fashioned "burn razing". Right now, there's no shortage of work for a Paul Bunyan like me.... But I would like to get old Manuel out here with Mario's kid and Mr. Peterson and have a work party some time with watermelon, lemonade and a BBQ.

(Jessie) America...(with thick accent) what a country! (laughs)


(Cliff) Skankey? (pointing to house nearby) (pessimistically) He won't show. (with comtempt) He'll hem and haw and then decide to do nothin’. I don't think he'll ever get over that false alarm he called in. Sirens, flashing lights, a full haz mat team, the whole bit. Neighbors coming out of the woodwork. He thought he had an electrical fire in his swimming pool's pump house. He said it smelled like burning rubber, or chemicals.

(Jessie) So what was it?

(Cliff) It was a skunk. A stupid skunk.

(Jessie) Nesting?


(Cliff) Yeah, and he'll hibernate through the next great fire unless the earthquake knocks him out of bed first. (Cliff chuckles, picks up gloves...carefully puts them on and ...wearily picks up chainsaw.) And thanks for stopping by.

(Jessie) Thanks for the advice.


(Cliff) Oh and uh....do you hear that weed wacker? Excuse me....I gotta make a quick phone call (picks up portable phone and turns his back to the camera-camera pans trees and focuses on birds rustling in the underbrush) Cliff finishes call and hangs up). I just had to do that. I knew it was him. Why don't you go talk to Don Coyne? I think you know him through Sierra Club volleyball.

(Jessie) You mean "Sky" Don? Plays on the advanced court?


(Cliff) That's him. The guy that sweats so much he has to wring out his shirt. I know the names of some of the native plants. Don eats them. (laughs) But seriously, he's a talented athlete, outdoorsman, and artist. Talk to this guy and Helen will think you're Euell Gibbons. He sells his sculptures, hand carved stuff, out of wood. He's really quite good. He told me he's been trying to reestablish some native grasses in his backyard. Why don't you go have a chat with him...look for his orange volkswagen van outside and go through the green gate....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) No dueling banjos?


(Cliff) No....he's a peaceful guy...don't worry, he's expecting you. It was nice talking to you. And take one of my cards you never know when you are going to need a tree cutter.

(Jessie) Bye

(Cliff waves)


(end of scene four)

1.      Smith's Tree & Yard Service 303-

2.      Davey Tree

3.      Jim's Weed Whacking & Hauling

4.      Goats 'R' Us (Goats by the hundreds):

5.      Greenleaf Landscaping

6.       


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Scene Three - (The Naturalist's Scene)

The camera pans a breathtaking view of the canyon and Monterey Bay, then slowly approaches-from above and behind, a man working on a hillside with a weed eater, methodically sweeping it back and forth in wide arcs. A bamboo rake and blue plastic tarp lay nearby. A shiny brown mineral block sits nearby, dissolving on a log. Don shuts off the weed eater as the camera approaches, picks up the rake, and makes eye contact with the camera.)

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Don) So you found the place huh?

(Don and Jessie shake hands)

(Jessie) Oh, yeah. It was the only orange volkswagen van on the block.


(Don) That Cliff! Some fool helps him load Windows Vista and now he thinks he's a computer wizard. (Mocking voice) I've got plug and play...what have you got Don? Well, I've got a wood chisel and an Etch-a-Sketch in my satchel, bone head, and I can make stairways to heaven. So, eat it! (Calming down) Tell me, so you bought this place in the hills...does your wife want to do any gardening?

(Jessie) Well, I suppose. She had a tomato and herb garden at our condo.


(Don) And she likes deer? She won't when her garden disappears in a single night down the hatch of some doe. Hey, there's a reason I built this fence. I've got corn, beans, tomatoes and pumpkins in there. There's deer in this canyon and they're always hungry. The salt block is for them....the garden is for me. I'm at the top of the food chain and my vegetables are not on their menu.

(Jessie) Top of the food chain? Isn't there a resident cougar in this canyon?


(Don) there are lots of deer around, so this area hasn't been claimed as territory yet. I heard there was a cougar spotted in Swanton last summer. There's occasionally bobcats here, but usually it is just raccoons, tree squirrels, possums, and an occasional mangey coyote... and skunks... nesting right under my neighbor's deck. (points as if to take him closer)


(Jessie) Ah, no thanks. I'd rather go home drunk than stinking to high heaven. Can you tell me something about native grasses....for erosion control, beauty, and fire protection?

(Don) Oh so that's what he wanted me to show you. Stalking the elusive nassella pulchra are you?

(Jessie) I guess, I bought this house in the hills. I guess a fireman would call it a natural born loser.

(Don) It's that bad huh?

(Jessie) Yep, shake roof and the whole bit. Anyway, I want to grow something native, under and between the oak trees.

(Don) You're looking for some garden art to set the mood?

(Jessie) I might be. Cliff said you carve wood.


(Don) Yeah, I've been working on a few. I did a cheetah for a guy some time ago. I can carve a whole log into a salmon if you like. I've kinda got a backlog of commissioned pieces right now though. Maybe in a month or two. (Jessie) That would be better. Give us time to get settled in.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) That would be better. Give us time to get settled in.


(Don) I planted some native bunch grass seedlings here last winter as plugs. Some species were grown by a nursery called Central Coast Wilds from seed that I collected locally, within two or three miles and some were already here. Valerie Haley, a botanist with The Vegetation Management Network, talked me out of using Santa Cruz Erosion Control Mix. She said the clovers in it are aggressive invaders and not native. The bottlom line is that these native grasses are really hard to reestablish in an area that's been disturbed. The botanists say it is all in knowing how the roots of the grasses battle each other while competing for nutrients, symbiotically. (Stoops to add another load onto the tarp)

(Jessie) Disturbed? By cattle grazing?


(Don) Yup, this all used to be just overgrazed range land, believe it or not. I've found cow bones bleaching in the sun just off the freeway over by the College. (Stops raking and leans on it to reminisce) Once when I was a kid, when we first moved in here, we were driving downtown and there was a guy on the road moving a flock of sheep. Walking along. That was early 60's I guess and long before they put in the freeway. You can barely see it from here. (panoramic shot of canyon and bay-zoom in and out on distant freeway) There's still old barb wire fences in a lot of these canyons. Along the old land grant property lines. They used redwood for the fence posts, long lasting heartwood, virgin stuff and they may have rotted off at the base but they're still there....covered with moss but still lyin' around and all that wire rusty as hell. So where are you from?

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Jessie) Back East They taught us about the Civil War in grade school there and took us out to Valley Forge. We didn't have tract homes in my neighborhood. It was kind of a hodgepodge.

(Don) Here, history is about the mission system, dying Indians, the gold rush and waves of immigrants flooding in. What do you want to know?

(Jessie) Well, where can I get some native grass seed?


(Don) I have an envelope in the green house with some I can spare. And you can try the California Native Plant Society. They hold walks at Wilder Ranch and lecture as they go. You might meet some nice people there and enjoy a beautiful spring walk with your wife too. I know a lot about native plants but I'm just starting to get into the grasses. The Indians apparently used small portable mortars and pestles to grind up the seeds of grasses and forbs. The Spaniards called this food "Pinole" and named a town after it. I always just assumed that the grasses were natural but noooo, it turns out all this thistle-ly stuff came over with the cows and sheep. (Leaning the rake against the fence.)

(Jessie) And now they're everywhere.

(Don) And more exotics coming in all the time. I'm amazed you can still buy the dirty dozen at the local nursery.

(Jessie) You mean you can still buy French broom there?


(Don) That and English ivy. Nothing has gone extinct but it can get depressing if you let it. Anyway, let me show you what I've done so far. This is blue wild rye. It should do well here, on the edge of an oak woodland with plenty of sunshine. They say it provides good forage and cover for wildlife.

(Jessie) Likequail?


(Don) And song birds like meadow larks. It's good for controlling erosion and it tolerates this clayey soil. It should get about waist high. This is California Brome. This one is supposed to be excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds. There's not much that competes with wild oats but this will. For fire protection I've got California Oatgrass, not wild oats mind you...oatgrass. This one stays green late into the summer without watering so it really has to be a hot day before this will burn. If I water it once in a while it never will. Its also the longest lived of the native grasses so it'll be here for awhile. I'm going to plant a lot of this. And this stuff (they pick up the tarp with the pile of mown grass on it) is going straight to the gully. (While walking over) This ditch wasn't near this deep when I was a kid. (They dump it in)


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

And this is just from street run off. See the end of the culvert there? I hand laid that rock apron last year. I was gonna use rounded river rock but the guy at NRCS, Rich Casale, recommended angular quarry rock, so I had a load delivered. He said it would slow down the water better than slippery boulders or broken concrete. I was afraid the erosion would undermine my road to the point that the fire engine couldn't make it to my house in an emergency. I WAS GONNA USE ROUNDED RIVER ROCK BUT THE GUY AT NRCS, RICH CASALE, RECOMMENDED ANGULAR QUARRY ROCK, SO I HAD A LOAD DELIVERED. HE SAID IT WOULD SLOW DOWN THE WATER BETTER THAN SLIPPERY BOULDERS OR BROKEN CONCRETE. I WAS AFRAID THE EROSION WOULD UNDERMINE MY ROAD TO THE POINT THAT THE FIRE ENGINE COULDN'T MAKE IT TO MY HOUSE IN AN EMERGENCY.

(Jessie) Yeah, And this is just from street run off. See the end of the culvert there?

(Jessie) Yeah


(Don) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire there'd be massive amounts of run off every time it rained and there'd be nothing to throw in there to stop it. I suppose I could drop in a few hay bales ON TOP OF THE APRON but I think I'd have more important things to worry about. Like rebuilding the house.

(Jessie) You have fire insurance?


Don) Yeah, but it wouldn't cover the contents and all my art and pictures. If I could burn off just this grass here I'd love to grow a native grass meadow from seed....and it would be beautiful hmmmm but too risky. And fire doesn't kill all the weed seeds either, the ones deep in the dirt. (They return to work area, Don grabs the rake and leans on it) There's a gully across the canyon BELOW A CULVERT there that's thirty feet deep with sheer walls. Its like a box canyon. It swallows up whole oak trees like a black hole eats up star dust. THE HOMEOWNER ASSOCIATION NEVER APPOINTED A ROAD MANAGER AND KEPT POURING MONEY AND TRUCK LOADS OF GRAVEL INTO THE SAME SEEP. NOW THEY NEED TO BUILD A CRIB WALL.

(JESSIE) ONE OF THOSE CONCRETE LINCOLN LOG THINGS?

(DON) YEAH AND EXPENSIVE TOO. (Musing) Billions and billions...a lot of cubic yards of dirt came out of that DITCH and its still probably choking the steelhead in Branciforte Creek. I'd take you over there but there's a lot of poison oak to wade through... a lot. I guess the time to stop erosion is before it gets serious.

(Jessie) Like the dust bowl days.


(Don) More like LA. You know...(pointing towards the bay.) When it rains, all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon. It doesn't have a chance to soak into the ground. It's kinda like what happens when you have a bad fire. The soil gets so hot it can form a hydrophobic layer from all the resins in the pine needles.

(Jessie) Like waxed cardboard...


(Don) And water can't penetrate it. So it just runs off. That's why LA gets these terrible floods after every major fire. The water can't soak in and there's nothing to hold it. Mud city. Slip sliding away. And then they build a few more houses, it all grows back and they do the whole thing again. Crazy.

(Jessie) There's got to be a better way.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Don) Absolutely (Turning back up the trail) I've got to get this tool back to the rental shop before five so I better get back to work. It was nice meeting you. Tell Cliff I said "Get a real job!" and I'll see ya at volleyball. (Don fires up the weed eater and goes back to mowing down the wild oats).

(Jessie) (loudly over the noise) Thanks for talking to me. I feel like an expert already.

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

Don waves good by.

(end of scene three)

 

Scene Six


(Return to narrator). As we have seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you've gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done. The wise homeowner who gets this far will avoid leaving "the frying pan for the fire" by re-planting with fire resistant shrubs or native bunch grasses. This will provide year round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well, even in the poorest soils. Let's see how a native plant fancier would simultaneously manage a fuel break for beauty, erosion control, habitat and fire protection. For this seemingly impossible task let's follow Helen and a friend as they do a little shopping at Harlequinn Gardens.


(End of scene six)

Act Three Scene Seven (The Botanist's Lesson) The camera follows a four door station wagon down the highway and then down a winding road. The car pulls into a parking stall in front of the nursery sign. The camera pans picnic tables, sheds and potted plants. A woman in a dress gets out of the car holding a long shopping list. (sound track- Quail calling)


(Claudia) What a beautiful place! I've lived around here for so long and I didn't even know this place was here-tucked back in the woods like this...and I thought I knew all the good places to shop. (giggles) (wistfully) What a nice place. So where is everybody? (she does a few notes of the Twilight Zone theme) Well I guess I'll just have to take a look around. (She pokes her head into a shed with nothing but ferns in it.) (sound track-dripping water) Hello? Nobody here...Hmmm....a fern bar with no IQ and everybody drinking. Deja vu. Let's try down the road a little. (She steps into a shed and sees the office furniture inside. Hello? Where is everybody? The service here is just terrible. (She sees a "ring bell for service" sign, a brass bell, and grabs the rope and rings it like a cablecar gripman. A woman, dressed in blue jeans, and carrying a cordless phone steps out of a nearby greenhouse.)

(Worker) (approaching and slipping the phone into her pocket.) Good morning...can I help you?

(Claudia) Why yes....I want to buy some plants. I have a list a fireman gave me.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Worker) May I...

(Claudia) sure (Hands worker the list)

(Worker) (after studying the list) Hmmm...some of these we have and some we don't. What kind of garden are you trying to grow?

(Claudia) Oh its not a garden....its to protect the house (flustered) you know...from fire. My husband wants good plants outside the fence.

(Worker) Good plants? You mean fire resistant plants? That will hold the soil?

(Claudia) Yes that's it.

(Worker) Yes I think we can help you. About how many square feet?


(Claudia) Well the men came in and.....Our lot is about eighty feet wide....and the area they cleared is about, oh I forget, maybe it goes from here to that big tree. (pointing towards large pine)

(Worker) fifty feet?

(Claudia) Yeah about that...but its downhill.

(Worker) ok...eighty feet by fifty feet is about 4,000 square feet. One bush for every ten square feet is about four hundred plants.

(Claudia) Oh no...not that many. I'm only driving a station wagon and besides... money doesn't grow on bushes you know. (giggles)

(Worker) well why don't we get a wheelbarrow and get you what you can afford. I've also got some native wildflower seed that you can plant yourself.

(Claudia) Oh wonderful...my children will love that. The workmen burned all that brush last week. In long rows....it was stacked like wood. Can we plant the seeds...you know... in the ash?

(Worker) Definitely. That ash is good fertilizer and the heat from the fire sterilizes the soil and kills all the weed seeds.

(Claudia) that blackened scar is so ugly....but I guess they had to do it. There was just so much brush.

(Claudia) (resignedly) The brush will be back and so will the workmen.


(Worker) Right. Brush fires have been part of the Colorado landscape for thousands and thousands of years and you know, we are starting to believe the Indians used fire as a horticultural tool..... to encourage pine nut production and to discourage brush. .. Anyway most brush will come back quick after a fire from the crown....the roots are still alive. All the woody plants on this list can be heavily pruned when they get too big and they'll re-sprout vigorously like nothing happened.

(Claudia) so how long before what they chopped down will be back?

(Worker) Not long. Unless you use a herbicide and poison the roots.... or plant these nearby so they compete for the available sunlight and water.

(Claudia) Oh I think I'd rather plant something. We have children you know. So what do you have that's on the list?

(Worker) We've got the bearberry... that's over here. (lifting one into the wheelbarrow.) These are five bucks each....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) I'll take four.

(Enter Helen) Hi.... do you mind if I listen in? It sounds like we're in the same boat.

(Worker) Certainly. My name is Karen and I'll be your tour guide today.

(Claudia) Hi I'm Claudia

(Helen) Call me Helen

(Worker) Ok, we've got Prairie Sage. Here smell this (tearing off a sprig and crumpling it in her hand)

(Claudia) oh that's wonderful.

(Helen) Such a delicate aroma.

(Worker) And when its in bloom the fragrance is just heavenly. If you don't mind me asking Claudia, where do you live?

(Claudia) Why do you ask?

(Worker) I just wondered if you were above timber line.

(Claudia) Oh no, we live up in the hills but not that high. We get the usual afternoon wind.

(Worker) Near the college?

(Claudia) kind of

(Worker) I took classes in ornamental horticulture there. It's a pretty good program. So does this hillside catch the morning sun or the afternoon?

(Claudia) Oh the morning.

(Worker) that puts you on a south facing slope-Fires always burn hotter on the south face of a ridge.

(Claudia) yeah and we're at the top of the hill.

(Worker) that's a double whammy..because of the wind.


(Claudia) I know. My husband insisted we do everything we could to be fire safe. Every month he's up on a ladder cleaning the pine needles out of the rain gutters. He's been trying to talk the neighbors into going in on one of those foam spray trailer mounted thingys. Cover your house and everything with foam.

(Worker) At least he takes it seriously.


(Helen) I'm not sure which direction our house faces because we just bought it. I know my husband cleaned out the fireplace after one of those romantic evenings in front of the fire. The embers were still hot...it caught the paper bag on fire and melted our plastic garbage can.

(Claudia) really?

(Helen) the last of the red hot lovers!
(laughter)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) but you kept him?

(Helen) I guess I have to...somebody has to change the batteries in the smoke detector.
(laughter)

(Worker) well...uhmm here's a plant that does a good job of holding the soil. It will provide cover and food for quail. Did you see our resident flock as you drove in?

(Claudia) No but I heard them. It's such a beautiful sound.

(Worker) That's the male-calling his flock together.

(Claudia) I suppose the Indians had a tale woven around that one...

(Worker) I suppose they did. Anyway this is a golden currant. One gallon containers are $6 each.

(Claudia) I'll take five. Do you take checks?

(Worker) of course.....Here are creeping grape holly...and prairie sage. The holly is a low mounding shrub that won't block your views.

(Claudia) that's good.

(Worker) The sage sports brilliant flowers in the spring.

(Claudia) ok... lets round out the wheel barrow load with those and come back for more.

(Worker) Good idea
(They turn back on a path towards the office)

(Helen) So ahh...you're a long ways from the nearest fire station. What precautions have you taken against fire?

(Worker) Well some of the people here are all for a hot tub or swimming pool...just for a ready reservoir of water you understand.

(Claudia) of course (in mock seriousness)


(Worker) We have a fire evacuation plan if worse comes to worse. We've got fire extinguishers in case a power tool erupts into flame. We've got two back pumps to catch spot fires if it starts snowing embers and some buckets..plus we got a lot of garden hose, some lawn sprinklers and several spigots.

(Claudia) You know, just getting fire insurance these days is difficult. They won't write a new policy until someone else drops out.

(Helen) Tell me about it. We're trying to get Lloyd's of London to cover us.


(enter Charley )

(Worker) Here's another wheel barrow. Thank you Charley. (exit Charley) We'll just park this one here and have Vivian total 'em up all at once.

(Claudia) Ok


(Sound effect) A cell phone rings. The worker and Helen both reach for their phones. The call is for Helen, however, and the worker puts hers away. Worker continues talking to Claudia in the background.

(Helen) Hi, Jessie. (pauses-camera close up) That's great honey. (Pauses) I'm at Harlequinn Nursery, I'll have some plants for you to put below the deck at the new place....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(camera turns back to Claudia and worker)


(Worker) So we don't worry too much about what's outside the fence. Plants we can regrow. Sheds can be rebuilt. There are a few plants that I'd grab if we had to evacuate but I wouldn't take any chances. Like I said, a fire would just prove how fire adapted these natives are. It'd set us back but we'd recover. I just hope that I'm not the one who has to decide whether to rebuild, replant or relocate. We couldn't do business in a devastated landscape. Families out for a Sunday drive are a good chunk of our business. We all fear the worst but we hope for the best. It's just one of those things you have to plan for.

(Claudia) You can say that again....Thanks for all your help (exit Claudia with Charley pushing wheelbarrow) (Worker) Now Helen, what can I do for you? (Helen) About the sage.... (fade out)


(end of scene seven)

Epilogue -Scene Eight (Wrapping up the loose ends)

Return to narrator- Helen and Jessie patched up their differences and lived happily ever after in a fire safe home. With a little help from his friends, Jessie persuaded Helen that planning for wild fire is part of the cost of living in a forest in a high and arid climate. To her credit, Helen convinced Jessie that Spring house cleaning should include painting the exterior of the house, cleaning out the rain gutters and cutting the brush back.

How aggressively you go about this task depends on your health, wealth, and emotional attachment to your material possessions. To be truly fire safe requires the participation and cooperation of individuals, neighborhoods and local government. As Jessie and Helen have learned, with foresight and careful planning, our homes can be made safer and portions of our cherished native plant and animal communities restored to their former glory. All aboard!

(End of scene eight)

Copyright 1994 by Steven P. Kennedy


Scene Nine

Fire Marshal's narration begins- "We hope that you high tech professionals have enjoyed this low tech lesson in fire safety and that the story of Jessie and Helen will become part of your personal matrix. Your local fire marshal has additional information that can help you make your home, fire and earthquake safe, and may be willing to make a house call to inspect your yard work. Support your local fire department and give them a call. Thanks for watching. Good luck, best wishes and be fire safe."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Credits and acknowledgments roll as steam train pulls out of the station
with the cast and crew waving and smiling from an open car.

End of scene nine &

End of script

 

 

 

Sonoma County Version

Copyright © by Steven P. Kennedy

 

____________________________________________________

The Naturalist’s Scene - a partial script for The Sonoma County Version of The Cannonball Express

Common Ground Theme Song
It's ok to ignore Google's 62 MB warning re: our WAV file. This music file is just too big for a comprehensive virus scan to be done by their virus detection software.
mp3 file


Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents (who didn’t go to grade school locally) to the history of the area, to the concept of permaculture, to the plants and wild animals that can still be found on the nearby hills and which are often roaming through their neighborhoods at night. 

Again, the unspoken message to the  residents of the ever expanding, suburban-wild lands interface zone in your county, is to live with nature instead of fighting it. (Or understand wildlife and you won't be afraid of them when you need to rake, mow, trim and plant, to reduce the risk of wildfire damage.)
 
*******This version is awaiting input from the Commission as well as botanists, fire survivors, first responders and fire fighters.*******

Exterior shot of canyon – daytime
CAMERA PANS canyon to canyons and hills.
Ext.  hillside with garden – day
Pile of oak leaves and folded blue plastic tarp lay on ground. 
Erik Larson, athletic, outdoorsman, wood sculptor, family man, methodically rakes up leaves, separating out the trash.
(Jesse)  Hey, I know you. Don’t you play volleyball at Sonoma Valley High? 

(Erik) I hack at it. I get in a good spike once in a while.  Brian let me know you were coming. I hope you're not planning to live off grid, quit your day job and grow weed. I try not to encourage people to drop out of society.

(Jesse) nah.... I'm not an urban refugee. Heavy sigh. City slicker is more like it. I just sold a software company and bought an old house up in the hills.  Now I'm a computer consultant, which is another way of saying "unemployed". I'm gonna get an old pick up truck with a gun rack and a bale of hay so people won't know that I'm gentrifying their neighborhood.  

(Erik) You'll fit right in. How many years have you been married?

(Jesse) All of them. And right now I've got a cash flow problem and I'm too broke to hire the guys at Permaculture Artisans to help me manage the 5 acres that came with the house. I'm used to calling the apartment manager when I've got a problem. Now I've got a whole bunch of land management issues to deal with, on top of our own well, a septic tank, a quarter mile of fence, a rutted driveway that needs a culvert, a leased solar system with worn out batteries, a quarter acre of white zin, two cats, four chickens and a dog.

(Erik) a full plate.

(Jesse) exactly. So, I'm from Boston, Mass where it rains in the summertime and my wife is a California born, earth goddess with this nesting instinct. She wants me to help raise the kids, remodel the kitchen and put in a vernal pool. And I thought running a software company was complicated.

(Erik) I get it. And my computer has a virus, it won't talk to my printer and I'm thinking about investing in bit coin. I think we have a deal here. What do you need to know?

(Jesse) I've got a laundry list...Is there anything you can tell me about water harvesting, storm water management, drip irrigation systems, vineyard management, vernal ponds, native plants, wildlife habitat and soil building? 

(Erik) That's a tall order.

(Jesse) Make it a venti.

(Erik)  This would be a little easier if I was on site but I think I can help. 

(Jesse)  I'll get some help from Permaculture Artisans next year. Right now I gotta protect the house from fire and flood.  I'm trying to avoid being called a "fire survivor".

(Erik)  Do you have any pictures of the property on your phone?

(Jesse) I sure do.. and a Google Earth view too. (Hands the phone to Erik.)

(Erik) ok, I can work from these.... (hands phone back to Jesse.) Let's start with rain water harvesting. See the down spout here? Why don't you get a plastic half barrel from Vinyard Supply and put it under the down spout of your rain gutter here. It's a half barrel in molded plastic, cut lengthwise so it fits right up against the wall.... Not cut across the middle like a planter. What you can do with this water is only limited by its 40 gallon capacity. And the catch with an entry level system like this, even if it's a foot up on a milk crate, is that your hose length is limited to 3 feet. So you can open the tap to fill a watering can, to hand water shrubs during a heat wave or just have water on hand if the power goes out and you can't pump from the well for a couple hours. All that can be handy but I wouldn't drink it without treatment of some kind. There`s just a mesh screen to keep bugs and leaves out of the water. 

(Erik) Anyway, some homeowners will be satisfied with this el cheapo system and some people want to catch every drop that falls on their roof and they'll pay thousands of dollars for a concrete cistern or buy a razzle dazzle system that includes heat sensors and nozzles to automatically wet down the house and vegetation in the event of a wildfire. There's no reason you can't tap into your cistern to drip irrigate your vineyard. The catch is that your grape clusters will need the water during the same heat wave where you'll want that water on hand for a forest fire. You can pipe the overflow to the pond that your wife wants and put mosquito fish in it. The frogs and salamanders will find it on their own and pretty soon you'll have your own little ecosystem. 

(Jesse) that sounds good. 

(Erik) You're not afraid of snakes are you?

(Jesse) Not at all, I had lizards and snakes at one time or another when I was growing up. 

(Erik) well, if you've got water and minnows, you can expect garter snakes and California newts. 

(Jessie) can I count them as dependents?

(Erik) No but check this out. When a water snake eats one of those orange bellied brown newts, it makes him sick for a couple days.... It's like a hangover in Vegas. But then he lays in the sun for a couple days, digests the meal, shakes it off and crawls away. So the newt and the snake are locked in an evolutionary arms race. The newt keeps trying to develop a more toxic skin. The snake keeps trying to evolve a stronger stomach. 

And lizards? When a tick latches on to a blue belly lizard, the tick is cleansed of the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease. So don't give up the flea collars but having lizards around will help keep you and your pets healthy. 

(Jesse) I'm from Boston and I know about Lyme. I suppose if I could figure out that bio-mechanism I could build another multimillion dollar company. 

(Erik) And swim with the Investors on Shark Tank. 

(Jesse) don't tempt me. Trust me. Enough of the rat race.  I'm ready for Green Acres. 

(Erik) (laughs) Ok, to keep all your critters happy, you can line your pond with a plastic liner or clay, to keep it full longer. You'll get your fish through the dry season if you pump ground water into it but it comes out of the ground sans oxygen. So let it drop a foot or so out of the pipe so air gets mixed in. I've got a solar powered aerator with a solar panel about the size of your palm, to keep my fish happy. I even put in an inverted goldfish bowl sitting up on bricks so they've got a place to hide from raccoons and can swim up to the penthouse suite for a look around. Your cat will find that fascinating. The important thing is to design a pond that attracts wildlife down the mountain to drink and not one that keeps them from climbing out if they fall in. You want to avoid creating a death trap. 

(Jesse) ok, I get the picture. 

(Erik) I do recommend piping all the water you can from the hard scape into your cistern or vernal pond to prevent erosion. Just be sure you've got an overflow pipe and a plan B, mini spill way, for water to flow out in the event of a cloud burst. How's the soil loss from your vineyard? The worst erosion I ever seen has been the 6 inch deep rivulets off one of those brand new vineyards in the hills. We're talking tons of topsoil per acre that nature took thousands of years to build....  

(Jesse) Gone in a single rainy season. 

(Erik) right. Soil building is important. If you're paying for trash pick up and have considered hauling it away yourself.... Why not start a compost pile?  Let the FBI take care of it.

(Jesse)  THE FBI ? 

(Erik)  yeah....fungi, bacteria and invertebrates.

(Jesse) Laughs. Ok I get it. 

(Erik)  Do you know that some bacteria produce electricity? 

(Jesse)  oh come on!

(Erik) Yeah, it's true.... Its milliwatts but all you gotta do is feed them and you get free electricity.

(Jesse) I like free. 

(Erik)  Laughs. Layer in your fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves and pine needles with wheel barrow loads of dirt or bags of used coffee grounds from the coffee shop. You might want to build a 2x4 frame with half inch wide chicken wire that fits over your wheelbarrow to screen out the coffee filters and other plastic trash. Buy a bag of enzymes from vinyard supply to make it break down quickly, keep it moist and you are well on your way to building a raised bed organic garden that your wife will enjoy. Did you know that tomatoes are the gateway drug of home gardening? 

(Jessie) I'll bet. All the previous owner did was mow between the rows, so erosion has never been a problem to my knowledge.

(Erik) Alright then, so you can mow or use a weed whacker. In the Tubbs Fire, the vineyards acted as fuel breaks. There was some damage to radiant heat on the edges but all the winemakers have been worried about how the smoke and ash would affect the taste of the wine. With another drought, can they afford to rinse every grape cluster twice? And they're worried about finding labor to pick the grapes, now that we're short 9,000 homes in a housing market that was already tight and expensive. Nobody wants to drive 2 hours each way after a long day picking grapes in the hot sun.

(Jessie) I guess I'm lucky. But if I lost this old home, would I be able to rebuild on the insurance money.... ? It'd be like the ultimate computer crash. 

(Erik) Well, do all the common sense stuff. Clean out your rain gutters. Get an inspection from the Fire Marshall and pick his brain. Upgrade your fire insurance if you put a pricey server farm in the garage. Back up your data to the cloud every day. And be aware that a kitchen remodel might trigger a mandatory fire sprinkler installation in the whole house. Call the building department and get a licensed contractor.... if you can find one, they're all gonna be busy for a while. 

(Jesse) I'd like to create some song bird habitat.  Brian said you knew a lot about native plants and wildlife.

(Erik) Stalking the elusive sitanion hystrix are you?

(Jesse)  I guess so.

(Erik sets aside rake. APPROACHES Jesse. Points to FENCE.)

(Erik) (Pointing)  See that? I built that fence myself. Songbirds such as meadow larks perch there all the time. I got my wild flower garden in there and my bee hive too. (Motions with head) There’s deer in that canyon. And they’re hungry! Those succulent native grasses are for them. The garden’s for me. I couldn’t find a bear proof fence....

(Jesse)  reaction shot - Bears ?

(Erik) yeah, the young males tend to drift South from Mendocino County looking for a primo piece of territory so they won't get their butts kicked by a full grown male. They may travel 75 miles in a single day. That's why they end up in back yards in  Healdsburg. Damn kids. They don't get smarter as they get older. They just run out of dumb things to do. The teen age females tend to form a territory that overlaps with their Mother's like links on a chain. So it's rare to see a young female around here. 

(Jesse) kinda like a software company where we call attractive young women "visitors".

(Erik) I guess so....    We have a lot more black bears in California than we did 30 years ago, so they are expanding their range into suburban California and the wine country. The animal comes with the territory and especially in a drought year when nuts and berries are hard to find in the back country. You live up here, sooner or later you’re going to bump into a bear and hopefully you won’t hit it with your car.  At minimum, it will trigger your airbags. That’s $800 each plus a radiator and it’s a tragedy when there are cubs involved, which are traumatized and have to be bottle fed or whatever. If astronauts are gonna hibernate on their 6 month trips to Mars and back, then we got to learn more about bear biology. Simple as that. 

(Jesse) We’re gonna look like fools if the Russians or the Chinese get there first with the most. Maybe I'll partner with Elon Musk and figure out how the bears sleep for 6 months without having to pee. I'm up every 3 hours. 

 (Erik) Been there done that.  Anyway, I built that beehive out of sheets of Kevlar I got from a kayak factory in Reno. That’s why it is outside the fence. It’s bullet proof. It’s anchored deep in the ground. After I replaced the Phillips head screws with somethin’ easier they started calling me “Wing Nut”.  Hey, I just wanted to be able to pull out the frames. 

(Jesse)   yeah-up 

(Erik)  You should get a bear proof trash can just to keep them honest. A fed bear is a dead bear,  ya know. Even the baddest bears give up on the idea of stealing honey from my hive after they’ve swatted it a few times and nothin’ happens except for a few bee stings on the nose.  It takes a couple of hours for the bees to settle down. About once a year a bunch of bees takes off with a new queen and finds a new nest in a hollow log or somethin’. The black bears can have that honeycomb. I like my wild mountain honey and the wax is good for casting jewelery. 
(Walking and talking)(Erik sits. Looks up hillside.)

(Erik) There’s bobcats out there. Raccoons. Rabbits, wild pig, Tree squirrels. An occasional coyote, the econobox of predators and song dog of Indian legend.

(Erik) Yeah, I’m no rocket scientist but I do know a lot about native plants.
(Jesse) so what do I need?

(Erik) Stalking the elusive sitanion hystrix are you? 

(Jesse) I guess so.

(Erik)  I’m just getting into the grasses. I always assumed, the grasses were natural. But, no-oo! All of those hyper competitive annuals came over with the cows and sheep. The newest arrival is slender false brome. It's already along the highways and its gonna eat this county for breakfast. The more I look. The more I see of it. 

(Jesse) where did it come from?

(Erik) Asia. The only plant that slows it down is tarweed. A native....
Anyway, this all used to be just logged over forest and overgrazed range land.  Ya know. Fire doesn’t cause erosion. Fire and the hoof.  Fire and the plow.  Fire and the axe. That causes erosion. Scotch on the rocks. Rye on the rocks. Rum on the rocks. It’s not the ice cubes in your drink that gets you drunk. Anyway, let me show you what I’ve done so far. (cut away to grasses) They’re hard to re-establish once an area’s been disturbed. Some I bought in one gallon starter pots and some I planted as plugs from seed I got at a nursery.

(Erik  HOLDS up pot.)

(Erik) This is pinegrass. It should do well, here, on the edge of the woodland with plenty of sunshine. It provides good forage and cover for wildlife. Good for controlling erosion. Tolerates sandy soil. Should grow about waist high.

(Erik picks up another plant.)

(Erik) This is a squirrel tail. Excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds.

(Erik pulls yellow star thistle)
(Jon) There’s not much that competes with yellow star thistle. But, for fire protection, I’ve got blue bunch wheatgrass.

(Holds up pot)

(Erik)  It stays green late into summer without watering. So, it really has to be a hot day before it’ll burn. And, if I water once in a while, it really shouldn't. It’s also longest lived of the native grasses, so it’ll be here for awhile. I’m going to plant a lot of this. Here, take a packet of native grass seed. I’ve got plenty of it.

(Jesse) Thanks.

(Erik walks over to tarp.)

(Jesse) And this stuff?

(FOOT POKES pile of leaves on tarp.)

(Erik) Is going straight into the gully.
WALKS OVER to gully.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno
(Erik) This ditch wasn’t near this deep when I was a kid. (DUMPS IT IN) And this is just from street run-off. See the end of the culvert, there. They finally lined the infiltration pool with cobbles. 

(Pan to culvert)

(Erik) (V. O.) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire, there’d be massive amounts of run-off every time it rained. There’d be nothing to throw in the ditch to stop the run-off.

Steady cam GOES WITH Erik's return to work area. Grabs rake. Leans on it.

(Erik) There’s a gully across the canyon, there, that’s thirty feet deep with SHEER walls.

(Pan to gully)

(Erik) When it rains, all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon, then, out to the river. No chance to soak into the ground. It’s kind of like what happens with a bad fire.

(QUICK CUT TO Wine Country Firestorm)

(Erik) (V. O.) The pine needles in the soil gets so hot, the resins in the pitch can form a hydrophobic layer like wax cardboard, where the water can’t penetrate. It just runs off. That’s why there’s these terrible floods after every major fire. Dry country flash floods are a sight to behold. 

(Stock shot of multicolored and sinuous canyon wall)

(Erik) (V. O.) Water can’t soak in. There’s nothing to hold it. Mud City. Then, things dry up. People build a few more houses, it all grows back and the whole thing happens again. Crazy! The time to stop erosion is before it gets serious, you know.

(Jesse) There’s got to be a better way.

(Erik) Indeed ! Hey, tell Brian I said he should get a REAL job.

(Jesse) I will and thanks for the grass seed. I’ll see you at volleyball.

(Erik) hey before you go... Can you have a look at my computer? And which of these crypto currencies is the best?

(Jesse) sure.  ....Let's have a look at it.  Bit Coin is the name brand that you can boast about but... (Jesse turns to follow Erik into the house.)

(Ext. Day  Jesse leaves. Envelope stuffed with grass seed drops onto car seat. Erik happily taps away on computer keyboard in his home office. )

End of Naturalist’s Scene

(Narrator) As we’ve seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you’ve gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done. The owners of ranchettes, with a couple of acres to dozens of acres of wild lands and vineyards, will do well to hire a land management consultant to help new owners live in harmony with their land and neighbors of all stripes.

(Narrator) (cont.) The wise homeowner who gets this far will re-plant with fire-resistant shrubs or native grasses. Even in the poorest soil, this will provide year-round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well.

*****Stay tuned for further scenes from The Cannonball Express. *****

 

 

 

San Mateo County Version

Storyboard Sketches by:

Alex Mizuno
650-758-3009

and

Alison Jeffs
801-360-2817
www.alisonjeffs.com
ali_jeffs@hotmail.com

The Cannonball Express wouldn't be a video project in progress without a completed three act screenplay to condense and paraphrase much of this material. Fortunately, this working document has already been created by Christine Blai. The screenplay provides extra detail like stage direction and camera angles for the director.... but the script makes for better reading. After funding is secured, the screen play will be used to develop a story board that will be the blue print for each take.

Actors say that learning their lines and rehearsing is the real work. Being on stage or in front of the camera is the easy part. Breathing life into the characters described in the script below will be the primary task of the actors and actresses playing these roles. Their professionalism will make all the difference between an adequate video that covers the subject and an effective video that is a pleasure to watch.


Copyright © 1994 by Steven P. Kennedy

Synopsis A docudrama, The Cannonball Express is the story of Jessie and Helen, their dream house in the country and how they learned to protect it from fire.

Beginning of Script

The Cannonbal acoustic guitar theme
was composed by Gerald McMullin...
mp3 file

Title Sequence (Developing Interest) Credits roll...music accompanies a monochrome computer program called BEHAVE Burn Subsection-which shows the flame length tables responding as different values for ambient temperature, wind speed, slope, and fuel loads are entered. Sound track- accompanying clicking sounds of a keyboard.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fire Marshal's narration begins- "This county is a beautiful place isn't it? Where else can you find such beautiful natural scenery so close to the high tech jobs of Silicon Valley? Not surprisingly, many computer professionals have chosen to build big custom homes and live here in the forests, valleys and hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. They say that one man's dream is another man's nightmare and for fire marshals like me, this neighborhood is a billion dollar nightmare waiting to happen. I know from experience that this forest and these homes could all be gone tomorrow. With most working homeowners here concentrating on the next product release, the upcoming quarterly report and the bottom line, we've concluded that a more imaginative approach to fire safety is needed. While this low budget fire safety video can't match the astounding visual effects of a Hollywood blockbuster like, "The Matrix", we all know what it is like to be controlled by forces we cannot name, but sense are omniscient. Having said that, I'll quit preaching to the choir, forego the usual lecture on defensible space and give you something beautiful instead. We're sure that Neo, Trinity and Morpheus would approve. So climb aboard The Cannonball Express and enjoy the show."

Second Narrator: (Voice Over) (Stock black and white footage of a steam train in the distance, color shots of burned land and recovering forests.) Trains are a lot like suburban brush fires. They come and go in the wink of an eye yet the memory of their passing lives on long after the smoke has cleared.


Scene One (Crisis Scenario-Attention getting scene) A peaceful forest with shafts of morning sunlight dappling the forest floor. Sound track-Silverware tapping against dishes, the murmur of conversation and birds chirping in the background. The camera pans to an elegantly dressed couple seated at a dining table placed between the rail station cafe and the forest.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

The table conversation is about forest fires and how "it just can't happen here". And then a steam locomotive thunders by. Their composure is ruined (and we have the full attention of our audience.)


Scene Two (Food for Thought) Narration begins- Trains are a lot like suburban brush fires. They come and go in the wink of an eye yet the memory of their passing lives on long after the smoke has cleared. Nature used to have a way to keep brush fires on schedule, with cool burning, ground hugging fires that seldom caused any alarm to man or beast.


The construction of homes in fire prone areas however, has altered the cycle of nature and put nature's trains way behind schedule. So when nature does roll the train it is the cannonball express. If we choose to heed the lessons of the Oakland Berkeley hills fire of 1991 we can slow down the train and make it stop when and where we want it to. That's the driving force behind a new concept in urban planning called vegetation management. Create a network of low fuel zones where a fire can be stopped before it blows through a suburban neighborhood.


Soon after the devastation of the Oakland Berkeley hills fire of 1991 it became apparent to fire officials that towns and communities nestled around Marin County's Mount Tamalpais were, seasonally at least, in mortal danger.


Where the Indians used to burn the mountain every three to five years there now was a fifty year accumulation of brush. More than enough for a cannonball run. Marin County Water Department officials were concerned that such a major fire would cause a major flood of silt and ash into the reservoirs, reducing their carrying capacity and complicating the water treatment process. Open Space District resource managers were also concerned over the impact a major fire would have on the battered native plant and animal communities.

Given widespread public opposition to control burning it was evident that a new approach was needed. So an environmental analysis and planning firm was hired to lay the foundation for a vegetation management plan or VMP. This ground breaking document, called a base line study, was to determine the nature of the vegetation that once was, its current state, and what was likely to exist in the future given a continuation of current land management practices. The VMP was opened for public review at several community meetings and described how a total of 1100 acres in Marin would be treated, (out of a total study area of 20,000) with control burning to be done on only 300 acres in strategic locations.


While the situation in San Mateo County is similar in regards to the abundance of flammable vegetation wrapped around several different communities, the residents here generally rely on snow melt water imported from the Sierras. San Mateo County creeks generally flow into the Bay or ocean rather than into reservoirs. This effectively removes the San Francisco Water Department as a major player and puts the fuel reduction dilemma into the hands of the people; individual homeowners whose property backs up to a brushy hillside or canyon.

There are, in San Mateo County, inmate work crews run by the Sheriffs Department doing brush removal-fuel reduction projects but they are generally restricted by their budget to working on high priority projects on, or adjacent to, public property such as open space areas, city parks and so forth. Private homeowners whose fire threat arises from land outside the scope of these work crews, must hire independent contractors or do the work themselves. (If you are a homeowner and find inspiration in this film please remember that this video is not an invitation to trespass in the name of environmental heroism. Brush may seem to be more of a liability than an asset but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

Vegetation management wraps up environmental, public safety, viewscape and property value issues in one neat package which, in the larger scheme of things, may make an integrated approach necessary. With this in mind let's meet one of those independent contractors who'll share with us some of the secrets of good vegetation management.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

But first, let's go back to our friends at the restaurant and see how they're doing. (end of narration)


Prologue-Scene Four (Introducing the protagonist)

(Jessie-scowling) Ahh, waiter! What the hell was that?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Waiter-beaming) That was an historic steam engine, Sir. Wasn't she beautiful? Did you miss our announcement?

(Jessie-indignant) What announcement? The waiter could have told us....

((Helen) recovering/pleading) Would you stop that...I'm fine...just a little too much coffee.

(Jessie-angrily) Coffee! Well I don't drink coffee and I'm awake now!


(Helen) calmer but sternly) Jessie, I think its time we had a little talk.....about us.....about our future. I used to think you were such a hopeless romantic. I loved it. You'd take me to the beach....the tide would come in and we'd be stuck for six hours against a cliff on a sliver of beach that kept shrinking. I was young then and rules were made to be broken. Or you'd take me up to Tahoe. ...and of course there's a blizzard and we'd get snowed in for three days....and I'm not done yet....which was fun when we were dating but we're married now and I'm beginning to think I'm outgrowing you.

And now disco man, for reasons I can't figure out, you've doubled my commute time and tossed our life savings into a little place in the country and you know what? You can't even pitch a tent in the damn woods. Well, yuppie scum, let me tell you something, I'll be damned if I want to lose everything we've got to some...forest fire...and start over again with nothing. And now you tell me you can't even get decent fire insurance on this place because the insurance companies have redlined the whole neighborhood. It just doesn't make sense.


(Jessie-thinking fast) They haven't red lined it...they're just limiting their exposure and anyway, Honey, who cares? Don't forget there's Lloyd's of London. Woodside is a great place to raise our family. It is beautiful there and its quiet.....and I know I'm not exactly a boy scout when it comes to nature but hey anybody can learn, right sweet heart?

((Helen) threatening) Yeah, well you better get a good book because.....

(Jessie-Huh, I can do better than that....I've got some friends from volleyball and they'll be glad to....

(Helen) Well give me a report at dinnertime and don't come home drunk....Listen, I've got some errands to run and then I'm going shopping. (She gets up, pulls a bill from her purse) And tip the waiter, ya cheapskate.

(Exits)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie-calling in vain) Helen....all right, so I'll call in a few markers that's all. (to himself) I got friends that know this stuff. I help them fix their computers don't I ? I've gotten their butts out of a jam at least once. (Guilty tone) I knew I should have done it myself instead of walking them through it by phone. If I hadn't been so busy....and they know the house I'm buying is a fire trap. The ad said cozy and quaint didn't it? (With resignation) I should have stayed in Cleveland where all you have to worry about is twisters. (Pulls out cell phone as bus boy clears table.) California you are ...


A Folk Song::                       Listen to a happy tune while you read.


This is a story called, "The Cannonball Express",
a woman called Helen and her flaky husband Jess
and then over breakfast they were having a fight
and this old train gave 'em a terrible fright,
scared that is, sur-prised, heavy metal!

Well, the first thing you know old Jess is Britain Shicks;
should'a spent more time, A HANGING OUT WITH HICKS!
And that's why he learns how to clear some brush
been fighting with his wife-he's in a big rush.
Teo that is, Don Coyne, experts in the field.

This couple bought a house, Lawdy it was grand
their next door neighbor, earned millions in a band
no firemen objected but their friends was all perturbed
'cause their old house was heavily insured.
Cash that is, federal loan guarantees, rebuilding money

Well now its time to clear away the brush and all the weeds
they are being careful for the birds and all the bees
You'll be invited back soon to watch this video
wish Good Luck! to Jess 'cause he'll be a daddy-oh
Jessie Junior that is
healthy set of lungs!
Want some ear plugs?
Ya'll be safe, hear!

(Comin' soon...the MP3 version.)



Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Act One-Scene Four (The Brush Cutter's Lesson)

The camera pans a brushy hillside with a view of suburbia.

(Cliff) Hi Jessie. Pull up a chair. (points to ice chest) Thanks for stopping by. That Windows 2000 is the greatest. Plug and Play is just super. Thanks for helping me out there.

(Jessie) Hey, no problem. (modestly)

(Cliff) (Mops brow with handkerchief) Man, I could use a breather. (Takes sip of water from canteen, sits down at crude table and starts working on a chain saw with a rat tail file.) So, how's the fixer upper?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) Oh, pretty good. It needs work.

(Cliff) Don't they all.


(Jessie) (with resignation) And mine especially. I can think of a lot of things I should have noticed on the first walk through. The worst thing is the wife figures she can paint everything because she's liberated but I'm a city slicker and can't take care of the landscaping. The smoke detector is beeping every two minutes all night long and she's worried about fire danger.

(Cliff) Well try a new battery in the smoke detector and we'll make a six pack gardener out of you yet. Beer?

(Jessie) Thanks but I just had breakfast. Listen, I gotta ask a favor. I need to learn about "habitat values" and fast. She's got this nesting instinct and all the brush around the place makes her nervous.


(Cliff) Well, you came to the right place buddy old pal. Look around you. This place was as bad as yours. If you and your wife work together and do it smart, it'd take, maybe a weekend at most. Three days tops. Then, get a ladder, clean out the rain gutters to keep the sparks away from the rafters and you're through. And it wouldn't hurt to have some plywood covers cut for the windows just in case. Home Depot will do that for you. (Puts file down to gesture) Look at this job...

(Jessie) It makes me tired just looking at it.


(Cliff) Yeah, I figure another three days on this project and I'll have this one clean as a whistle. And then it's on to another project in Los Gatos and then to San Carlos for another. If I didn't have a way to do this methodically I'd be exhausted. Working smart makes me look professional, reliable and indispensable, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, I'm booked solid for weeks. Otherwise, I'd come down and help you out myself.

(Jessie) Well, just tell me how ya do it.


(Cliff) It didn't come easy. Some of these homeowners have handed me projects large enough to experiment with different methods of moving the brush I've cut down to the truck. I usually figure one hour of cutting the brush makes for two hours of loading it up and hauling it away. On this project I've rigged up a cable and pulley system to skid piles of brush across the hillside and then down to my truck. Come on, I'll show you how it works.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Scenes of hauling, winching, and chain sawing through the pile of brush in the dump truck. Cliff returns to table and sits down.)


(Cliff) I just found this to be so much faster than chipping the brush, you know.....one branch at a time (gesturing) "zing-zing".

(Jessie) And chippers are expensive.

(Cliff) Yeah, $300 a day for a trailer mounted one. That's why I prefer hauling it away. No muss no fuss.

(Jessie) And no credit card debt.

(Cliff) Right! Too soon old and too late smart.

(Jessie) And no major erosion from the tractor either. Cliff, I got to hand it to you....

(Cliff) It's just experience, lots of experience. (Pauses to reflect)

Ya know, my business card says I'm a tree cutter but that gives people the wrong impression.

(Jessie) That you're a lumberjack.


(Cliff) When actually I consider myself to be in a growth industry (smiles) called vegetation management. I'm being paid by the homeowner (gestures) to reduce the risk that a fire might roar up the hill and take out his house right?

(Jessie) Right!

(Cliff) We're both members of the Sierra Club right?

(Jessie) Sure

(Cliff) And so we got to take the environment into consideration when I'm deciding what goes and what stays.

(Jessie) Yep!

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Cliff) (Pointing) Take this dead oak for example. It was tall and strong when the Spaniards arrived. When it was a seedling the local Indians weeded around its base and for generations knocked off dead branches with long poles to stimulate growth and harvest the acorns. Now its just firewood but its kind of scenic and it will make for great habitat for San Francisco garter snakes, owls and woodpeckers for the next hundred years. (Heavy branch snaps off with a loud crack! and falls nearby with a thud)

(Jessie) Whoa!

(Cliff) (Angrily to the tree) If it does that again its gonna be a little less scenic!

(Jessie-laughs) Mother nature's revenge.


(Cliff) And there's another. ....poison oak and oak trees. (Heavy sigh) Now there's a combination. I use lanolin on my skin and I usually set up a gravity fed solar heated shower right on the job site.

(Jessie) Good idea.


(Cliff) Fortunately most of the oil that you got to worry about is in the leaves which turn red and then fall off in the winter. If it wasn't for the poison oak I could burn some of this brush in piles but there's a permitting process and its just more hassle than its worth.

(Jessie) More red tape


(Cliff) Yep. When I started on this project it was really brushy here. I've already made several trips to the dump and now its starting to look pretty good. I told the homeowner I could make it look like a park. Look how steep this hill is. When I'm done clearing I'll reseed it with wildflowers in the sunny areas. (Makes throwing motion as if scattering seeds)

(Jessie) That'll look nice


(Cliff) Most of what I've taken out has been scotch broom, poison oak, coyote brush, stickey monkey flower, wild oats and even some English ivy. The scotch broom, the wild oats, and the ivy are the exotics and shoot.... this county loses more plant and wildlife habitat every year to exotic invasives than to developers putting in homes and roads. We just don't have any insects or animals that go to town on broom. It looks nice. Its got a pretty yellow flower that bees like....but it just takes over. And on a hot day the seedpods spread seeds like popcorn popping with a forty year shelf life. Anyway what natives that do grow back here will attract deer and rabbits with succulent new growth.

(Jessie) Oh, my wife just loves seeing the deer.


(Cliff) I'm also trying to ease up on the clearing just short of the property line so it doesn't have that clear cut look. It doesn't bother me that the guy next door wouldn't go for it. A good quilt of cleared and uncleared land makes for patchiness which can be very rich biologically. I have cleared a lot of backyards and I have got a map and database on every one of them. Sooner or later I will be back in the neighborhood. Scotch broom tends to come back quickly from seeds dropped the previous year so I'll make a follow up visit in six months to yank out the volunteers. Five years from now it will be due for a light trim. The only trees I'm eager to take out are the ones that just don't belong.

(Jessie) Like eucalyptus?


(Cliff) Eucalyptus is high on my list. It smells good but its always shedding bark and many native plants just get drowned out by the steady rain of debris. I heard once that eucalyptus created 80% of the fuel that went up in the Oakland Berkeley Hills fire.

(Jessie) I saw that on the news (quick shot of burning eucalyptus forest spliced in). 

(Cliff) They had a run on saws and loppers at hardware stores all over Berkeley the afternoon of the fire. People were madly taking out bushes and trees from around their houses.

(Jessie-sadly) Too little, too late.


(Cliff) And acacia is another beautiful tree but its an exotic and I'll get the owners permission before taking it out. Once the initial clearing has been done the annual vegetation management is easy. There's no real secret to what I do. Just be careful with the tools and watch out for poison oak.

(Jessie) Been there-done that. (To himself....hey she forgot about that one.)


(Cliff) I know many of my customers will do the annual maintenance themselves from now on but I'll keep tabs on them just to make sure it doesn't get away from them. If I touch bases with 'em once in a while its also good word of mouth advertising. Ol' Cliff is the cheapest fire insurance around and you know, a stitch in time does save nine. (stretches and flexes)

(Jessie) Right! And let me know if you need help with a new hard drive or something.

(Cliff) I got your card


(Jessie) And the great thing about computers is that you can send a whole lot of Email at once. Have you ever thought about, you know, doing the whole neighborhood at once?


(Cliff) Yeah, when I get too old and famous to do this I might just organize an old fashioned "burn razing". Right now, there's no shortage of work for a Paul Bunyan like me.... But I would like to get old Ahmed out here with Mario's kid and Mr. Peterson and have a work party some time with watermelon, lemonade and a BBQ.

(Jessie) America...(with thick accent) what a country! (laughs)


(Cliff) Skankey? (pointing to house nearby) (pessimistically) He won't show. (comtemptuosly) He'll hem and haw and then decide to do nothin. I don't think he'll ever get over that false alarm he called in. Sirens, flashing lights, a full haz mat team, the whole bit. Neighbors coming out of the woodwork. He thought he had an electrical fire in his swimming pool's pump house. He said it smelled like burning rubber, or chemicals.

(Jessie) So what was it?

(Cliff) It was a skunk. A stupid skunk.

(Jessie) Nesting?


(Cliff) Yeah, and he'll hibernate through the next great fire unless the earthquake knocks him out of bed first. (Cliff chuckles, picks up gloves...carefully puts them on and ...wearily picks up chainsaw.) And thanks for stopping by.

(Jessie) Thanks for the advice.


(Cliff) Oh and uh....do you hear that engine? Excuse me....I gotta make a quick phone call (picks up portable phone and turns his back to the camera-camera pans trees and focuses on birds rustling in the underbrush) Cliff finishes call and hangs up). I just had to do that. I knew it was him. Why don't you go talk to Don Coyne? I think you know him through Sierra Club volleyball.

(Jessie) You mean "Sky" Don? Plays on the advanced court?


(Cliff) That's him. The guy that sweats so much he has to wring out his shirt. I know the names of some of the native plants. Don eats them. (laughs) But seriously, he's a talented athlete, outdoorsman, and artist. Talk to this guy and Helen will think you're Euell Gibbons. He sells his sculptures, hand carved stuff, out of wood. He's really quite good. He told me he's been trying to reestablish some native grasses in his backyard. Why don't you go have a chat with him...look for his orange van outside and go through the green gate....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) No dueling banjos

(Cliff) No....he's a peaceful guy...don't worry, he's expecting you. It was nice talking to you. And take one of my cards you never know when you are going to need a tree cutter.

(Jessie) Bye

Cliff waves


(end of scene four)

  1. Ozzie's Tree & Yard Service (650) 368-8065
  2. San Carlos Area: Tom Brennan 650-599-9793 or 650-654-1377
  3. Oakland-Berkeley Hills: Fire Safety Clearing Teo Carlone (510) 527-7536
  4. Santa Cruz Mountains: Blair Proctor: 650-747-0256
  5. (Goats by the hundreds): Brea and Robert McGrew 1-916-757-6265
  6. San Jose Area and Southern Alameda County: Cliff Murray 408-927-6979
  7. Let an expert document your big ticket and treasured possessions NOW for fewer post-fire hassles and top dollar reimbursement by your insurance company for your burned (or stolen) possesions . Call M. Breiner at (650) 369-9996. For residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties only!


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Act Two Scene Five

The camera pans a superb view of the canyon and the bay, then slowly approaches-from above and behind, a man working on a hillside with a weed eater, methodically sweeping it back and forth in wide arcs. A bamboo rake and blue plastic tarp lay nearby. A brown mineral block sits dissolving on a log. Don shuts off the weed eater as the camera approaches, picks up the rake, and makes eye contact with the camera.)

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Don) So you found the place huh?

(Don and Jessie shake hands)

(Jessie) Oh, yeah. It was the only orange van on the block.


(Don) That Cliff! Some asshole helps him load Windows 2000 and now he thinks he's a computer wizard. (Mocking voice) I've got plug and play...what have you got Don? Well, I've got a wood chisel and an etch-a-sketch, bone head, and I can make stairways to heaven. So, eat me! (Calming down) Tell me, so you bought this place in the hills...does your wife want to do any gardening?

(Jessie) Well, I suppose. She had a tomato and herb garden at our condo.


(Don) And she likes deer? She won't when her garden disappears in a single night down the hatch of some doe. Hey, there's a reason I built this fence. I've got corn, beans, tomatoes and pumpkins in there. There's deer in this canyon and they're always hungry. The salt block is for them....the garden is for me. I'm at the top of the food chain and my vegetables are not on their menu.

(Jessie) There any cougars in this canyon?


(Don) Not yet. I heard there was a cougar spotted in Belmont last summer. There's occasionally bobcats here, but usually it is just raccoons, tree squirrels, possums, and an occasional mangey coyote... and skunks... nesting right under my neighbor's deck. (points as if to take him closer)


(Jessie) Ah, no thanks. I'd rather go home drunk. Can you tell me something about native grasses....for erosion control, beauty, and fire protection?

(Don) Oh so that's what he wanted me to show you. Stalking the elusive nassella pulchra are you?

(Jessie) I guess, I bought this house in the hills. I guess a fireman would call it a natural born loser.

(Don) It's that bad huh?

(Jessie) Yep, shake roof and the whole bit. Anyway, I want to grow something native under and between the oak trees.

(Don) You're looking for some garden art to set the mood?

(Jessie) I might be. Cliff said you carve wood.

(Don) Yeah, I've been working on a few. I did a cheetah for a guy some time ago. I can carve a whole log into a salmon if you like. I've kinda got a backlog of commissioned pieces right now though. Maybe in a month or two.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) That would be better. Give us time to get settled in.


(Don) I planted some native bunch grass seedlings here last winter as plugs. Some species were grown by a local nursery from seed that I collected and some were already here. They're really hard to reestablish in an area that's been disturbed. The grower says it is all in knowing how the roots of the grasses battle each other while competing for nutrients, symbiotically. (Stoops to add another load onto the tarp)

(Jessie) Disturbed? By cattle grazing?

(Don) Yup, this all used to be just overgrazed range land, believe it or not. I've found cow bones bleaching in the sun just off  the freeway over by the College. (Stops raking and leans on it to reminisce) Once when I was a kid, when we first moved in here, we were driving downtown and there was a guy on the road moving a flock of sheep. Walking along. That was early 60's I guess and long before they put in the freeway. You can barely see it from here. (panoramic shot of canyon and bay-zoom in and out on distant freeway)

There's still old barb wire fences in a lot of these canyons. Along the old land grant property lines. They used redwood for the fence posts, long lasting heartwood, virgin stuff and they may have rotted off at the base but they're still there....covered with moss but still lyin' around and all that wire rusty as hell. So where are you from?

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Jessie) Back East They teach us about the Civil War in grade school there and take us out to Valley Forge. We didn't have tract homes in my neighborhood. It was kind of a hodgepodge.

(Don) Here, history is about the mission system, dying Indians, the gold rush and waves of immigrants flooding in. What do you want to know?

(Jessie) Well, where can I get some native grass seed?


(Don) I have an envelope in the green house with some I can spare. And you can try the Native Plant Society. They hold walks at Edgewood Park and lecture as they go. You might meet some people there and enjoy a nice spring walk with your wife too. I know a lot about native plants but I'm just starting to get into the grasses. The Indians apparently used small portable mortars and pestles to grind up the seeds of grasses and forbs. The Spaniards called this food "Pinole" and named a town after it. I always just assumed that the grasses were natural but noooo it turns out all this thistle-ly stuff came over with the cows and sheep. (Leaning the rake against the fence.)

(Jessie) And now they're everywhere.

(Don) And more exotics coming in all the time. I'm amazed you can still buy the dirty dozen at the local nursery.

(Jessie) You mean you can still buy French broom there?


(Don) That and English ivy. Nothing has gone extinct but it can get depressing if you let it. Anyway, let me show you what I've done so far. This is blue wild rye. It should do well here, on the edge of an oak woodland with plenty of sunshine. They say it provides good forage and cover for wildlife.

(Jessie) Like quail?


(Don) And song birds like meadow larks. It's good for controlling erosion and it tolerates this clayey soil. It should get about waist high. This is California Brome. This one is supposed to be excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds. There's not much that competes with wild oats but this will. For fire protection I've got California Oatgrass, not wild oats mind you...oatgrass. This one stays green late into the summer without watering so it really has to be a hot day before this will burn. If I water it once in a while it never will. Its also the longest lived of the native grasses so it'll be here for awhile. I'm going to plant a lot of this. And this stuff (they pick up the tarp with the pile of mown grass on it) is going straight to the gully. (While walking over)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

This ditch wasn't near this deep when I was a kid. (They dump it in)

And this is just from street run off. See the end of the culvert there?

(Jessie) Yeah

(Don) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire there'd be massive amounts of run off every time it rained and there'd be nothing to throw in there to stop it. I suppose I could drop in a few hay bales but I think I'd have more important things to worry about. Like rebuilding the house.

(Jessie) You have fire insurance?


(Don) Yeah, but it wouldn't cover the contents. If I could burn off just this grass here I'd love to grow a native grass meadow from seed....and it would be beautiful hmmmm but too risky. And fire doesn't kill all the weed seeds either, the ones deep in the dirt. (They return to work area, Don grabs the rake and leans on it) There's a gully across the canyon there that's thirty feet deep with sheer walls. Its like a box canyon. It swallows up whole oak trees like a black hole eats up star dust. Billions and billions...a lot of cubic yards of dirt came out of that one and its still probably choking the steelhead in San Mateo Creek. I'd take you over there but there's a lot of poison oak to wade through...a lot. I guess the time to stop erosion is before it gets serious.

(Jessie) Like the dust bowl days.


(Don) More like LA You know...(pointing towards the bay.) When it rains all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon. It doesn't have a chance to soak into the ground. It's kinda like what happens when you have a bad fire. The soil gets so hot it can form a hydrophobic layer from all the resins in the pine needles.

(Jessie) Like waxed cardboard


(Don) And water can't penetrate it. So it just runs off. That's why LA gets these terrible floods after every major fire. The water can't soak in and there's nothing to hold it. Mud city. Slip sliding away. And then they build a few more houses, it all grows back and they do the whole thing again. Crazy.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) There's got to be a better way.

(Don) Absolutely (Turning back up the trail) I've got to get this tool back to the rental shop before five so I better get back to work. It was nice meeting you. Tell Cliff I said "Get a real job!" and I'll see ya at volleyball.

(Don fires up the weed eater and goes back to mowing down the wild oats).

(Jessie) (loudly over the noise) Thanks for talking to me. I feel like an expert already.

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

Don waves good by.

(end of scene five)

Scene Six


(Return to narrator). As we have seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you've gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done. The wise homeowner who gets this far will avoid leaving "the frying pan for the fire" by re-planting with fire resistant shrubs or native bunch grasses. This will provide year round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well, even in the poorest soils. Let's see how a native plant fancier would simultaneously manage a fuel break for beauty, erosion control, habitat and fire protection. For this seemingly impossible task let's follow Helen and a friend as they do a little shopping at Yerba Buena Nursery in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Woodside.


(End of scene six)

Act Three Scene Seven (The Botanist's Lesson) The camera follows a four door station wagon down Skyline Blvd and then down a winding dirt road past cabins, a pond, a quarry and a barn. The car pulls into a parking stall in front of a white farm house. The camera pans greenhouses, sheds and barns. A woman in a long dress gets out of the car holding a long shopping list. (sound track- Quail calling)


(Claudia) What a beautiful place! I've lived around here for so long and I didn't even know this place was here-tucked back in the woods like this...and I thought I knew all the good places to shop. (giggles) (wistfully) What a cute house. So where is everybody? (she does a few notes of the Twilight Zone theme) Well I guess I'll just have to take a look around. (She pokes her head into a greenhouse with nothing but ferns in it.) (sound track-dripping water) Hello? Nobody here...Hmmm....a fern bar with no IQ and everybody drinking. Deja vu. Let's try down the road a little. (She steps into a quonset hut and the office inside. Hello? Where is everybody? The service here is just terrible. (She sees a "ring bell for service" sign, a brass bell, and grabs the rope and rings it like a cablecar gripman. A woman, dressed in blue jeans, and carrying a cordless phone steps out of a nearby greenhouse.)

(Worker) (approaching and slipping the phone into her pocket.) Good morning...can I help you?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) Why yes....I want to buy some plants. I have a list a fireman gave me.

(Worker) May I...

(Claudia) sure (Hands worker the list)

(Worker) (after studying the list) Hmmm...some of these we have and some we don't. What kind of garden are you trying to grow?

(Claudia) Oh its not a garden....its to protect the house (flustered) you know...from fire. My husband wants good plants outside the fence.

(Worker) Good plants? You mean fire resistant plants? That will hold the soil?

(Claudia) Yes that's it.

(Worker) Yes I think we can help you. About how many square feet?


(Claudia) Well the men came in and.....Our lot is about eighty feet wide....and the area they cleared is about, oh I forget, maybe it goes from here to that big tree. (pointing towards large fir with Spanish moss hanging from the lower branches)

(Worker) fifty feet?

(Claudia) Yeah about that...but its downhill.

(Worker) ok...eighty feet by fifty feet is about 4,000 square feet. One bush for every ten square feet is about four hundred plants.

(Claudia) Oh no...not that many. I'm only driving a station wagon and besides... money doesn't grow on bushes you know. (giggles)

(Worker) well why don't we get a wheelbarrow and get you what you can afford. I've also got some wildflower seed that you can plant yourself.

(Claudia) Oh wonderful...my children will love that. The workmen burned all that brush last week. In long rows....it was stacked like wood. Can we plant the seeds...you know... in the ash?

(Worker) Definitely. That ash is good fertilizer and the heat from the fire sterilizes the soil and kills all the weed seeds.

(Claudia) that blackened scar is so ugly....but I guess they had to do it. There was just so much brush.

(Claudia) (resignedly) The brush will be back and so will the workmen.


(Worker) Right. Brush fires have been part of the California landscape for thousands and thousands of years and you know, we are starting to believe the Indians used fire as a horticultural tool..... to encourage acorn bearing oaks and to discourage conifers and brush. .. Anyway most brush will come back quick after a fire from the crown....the roots are still alive. All the woody plants on this list can be heavily pruned when they get too big and they'll resprout vigorously like nothing happened.

(Claudia) so how long before what they chopped down will be back?

(Worker) Not long. Unless you use a herbicide and poison the roots.... or plant these nearby so they compete for the available sunlight and water.

(Claudia) Oh I think I'd rather plant something. We have children you know. So what do you have that's on the list?

(Worker) We've got the bladderpod... that's over here. (lifting one into the wheelbarrow.) These are five bucks each....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) I'll take four.

(Enter Helen) Hi.... do you mind if I listen in? It sounds like we're in the same boat.

(Worker) Certainly. My name is Karen and I'll be your tour guide today.

(Claudia) Hi I'm Claudia

(Helen) Call me Helen

(Worker) Ok, we've got Sand Hill Sage. Here smell this (tearing off a sprig and crumpling it in her hand)

(Claudia) oh that's wonderful.

(Helen) Such a delicate aroma.

(Worker) And when its in bloom the fragrance is just heavenly. If you don't mind me asking Claudia, where do you live?

(Claudia) Why do you ask?

(Worker) I just wondered if you were in the fog belt.

(Claudia) Oh no, we live up in the hills. We get fog mornings and evenings with the usual afternoon wind.

(Worker) Near the college?

(Claudia) kind of

(Worker) I took classes in ornamental horticulture there. It's a pretty good program. So does this hillside catch the morning sun or the afternoon?

(Claudia) Oh the morning.

(Worker) that puts you on a south facing slope-Fires always burn hotter on the south face of a ridge.

(Claudia) yeah and we're at the top of the hill.

(Worker) that's a double whammy.


(Claudia) I know. My husband insisted we do everything we could to be fire safe. Every month he's up on a ladder cleaning the pine needles out of the rain gutters. He's been trying to talk the neighbors into going in on one of those foam spray trailer mounted thingys. Cover your house and everything with foam.

(Worker) At least he takes it seriously.


(Helen) I'm not sure which direction our house faces because we just bought it. I know my husband cleaned out the fireplace after one of those romantic evenings in front of the fire. The embers were still hot...it caught the paper bag on fire and melted our plastic garbage can.

(Claudia) really?

(Helen) the last of the red hot lovers!
(laughter)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) but you kept him?

(Helen) I guess I have to...somebody has to change the batteries in the smoke detector.
(laughter)

(Worker) well...uhmm here's a plant that does a good job of holding the soil. It will provide cover and food for quail. Did you see our resident flock as you drove in?

(Claudia) No but I heard them. It's such a beautiful sound.

(Worker) That's the male-calling his flock together.

(Claudia) I suppose the Indians had a tale woven around that one...

(Worker) I suppose they did. Anyway this is chapparal currant. One gallon containers are $6 each.

(Claudia) I'll take five. Do you take VISA?

(Worker) of course.....Here are wild strawberry...and stone crops. The strawberry is a herbaceous perennial. It needs a little watering now and then.

(Claudia) that's no problem.

(Worker) The stonecrops are succulents...they offer the best fire retardance and drought resistance.

(Claudia) ok... lets round out the wheel barrow load with those and come back for more.

(Worker) Good idea
(They turn back on a path towards the office)

(Helen) So ahh...you're a long ways from the nearest fire station. What precautions have you taken against fire?

(Worker) Well some of the people here are all for a hot tub or swimming pool...just for a ready reservoir of water you understand.

(Claudia) of course (in mock seriousness)


(Worker) We have a fire evacuation plan if worse comes to worse. We've got porta pumps to drop in the ponds if the electricity goes off and we can't pump water from the well. You've seen all the fire hose we have coiled up. That old house is a fire trap but we've got ladders against the walls in the back in case the roof catches.

(Claudia) You know, just getting fire insurance these days is difficult. They won't write a new policy until someone else drops out.

(Helen) Tell me about it. We can't get fire insurance at all.


(Worker) I'm not privy to all the owner's dealings but there was no problem at all when we told her we wanted to cut plywood shutters for the windows. I guess fires were more common when she was young and everybody cooked with wood. She doesn't burn wood in her fireplace very often but there's a spark arrestor over it just in case. Houses that old can have a chimney fire just from all the creosote build up in the chimney.

(Claudia) chim chim chereee

(Worker) exactly Pay him now or pay him later.

(Helen) I saw a ski cabin once, from the highway, with a ten foot tall blowtorch coming out of the chimney. That was scary.

(Claudia) I bet.

(enter Tim )

(Worker) Here's another wheel barrow. Thank you Tim. (exit Tim) We'll just park this one here and have Kathy total 'em up all at once.

(Claudia) Ok


(Sound effect) A cell phone rings. The worker and Helen both reach for their phones. The call is for Helen, however, and the worker puts hers away. Worker continues talking to Claudia in the background.

(Helen) Hi, Jessie. (pauses-camera close up) That's great honey. (Pauses) I'm up at Yerba Buena Nursery, I'll have some plants for you to put by the fence at the new place....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(camera turns back to Claudia and worker)

(Worker) So we don't worry too much about what's outside the fence. Plants we can regrow. Green houses can be rebuilt. There are a few plants that I'd grab if we had to evacuate but I wouldn't take any chances. Like I said, a fire would just prove how fire adapted these natives are. It'd set us back but we'd recover. I just hope that I'm not the one who has to decide whether to rebuild, replant or relocate. We couldn't do business in a devastated landscape. Families out for a Sunday drive are a good chunk of our business. That is why we put in the tea terrace and the gift shop. We all fear the worst but we hope for the best. It's just one of those things you have to plan for.

(Claudia) You can say that again....Thanks for all your help (exit Claudia with Tim pushing wheelbarrow) (Worker) Now Helen, what can I do for you? (Helen) About the stonecrop.... (fade out)


(end of scene seven)

Epilogue -Scene Eight (Wrapping up the loose ends)

Return to narrator- Helen and Jessie patched up their differences and lived happily ever after in a fire safe home. With a little help from his friends Jessie persuaded Helen that planning for fire is part of the cost of living in a Mediterranean climate. To her credit, Helen convince Jessie that spring house cleaning should include painting the exterior of the house, mowing the lawn, and cutting the brush back. How aggressively you go about it depends on your health, wealth, and emotional attachment to material possessions. To be truly fire safe requires the participation and cooperation of individuals, neighborhoods and local government. As Jessie and Helen have learned, with foresight and careful planning, our homes can be made safer and portions of our cherished native plant and animal communities restored to their former glory. All aboard!

(End of scene eight)

Copyright © 1994 by Steven P. Kennedy


Scene Nine

Fire Marshal's narration begins- "We hope that you high tech professionals have enjoyed this low tech lesson in fire safety and that the story of Jessie and Helen will become part of your personal matrix. Your local fire marshal has additional information that can help you make your home, fire and earthquake safe, and may be willing to make a house call to inspect your yard work. Support your local fire department and give them a call. Thanks for watching. Good luck, best wishes and be fire safe."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

credits and acknowledgments roll as steam train pulls out of the station
with the cast and crew waving and smiling from an open car.

End of scene nine &

End of script

 

 

East Bay Hills Version

Script / Screenplay

Copyright © 1994 by Steven P. Kennedy   Revised 2003

Storyboard Sketches by:

Alex Mizuno
650-758-3009

and

Alison Jeffs
801-360-2817
www.alisonjeffs.com
ali_jeffs@hotmail.com

Synopsis: A docudrama, The Cannonball Express is the story of Jessie and Helen, their dream house in the hills and how they learned to protect it from fire.


The Cannonbal acoustic guitar theme
was composed by Gerald McMullin...
mp3 file


Beginning of Script

Title Sequence (Developing Interest) Credits roll...music accompanies a monochrome computer program called BEHAVE Burn Subsection-which shows the flame length tables responding as different values for ambient temperature, wind speed, slope, and fuel loads are entered. Sound track- accompanying clicking sounds of a keyboard.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fire Marshal's narration begins- "This county is a beautiful place isn't it? Where else can you find such beautiful natural scenery so close to the high tech jobs of Silicon Valley?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Not surprisingly, many computer professionals have chosen to build big custom homes and live here in the forests, valleys and hills of the Diablo Range. They say that one man's dream is another man's nightmare and for fire marshals like me, this neighborhood is a billion dollar nightmare waiting to happen. I know from experience that this forest and these homes could all be gone tomorrow. With most working homeowners here concentrating on the next product release, the upcoming quarterly report and the bottom line, we've concluded that a more imaginative approach to fire safety is needed. While this low budget fire safety video can't match the astounding visual effects of a Hollywood blockbuster like, "The Matrix", we all know what it is like to be controlled by forces we cannot name, but sense are omniscient. Having said that, I'll quit preaching to the choir, forego the usual lecture on defensible space and give you something beautiful instead. We're sure that Neo, Trinity and Morpheus would approve. So climb aboard The Cannonball Express and enjoy the show."

Second Narrator: (Voice Over) (Stock black and white footage of a steam train in the distance, color shots of burned land and recovering forests.) Trains are a lot like suburban brush fires. They come and go in the wink of an eye yet the memory of their passing lives on long after the smoke has cleared.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Prologue-Scene Four (Introducing the protagonist)

(Jessie-scowling) Ahh, waiter! What was that?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Waiter-beaming) That was The Cannonball Express, an historic steam engine, Sir. Wasn't she beautiful? Did you miss our announcement?

(Jessie-indignant) What announcement? The waiter could have told us....

((Helen) recovering/pleading) Would you stop that...I'm fine...just a little too much coffee.

(Jessie-angrily) Coffee! Well I don't drink coffee and I'm awake now!


(Helen) calmer but sternly) Jessie, I think its time we had a little talk.....about us.....about our future. I used to think you were such a hopeless romantic. I loved it. You'd take me to the beach....the tide would come in and we'd be stuck for six hours against a cliff on a sliver of beach that kept shrinking. I was young then and rules were made to be broken. Or you'd take me up to Tahoe. ...and of course there's a blizzard and we'd get snowed in for three days....and I'm not done yet....which was fun when we were dating but we're married now and I'm beginning to think I'm outgrowing you.

And now, for reasons I can't figure out, you've doubled my commute time and tossed our life savings into a little place up in the hills and you know what? You can't even pitch a tent in the woods. Well, let me tell you something, I'd be a fool if  lost everything  to some...forest fire...and had to start over again with nothing. And now you tell me you can't even get decent fire insurance on this place because the insurance companies have redlined the whole neighborhood. It just doesn't make sense.


(Jessie-thinking fast) They haven't red lined it...they're just limiting their exposure and anyway, Honey, who cares? Orinda is a great place to raise our family. It is beautiful there and its quiet.....and I know I'm not exactly a tree hugger when it comes to nature but hey anybody can learn, right sweet heart?

((Helen) threatening) Yeah, well you better get a good book because.....

(Jessie-Huh, I can do better than that....I've got some friends from volleyball and they'll be glad to....

(Helen) Well give me a report at dinnertime and don't come home drunk as a skunk....Listen, I've got some errands to run and then I'm going shopping. (She gets up, pulls a bill from her purse) And tip the waiter, will ya?

(Exits)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie-calling to her in vain) Hel-ennn.... all right, so I'll call in a few markers that's all. (to himself) I got friends that know this stuff. I help them fix their computers don't I ? I've gotten their butts out of a jam at least once. (Guilty tone) I knew I should have done it myself instead of walking them through it by phone. If I hadn't been so busy.... and they know the house I'm buying is a fire trap. The ad said cozy and quaint didn't it? I thought she loved the place. (With resignation) I should have stayed in Cleveland where all you have to worry about is twisters. (Pulls out cell phone as bus boy clears table.) (muttering darkly) California you are a...

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Act One-Scene Four (The Brush Cutter's Lesson)

The camera pans a brushy hillside with a view of suburbia.

(Teo) Hi Jessie. Pull up a chair. (points to ice chest) Thanks for stopping by. That Windows 2000 is the greatest. Plug and Play is just super. Thanks for helping me out there.

(Teo) Hey, no problem. (modestly)

(Teo) (Mops brow with handkerchief) Man, I could use a breather. (Takes sip of water from canteen, sits down at crude table and starts working on a tri-corner weed whacker blade with a mill file.) So, how's the fixer upper?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) Oh, pretty good. It needs work.

(Teo) Don't they all.


(Jessie) (with resignation) And mine especially. I can think of a lot of things I should have noticed on the first walk through. The worst thing is, the wife figures she can paint everything because she's liberated but I'm a lazy city slicker and can't take care of the landscaping. The smoke detector is beeping every two minutes all night long and she's worried about fire danger.

(Teo) Well try a new battery in the smoke detector and we'll make a six  pack gardener out of you yet. Beer?

(Jessie) (Looks at camera mouthing the words, "Me?") Thanks but I just had breakfast. Listen, I gotta ask a favor. I need to learn about "habitat values" and fast. She's got this nesting instinct and all the brush around the place makes her nervous.


(Teo) Well, you came to the right place buddy old pal. Look around you. This place was as bad as yours. If you use just hand tools and  you and your wife work together and do it smart, it'd take, maybe a weekend at most. Three days tops. I could do it for you for a couple hundred bucks but I'm booked solid through mid-September and the County would be on your case by then.  So do the most important thing first. Get a ladder, clean out the rain gutters to keep the sparks away from the rafters, talk to your neighbors and check the yellow pages and the web. And it wouldn't hurt to have some plywood covers cut for the windows just in case. Bring in the dimensions and the clerks at Home Depot will do that for you. (Puts file down to gesture) Look at this job...

(Jessie) It makes me tired just looking at it.


(Teo) Yeah, I figure another three hours on this project and I'll have this one clean as a whistle. And then it's on to another project in Dublin and then to Martinez for another. If I didn't have a way to do this methodically I'd be exhausted. Working smart makes me look professional, reliable and indispensable, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, that's why I'm booked solid for weeks. Otherwise, I'd come down and help you out myself.

(Jessie) Well, just tell me how ya do it.


(Teo) It didn't come easy. Some of these homeowners have handed me projects large enough to experiment with different methods. So when I first look at the lot I'll decide if it can be mulched on site or has to be hauled away, depending on what's growing.  Then, if I decide we're gonna haul it away, I add a couple hours for the labor it takes to haul the brush we've cut down to the truck. I usually figure one hour of cutting the brush makes for two hours of loading it up and hauling it away. On this project I've rigged up a cable and pulley system to skid piles of brush across the hillside and then down to my truck. Come on, I'll show you how it works.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Scenes of hauling, winching, and chain sawing through the pile of brush in the dump truck. Cliff returns to table and sits down.)


(Teo) Sometimes, depending on how heavy the fuel is, I'll weed whack it and leave the twigs and leaves and other chop on top of the soil like a mulch. That's the best technique for winter time erosion control and it does keep the flame lengths down if a fire does come through. I just found this to be so much faster than chipping the brush, you know.....one branch at a time (gesturing) "zing-zing".

(Jessie) And chippers are expensive.

(Teo) Yeah, $300 a day for a trailer mounted one. That's why I prefer hauling it away. No muss no fuss.

(Jessie) And no credit card debt.

(Teo) Right! Too soon old and too late smart.

(Jessie) And no major erosion from the wheels on the trailer either. Teo, I got to hand it to you....

(Teo) It's just experience, lots of experience...... They say there might be Berkeley kangaroo rats around here, which until recently, have been presumed extinct. And then I guess some guy's cat dragged one in and he reported it (after tossing it in the trash of course) to a game warden he met weeks later while out fishing. Duh! So maybe there is and maybe there ain't and maybe Elvis is hanging out with James Dean. One things for sure though.....

(Jessie) What's that?

(Teo) Cats sure kill a lot of wildlife.....songbirds, voles, salamanders, lizards, sea otters. There must be 500 cats per square mile down there on the flats.

(Jessie) Sea otters?

(Teo) You know how doctors say that pregnant women shouldn't empty litter boxes because of toxoplasmosis? A feral cat poops in the sand by the river, the river floods and washes the poop out to the ocean, the otter picks up the disease and hasn't got a chance, what with it's habitat already degraded from over fishing and pesticide residue. Autopsies on mature sea offers have confirmed it. You ever try to stick a pill down the throat of a sea otter?

(Jessie) I'd never thought about that before.

(Teo) So if the local kangaroo rats have slipped through the cracks then good for them. The last thing I'd do if I saw one would be to tell some kid who wants one for his hampster cage........"Look Mom, its a mini 'roo!" (Pauses to reflect)......

  Ya know, my business card says I'm a tree cutter but that gives people the wrong impression.

(Jessie) That you're a not a *&%# disturber?

(Teo) No

(Jessie) That you're a lumberjack with an ax of evil ?


(Teo) Guffaws. No 'cause actually I consider myself to be in a growth industry (smiles) called vegetation management. I'm being paid by the homeowner (gestures) to reduce the risk that a fire might roar up the hill and take out his house right?

(Jessie) Right!

(Teo)  And what ever is there is gonna come back.

(Jessie)  ok

(Teo) And so unless there is some plants or shrubs that the homeowner specifically wants us to work around and is willing to flag with orange streamers, we'll chop and mulch everything. Its kind of a crew cut.

(Jessie) Yep!

Sketch by Alex Mizuno


A Folk Song::                       Listen to a happy tune while you read.


This is a story called, "The Cannonball Express",
a woman called Helen and her flaky husband Jess
and then over breakfast they were having a fight
and this old train gave 'em a terrible fright,
scared that is, sur-prised, heavy metal!

Well, the first thing you know old Jess is Britain Shicks;
should'a spent more time, A HANGING OUT WITH HICKS!
And that's why he learns how to clear some brush
been fighting with his wife-he's in a big rush.
Teo that is, Don Coyne, experts in the field.

This couple bought a house, Lawdy it was grand
their next door neighbor, earned millions in a band
no firemen objected but their friends was all perturbed
'cause their old house was heavily insured.
Cash that is, federal loan guarantees, rebuilding money

Well now its time to clear away the brush and all the weeds
they are being careful for the birds and all the bees
You'll be invited back soon to watch this video
wish Good Luck! to Jess 'cause he'll be a daddy-oh
Jessie Junior that is
healthy set of lungs!
Want some ear plugs?
Ya'll be safe, hear!

Comin' soon...the MP3 version.


(Teo) (Pointing) Take that dead oak  with the streamer on it for example. The homeowner is a bird watcher and history buff and wanted us to leave it in place. His thinking is like this. It was tall and strong when the Spaniards arrived. When it was a seedling, the local Indians weeded around its base and for generations knocked off dead branches with long poles to stimulate growth and harvested the acorns. Now, he tells me that a new pathogen called SODS ahh..Sudden Oak. Death Syndrome has killed it and a couple thousand others in counties all over the State and I shouldn't even haul it away for firewood. So, I'll cut the rest of the  limbs off and lay them across the hillside for erosion control. But the trunk is kind of scenic and it will make for great habitat for snakes, owls and woodpeckers for the next hundred years. I hate to see a great tree die too but that's the way it is now. Never an equilibrium.  Always two organisms in tension with one another.  A whole ecosystem in flux and the natives usually losing out.  (Heavy branch snaps off with a loud crack! and falls nearby with a thud.)

(Jessie) Whoa!

(Teo) (Angrily to the tree) A widow maker. That's the risk I take for being a professional.

(Jessie-laughs) That's Mother Nature. Why didn't we accidentally bring in something that would kill poison oak?


(Teo) Go figure.. .... poison oak and oak trees. (Heavy sigh) Now there's a combination. I use lanolin on my skin and I usually set up a gravity fed solar heated shower right on the job site.

(Jessie) Good idea.


(Teo) Fortunately most of the oil that you got to worry about is in the leaves   which turn red and then fall off in the winter. If it wasn't for the poison oak I could burn some of this brush in piles but there's a permitting process and its just more hassle than its' worth.

(Jessie) More red tape.


(Teo) Yep. When I started on this project it was really brushy here. I've already made several trips to the dump and now  with this weed whacking its' starting to look pretty good. I told the homeowner I could make it look like a park. Look how steep this hill is. When I'm done clearing I'll reseed it with wildflowers in some of the sunny areas. (Makes throwing motion as if scattering seeds). I'll use packets of seeds they got for sale at the Regional Botanical Garden that have been locally gathered by trained botanists rather than get a grab bag at Vinyard Supply that has seed from all over the West and that might just be contaminated with weed seed.

(Jessie) That'll look nice. But the homeowner will have to water them right?


(Teo) Yeah. And most of them forget. I'm not a gardener. I'd rather be a maintenance man. If the homeowner wants natives planted to take the place of weeds and brush then that's extra and I'd rather not mess with it. Most of what I've taken out here has been noxious weeds and it will be back from the seed bank.  The bulk of the fuel load has been Scotch broom, Himalaya berry, poison oak, coyote brush, stickey monkey flower and wild oats. In terms of monocultures, the Scotch broom, the wild oats, and thehimalaya berry are the worst exotics and shoot.... this county loses more plant and wildlife habitat every year to exotic invasives than to developers putting in homes and roads. The birds love to eat those big black berries and so under every power line there is a steady rain of weed seeds in a convenient little fertilizer pack. We just don't have any native insects or animals that go to town on broom. Bug scientists have brought some species over from the old country and released them but there still aren't enough of these bugs to do the job. To do the job right they'd have to bring over a whole ecosystem, nuke the bugs 'til they're sterile and watch to see what else they'd eat. So ahh, broom looks nice. Its got a pretty yellow flower that bees like.... but it just takes over. And on a hot day the seedpods spread seeds with a forty year shelf life like popcorn popping. Anyway, what natives that do grow back here will attract deer and rabbits with succulent new growth.

(Jessie) Oh, my wife just loves seeing the deer.


(Teo) I'm also trying to ease up on the clearing just short of the property line so it doesn't have that stark empty look. It doesn't bother me that the guy next door wouldn't go for it. A good quilt of cleared and uncleared land makes for patchiness which can be very rich biologically. I keep thinking that I'll see an Alameda whip snake some time but I never have. I bet more of 'em get run over by cars than killed by people like me clearin' brush. So they are either very rare, very well camouflaged or very shy. In any case, whipsnakes do better with an open canopy where its sunny and warm enough for them to snack on fence lizards and grass hoppers. If you ever see a black snake with a yellow stripe that tries to impersonate a king cobra-that's a whipsnake and they're not poisonous. So I don't worry about them. If they had thumbs and could hold a pen then I'd sign a safe harbor agreement with them. I don't make them homeless and they don't nip me on the leg. What I'm doing is just a little bit of habitat maintenance for them. Anyway, I have cleared a lot of backyards and I have got a map and database on every one of them. Sooner or later I will be back in the neighborhood. Scotch broom tends to come back quickly from seeds dropped the previous year so I'll make a follow up visit in two years to whack the volunteers. The only trees I'm eager to take out are the ones that just don't belong.

(Jessie) Like eucalyptus?


(Teo) Eucalyptus is high on my list. Biologists have proven that whipsnakes will avoid shaded areas underneath eucalyptus trees just because the shaded areas are too cold. All it takes is a couple of degrees to change a habitat to the point of uselessness. The leaves smells good but it is always shedding bark and many native plants just get drowned out by the steady rain of debris. I heard once that eucalyptus created 80% of the fuel that went up in the Oakland Berkeley Hills fire.

(Jessie) I saw that on the news (quick shot of burning eucalyptus forest spliced in).
 
(Teo) They had a run on saws and loppers at hardware stores all over Berkeley the afternoon of the fire. People were madly taking out bushes and trees from around their houses. That's when opportunity knocked on my door.

(Jessie)  Good timing!


(Teo) And acacia is another beautiful tree but its' an exotic and I'll get the owners permission before taking it out. Once the initial clearing has been done the annual vegetation management is easy. There's no real secret to what I do. A lot of the natives will come back in on their own from the seed bank, birds and squirrels. Just be careful with the power tools and watch out for poison oak.

(Jessie) Been there-done that. (To him self.... hey she forgot about that one!)


(Teo) I know many of my customers will do the annual maintenance themselves from now on but I'll keep tabs on them just to make sure it doesn't get away from them. If I touch bases with 'em once in a while its also good word of mouth advertising. Teo is the cheapest fire insurance around and you know, a stitch in time does save nine.  (stretches and flexes)

(Jessie) Right! And let me know if you need help with a new hard drive or something.

(Teo) I got your number


(Jessie) And the great thing about computers is that you can send a whole lot of Email at once. Have you ever thought about, you know, doing the whole neighborhood at once?


(Teo) I've been thinking about taking some of the projects on the City of Oakland's list. You know, if the homeowner doesn't do it they give him one last chance and then put the work up for bid by guys like me. Then they bill him for it. Right now, there's no shortage of work for an independent like me....

(Jessie)  You mean that you can work any 60 hours of the week you want?


(Teo) At the peak of the season when the days are long and hot, I do. Then it calms down and is really nice in the winter.

(Jessie)  More time for your family.

(Teo)  Yeah, here's a picture of my daughter

(Jessie) Its hard to leave home in the morning, huh?


(Teo) Yeah. (Teo, chuckles, picks up gloves...carefully puts them on and ... picks up his tool and clips into the harness.) And thanks for stopping by.

(Jessie) Thanks for the advice.


(Teo) Oh and uh....do you hear that engine? Excuse me....I gotta make a quick phone call (picks up cell phone and turns his back to the camera-camera pans trees and focuses on birds rustling in the underbrush) Teo finishes call and hangs up). I just had to do that. I knew it was him. Why don't you go talk to Don Coyne? I think you know him through Sierra Club volleyball.

(Jessie) You mean "Sky" Don? Plays on the advanced court?


(Teo) That's him. I know the names of some of the native plants. Don eats them. (laughs) But seriously, he's a talented athlete, outdoorsman, and artist. Talk to this guy and Helen will think you're Euell Gibbons. He sells his sculptures, hand carved stuff, out of wood. He's really quite good. He told me he's been trying to reestablish some native grasses in his backyard. Why don't you go have a chat with him...look for his orange van outside and go through the green gate....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) No dueling banjos

(Teo) No....he's a peaceful guy...  don't worry, he's expecting you. It was nice talking to you. And take one of my cards, you never know when you are going to need a tree cutter.

(Jessie) Bye

Teo waves


(end of scene four)

1.      Tree & Yard Service

2.      Davey Tree

3.      Oakland-Berkeley Hills: Fire Safety Clearing Teo Carlone 510-527-7536

4.       (Goats by the hundreds): Brea and Robert McGrew 1-916-757-6265

5.      San Jose and Southern Alameda County: Cliff Murray 408-927-6979



Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Act Two Scene Five

The camera pans a superb view of the canyon and the bay, then slowly approaches-from above and behind, a man working on a hillside with a weed eater, methodically sweeping it back and forth in wide arcs. A bamboo rake and blue plastic tarp lay nearby. A brown mineral block sits dissolving on a log. Don shuts off the weed eater as the camera approaches, picks up the rake, and makes eye contact with the camera.)

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Don) So you found the place huh?

(Don and Jessie shake hands)

(Jessie) Oh, yeah. It was the only orange van on the block.


(Don) That Teo! Some idiot helps him load Windows 2000 and now he thinks he's a computer wizard. (Mocking voice) I've got plug and play...what have you got Don? Well, I've got a wood chisel and an etch-a-sketch, bone head, and I can make stairways to heaven. So, eat it! (Calming down) Tell me, so you bought this place in the hills...does your wife want to do any gardening?

(Jessie) Well, I suppose. She had a tomato and herb garden at our condo.


(Don) And she likes deer? She won't when her garden disappears in a single night down the hatch of some doe. Hey, there's a reason I built this fence. I've got corn, beans, tomatoes and pumpkins in there. There's deer in this canyon and they're always hungry. The salt block is for them.... the garden is for me. I'm at the top of the food chain and my vegetables are not on their menu.

(Jessie) There any cougars in this canyon?


(Don) Not yet. I heard there was a cougar spotted in Clayton last summer. There's occasionally bobcats here, but usually it is just raccoons, tree squirrels, possums, and an occasional mangey coyote... and skunks... nesting right under my neighbor's deck.  (Don points as if to take him closer)


(Jessie) (Looks straight into camera with pained look on his face) Ah, no thanks. I'd rather go home drunk. Can you tell me something about native grasses....for erosion control, beauty, and fire protection?

(Don) Oh so that's what he wanted me to show you. Stalking the elusive nassella pulchra are you?

(Jessie) I guess, I bought this house in the hills. I guess a fireman would call it a natural born loser.

(Don) It's that bad huh?

(Jessie) Yep, shake roof and the whole bit. Anyway, I want to grow something native under and between the oak trees.

(Don) You're looking for some garden art to set the mood?

(Jessie) I might be. Cliff said you carve wood.


(Don) Yeah, I've been working on a few. I did a cheetah for a guy some time ago.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

I can carve a whole log into a salmon if you like. I've kinda got a backlog of commissioned pieces right now though. Maybe in a month or two.

(Jessie) That would be better. Give us time to get settled in.


(Don) I planted some native bunch grass seedlings here last winter as plugs. Some species were grown by a local nursery from seed that I collected and some were already here. They're really hard to reestablish in an area that's been disturbed. The weed warriors say it is all in knowing how the roots of the grasses battle each other while competing for nutrients, symbiotically. (Stoops to add another load onto the tarp)

(Jessie) Disturbed? By cattle grazing?


(Don) Yup, this all used to be just overgrazed range land, believe it or not. I've found cow bones bleaching in the sun just off the freeway over by the College. (Stops raking and leans on it to reminisce) Once when I was a kid, when we first moved in here, we were driving downtown and there was a guy on the road moving a flock of sheep. Walking along. That was early 60's I guess and long before they put in the freeway. You can barely see it from here. (panoramic shot of canyon and bay-zoom in and out on distant freeway)

There's still old barb wire fences in a lot of these canyons. Along the old land grant property lines. They used redwood for the fence posts, long lasting heartwood, virgin stuff and they may have rotted off at the base but they're still there....covered with moss but still lyin' around and all that wire rusty as hell. So where are you from?

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Jessie) Back East. They taught us about the Founding Fathers and the Civil War in grade school there and took us out to Valley Forge. We didn't have tract homes in my neighborhood. It was kind of a hodgepodge.

(Don) Here, history is about the mission system, dying Indians, the gold rush and waves of land hungry immigrants flooding in. What do you want to know?

(Jessie) Well, where can I get some native grass seed?


(Don) I have an envelope in the green house with some I can spare. And you can try the Native Plant Society. They hold walks throughout the East Bay and lecture as they go. You might meet some nice people there and enjoy a healthy spring stroll with your wife too. I know a lot about native plants but I'm just starting to get into the grasses. The Indians apparently used small portable mortars and pestles to grind up the seeds of grasses and forbs. The Spaniards called this food "Pinole" and named a town after it. I always just assumed that the grasses were natural but no-ooo it turns out all this noxious thistle-ly stuff came over either as a contaminant in alfalfa seed or in the fur of the cows and sheep. Those animals were seed bags with hooves. (Leaning the rake against the fence.)

(Jessie) And now those weeds are everywhere.

(Don) And more exotics coming in all the time. I'm amazed you can still buy a few of the dirty dozen at the local nursery and broom seed over the internet.

(Jessie) You mean you can buy French broom seeds on the web?


(Don) That and a whole lot more in violation of the law.  Nothing has gone extinct recently that I'm aware of but it can get depressing if you let it. Anyway, let me show you what I've done so far. This is basket grass. It gets huge, its easy to grow and should do well here, on the edge of an oak woodland with plenty of sunshine. They say it provides good forage and cover for wildlife.

(Jessie) Like quail?


(Don) And song birds like meadow larks. It's good for controlling erosion and it tolerates this clayey soil. It should get about waist high. This is red fescue. This one is supposed to be excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds. You can even mow it like a lawn. There's not much that competes with wild oats but this will. I'll scrape off the wild oat seeds like a handful of darts in the Spring to give the red fescue a decent chance.

For fire protection I've got Mendocino reed grass. This one has roots that won't rot with over watering, as long as its in a well drained soil. It also stays green late into the summer (if you water it) so it really has to be a hot day before this will burn. It's also the longest lived of the native grasses so it'll be here for awhile. Most native grasses will do best if you can cut them down short to mimic the effects of grazing or burning. They'll resprout greener than before. I'm going to plant a lot of this. And this stuff (they pick up the tarp with the pile of mown grass on it) is going straight to the gully. (While walking over) This ditch wasn't near this deep when I was a kid. (They dump it in)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

And this is just from street run off. See the end of the culvert there?

(Jessie) Yeah


(Don) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire there'd be massive amounts of run off every time it rained and there'd be nothing to throw in there to stop it. I suppose I could drop in a few hay bales but I think I'd have more important things to worry about. Like rebuilding the house.

(Jessie) You have fire insurance?


(Don) Yeah, but it wouldn't cover the contents and all of my art and pictures. I have nightmares about that.  If I could burn off just this grass here I'd love to grow a native grass meadow from scratch....and it would be beautiful hmmmm but too risky. And fire doesn't kill all the weed seeds either, the ones deep in the dirt. Ants will actually carry weed seed down into their burrows.  (The pair returns to the work area, Don grabs the rake and leans on it) There's a gully across the canyon there that's thirty feet deep with sheer walls. Its like a box canyon. It swallows up whole oak trees like a black hole eats up star dust. Billions and billions...a lot of cubic yards of dirt came out of that one and its still probably choking the steelhead in San Pablo Creek. I'd take you over there but there's a lot of poison oak to wade through...a lot. I guess the time to stop erosion is before it gets serious.

(Jessie) Like the dust bowl days.


(Don) More like LA. You know...(pointing towards the bay.) When it rains all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon. It doesn't have a chance to soak into the ground. It's kinda like what happens when you have a bad fire. The soil gets so hot it can form a hydrophobic layer from all the resins in the pine needles.

(Jessie) Like waxed cardboard


(Don) And water can't penetrate it. So it just runs off. That's why LA gets these terrible floods after every major fire. The water can't soak in and there's nothing to hold it. Mud city. Slip sliding away. And then they build a few more houses, it all grows back and they do the whole thing again. Crazy.

(Jessie) There's got to be a better way.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Don) Absolutely (Turning back up the trail) I've got to get this tool back to the rental shop before five so I better get back to work. It was nice meeting you. Tell Cliff I said "Get a real job!" and I'll see ya at volleyball.

(Don fires up the weed eater and goes back to mowing down the wild oats).

(Jessie) (loudly over the noise) Thanks for talking to me. I feel like an expert already.

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

Don waves good by.

(end of scene five)

Scene Six


(Return to narrator). As we have seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you've gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done. The wise homeowner who gets this far will avoid leaving "the frying pan for the fire" by re-planting with fire resistant shrubs or native bunch grasses. This will provide year round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well, even in the poorest soils. Let's see how a native plant fancier would simultaneously manage a fuel break for beauty, erosion control, habitat and fire protection. For this seemingly impossible task let's follow Helen and a friend as they do a little shopping at Native Here Nursery in the hills above Berkeley.


(End of scene six)

Act Three Scene Seven (The Botanist's Lesson) The camera follows a four door station wagon down Grizzly Peak Blvd and then down a winding road past a golf course. The car pulls into a parking stall in front of the Native Here sign. The camera pans picnic tables, sheds and potted plants. A woman in a dress gets out of the car holding a long shopping list. (sound track- Quail calling)


(Claudia) What a beautiful place! I've lived around here for so long and I didn't even know this place was here-tucked back in the woods like this...and I thought I knew all the good places to shop. (giggles) (wistfully) What a nice place. So where is everybody? (she does a few notes of the Twilight Zone theme) Well I guess I'll just have to take a look around. (She pokes her head into a shed with nothing but ferns in it.) (sound track-dripping water) Hello? Nobody here...Hmmm....a fern bar with no IQ and everybody drinking. Deja vu. Let's try down the road a little. (She steps into a shed and sees the office furniture inside. Hello? Where is everybody? The service here is just terrible. (She sees a "ring bell for service" sign, a brass bell, and grabs the rope and rings it like a cablecar gripman. A woman, dressed in blue jeans, and carrying a cordless phone steps out of a nearby greenhouse.)

(Worker) (approaching and slipping the phone into her pocket.) Good morning...can I help you?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) Why yes....I want to buy some plants. I have a list a fireman gave me.

(Worker) May I...

(Claudia) sure (Hands worker the list)

(Worker) (after studying the list) Hmmm...some of these we have and some we don't. What kind of garden are you trying to grow?

(Claudia) Oh its not a garden....its to protect the house (flustered) you know...from fire. My husband wants good plants outside the fence.

(Worker) Good plants? You mean fire resistant plants? That will hold the soil?

(Claudia) Yes that's it.

(Worker) Yes I think we can help you. About how many square feet?


(Claudia) Well the men came in and..... Our lot is about eighty feet wide....and the area they cleared is about, oh I forget, maybe it goes from here to that big tree. (pointing towards large pine)

(Worker) fifty feet?

(Claudia) Yeah about that...but its downhill.

(Worker) ok...eighty feet by fifty feet is about 4,000 square feet. One bush for every ten square feet is about four hundred plants.

(Claudia) Oh no...not that many. I'm only driving a station wagon and besides... money doesn't grow on bushes you know. (giggles)

(Worker) well why don't we get a wheelbarrow and get you what you can afford. I've also got some native wildflower seed that you can plant yourself.

(Claudia) Oh wonderful...my children will love that. The workmen burned all that brush last week. In long rows....it was stacked like wood. Can we plant the seeds...you know... in the ash?

(Worker) Definitely. That ash is good fertilizer and the heat from the fire sterilizes the soil and kills all the weed seeds.

(Claudia) that blackened scar is so ugly....but I guess they had to do it. There was just so much brush.

(Claudia) (resignedly) The brush will be back and so will the workmen.


(Worker) Right. Brush fires have been part of the California landscape for thousands and thousands of years and you know, we are starting to believe the Indians used fire as a horticultural tool..... to encourage acorn bearing oaks and to discourage conifers and brush. .. Anyway most brush will come back quick after a fire from the crown.... the roots are still alive. All the woody plants on this list can be heavily pruned when they get too big and they'll re-sprout vigorously like nothing happened.

(Claudia) so how long before what they chopped down will be back?

(Worker) Not long. Unless you use a herbicide and poison the roots.... or plant these nearby so they compete for the available sunlight and water.

(Claudia) Oh I think I'd rather plant something. We have children you know. So what do you have that's on the list?

(Worker) We've got the bearberry... that's over here. (lifting one into the wheelbarrow.) It needs some summer water. These are five bucks each....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) I'll take four.

(Enter Helen) Hi.... do you mind if I listen in? It sounds like we're in the same boat.

(Worker) Certainly. My name is Karen and I'll be your tour guide today.

(Claudia) Hi I'm Claudia

(Helen) Call me Helen

(Worker) Ok, we've got hummingbird sage. Here smell this (tearing off a sprig and crumpling it in her hand)

(Claudia) oh that's wonderful.

(Helen)   Such a delicate aroma.

(Worker) And when its in bloom the fragrance is just heavenly. If you don't mind me asking Claudia, where do you live?

(Claudia) Why do you ask?

(Worker) Well, if you live near the Huckleberry Preserve then I don't want to sell you a garden variety, dwarf manzanita that will hybridize with a population of A. Pallida, a rare and endangered species occurring there. That would defeat the whole purpose, or at least the conservation aspect, of gardening with California natives. These subspecies took millennia to evolve these unique adaptations to local climate and soil types and it would be a shame to lose that biodiversity in a botanical heartbeat.

(Claudia) I thought biodiversity was a buzz word for preventing extinction.

(Worker) There is a lot more to it than that. (pauses) Do you live in the fog belt?

(Claudia) Well, we are up in the hills but nowhere near the Huckleberry Preserve. At least 10 miles further south, I'd say. We get fog mornings and evenings, with the usual afternoon wind.

(Worker) Near the college?

(Claudia) Kind of

(Worker) I took classes in ornamental horticulture there. It's a pretty good program. So does this hillside catch the morning sun or the afternoon?

(Claudia) Oh the morning.

(Worker) that puts you on a south facing slope-Fires always burn hotter on the south face of a ridge.

(Claudia) yeah and we're at the top of the gulch.

(Worker) that's a double whammy.


(Claudia) I know. My husband insisted we do everything we could to be fire safe. Every month he's up on a ladder cleaning the pine needles out of the rain gutters. He's been trying to talk the neighbors into going in on one of those foam spray trailer mounted thingys. Cover your house and everything with foam.

(Worker) At least he takes it seriously.


(Helen) I'm not sure which direction our house faces because we just bought it. I know my husband cleaned out the fireplace after one of those romantic evenings in front of the fire. The embers were still hot...it caught the paper bag on fire and melted our plastic garbage can.

(Claudia) really?

(laughter)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) but you kept him?

(Helen) I guess I have to...somebody has to change the batteries in the smoke detector.
(laughter)

(Worker) well...uhmm here's a plant that does a good job of holding the soil. It will provide cover and food for quail. Did you see our resident flock as you drove in?

(Claudia) No but I heard them. It's such a beautiful sound.

(Worker) That's the male-calling his flock together.

(Claudia) I suppose the Indians had a tale woven around that one...

(Worker) I suppose they did. Anyway this is a coral bell. It is very drought tolerant, its fine under oakss and grows well with Pacific Coast iris. One gallon containers are $6 each.

(Claudia) I'll take five. Do you take checks?

(Worker) of course.....Here are coast buck brush, a plant that is hard to find in nurseries...and California fuschia. The buck brush is a low mounding shrub that won't block your views.

(Claudia) that's good.

(Worker) The fuschia sports brilliant scarlet flowers in late summer.

(Claudia) ok... lets round out the wheel barrow load with those and come back for more.

(Worker) Good idea
(They turn back on a path towards the office)

(Helen) So ahh...you're a long ways from the nearest fire station. What precautions have you taken against fire?

(Worker) Well some of the people here are all for a hot tub or swimming pool...just for a ready reservoir of water you understand.

(Claudia) of course (in mock seriousness)


(Worker) We have a fire evacuation plan if worse comes to worse. We've got fire extinguishers in case a car erupts into flame. We've got two back pumps to catch spot fires if it starts snowing embers and some buckets..plus we got a lot of garden hose, some lawn sprinklers and several spigots.

(Claudia) You know, just getting fire insurance these days is difficult. They won't write a new policy until someone else drops out.

(Helen) Tell me about it. We can't get fire insurance at all.


(enter Tim)

(Worker) Here's another wheel barrow. Thank you Tim. (exit Tim) We'll just park this one here and have Charli total 'em up all at once.

(Claudia) Ok


(Sound effect) A cell phone rings. The worker and Helen both reach for their phones. The call is for Helen, however, and the worker puts hers away. Worker continues talking to Claudia in the background.

(Helen) Hi, Jessie. (pauses-camera close up) That's great honey. (Pauses) I'm up at Native Here Nursery, I'll have some plants for you to put by the deck at new place....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(camera turns back to Claudia and worker)

(Worker) So we don't worry too much about what's outside the fence. Plants we can re-grow. Sheds can be rebuilt. There are a few plants that I'd grab if we had to evacuate but I wouldn't take any chances. Like I said, a fire would just prove how fire adapted these natives are. It'd set us back but we'd recover. I just hope that I'm not the one who has to decide whether to rebuild, replant or relocate. We couldn't do business in a devastated landscape. Families out for a Sunday drive are a  good chunk of our business. We all fear the worst but we hope for the best. It's just one of those things you have to plan for.

(Claudia) You can say that again....Thanks for all your help (exit Claudia with Tim pushing wheelbarrow) (Worker) Now Helen, what can I do for you? (Helen) About the fuschia.... (fade out)


(end of scene seven)

Epilogue -Scene Eight (Wrapping up the loose ends)

Return to narrator- Helen and Jessie patched up their differences and lived happily ever after in a fire safe home. With a little help from his friends Jessie persuaded Helen that planning for wild fire is part of the cost of living in a Mediterranean climate. To her credit, Helen convinced Jessie that spring house cleaning should include painting the exterior of the house, cleaning out the rain gutters and cutting the brush back. How aggressively you go about it depends on your health, wealth, and emotional attachment to material possessions. To be truly fire safe requires the participation and cooperation of individuals, neighborhoods and local government. As Jessie and Helen have learned, with foresight and careful planning, our homes can be made safer and portions of our cherished native plant and animal communities restored to their former glory. All aboard!

(End of scene eight)

Copyright © 1994 by Steven P. Kennedy


Scene Nine

Fire Marshal's narration begins- "We hope that you high tech professionals have enjoyed this low tech lesson in fire safety and that the story of Jessie and Helen will become part of your personal matrix. Your local fire marshal has additional information that can help you make your home, fire and earthquake safe, and may be willing to make a house call to inspect your yard work. Support your local fire department and give them a call. Thanks for watching. Good luck, best wishes and be fire safe."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

credits and acknowledgments roll as steam train pulls out of the station
with the cast and crew waving and smiling from an open car.

End of scene nine &

End of script

 

 

 

Santa Cruz County Version

Production Notes:

The Cannonball Express has come a long way (no pun intended) since the original script was written in 1993. This web site was built with the script as its foundation.

Actors say that learning their lines and rehearsing is the real work. Being on stage or in front of the camera is the easy part. Breathing life into the characters described in the script below will be the primary task of the actors and actresses playing these roles. Their professionalism will make all the difference between an adequate video that covers the subject and an effective video that is a pleasure to watch.


Storyboard Sketches by:

Alex Mizuno
650-758-3009

and

Alison Jeffs
801-360-2817
www.alisonjeffs.com
ali_jeffs@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2003 by Steven P. Kennedy

Synopsis A docudrama, The Cannonball Express is the story of Jessie and Helen, their dream house in the Santa Cruz mountains and how they learned to protect it from fire.

Beginning of Script

Title Sequence (Developing Interest) Credits roll...music accompanies a monochrome computer program called BEHAVE Burn Subsection-which shows the flame length tables responding as different values for ambient temperature, wind speed, slope, and fuel loads are entered. Sound track- accompanying clicking sounds of a keyboard.


Fire Marshal's narration begins- "This county is a beautiful place isn't it? Where else can you find such beautiful natural scenery so close to the high tech jobs of Silicon Valley? Not surprisingly, many computer professionals have chosen to build big custom homes and live here in the forests, valleys and hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. They say that one man's dream is another man's nightmare and for fire marshals like me, this neighborhood is a billion dollar nightmare waiting to happen. I know from experience that this forest and these homes could all be gone tomorrow. With most working homeowners here concentrating on the next product release, the upcoming quarterly report and the bottom line, we've concluded that a more imaginative approach to fire safety is needed. While this low budget fire safety video can't match the astounding visual effects of a Hollywood blockbuster like, "The Matrix", we all know what it is like to be controlled by forces we cannot name, but sense are omniscient. Having said that, I'll quit preaching to the choir, forego the usual lecture on defensible space and give you something beautiful instead. We're sure that Neo, Trinity and Morpheus would approve. So climb aboard The Cannonball Express and enjoy the show."

Second Narrator: (Voice Over) (Stock black and white footage of a steam train in the distance, color shots of burned land and recovering forests.) Trains are a lot like suburban brush fires. They come and go in the wink of an eye yet the memory of their passing lives on long after the smoke has cleared.


Nature used to have a way to keep brush fires on schedule, with cool burning, ground hugging fires that seldom caused any alarm to man or beast.


The construction of homes in fire prone areas however, has altered the cycle of nature and put nature's trains way behind schedule. So when nature does roll the train, it is the cannonball express. If we choose to heed the lessons of the Oakland Berkeley hills fire of 1991 we can slow down the train and make it stop when and where we want it to. That's the driving force behind a new concept in urban planning called vegetation management. ie Create a network of low fuel zones where a fire can be stopped before it blows through a suburban neighborhood.


Soon after the devastation of the Oakland Berkeley hills fire of 1991 it became apparent to fire officials that towns and communities nestled around Marin County's Mount Tamalpais were, seasonally at least, in mortal danger.


Where the Indians used to burn the mountain every three to five years there now was a fifty year accumulation of brush. More than enough for a cannonball run. Marin County Water Department officials were concerned that such a major fire would cause a major flood of silt and ash into the reservoirs, reducing their carrying capacity and complicating the water treatment process. Open Space District resource managers were also concerned over the impact a major fire would have on the battered native plant and animal communities.

Given widespread public opposition to control burning it was evident that a new approach was needed. So an environmental analysis and planning firm was hired to lay the foundation for a vegetation management plan or VMP. This ground breaking document, called a base line study, was to determine the nature of the vegetation that once was, its current state, and what was likely to exist in the future given a continuation of current land management practices. The VMP was opened for public review at several community meetings and described how a total of 1100 acres in Marin would be treated, (out of a total study area of 20,000) with control burning to be done on only 300 acres in strategic locations.


While the situation in Santa Cruz County is similar in regards to the abundance of flammable vegetation wrapped around several different communities, the residents here generally rely on well water. Santa Cruz County creeks generally flow into Monterrey Bay rather than into reservoirs. This effectively removes the water department as a major player and puts the fuel reduction dilemma into the hands of the people; individual homeowners whose property backs up to a brushy hillside or canyon.

There are, in Santa Cruz County, inmate work crews run by the Sheriffs Department doing brush removal-fuel reduction projects but they are generally restricted by their budget to working on high priority projects on, or adjacent to, public property such as open space areas, city parks and so forth. Private homeowners whose fire threat arises from land outside the scope of these work crews, must hire independent contractors or do the work themselves. (If you are a homeowner and find inspiration in this film please remember that this video is not an invitation to trespass in the name of environmental heroism. Brush may seem to be more of a liability than an asset but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

Vegetation management wraps up environmental, public safety, viewscape and property value issues in one neat package which, in the larger scheme of things, may make an integrated approach necessary. With this in mind let's meet one of those independent contractors who'll share with us some of the secrets of good vegetation management. But first, let's go back to our friends at the restaurant and see how they're doing. (end of narration)



Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Set Description (Crisis Scenario-Attention Getting Scene) A peaceful forest with shafts of morning sunlight dappling the forest floor. Sound track-Silverware tapping against dishes, the murmur of conversation and birds chirping in the background.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

The camera pans to an elegantly dressed couple seated at a dining table placed between the rail station cafe and the forest. The table conversation is about forest fires and how "it just can't happen here". And then a steam locomotive thunders by. Their composure is ruined (and we have the full attention of our audience.)

Scene One (Introducing the protagonist)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie-scowling) Ahh, waiter! What the hell was that?

(Waiter-beaming) That was Roaring Camp Railroad’s historic steam engine, Sir. Wasn't she beautiful? Did you miss our announcement?

(Jessie-indignant) What announcement? The waiter could have told us....

((Helen) recovering/pleading) Would you stop that...I'm fine...just a little too much coffee.

(Jessie-angrily) Coffee! Well I don't drink coffee and I'm awake now!


(Helen) calmer but sternly) Jessie, I think its time we had a little talk.....about us.....about our future. I used to think you were such a hopeless romantic. I loved it. You'd take me to the beach....the tide would come in and we'd be stuck for six hours against a cliff on a sliver of beach that kept shrinking. I was young then and rules were made to be broken. Or you'd take me up to Tahoe. ...and of course there's a blizzard and we'd get snowed in for three days....and I'm not done yet....which was fun when we were dating but we're married now and I'm beginning to think I'm outgrowing you.

And now disco man, for reasons I can't figure out, you've doubled my commute time going over the hill and tossed our life savings into a little place in the country and you know what? You can't even pitch a tent in the damn woods. Well, yuppie scum, let me tell you something, I'll be damned if I want to lose everything we've got to some...forest fire...and start over again with nothing. And now you tell me you can't even get decent fire insurance on this place because the insurance companies have redlined the whole neighborhood. It just doesn't make sense.


(Jessie-thinking fast) They haven't red lined it...they're just limiting their exposure and anyway, Honey, who cares? Don't forget there's Lloyd's of London. Felton is a great place to raise our family. It is beautiful there and its quiet.....and I know I'm not exactly a boy scout when it comes to nature but hey anybody can learn, right sweet heart?

((Helen) threatening) Yeah, well you better get a good book because.....

(Jessie-Huh, I can do better than that....I've got some friends from volleyball and they'll be glad to....

(Helen) Well give me a report at dinnertime and don't come home drunk....Listen, I've got some errands to run and then I'm going shopping. (She gets up, pulls a bill from her purse) And tip the waiter, ya cheapskate.

(Exits)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie-calling in vain) Helen....all right, so I'll call in a few markers that's all. (to himself) I got friends that know this stuff. I help them fix their computers don't I ? I've gotten their butts out of a jam at least once. (Guilty tone) I knew I should have done it myself instead of walking them through it by phone. If I hadn't been so busy....and they know the house I'm buying is a fire trap. The ad said cozy and quaint didn't it? (With resignation) I should have stayed in Cleveland where all you have to worry about is twisters. (Pulls out cell phone as bus boy clears table.) California you are ...

Listen to a happy tune while you read.

A Parody of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” by Paul Henning

Come 'n' listen to my story 'bout a man named Jess,
A poor technician, always kept his wife in stress.
Out one day he was pullin' at some wire...
When over the hill came a boilin’ fire.
Fire storm that is...black smoke...Charing Cross Road...

Well, the first thing you know old Jess is droppin' bricks.
Should'a spent more time a-hanging out with hicks.
And that's why he leaned how to clear some brush....
Been fightin’ with his wife - he's in a big rush.
Cliff that is...Don Coyne...experts in the field.

(Comin' soon...the MP3 version.)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Scene Two (The Brush Cutter's Lesson)

The camera pans a brushy hillside with a view of suburbia.

(Cliff) Hi Jessie. Pull up a chair. (points to ice chest) Thanks for stopping by. That Windows 2000 is the greatest. Plug and Play is just super. Thanks for helping me out there.

(Jessie) Hey, no problem. (modestly)

(Cliff) (Mops brow with handkerchief) Man, its warm today. (Takes sip of water from canteen, sits down at crude table and starts working on a chain saw with a rat tail file.) So, how's the fixer upper?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) Oh, pretty good. It needs work.

(Cliff) Don't they all.


(Jessie) (with resignation) And mine especially. I can think of a lot of things I should have noticed on the first walk through. The worst thing is the wife figures she can paint everything because she's liberated but I'm a city slicker and can't take care of the landscaping. The smoke detector is beeping every two minutes all night long and she's worried about fire danger.

(Cliff) Well try a new battery in the smoke detector and we'll make a six pack gardener out of you yet. Beer?

(Jessie) Thanks but I just had breakfast. Listen, I gotta ask a favor. I need to learn about "habitat values" and fast. She's got this nesting instinct and all the brush around the place makes her nervous.


(Cliff) Well, you came to the right place buddy old pal. Look around you. This place was as bad as yours. If you and your wife work together and do it smart, it'd take, maybe a weekend at most. Three days tops. Then, get a ladder, clean out the rain gutters to keep the sparks away from the rafters and you're through. And it wouldn't hurt to have some plywood covers cut for the windows just in case. Home Depot will cut them to size for you. (Puts file down to gesture) Look at this job...

(Jessie) It makes me tired just looking at it.


(Cliff) Yeah, I figure another three hours on this project and I'll have this one clean as a whistle. And then it's on to another project in Scotts Valley and then to Corralitos for another. If I didn't have a way to do this methodically I'd be exhausted. Working smart makes me look professional, reliable and indispensable, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, I'm booked solid for weeks. Otherwise, I'd come down and help you out myself.

(Jessie) Well, just tell me how ya do it.


(Cliff) It didn't come easy. Some of these homeowners have handed me projects large enough to experiment with different methods of moving the brush I've cut down to the truck. I usually figure one hour of cutting the brush makes for two hours of loading it up and hauling it away. On this project I've rigged up a cable and pulley system to skid piles of brush across the hillside and then down to my truck. Come on, I'll show you how it works.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Scenes of hauling, winching, and chain sawing through the pile of brush in the dump truck. Cliff returns to table and sits down.)


(Cliff) I just found this to be so much faster than chipping the brush, you know.....one branch at a time (gesturing) "zing-zing".

(Jessie) And chippers are expensive.

(Cliff) Yeah, $300 a day for a trailer mounted one. That's why I prefer hauling it away. No muss no fuss.

(Jessie) And no credit card debt.

(Cliff) Right! Too soon old and too late smart.

(Jessie) And no major erosion from the tractor either. Cliff, I got to hand it to you....

(Cliff) It's just experience, lots of experience. (Pauses to reflect)

Ya know, my business card says I'm a tree cutter but that gives people the wrong impression.

(Jessie) That you're a lumberjack.


(Cliff) When actually I consider myself to be in a growth industry (smiles) called vegetation management. I'm being paid by the homeowner (gestures) to reduce the risk that a fire might roar up the hill and take out his house right?

(Jessie) Right!

(Cliff) We're both members of the Sierra Club right?

(Jessie) Sure

(Cliff) And so we got to take the environment into consideration when I'm deciding what goes and what stays.

(Jessie) Yep!

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Cliff) (Pointing) Take this dead oak for example. It was tall and strong when the Spaniards arrived. Now the Sudden Oak Death syndrome has killed it and it shouldn’t even be hauled away for firewood. When it was a seedling the local Indians weeded around its base and for generations knocked off dead branches with long poles to stimulate growth and harvest the acorns. Anyway, its kind of scenic and it will make for great habitat for garter snakes, owls and woodpeckers for the next hundred years. (Heavy branch snaps off with a loud crack! and falls nearby with a thud)

(Jessie) Whoa!

(Cliff) (Angrily to the tree) If it does that again its gonna be a little less scenic!

(Jessie-laughs) Mother nature's revenge.


(Cliff) And there's another. ....poison oak and oak trees. (Heavy sigh) Now there's a combination. I use lanolin on my skin and I usually set up a gravity fed solar heated shower right on the job site.

(Jessie) Good idea.


(Cliff) Fortunately most of the oil that you got to worry about is in the leaves which turn red and then fall off in the winter. If it wasn't for the poison oak I could burn some of this brush in piles but there's a permitting process and its just more hassle than it’s worth.

(Jessie) More red tape


(Cliff) Yep. When I started on this project it was really brushy here. I've already made several trips to the dump and now it’s starting to look pretty good. I told the homeowner I could make it look like a park. Look how steep this hill is. When I'm done clearing I'll reseed it with wildflowers in the sunny areas. (Makes throwing motion as if scattering seeds)

(Jessie) That'll look nice


(Cliff) Most of what I've taken out has been scotch broom, poison oak, coyote brush, sticky monkey flower, wild oats and even some English ivy. The scotch broom, the wild oats, and the ivy are the exotics and shoot.... this county loses more plant and wildlife habitat every year to exotic invasives than to developers putting in homes and roads. We just don't have any insects or animals that go to town on broom. It looks nice. Its got a pretty yellow flower that bees like....but it just takes over. And on a hot day the seedpods spread seeds like popcorn popping with a forty year shelf life. Anyway what natives that do grow back here will attract deer and rabbits with succulent new growth.

(Jessie) Oh, my wife just loves seeing the deer.


(Cliff) I'm also trying to ease up on the clearing just short of the property line so it doesn't have that clear cut look. It doesn't bother me that the guy next door wouldn't go for it. A good quilt of cleared and uncleared land makes for patchiness which can be very rich biologically. I have cleared a lot of backyards and I have got a map and database on every one of them. Sooner or later I will be back in the neighborhood. Scotch broom tends to come back quickly from seeds dropped the previous year so I'll make a follow up visit in six months to yank out the volunteers. Five years from now it will be due for a light trim. The only trees I'm eager to take out are the ones that just don't belong.

(Jessie) Like eucalyptus?


(Cliff) Eucalyptus is high on my list. It smells good but its always shedding bark and many native plants just get drowned out by the steady rain of debris. I heard once that eucalyptus created 80% of the fuel that went up in the Oakland Berkeley Hills fire.

(Jessie) I saw that on the news (quick shot of burning eucalyptus forest spliced in).(Cliff) They had a run on saws and loppers at hardware stores all over Berkeley the afternoon of the fire. People were madly taking out bushes and trees from around their houses.

(Jessie-sadly) Too little, too late.


(Cliff) And acacia is another beautiful tree but it’s an exotic and I'll get the owners permission before taking it out. Once the initial clearing has been done the annual vegetation management is easy. There's no real secret to what I do. Just be careful with the tools and watch out for poison oak.

(Jessie) Been there-done that. (To himself....hey she forgot about that one.)


(Cliff) I know many of my customers will do the annual maintenance themselves from now on but I'll keep tabs on them just to make sure it doesn't get away from them. If I touch bases with 'em once in a while its also good word of mouth advertising. Ol' Cliff is the cheapest fire insurance around and you know, a stitch in time does save nine. (stretches and flexes)

(Jessie) Right! And let me know if you need help with a new hard drive or something.

(Cliff) I got your card


(Jessie) And the great thing about computers is that you can send a whole lot of Email at once. Have you ever thought about, you know, doing the whole neighborhood at once?


(Cliff) Yeah, when I get too old and famous to do this I might just organize an old fashioned "burn razing". Right now, there's no shortage of work for a Paul Bunyan like me.... But I would like to get old Manuel out here with Mario's kid and Mr. Peterson and have a work party some time with watermelon, lemonade and a BBQ.

(Jessie) America...(with thick accent) what a country! (laughs)


(Cliff) Skankey? (pointing to house nearby) (pessimistically) He won't show. (with comtempt) He'll hem and haw and then decide to do nothin’. I don't think he'll ever get over that false alarm he called in. Sirens, flashing lights, a full haz mat team, the whole bit. Neighbors coming out of the woodwork. He thought he had an electrical fire in his swimming pool's pump house. He said it smelled like burning rubber, or chemicals.

(Jessie) So what was it?

(Cliff) It was a skunk. A stupid skunk.

(Jessie) Nesting?


(Cliff) Yeah, and he'll hibernate through the next great fire unless the earthquake knocks him out of bed first. (Cliff chuckles, picks up gloves...carefully puts them on and ...wearily picks up chainsaw.) And thanks for stopping by.

(Jessie) Thanks for the advice.


(Cliff) Oh and uh....do you hear that engine? Excuse me....I gotta make a quick phone call (picks up portable phone and turns his back to the camera-camera pans trees and focuses on birds rustling in the underbrush) Cliff finishes call and hangs up). I just had to do that. I knew it was him. Why don't you go talk to Don Coyne? I think you know him through Sierra Club volleyball.

(Jessie) You mean "Sky" Don? Plays on the advanced court?


(Cliff) That's him. The guy that sweats so much he has to wring out his shirt. I know the names of some of the native plants. Don eats them. (laughs) But seriously, he's a talented athlete, outdoorsman, and artist. Talk to this guy and Helen will think you're Euell Gibbons. He sells his sculptures, hand carved stuff, out of wood. He's really quite good. He told me he's been trying to reestablish some native grasses in his backyard. Why don't you go have a chat with him...look for his orange van outside and go through the green gate....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) No dueling banjos?


(Cliff) No....he's a peaceful guy...don't worry, he's expecting you. It was nice talking to you. And take one of my cards you never know when you are going to need a tree cutter.

(Jessie) Bye

Cliff waves


(end of scene two)

Ozzie's Tree & Yard Service (650) 368-8065
San Carlos Area: Tom Brennan 650-599-9793 or 650-654-1377
Oakland-Berkeley Hills: Fire Safety Clearing Teo Carlone (510) 527-7536
Santa Cruz Mountains: Blair Proctor: 650-747-0256
(Goats by the hundreds): Brea and Robert McGrew 1-916-757-6265
San Jose Area and Southern Alameda County: Cliff Murray 408-927-6979



Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Scene Three

The camera pans a superb view of the canyon and the bay, then slowly approaches-from above and behind, a man working on a hillside with a weed eater, methodically sweeping it back and forth in wide arcs. A bamboo rake and blue plastic tarp lay nearby. A brown mineral block sits dissolving on a log. Don shuts off the weed eater as the camera approaches, picks up the rake, and makes eye contact with the camera.)

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Don) So you found the place huh?

(Don and Jessie shake hands)

(Jessie) Oh, yeah. It was the only orange van on the block.


(Don) That Cliff! Some fool helps him load Windows 2000 and now he thinks he's a computer wizard. (Mocking voice) I've got plug and play...what have you got Don? Well, I've got a wood chisel and an Etch-a-Sketch, bone head, and I can make stairways to heaven. So, eat it! (Calming down) Tell me, so you bought this place in the hills...does your wife want to do any gardening?

(Jessie) Well, I suppose. She had a tomato and herb garden at our condo.


(Don) And she likes deer? She won't when her garden disappears in a single night down the hatch of some doe. Hey, there's a reason I built this fence. I've got corn, beans, tomatoes and pumpkins in there. There's deer in this canyon and they're always hungry. The salt block is for them....the garden is for me. I'm at the top of the food chain and my vegetables are not on their menu.

(Jessie) There any cougars in this canyon?


(Don) Not yet. I heard there was a cougar spotted in Swanton last summer. There's occasionally bobcats here, but usually it is just raccoons, tree squirrels, possums, and an occasional mangey coyote... and skunks... nesting right under my neighbor's deck. (points as if to take him closer)


(Jessie) Ah, no thanks. I'd rather go home drunk. Can you tell me something about native grasses....for erosion control, beauty, and fire protection?

(Don) Oh so that's what he wanted me to show you. Stalking the elusive nassella pulchra are you?

(Jessie) I guess, I bought this house in the hills. I guess a fireman would call it a natural born loser.

(Don) It's that bad huh?

(Jessie) Yep, shake roof and the whole bit. Anyway, I want to grow something native under and between the oak trees.

(Don) You're looking for some garden art to set the mood?

(Jessie) I might be. Cliff said you carve wood.


(Don) Yeah, I've been working on a few. I did a cheetah for a guy some time ago. I can carve a whole log into a salmon if you like. I've kinda got a backlog of commissioned pieces right now though. Maybe in a month or two.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jessie) That would be better. Give us time to get settled in.


(Don) I planted some native bunch grass seedlings here last winter as plugs. Some species were grown by a nursery called Central Coast Wilds from seed that I collected and some were already here. They're really hard to reestablish in an area that's been disturbed. The grower says it is all in knowing how the roots of the grasses battle each other while competing for nutrients, symbiotically. (Stoops to add another load onto the tarp)

(Jessie) Disturbed? By cattle grazing?


(Don) Yup, this all used to be just overgrazed range land, believe it or not. I've found cow bones bleaching in the sun just off the freeway over by the College. (Stops raking and leans on it to reminisce) Once when I was a kid, when we first moved in here, we were driving downtown and there was a guy on the road moving a flock of sheep. Walking along. That was early 60's I guess and long before they put in the freeway. You can barely see it from here. (panoramic shot of canyon and bay-zoom in and out on distant freeway)

There's still old barb wire fences in a lot of these canyons. Along the old land grant property lines. They used redwood for the fence posts, long lasting heartwood, virgin stuff and they may have rotted off at the base but they're still there....covered with moss but still lyin' around and all that wire rusty as hell. So where are you from?

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

(Jessie) Back East They taught us about the Civil War in grade school there and took us out to Valley Forge. We didn't have tract homes in my neighborhood. It was kind of a hodgepodge.

(Don) Here, history is about the mission system, dying Indians, the gold rush and waves of immigrants flooding in. What do you want to know?

(Jessie) Well, where can I get some native grass seed?


(Don) I have an envelope in the green house with some I can spare. And you can try the Native Plant Society. They hold walks at Wilder Ranch and lecture as they go. You might meet some people there and enjoy a nice spring walk with your wife too. I know a lot about native plants but I'm just starting to get into the grasses. The Indians apparently used small portable mortars and pestles to grind up the seeds of grasses and forbs. The Spaniards called this food "Pinole" and named a town after it. I always just assumed that the grasses were natural but noooo it turns out all this thistle-ly stuff came over with the cows and sheep. (Leaning the rake against the fence.)

(Jessie) And now they're everywhere.

(Don) And more exotics coming in all the time. I'm amazed you can still buy the dirty dozen at the local nursery.

(Jessie) You mean you can still buy French broom there?


(Don) That and English ivy. Nothing has gone extinct but it can get depressing if you let it. Anyway, let me show you what I've done so far. This is blue wild rye. It should do well here, on the edge of an oak woodland with plenty of sunshine. They say it provides good forage and cover for wildlife.

(Jessie) Like quail?


(Don) And song birds like meadow larks. It's good for controlling erosion and it tolerates this clayey soil. It should get about waist high. This is California Brome. This one is supposed to be excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds. There's not much that competes with wild oats but this will. For fire protection I've got California Oatgrass, not wild oats mind you...oatgrass. This one stays green late into the summer without watering so it really has to be a hot day before this will burn. If I water it once in a while it never will. Its also the longest lived of the native grasses so it'll be here for awhile. I'm going to plant a lot of this. And this stuff (they pick up the tarp with the pile of mown grass on it) is going straight to the gully. (While walking over)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

This ditch wasn't near this deep when I was a kid. (They dump it in) And this is just from street run off. See the end of the culvert there?

(Jessie) Yeah


(Don) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire there'd be massive amounts of run off every time it rained and there'd be nothing to throw in there to stop it. I suppose I could drop in a few hay bales but I think I'd have more important things to worry about. Like rebuilding the house.

(Jessie) You have fire insurance?


(Don) Yeah, but it wouldn't cover the contents. If I could burn off just this grass here I'd love to grow a native grass meadow from seed....and it would be beautiful hmmmm but too risky. And fire doesn't kill all the weed seeds either, the ones deep in the dirt. (They return to work area, Don grabs the rake and leans on it) There's a gully across the canyon there that's thirty feet deep with sheer walls. Its like a box canyon. It swallows up whole oak trees like a black hole eats up star dust. (Musing) Billions and billions...a lot of cubic yards of dirt came out of that one and its still probably choking the steelhead in Branciforte Creek. I'd take you over there but there's a lot of poison oak to wade through...a lot. I guess the time to stop erosion is before it gets serious.

(Jessie) Like the dust bowl days.


(Don) More like LA You know...(pointing towards the bay.) When it rains all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon. It doesn't have a chance to soak into the ground. It's kinda like what happens when you have a bad fire. The soil gets so hot it can form a hydrophobic layer from all the resins in the pine needles.

(Jessie) Like waxed cardboard


(Don) And water can't penetrate it. So it just runs off. That's why LA gets these terrible floods after every major fire. The water can't soak in and there's nothing to hold it. Mud city. Slip sliding away. And then they build a few more houses, it all grows back and they do the whole thing again. Crazy.

(Jessie) There's got to be a better way.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Don) Absolutely (Turning back up the trail) I've got to get this tool back to the rental shop before five so I better get back to work. It was nice meeting you. Tell Cliff I said "Get a real job!" and I'll see ya at volleyball.

(Don fires up the weed eater and goes back to mowing down the wild oats).

(Jessie) (loudly over the noise) Thanks for talking to me. I feel like an expert already.

Sketch by Alison Jeffs

Don waves good by.

(end of scene three)


(Return to narrator). As we have seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you've gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done. The wise homeowner who gets this far will avoid leaving "the frying pan for the fire" by re-planting with fire resistant shrubs or native bunch grasses. This will provide year round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well, even in the poorest soils. Let's see how a native plant fancier would simultaneously manage a fuel break for beauty, erosion control, habitat enhancement and fire protection. For this seemingly impossible task let's follow Helen and a friend as they do a little shopping at Native Revival Nursery.


Scene Four (The Botanist's Lesson)

The camera follows a four door station wagon down Soquel Drive and then down a winding dirt road past work sheds and a barn. The car pulls into a parking stall in front of the retail office. The camera pans greenhouses, sheds and rows of potted native plants. A woman in a long dress gets out of the car holding a long shopping list. (sound track- Quail calling)


(Claudia) What a beautiful place! I've lived around here for so long and I didn't even know this place was here-tucked back in the woods like this...and I thought I knew all the good places to shop. (giggles) (wistfully) What a cute office. So where is everybody? (she does a few notes of the Twilight Zone theme) Well I guess I'll just have to take a look around. (She pokes her head into a greenhouse with nothing but ferns in it.) (sound track-dripping water) Hello? Nobody here...Hmmm....a fern bar with no IQ and everybody drinking. Deja vu. Let's try down the road a little. (She steps into a cluttered building and the office inside. Hello? Where is everybody? The service here is just terrible. (She sees a "ring bell for service" sign, a brass bell, and grabs the rope and rings it like a cablecar gripman. A woman, dressed in blue jeans, and carrying a cordless phone steps out of a nearby greenhouse.)

(Worker) (approaching and slipping the phone into her pocket.) Good morning...can I help you?

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) Why yes....I want to buy some plants. I have a list a fireman gave me.

(Worker) May I...

(Claudia) sure (Hands worker the list)

(Worker) (after studying the list) Hmmm...some of these we have and some we don't. What kind of garden are you trying to grow?

(Claudia) Oh its not a garden....its to protect the house (flustered) you know...from fire. My husband wants good plants outside the fence.

(Worker) Good plants? You mean fire resistant plants? That will hold the soil?

(Claudia) Yes that's it.

(Worker) Yes I think we can help you. About how many square feet?


(Claudia) Well the men came in and.....Our lot is about eighty feet wide....and the area they cleared is about, oh I forget, maybe it goes from here to that big tree. (pointing towards large fir with Spanish moss hanging from the lower branches)

(Worker) fifty feet?

(Claudia) Yeah about that...but its downhill.

(Worker) ok...eighty feet by fifty feet is about 4,000 square feet. One bush for every ten square feet is about four hundred plants.

(Claudia) Oh no...not that many. I'm only driving a station wagon and besides... money doesn't grow on bushes you know. (giggles)

(Worker) well why don't we get a wheelbarrow and get you what you can afford. I've also got some wildflower seed that you can plant yourself.

(Claudia) Oh wonderful...my children will love that. The workmen burned all that brush last week. In long rows....it was stacked like wood. Can we plant the seeds...you know... in the ash?

(Worker) Definitely. That ash is good fertilizer and the heat from the fire sterilizes the soil and kills all the weed seeds.

(Claudia) that blackened scar is so ugly....but I guess they had to do it. There was just so much brush.

(Claudia) (resignedly) The brush will be back and so will the workmen.


(Worker) Right. Brush fires have been part of the California landscape for thousands and thousands of years and you know, we are starting to believe the Indians used fire as a horticultural tool..... to encourage acorn bearing oaks and to discourage conifers and brush. Anyway most brush will come back quick after a fire from the crown....the roots are still alive. All the woody plants on this list can be heavily pruned when they get too big and they'll resprout vigorously like nothing happened.

(Claudia) so how long before what they chopped down will be back?

(Worker) Not long. Unless you use an herbicide and poison the roots.... or plant these nearby so they compete for the available sunlight and water.

(Claudia) Oh I think I'd rather plant something. We have children you know. So what do you have that's on the list?

(Worker) We've got the bladderpod... that's over here. (lifting one into the wheelbarrow.) These are five bucks each....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) I'll take four.

(Enter Helen) Hi.... do you mind if I listen in? It sounds like we're in the same boat.

(Worker) Certainly. My name is Karen and I'll be your tour guide today.

(Claudia) Hi I'm Claudia

(Helen) Call me Helen

(Worker) Ok, we've got Sand Hill Sage. Here smell this (tearing off a sprig and crumpling it in her hand)

(Claudia) oh that's wonderful.

(Helen) Such a delicate aroma.

(Worker) And when its in bloom the fragrance is just heavenly. If you don't mind me asking Claudia, where do you live?

(Claudia) Why do you ask?

(Worker) I just wondered if you were in the fog belt.

(Claudia) Oh no, we live up in the hills above it. We get fog mornings and evenings with the usual afternoon wind.

(Worker) Near the college?

(Claudia) kind of

(Worker) I took classes in ornamental horticulture there. It's a pretty good program. So does this hillside catch the morning sun or the afternoon?

(Claudia) Oh the morning.

(Worker) that puts you on a south facing slope-Fires always burn hotter on the south face of a ridge.

(Claudia) yeah and we're at the top of the hill.

(Worker) that's a double whammy.


(Claudia) I know. My husband insisted we do everything we could to be fire safe. Every month he's up on a ladder cleaning the pine needles out of the rain gutters. He's been trying to talk the neighbors into going in on one of those foam spray trailer mounted thingys. Cover your house and everything with foam.

(Worker) At least he takes it seriously.


(Helen) I'm not sure which direction our house faces because we just bought it. I know my husband cleaned out the fireplace after one of those romantic evenings in front of the fire. The embers were still hot...it caught the paper bag on fire and melted our plastic garbage can.

(Claudia) really?

(Helen) the last of the red hot lovers!
(laughter)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Claudia) but you kept him?

(Helen) I guess I have to...somebody has to change the batteries in the smoke detector.
(laughter)

(Worker) well...uhmm here's a plant that does a good job of holding the soil. It will provide cover and food for quail. Did you see our resident flock as you drove in?

(Claudia) No but I heard them. It's such a beautiful sound.

(Worker) That's the male-calling his flock together.

(Claudia) I suppose the Indians had a tale woven around that one...

(Worker) I suppose they did. Anyway this is chapparal currant. One gallon containers are $6 each.

(Claudia) I'll take five. Do you take VISA?

(Worker) of course.....Here are wild strawberry...and stone crops. The strawberry is a herbaceous perennial. It needs a little watering now and then.

(Claudia) that's no problem.

(Worker) The stonecrops are succulents...they offer the best fire retardance and drought resistance.

(Claudia) ok... lets round out the wheelbarrow load with those and come back for more.

(Worker) Good idea
(They turn back on a path towards the office)

(Helen) So ahh...you're a long ways from the nearest fire station. What precautions have you taken against fire?

(Worker) Well some of the people here are all for a hot tub or swimming pool...just for a ready reservoir of water you understand.

(Claudia) of course (in mock seriousness)


(Worker) We have a fire evacuation plan if worse comes to worse. We've got porta pumps to drop in the ponds if the electricity goes off and we can't pump water from the well. You've seen all the fire hose we have coiled up. That office is a fire trap but we've got ladders against the walls in the back in case the roof catches.

(Claudia) You know, just getting fire insurance these days is difficult. They won't write a new policy until someone else drops out.

(Helen) Tell me about it. We can't get fire insurance at all.


(Worker) I'm not privy to all the owner's dealings but there was no problem at all when we told her we wanted to cut plywood shutters for the windows. I guess fires were more common when she was young and everybody cooked with wood. She doesn't burn wood in her fireplace very often but there's a spark arrestor over it just in case. Houses that old can have a chimney fire just from all the creosote build up in the chimney.

(Claudia) chim chim chereee

(Worker) exactly Pay him now or pay him later.

(Helen) I saw a ski cabin once, from the highway, with a ten foot tall blowtorch coming out of the chimney. That was scary.

(Claudia) I bet.

(enter Tim )

(Worker) Here's another wheelbarrow. Thank you Tim. (exit Tim) We'll just park this one here and have Erin total 'em up all at once.

(Claudia) Ok


(Sound effect) A cell phone rings. The worker and Helen both reach for their phones. The call is for Helen, however, and the worker puts hers away. Worker continues talking to Claudia in the background.

(Helen) Hi, Jessie. (pauses-camera close up) That's great honey. (Pauses) I'm down at Native Revival Nursery, I'll have some plants for you to put by the fence at the new place....

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(camera turns back to Claudia and worker)


(Worker) So we don't worry too much about what's outside the fence. Plants we can regrow. Green houses can be rebuilt. There are a few plants that I'd grab if we had to evacuate but I wouldn't take any chances. Like I said, a fire would just prove how fire adapted these natives are. It'd set us back but we'd recover. I just hope that I'm not the one who has to decide whether to rebuild, replant or relocate. We couldn't do business in a devastated landscape. Families out for a Sunday drive are a good chunk of our business. That is why we put in the gift shop. We all fear the worst but we hope for the best. It's just one of those things you have to plan for.

(Claudia) You can say that again....Thanks for all your help (exit Claudia with Tim pushing wheelbarrow) (Worker) Now Helen, what can I do for you? (Helen) About the stonecrop.... (fade out)


(end of scene four)

Epilogue (Wrapping up the loose ends)

Return to narrator- Helen and Jessie patched up their differences and lived happily ever after in a fire safe home. With a little help from his friends, Jessie persuaded Helen that planning for fire is part of the cost of living in a Mediterranean climate. To her credit, Helen convince Jessie that spring house cleaning should include painting the exterior of the house, mowing the lawn, and cutting the brush back. How aggressively you go about it depends on your health, wealth, and emotional attachment to material possessions. To be truly fire safe requires the participation and cooperation of individuals, neighborhoods and local government. As Jessie and Helen have learned, with foresight and careful planning, our homes can be made safer and portions of our cherished native plant and animal communities restored to their former glory. All aboard!


Fire Marshal's narration begins- "We hope that you high tech professionals have enjoyed this low tech lesson in fire safety and that the story of Jessie and Helen will become part of your personal matrix. Your local fire marshal has additional information that can help you make your home, fire and earthquake safe, and may be willing to make a house call to inspect your yard work. Support your local fire department and give them a call. Thanks for watching. Good luck, best wishes and be fire safe."


credits and acknowledgments roll as steam train pulls out of the station
with the cast and crew waving and smiling from an open car.

End of script Copyright © 2003 by Steven P. Kennedy

 

 

Lake Tahoe Version # 15

Screenplay

Copyright © July 2007 by Steven P. Kennedy


Note: The purpose of this film is to conserve wildlife, enhance habitat and especially to encourage local forest restoration initiatives through stewardship contracts in the Lake Tahoe Basin .  Your constructive criticism of this film script will be greatly appreciated.  Your casual comments are welcome in the Guest Book of our web site at www.canonbal.org as a public or a private entry.

Storyboard Sketches by:

Alex Mizuno
650-758-3009

and

Alison Jeffs
801-360-2817
www.alisonjeffs.com
ali_jeffs@hotmail.com

We propose a soft sell fire safety video that will persuade people to do for mother nature what they aren’t always willing to do for themselves. Our goal is to get homeowners to take their fuel reduction problems seriously, in their back yards and beyond.

  The target audience for this film is homeowners, age 35-85, living in the suburban wildlands interface zone. The perfect venue for this video is the annual meeting of a homeowner association.

  Emergency Service Personnel may notice that no mention has been made in the script or the Chronology link on the web site, of delays in dispatching the first fire engines to the scene of the fire, when the Angora Fire was first reported.  Our goal is to prevent another Angora Fire from happening again, not to fix blame for the disaster.

  The goal of the opening scene at the Rail Side Café, is to introduce our protagonists and equate in the minds of our audience, the strength and power of a steam locomotive, with the strength and power of a runaway suburban forest fire.

The Cannonball Express

  Beginning of Screenplay

Dedication:

This video is dedicated to the brave firefighters who fought the Angora Fire of 2007.

 

Opening Clips from Angora Fire footage donated by Bruce Brown and Gordon Morganstern from WebTV.net

 

1)     Fire trucks with sirens and lights

2)     Diagonal flame-fire in the tree tops

3)     Marching firefighters

4)     Helicopter

5)     Air Tanker

6)     Smoke in the air

7)     Wind blowing tree branches

8)     Untouched house with green lawn and lawn mower

9)      Smoke wafting across the lake

10)  Damage report by Sheriff

11)  Burned homes and cars

12)   Forest service update- the benefits of fuel reduction projects

13)  Angry man with question

14)  Weather report

15)  Excerpt from a magazine article entitled, “What Tahoe Area Fire Chiefs Say”. This quote appears as scrolling titles and is taken from a special issue of California Forests Magazine that was published by the California Forestry Association in the Fall of 2006, almost a year prior to the Angora Fire.

 

“Chief Whitelaw: We face a constant challenge balancing the science of healthy forests and the science of managing the lake to conserve its clarity, and we can do both. We work real hard to press the forest health part, but we get countered by those that don’t want us to work in the “stream environment zones”, in the wet areas. They don’t want disruption that will cause even small deposits of silt to reach the lake. In the meantime, the forests continue to grow overstocked and we struggle during the season to put fires out. Eventually, if we don’t get this thing turned around, we’re going to miss one and it’s going to take out a drainage or a community and devastate the lake’s clarity. We’re a long way from getting this problem tackled. “

  Video Clips of Lake Tahoe, snow capped mountains, red sunset, casino lights, sparkling alpine streams and mountain meadows.

Voice Over Narration:

      The high country is a beautiful place isn’t it? Where else can you find such beautiful natural scenery so close to good schools, good friends and high paying jobs in the gaming, skiing and tourist industries?

      Not surprisingly, many of the homes in your neighborhood are owned by out of town families who visit occasionally and aren’t aware of the fire risk their vacation homes face every summer. Out of sight. Out of mind as it were.  They say that one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare and for Fire Marshals like me, this neighborhood has become a hundred million dollar disaster, waiting to happen. Like the residents of Tahoe Paradise discovered in June and July of 2007, your forest, your house and your neighborhood could all be gone tomorrow.

        With you and most of your neighbors concentrating on making a living, we’ve concluded that a more imaginative approach to fire safety is needed. We all know what it is like to be controlled by forces we cannot name, yet sense are omniscient.  Having said that, I’ll quit preaching to the choir, forego the usual lecture on defensible space and give you something beautiful instead.  So climb aboard The Cannonball Express and enjoy the show.

 

BIRDS CHIRP, MURMUR OF CONVERSATION,

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

SILVERWARE TAPS AGAINST PLATES.

PAN to elegantly dressed COUPLE (Helen and Jess).

PULL BACK TO REVEAL…

Couple sits at dining table between The Yosemite Mountain-Sugar Pine Rail Side Station Cafe and the forest.

Couple enjoys brunch.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno


Sound f/x locomotive nears

rush of fore wind. . .

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Narrator) (Voice 0ver) Trains are a lot like suburban brushfires. They come and they go in the wink of an eye.

Yet, the memory of their passing lives on, long after the smoke has cleared.

LOUD WHISTLE SHRIEKS WARNING

head-on shot…locomotive barrels down

 

(Title Shot)  The Vegetation Management Video Project Committee Presents

                                    The Cannonball Express


PASSING TRAIN RATTLES table contents & RUFFLES couple’s composure.

(Jesse) What was that?

(Waiter) The Cannonball Express, an historic steam engine. Wasn’t she beautiful? (waiter exits)

(Helen) You just need a cup of coffee.

(Jesse)  I don’t need a cup of coffee after that.

(Helen)  Jesse, we need to talk.

(Jesse)  About what?

(Helen)  About the house.

(Jesse)  I thought it was perfect. It is perfect. It’s amazing. It’s everything we dreamed about.

(Helen)  No, not quite. The Fire Marshal said…..

(Jesse)  What were you doing talking to the Fire Marshal?

(Helen)  You didn’t even notice. A house down the street nearly burned to the ground. And I got really worried. Do you know we can’t get any decent fire insurance because the insurance companies have red lined our entire neighborhood? It doesn’t make any sense to me because I thought you took care of it.

(Jesse)  They haven’t red lined it. They are just limiting their exposure. Anyway, it’s beautiful, its quiet, it’s a great place to raise a family. And there’s not much we can do about it now. We’ve already moved in. I’ve got a friend from volleyball and he can come and take care of the whole thing for us, no problem..

(Helen) Ok, but I don’t think we can afford that. Ok look, talk to who ever you need to. Just go buy some gloves because we have some work to do.

(Helen slaps money down on table and leaves.)

(Jesse puts glasses on and obviously distressed, thinks deeply, scratching his chin.)

Mt. Tallac – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Even before the devastation of the Angora Fire of 2007, it became apparent to government officials from many different agencies that communities nestled around the Tahoe Basin were in mortal danger.

DAGUERREOTYPE SHOTS of Native Americans burning brush.

(Narrator) (V. O.) Where the Native Americans used to burn Jeffrey pine forests in the Tahoe Basin every three to five years, there are now dense stands of dying white fir and deep accumulations of branches, pine needles and pine cones on the ground. More than enough for a cannonball run.

Freight train blasts by Donner Lake– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) At one agency, the South Tahoe Public Utility District, officials were concerned that a major fire would complicate the water treatment process.

Animal wildlife in forest – day

(Narrator) (V. O.)  USDA  Forest Service biologists were also concerned about the impact a major fire would have on native plants, fish and animal communities. The Forest Service is responsible for 75% of the land in the Tahoe Basin .

And the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency were concerned that mechanized fuel reduction projects in creek corridors and wetlands would increase erosion and increase the growth of algae in the Lake , further clouding its once crystal clear waters. The conundrum was that homeowners were faced with layers of regulations from fire departments and water quality agencies. And TRPA required homeowners to fill out forms and pay application fees to remove larger trees and reduce fuel loads, which was rather discouraging to many people.

Crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe - day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Given wide-spread public opposition to smoke from controlled burning, congestion from additional truck traffic and noise from chain saws, it was evident that a new approach was needed. Hand crews cost up to $5,000 an acre, so mechanized fuel reduction projects that cost less than $2,000 per acre, were started. But labor and equipment maintenance costs were higher than in areas outside the Tahoe Basin and red tape was thicker here, so large tracts of forest went untouched. These crews had still thinned a considerable amount of acreage, prior to the Angora Fire.

Vegetation shots – day

(Narrator) (V. O.)  The US Forest Service has worked since 1987 to reduce fuel loads in the Tahoe Basin . About 30,000 acres await initial treatment. The problem is that thinned land needs follow up work every 10 to 20 years. How can this forest maintenance be funded while initial treatment of fuel heavy forest acreage demands attention and scarce tax dollars?

Ext. forests and suburbs – day

(Narrator) (V. O.)  With funding a perennial problem, agencies struggled to reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire while protecting other resources.  The stakes were high. In the South Lake Tahoe area, the residents have relied on pure water from the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which pumps from deep aquifers.  The high property loss of the Angora Fire means that toxic runoff from hundreds of burned homes, cars and garages full of paint, pesticide and fertilizer that seeps deep into the aquifer, could negatively affect the water supply for decades. A plume of foul tasting toxic seepage could drift towards the water table and the Lake , for years.  Up to 7,000 tons of burned debris will soon be removed from lots in the Angora Fire zone. Rebuilding will create it’s own set of debris removal and water pollution problems. The cumulative effect of this decade long environmental insult to the water supply is unknown.

Tahoe vista– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Creeks in the affected watersheds, generally flow into the marshes at the south end of Lake Tahoe rather than into reservoirs. The Upper Truckee River supplies only 10% of the runoff but supplies a quarter of all the pollutants that enter the Lake . With Lake clarity diminishing at a rate of a foot a year before the fire and heavy post fire erosion expected to further impact the Lake, environmental concerns put the fuel reduction dilemma into the hands of the people, including  individual homeowners and small wood lot owners whose property backs up to a forested hillside or canyon. There just isn’t enough tax money available or the political will power to tackle the whole fuel reduction problem in the Tahoe Basin , in perpetuity.

Ext.    work crew clearing pine duff and trees– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) On the California side of the Lake there are mechanized work crews doing fuel removal projects. You’ve seen the brush piles left behind by hand crews. But, all of these crews are generally restricted by their contracts to work on high priority projects on public property such as National Forests.

Land around private home – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Private homeowners and wood lot owners whose fire threat arises from land outside the scope of these work crews may sometimes need permits from TRPA, but can always hire independent contractors or do the work themselves.

Ext.  Heavily forested  hillside – day

PAN view of suburbia below.

(Narrator) (V. O.) In the larger scheme, a public private approach is necessary. (PAUSE) Let’s meet one of those independent contractors who’ll share some secrets of good forest management.



Sketch by Alex Mizuno

                                             The Tree Cutter’s Lesson

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce the tree cutter, his tools and techniques to the homeowner and the homeowner association. This will help homeowners decide whether to hire a professional or do the work themselves.

 

Susan Donaldson, a weed expert and Ph.D at UNR, provided much appreciated advice for this scene re: weeds and erosion.

 

CAMERA FINDS BRIAN WALLACE, arms smeared with pitch and sawdust, as he cuts tree branches with a Stihl chainsaw. Brian STOPS.

Removes face shield. SEES Jess

(Jesse) Sorry to barge in on you like this.

(Brian) No problem. How’s the fixer upper? (Takes a sip of water from canteen. Sits down at crude table.)

(Jesse) It’s a half million dollar headache if you ask me.

(Brian) Aren’t they all?

(Jesse) Yeah, but it’s better than downtown Sacramento . I tell ya, hearing the birds sing in the forest is like watching a beautiful sunrise.

(Brian) Yeah

(Jesse) But I can think of a lot of things I should have noticed on the first walk through. Like the smoke detector going off all night. (with irritation) Anyway, Helen has this nesting instinct and all the trees around the place are making her nervous. She wants to do all the painting because she’s artistic.  The problem is, she wants me to do the landscaping and I don’t know the first thing about gardening. Green thumb? I’ve got a bad case of mouse finger.

(Brian) The first thing you ought to do is get a ladder and clean out the rain gutters. Then measure the windows for storm shutters.

Take the numbers down to the hardware store, load up some  plywood  and the clerks will take care of the rest for you. And if a window ever gets broken, replace it with those argon gas filled, double paners. The argon is heat insulating and it will prevent your drapes from catching fire. (This factoid courtesy of Steve Chilton, a branch chief with TRPA.)

So what do you need?

Jesse:  Can you come over and help us out?

(Brian) I wish I could. I’m booked solid for weeks.

(Jesse) Can you recommend anyone?

(Brian)  Well, truth be told, it’s not as hard as it looks. There’s a lot you can do with a wheel barrow, a rake, some loppers, a bow saw and a pole saw. I bet you could do your place in a week end, three days tops.

(Jesse)  It makes me tired just thinking about it.

(Brian)  Well, look at this place, I figure another three hours on this project and I’ll have it clean as a whistle. You know, my business card says I’m with Bushwhackers Tree Service but that gives people the wrong impression.

Jesse: Like you go around whacking bushes ?

(Brian)  You’re sick, Jesse, sick. And No, actually, that I’m some kind of a tree surgeon. I mean, I’ll take out ugly clumps of dwarf mistletoe from branches, if they want me to, for New Years eve or whatever, but actually, most of what I do is tree removal. We’ll also do trimming near power lines, windows and chimneys, topping, selective logging, brush chipping, stump grinding and wood splitting. Most guys in my trade use boom lifts but I prefer to strap on spurs and climb the tree the old fashioned, lumber jack way. It’s safe, if you know how to do it. I’ve been at this for 12 years and I’ve never taken a fall.

(Brian beams.)

QUICK CUT to Brian climbing and rappelling down a tall tree trunk.

(Brian) (V. O.) Ya know, some these homeowners have begged me to take out trees that weren’t properly marked. If there’s a tree in front of their picture window, removing the tree can add $100,000 to the value of the home. But if the paint isn’t the right shade of blue……its ‘cause they mixed their own…I’ve flat out refused those bogus jobs. The boss and I split the profits and I split my half with my crew. But I ain’t gonna pay no fine to TRPA for taking out a tree that’s not on the permit and my boss doesn’t want the hassle either.

The official paint has a marker that they can test for. It’s specially formulated. TRPA will give you a permit to take out trees for a lot of reasons. But a big tree that’s healthy and separated from other trees….forget it.  I tell you, 60 Minutes should do a story about the shenanagins with this program, people poisoning trees, dumping salt water on ‘em, collecting pine bark beetles out in the forest and releasing them on a tree at home so they can say that their healthy tree is diseased. I’m an honest man and I put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Go figure.

(Brian feeds tree branches into grinder.)

(Brian) (V. O.) Usually, one hour of climbing and cutting makes for two man hours of grinding and hauling away.

(Back to Brian)


Sketch by Alex Mizuno


(Later)

(Brian GESTURES towards the house.)

(Brian) Now, while I’m being paid by the homeowner to reduce the risk that a fire might ROAR up the hill and take out his house. I am a member of the Sierra Club. And I do take the environment into consideration when I’m deciding what goes and what stays.

(Brian RISES. Walks towards tree.)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Brian) Take this white fir for example. The loggers took out all the big Jeffrey pines to shore up the mine shafts in the Virginia City mines, build railroads, hotels and houses. By 1900, most of the Tahoe Basin had been clear cut. Back then, if a tree was left standing in a clear cut, they called it a mistake, not a seed tree. They were too busy building a nation to care. What came up over the decades was a thick forest of shade loving, white fir. They hold on to their dead branches for years. Now the white firs are old, mostly diseased, stressed by drought and dying off from infestations of pine bark beetles. There’s a bathtub ring, clear around the Lake , of snags and downed timber in that old forest. Now, all those dead trees are just waiting to burn. The wood should be burning safely in a mobile co-generation plant with a smoke scrubber and generating electricity for working families, not laying around causing problems.


(Later)

(CLOSE UP  Brian’s arms smeared with pitch and sawdust.)

(Jesse)  Had any close encounters with wildlife lately?

(Brian) Not recently but I’ve seen some amazing critters in those trees. I see lots of hawks and owls. An occasional eagle eating a fish or rodent. Most of ‘em I like but when the squirrels chatter at me, I know they’re just jealous of my climbing ability. Usually if I’m up there cutting, they’ll jump to another tree or come down the back side of the trunk. I topped one tree with a squirrel in the top branches and he rode it down like Doctor Strangelove and ran off. I guess he felt lucky that day.

(Jesse)  He should have been playing the lottery !

(Brian) Yeah. Pretty much.

(Brian looks around.)

(Brian)  Don’t tell my wife about that one. She thinks the rascals are cute.


(Jess) reaction shot of shared mirth

(Brian sizes up his work thus far.)

(Brian) When I started on this project, it was really thick here. I’ve already made several trips to the dumps and it’s starting to look pretty good. (Brian’s arms stretch out towards the hill.) Look how steep this hill is! It could have been done with a boom truck but climbing a tree causes a lot less erosion than shoveling dirt and bringing in a truck. When I’m done clearing, I’ll re-seed it with wild flowers and grasses that are native to this area. (Makes a throwing motion as if scattering seed.) I told the homeowner, I could make it look like a park.


(Jess)  I’m starting to get the picture.

(Later)

(Brian stands at pile of debris.)

(Brian) Most of what I take out is white fir, scarlet campion and brush.

(Brian extracts a campion plant from ground.)

(Brian) Scarlet campion is the worst of the exotics. It is beautiful but it is terribly invasive. You can still get Yellow Toadflax at some plant nurseries as an ornamental. It is invasive too. And if you can’t buy it then your clueless neighbors will give you some. That stuff comes in and the wildlife heads for the door.

(Turns campion over  in his hand.)

(Brian) We just don’t have any insects or animals that go to town on campion. It looks nice. Got a pretty flower that bees like…but, it just takes over. It lines the logging roads in some areas. All it takes is some disturbed soil and a single seed to get an infestation going. The Invasive Weed Coordinating Group works harder than I do to map and control all kinds of weeds.

(Tosses campion onto pile.)

(Brian) Campion comes back quickly from seeds dropped the previous year. I’ll make a follow-up visit in six months to yank out volunteers.

There’s another one called knapweed. It occasionally comes in mixed with the mud on bulldozers treads, on loads of timber or framing from the Rocky Mountain states . It will even come in on an airplane that lands on weedy runways. The sediment yields of a football field size infestation of knapweed can be double that of a hillside covered with native bunch grasses and the rain water run off can be 50% higher.

(Author’s Note: these stats from a research study published in Weed Technology in 1989 per Tahoe weed expert Susan Donaldson)

Roofs and decks aren’t half the problem that weeds are when it comes to pumping topsoil into the lake.

That run off means no soaking in and no ground water for the trees late in the summer.  Knapweed and pepperweed acreage usually increases following a wildfire burn. The stuff just won’t die. A creeping ground cover called pinemat manzanita is good for keeping the weeds down if you want to invest the time and money to get it established.

(Brian walks up hill.)

(Brian)  The natives that grow back here attract deer and rabbits with succulent new growth. The only trees I’m eager to take out are the ones that just don’t belong.

(FLAPS hand at white fir.)

(Brian)  White fir is high on my list. It’s a native but it smells bad when it burns, it sucks up too much water and it contributes to global warming. It’s not even any good for lumber. Get this.  Snow reflects winter sunlight back into space, right?  Dark green fir branches absorb the heat and leaves it floating around here on earth. I never thought I’d complain about Tahoe being too warm. Go figure

(QUICK CUT TO  MELTING GLACIER AND ICE BERGS CALVING INTO OCEAN.)

(Jesse) What about the Angora fire?

(Brian) (V. O.) A friend of mine from my firefighting days told me the duff layer was several feet deep in that area.

(Jesse) Wow ! No wonder they couldn’t stop it.


(Back to scene – day)

(Brian stands before white fir.)

(Brian) Hardware stores had a run on saws, rakes and loppers all over South Lake Tahoe the week of the fire. (Shakes his head sadly) Too little! Too late! They lost 150 homes in the first two hours. A lot of the homes that survived had lush green lawns out front and bare ground in the back, which saved the house but screwed the Lake with nitrates and erosion. Where the fire got into the canopy along those streets, that was from houses going up. And all those long  neglected piles of logs and branches didn’t help either.

(Brian down at truck.)

(Brian) Once the initial cleaning is done, annual vegetation management is easy. No real secret to what I do. Just be careful with the tools and watch out for power lines.

(Puts tools in truck.)

(Brian) Lots of my customers do the annual maintenance themselves, but, I keep tabs on ‘em. Good for business. OlBri is the cheapest fire insurance around.

(Brian waves to leave. Turns back.)

(Brian) Want to know more about native plants? Go see Jon Bellows.

(Jesse) From Sierra Club volleyball?

(Brian) Yeah that’s him. He knows more than me. Shoot! He even grows ‘em and eats them.

(Jesse) Hey, thanks for the advice.

(Brian) No problem. And if you break a leg falling out of a tree….don’t come running to me.

(Jesse) (laughs) I won’t.  (waves good-bye to Brian.)


The Naturalist’s Scene

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents (who didn’t go to grade school locally) to the history of the area and to the plants and animals that can still be found in the nearby national forests (and often roaming through their neighborhoods at night).

 

Ext. canyon – day

CAMERA PANS canyon to Lake .

Ext.  hillside with garden– day

Pile of pine needles and folded blue plastic tarp lay on ground.


Jon Bellows, athletic, outdoorsman, wood sculptor, methodically rakes up needles, separating out the pine cones.


(Jon) Hey, I know you. Don’t you play volleyball at Truckee High?

(Jesse) I hack at it. I get in a good spike once in a while.

(Jon) Brian let me know you were coming. What do you need to know?

(Jesse)  Brian said you knew a lot about native plants.

(Jon) Stalking the elusive sitanion hystrix are you?

(Jesse)  I guess so.

(Jon sets aside rake. APPROACHES Jessie. Points to FENCE.)

(Jon) (Pointing)  See that? I built that fence myself. Got my flower garden in there and my bee hive. (Motions with head) There’s deer in that canyon. And they’re hungry! Those succulent native grasses are for them. The garden’s for me. We have a short growing season and I need to make the most of it. I couldn’t find a bear proof fence so I built that beehive out of sheets of Kevlar I got from a kayak factory in Reno . That’s why it is outside the fence. It’s bullet proof. It’s anchored deep in the ground. After I replaced the Phillips head screws with somethin’ easier they started calling me “Wing Nut”.  Hey, I just wanted to be able to pull out the frames.

(Jesse)  reaction shot - chuckles

(Jon)  Even the baddest bears give up on the idea of stealing honey from my hive after they’ve swatted it a few times and nothin’ happens except for a few bee stings on the nose.  It takes a couple of hours for the bees to settle down and there’s no major damage to the bear. Ya know, African villagers have figured out that the elephants that raid their crops and get drunk on their corn mash are afraid of bees. The elephants get those angry African bees inside their trunks and ouch!, they head for the hills. So the agronomists tell the farmers to place their hives strategically and are working on a little battery powered device that buzzes like a hive of bees. Clever huh?  All I gotta do is get a recording of whatever animal a black bear is scared of, a grizzly bear or Godzilla or whatever.  I’ve heard that used kitty litter, full of clumps and whatever, will keep a bear away from your trash can. The bear’s instincts tell it that it’s a cougar and so the bear passes it by for easier pickin’s elsewhere.

(Jesse) Good idea.

(Jon) Anyway, about once a year a bunch of my bees take off with a new queen and find a new nest in a hollow log or somethin’. The black bears can have that honeycomb. I like my wild mountain honey and the wax is good for casting jewelry.


(Later)

(Jon sits. Looks up hillside.)

(Jon) There’s bobcats out there. Raccoons. Porcupines, Tree squirrels. Cougars I suppose. An occasional coyote, the econobox of predators and song dog of Indian legend. There's a group called The BEAR League that teaches people and bears about the boundary lines and the rules that both species must follow to co-exist in this shared mountain forest. All I can say is you'll never catch me taking a snooze 60 feet up in a pine tree. I’ve seen so many of them now, I know what they smell like. Like a big wet dog, times a hundred. (This factoid courtesy of Beth Moxley, owner/president of Rockwood Tree Removal.)

      The BEAR people are on a first name basis with a lot of those bears and they really get upset when people plant fruit trees in their yard and then get a depredation permit from Fish & Game because the bears are coming to dine in their yards and breaking branches off their apple trees.  Then poor Oliver gets shot and another young bear moves into the neighborhood and does the same thing.

     We have a lot more black bears in California than we did 30 years ago, so they are expanding their range into suburban California and Nevada . The animal comes with the territory and especially in a drought year when nuts and berries are hard to find in the back country. You live up here, sooner or later you’re going to bump into a bear and hopefully you won’t hit it with your car.  At minimum, it will trigger your airbags. That’s $800 plus a radiator and it’s a tragedy when there are cubs involved, which are traumatized and have to be bottle fed or whatever.  If astronauts are gonna hibernate on their 6 month trips to Mars and back, then we got to learn more about bear biology. Simple as that.

 

(Jesse) We’re gonna look like fools if the Russians or the Chinese get there first with the most.

 

(Jon)   yeah-up  The last thing we want is a shortage of bears.

 


(Later)

(Jon) Yeah, I’m no rocket scientist but I do know a lot about native plants.  I’m just getting into the grasses. I always assumed, the grasses were natural. But, no-oo! All of those hyper competitive annuals came over with the cows and sheep. Yup, this all used to be just logged over forest and overgrazed range land.  Ya know. Fire doesn’t cause erosion. Fire and the hoof.  Fire and the plow.  Fire and the axe. That causes erosion. Scotch on the rocks.  Rye on the rocks.  Rum on the rocks.  It’s not the ice cubes in your drink that gets you drunk. Anyway, let me show you what I’ve done so far. (cut away to grasses) They’re hard to re-establish once an area’s been disturbed. Some I bought in one gallon starter pots and some I planted as plugs from seed I got at a nursery.

(Jon HOLDS up pot.)

(Jon) This is pinegrass. It should do well, here, on the edge of the woodland with plenty of sunshine. It provides good forage and cover for wildlife. Good for controlling erosion. Tolerates sandy soil. Should grow about waist high.

(Jon picks up another plant.)

(Jon) This is a squirrel tail. Excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds.

(Jon pulls toadflax.)

(Jon) There’s not much that competes with toad flax. But, for fire protection, I’ve got blue bunch wheatgrass.

(Holds up pot.)

(Jon)  It stays green late into summer without watering. So, it really has to be a hot day before it’ll burn. And, if I water once in a while, it really shouldn't. It’s also longest lived of the native grasses, so it’ll be here for awhile. I’m going to plant a lot of this. Here, take a packet of native grass seed. I’ve got plenty of it.

(Jesse) Thanks.

(Jon walks over to tarp.)

(Jon) And this stuff?

(FOOT POKES pile of pine needles on tarp.)

(Jon) Is going straight into the gully.

WALKS OVER to gully.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jon) This ditch wasn’t near this deep when I was a kid. (DUMPS IT IN) And this is just from street run-off. See the end of the culvert, there.

They finally built an infiltration pool and lined it with cobbles.

(Pan to culvert)

(Jon) (V. O.) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire, there’d be massive amounts of run-off every time it rained. There’d be nothing to throw in the ditch to stop the run-off.

Steady cam GOES WITH Jon’s return to work area. Grabs rake. Leans on it.

(Jon) There’s a gully across the canyon, there, that’s thirty feet deep with SHEER walls.

(Pan to gully)

(Jon) When it rains, all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon, then, out to the river. No chance to soak into the ground. It’s kind of like what happens with a bad fire.

(QUICK CUT TO Angora Firestorm)

(Jon) (V. O.) The pine needles in the soil gets so hot, the resins in the pitch can form a hydrophobic layer like wax cardboard, where the water can’t penetrate. It just runs off. That’s why there’s these terrible floods after every major fire. Dry country flash floods are a sight to behold.

(Stock shot of multicolored and sinuous, desert canyon wall)

(Jon) (V. O.) Water can’t soak in. There’s nothing to hold it. Mud City . Then, things dry up. People build a few more houses, it all grows back and the whole thing happens again. Crazy! The time to stop erosion is before it gets serious, you know.

(Jesse) There’s got to be a better way.

(Jon) Indeed ! Hey, tell Brian I said he should get a REAL job.

(Jesse) I will and thanks for the grass seed. I’ll see you at volleyball.

(Ext. Day  Jesse leaves. Envelope stuffed with grass seed drops onto car seat. Jon kneels to tend his grass plugs. )

End of Naturalist’s Scene


(Narrator) As we’ve seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you’ve gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done.

 (Narrator) (cont.) The wise homeowner who gets this far will re-plant with fire-resistant shrubs or native grasses. Even in the poorest soil, this will provide year-round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well.


The Botanist’s Scene

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents to alpine botany and to native plants that will:

a)     offer little in the way of fuel to an oncoming forest fire

b)     hold the soil in place during a heavy rain or sudden snow melt

c)     offer food and shelter to wildlife such as mountain quail

d)     bloom in the spring time

 

Note: The plants mentioned in this scene are from an article written by Ed Smith, a Natural Resource Specialist with UNR Cooperative Extension. More information was offered by the botanically minded Shelly Perry. Further suggestions on appropriate plants are greatly appreciated.

( Ext. Aspen Valley Landscape Nursery – day)

(Narrator) (cont.) Let’s see how our newly enlightened first-time homeowners will simultaneously manage a fuel break for beauty, erosion control, habitat and fire protection.

CAMERA FINDS AND GOES WITH SUV as it cruises Emerald Bay Road past motels, restaurants and coffee shops on the strip.

TURNS INTO Aspen Valley Nursery.

Station wagon parks on shoulder. EXIT Helen.

Helen wears a long dress. HOLDS long shopping list in hand.

Blue Jay CALLS

Helen walks to office. Pokes head in.


(Helen) Hello-oh! Anybody here?

No reply.

WALKS down path looking at plants and garden art.

Female nursery WORKER clad in blue jeans approaches.

Slips cordless phone in back pocket.



Sketch by Alex Mizuno
(Worker) Good morning. Can I help you?

(Helen) I want to buy some plants.

(Helen hands list to worker. Reads down list.)

(Worker) Some of these we have. Some we don’t. What kind of garden are you trying to grow?

(Helen) It’s not a garden. It’s to protect the house…from fire. My husband and I want good plants out back.

(Worker) You mean fire resistant? Plants that hold the soil?

(Helen nods.)

(Worker) I can help you. How many square feet?

(Helen) Our lot is about eighty feet wide. Some forest service men came in. The area they cleared is from here to that big tree.

Ext. Day Stately Jeffrey Pine with wind chimes on lower branches.

(Worker) That’s about fifty feet.

(Helen) And, it’s all downhill.


Ext. Shot- Helen and Jessie’s property on side of hill – day

Burnt soil in back of house.

(Worker) (V. O.) Fifty by eighty. That’s four thousand square feet. One bush every ten square feet. That’s about four hundred plants.

(Helen) (V. O.) (In shock) Four hundred? Oh, no. Not that many. That won’t even fit in my car. (giggles) And money doesn’t grow on bushes, you know.

(Back to Aspen Valley Nursery)

(Worker brings wheelbarrow for Helen. Cameo shot opportunity for VIP/supporter here)

(Worker) Why don’t you put in the wheelbarrow whatever you can afford? I’ve also got wild flower seed you can plant yourself.

(Helen) Oh, wonderful. My children will love that. The workmen burned all that slash last week. Can we plant the seeds in the ash?

(Worker)  Oh yes. Ash is good fertilizer. And the heat from the fire sterilizes the decomposed granite soil and kills the weed seed.

Any of the seed that doesn’t sprout this year, will sprout next year. It might have migrated downhill a little bit from the rain but its always worth the wait.

Ext. Helen and Jess’s property – day


(Helen) (V. O.) There was so much duff. And that blackened scar is so ugly. But, I guess they had to do it.

(Worker) (V. O.) Yes, pine needles keep on dropping.

Ext. Angora forest fire – day

(Worker) (V. O.) Forest fires have been part of the Tahoe Basin landscape for thousands and thousands of years. That is, until we came along. Anyway, after a fire, most forests will come back. Even stand replacing fires often leave islands of green among the charred ruin of the forest.

When a fire creeps downhill at night it usually isn’t doing much damage.

(Back to Aspen Valley Nursery)

(Helen and Worker push wheelbarrow down path.)

(Helen) (shocked) Does that mean that most of what the workers hauled away will be back?

(Worker) In time, yes. Unless you clear it yourself. Or, establish these plants, nearby. (holds Helen’s list) They’ll compete for available water and sunlight and keep saplings from getting a toe hold.

(Helen) (shakes head) I don’t like paying for permits and all that red tape.

(Worker) What permits ?  TARPa’s regs don’t cover normal veg management unless you plan to do some major digging or take out major trees.

(Helen) You’re right.

(Worker) All the natives are fire adapted. The plants on your list can be heavily pruned when they get too big. Then, vigorously, re-sprout like nothing happened.

(Helen) What do you have that’s on my list?

(ext. dogwood)

(Worker) (V. O.) We have dogwood. That’s over here. It has beautiful fall colors and bright red, bare branches all Winter long.

(Worker lifts one)

(Worker) They’re five bucks each and do best with some drip irrigation.

(Helen) We’ve got that installed already. I’ll take four.

(Worker hands Helen a dogwood in black plastic container. Tears off sprig from another plant. Crumples it.)

(Worker) Here, smell this.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno
(Helen) (sniffs) Oh, that’s wonderful!

(Worker) It’s Sage. When it’s in bloom, the fragrance is heavenly. (PAUSE) This species is deer resistant and does best in full sun.

It also attracts butterflies.

Where do you live? Are you near the Lake ?

(Helen) No, we’re over the hill in Truckee.

(Worker) Does the hillside get afternoon sun?

(Helen) Morning.

(Worker) That puts you on a south facing slope. Fires burn hotter on the south face of a slope.

(Helen) And, we’re at the top of the hill.

(Worker) That’s a double-whammy.

(Helen) My husband insists we do everything fire safe.


(Ext. man on ladder cleans rain gutters – day)

(Helen) Every month, he’s up on the ladder, cleaning pine needles out of the rain gutters. He even wants to go in with a neighbor for one of those foam spray units to cover the house with foam.

(Int. Nursery aisle – day)

(Helen and Worker push wheelbarrow. Worker picks up another plant container.)

(Worker) This Mahala Mat or Squaw Carpet likes to grow on hillsides in part-shade. It stays very low and spreads widely without being invasive. That means it won’t be a good ladder fuel and carry flame into the tree branches. It is very fire resistant and deer resistant too. This ground cover, pinemat manzanita, (Arctostaphylos nevedensis) does a good job of holding soil. Also, it provides cover and food for mountain quail. A lower altitude alternate is Kinnikinick or Bear Berry  (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)  Did you see our resident flock of quail, driving in?

(Helen) No, but I heard them. Such a beautiful sound.

(Worker) That’s the male calling his flock together.

(Helen) How much for the squaw carpet?

(Worker) One gallon container - $6. 00 each.

(Helen) I’ll take five. Do you take VISA?

(Worker) Of course.

(Wild strawberry plants.)

(Worker) (V. O.) There’s sulfur flower buckwheat and phlox over here. The buckwheat’s an herbaceous perennial. Needs a little water, now and then.

(Helen) (V. O.) No problem, there.

(Worker) (V.O.) Phlox is just  wonderful.

(Ext: plants-day)

(Worker) They offer the best fire retardation and drought resistance.

You’re lucky you came here. Not all nurseries carry these native plants. Silly isn’t it?

(Helen) (V. O.) (Excited) Yeah! Let’s round out the wheelbarrow with those and come back for more.

(HELEN AND WORKER PUSH WHEELBARROW out to station wagon.)

(Helen) You’re a long way from the nearest fire station. What precautions have you against fire?

(Worker) A fire evacuation plan, if worst comes to worst. We’ve got the

BMP rain barrel that catches water from the rain gutters, for spot fires.

(Helen) BMP ?

(Worker) Best Management Practices to prevent erosion and keep Tahoe blue.

(Helen) Oh

(Worker)  If it's half full, that's at least four big paint buckets of water we can throw at it.

We can pump water from the well. We’ve got floating, gas powered porta-pumps

to drop in the fish ponds if the electricity goes out.

(Coiled up fire hose)

(Worker) We’ve got fire hose all coiled up and… (Ladders against rear side of storage shed)

(Worker) (cont.)…a bunch of ladders against the back of that shed, in case, the embers start falling on our heads.



Sketch by Alex Mizuno
(SUV)

(Helen and Worker arrive)

(Helen) You know, getting fire insurance these days is difficult. They won’t write a new policy unless someone else drops out.

(Worker) Tell me about it. A lot of my neighbors own their homes, free and clear and don’t even have fire insurance.  It is not required and a lot of them don’t want to spend an extra thousand bucks a year on homeowner’s insurance.  They know the value of the property is in the land, not in the 50 year old cabin that sits on it. Some lots are worth more without a home than with one. Go figure.

(Helen and Worker unload wheelbarrow.)

(Worker) Plants we can re-grow. Greenhouses can be rebuilt. If we had to evacuate, there’re a few plants I’d grab. But I wouldn’t take any chances.

(Helen) (nods) Not worth the risk.

(Worker) (shrugs) A fire would prove how fire-adapted these natives are. It’d set us back but we’d recover. We all fear the worst, but hope for the best.

(Helen) It’s just one of those things you have to plan for.

(Worker) All of my friends who survived the big fire say it pays to be prepared.

(Helen) You know people who survived Angora?

(Worker) (triumphantly) Oh sure. My sister-in-law came through with flying colors.

(Helen) I'd love to talk to her. First hand experience is hard to beat.

(Worker) I can arrange that. Let me give her a call and ask if Ingrid can spare you a few minutes. I was going to deliver this packet of wildflower seeds I got from TRPA but you can save me the trip.

(Helen) Ok. I can do that.

(Worker) (pulls out cell phone and talks softly while Helen loads up the car)

(Worker) I've got it all set up. She's expecting you. On your way out of town, take a right on Lake Tahoe Boulevard and head into Tahoe Paradise. She lives on Grizzly Mountain Court. You can't miss it. There's a sign above the front door that says, "Casa Vanderheiden". It's the only house on the block that didn't burn.

(Helen) Thank you so much. I'll be sure to give her the seeds. And when I get home, the first container I’m going to plant is the sage. Whenever I smell it, I’ll be reminded of you and my first visit to Aspen Hollow.

(Worker) Thanks, and you'll like Ingrid. She a great friend. See you next time.

(Helen waves and drives off)

(End of Botanist’s Scene)
____________________________________________________
The Survivor's Scene

The purpose of this scene is to teach homeowners what to do before, during and after a suburban forest fire.

(Helen parks her car, exits and approaches Ingrid, who is working on a motorcycle on the driveway.)

(Ingrid) (rubbing her greasy hands on a rag) Hi. How ya doin?

(Helen) Oh Pretty good. Nice bike.

(Ingrid) Thanks. It gets me there.

(Helen) Karen, over at the nursery, asked me to deliver this packet of seeds and uh,...I thought I could ask a few questions and get some tips on surviving a forest fire. (hands the packet to Ingrid)

(Ingrid) Sure, I'd be glad to. Oh this is neat. What have we got here? (reading the contents....)
Lupine, blanket flower, durar hard fescue, blue flax, Rocky Mountain penstemon, sulfur buckwheat, Siberian wallflower and scarlet gilia. hmmm...
This place could use a little color and some erosion control. (camera pans dead trees and fire blackened tree trunks.

(Helen) So where were you when the fire started?

(Ingrid) Oh, at home. Doin' the usual. I think I was on the computer when I heard the first siren. I didn't think much of it but then I saw the column of smoke goin' up and up. When they didn't have it out in the first 15 minutes then I knew it wasn't a house on fire. And then I started movin'. We already had the defensible space and the fire safe landscaping in place, Thank God.

(Helen) So what did you do?

(Ingrid) Well, the thing was, I didn't know how much time I had. So I did the most obvious things first. I put the bike in the metal storage shed. I turned the car around in the driveway and turned on the car radio so I could hear the emergency bulletins. I put an extension ladder up against the house so I could check the rain gutters for pine needles and left it there for the firemen. I got the garden hose and started spraying water like crazy. I think I even squirted water into the attic through the air vents. I filled buckets. I wet down the deck and soaked the garden. I set up the sprinkler and started grabbin' stuff out of the house.

(Helen) Like what?

(Ingrid) Oh and I called some neighbors and rang some doorbells. But they weren't home. I dunno. Stuff? Well let's see. I got my jewelry and Carl's saddle. That went into the trunk of the car. I grabbed what financial records I could find and some pictures and DVD's and stuffed them into my pillow case. I must have looked like a burglar runnin' out the door like that. I was looting my own house!

(Helen) I guess

(Ingrid) And then I heard more and more sirens and started smellin' that smoke and then I started goin' nuts. I yanked down the drapes and curtains away from the windows. I closed the blinds. I shoved the couch away from the picture window so the radiant heat wouldn't catch it on fire. I closed every door in the house. I said good by to the fish in the tank. I really didn't think this place was goin' to survive, but it did.

(Helen) You were really lucky.

(Ingrid) I guess so, but so many of our neighbors never bothered with the basics.
And they came home to piles of junk and ash.

(Helen) I saw it on the news.

(Ingrid) It was really sad. Go figure. And now it's hammers and power saws, all day, every day. The place will never be the same again. Most of our neighbors will be strangers again or people on vacation. It's really heart breaking. And now I've got survivor's guilt to cope with because I did the smart thing. We're going to have to paint and remodel this place now, just to keep up with the Jones's. This fire was like urban redevelopment I tell you. Wiped the slate clean.

(Helen) I guess so. I quit counting the destroyed homes on my way in here when I got to thirty something.

(Ingrid) The total was over a hundred and fifty but the economic damage to the economy of South Lake Tahoe was probably more like a billion dollars. Tourists will be looking at that fire scar on the mountain for decades and wondering what happened to their nice view from the balcony.

(Helen) Yeah, I suppose. Thanks for the tips.

(Ingrid) Whatever. I hope you never need to use any of it and if you do, just remember that its not over until the last pitch of the last inning. I mean, you could have a little fire smoldering in the attic and not realize it because the smell of smoke in the air is so over powering.

(Helen) Yeah, that's right, 'cause fires really stink. Its like living in a bad neighborhood. You have to keep your eyes open all the time.

(Ingrid) One bad fire can ruin your whole day.

(Helen) I'd rather have a bad case of guilt and deal with clutter than have to start all over with nothing.

(Ingrid) That's it. Keep those two by fours, standing up in the forest and prevent global warming.

(Helen) Right! Can I come back in the spring and check out your flower garden?

(Ingrid) Sure. I'll look forward to seeing you.

(Helen) Thanks. I'll bring you some more flower seeds.

(Ingrid) bye (waving as Helen drives away).

(fade out)

(End of The Survivor's Scene)

Closing: Angora Fire clip: Smoking ruins of a house

Epilogue Screen #1:

The Angora Fire of 2007 caused $150 million in property damage, cost $11 million precious tax dollars to fight and left hundreds of families homeless. This stupendous damage tally continues to climb as tourism falls off, algae clouds the Lake , toxic run off enters the Truckee River , the aquifer’s drinking water becomes tainted with carcinogens and burned area recovery teams struggle to control erosion and re-seed burned hill sides. A long lasting Wikipedia entry describes the Angora Fire as a billion dollar fire and if the weather had been worse, of course, the damage tally would have been much worse.

Epilogue Screen #2:

A lot more than a forest burned in the Angora Fire. Turnover in the Tahoe Paradise will probably be close to 70% as old time families sell out and the nouveau riche take advantage of bare lots and bargain real estate prices.  Animals suffered too, as they tried to escape the flames. Most of the animal victims had only faint collective memories of fire and so, few instincts to guide them. A lot of good wildlife habitat was destroyed and even with rehabilitation, will take decades to return to what it once was.

Epilogue Screen #3:

A fire this socially and environmentally destructive does not have to happen again, although there may be other severe wildfires in the Tahoe Basin in coming years. Keep your ears open, for the sound of The Cannonball Express.

Epilogue Screen #4 

This film was funded with grants from the …………………..

(Closing Credits with Theme Music)

 


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