Fire and Water (Northern California and Puerto Rico)

We at CatSynth are staying safely ensconced at HQ as the rather poor smoke-filled air reaches our doorstep. Fortunately, we are safe and have everything, which no longer true for so many to our north in Sonoma and Napa. This is still an on-going situation which we are following on social media and through local sources like SFGate. It is just devasting to see scenes and places I recognize going up in flames.

As things are still in the emergency and evacuation phase, the focus is on shelter, and of course fighting the fire.

Bring Crucial Supplies & Volunteer at Shelters

To accommodate the estimated 20,000 evacuees, a number of local landmarks have opened their doors to the growing influx of escapees. Below is a list of shelters, organizations, schools, and businesses we’ve found that are currently operating as safe spaces; they need able-and-willing volunteers and donations of essential supplies.

Veterans Memorial Building and Hall, 1351 Maple Ave. (Santa Rosa), sonomacountry.ca.gov
Petaluma Community Center, 320 N. McDowell Blvd. (Petaluma), cityofpetaluma.net
Sonoma County Fairgrounds (open for large- and medium-sized livestock and farm animals), access via Gate 7 on Aston Ave. (Sonoma), sonomacountyfiar.com
Ramekins Culinary School and Inn, 450 W. Spain St. (Sonoma), remekins.com
Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds (open to accommodate small livestock and other farm animals, access via Gate 4 on 175 Fairgrounds Dr (Petaluma), sonoma-maringfair.org
Crosswalk Church (currently at-capacity and in need of aid), 2590 1st St. (Napa), crosswalknapa.org
Napa Valley College Gym, 2277 Napa Vallejo Hwy. (Napa), napavalley.edu

Here are some resources for those needing to evacuate with pets. Please share with your friends in the area:

Multiple shelters are open to assist pet owners. They are:
Napa County Animal Shelter at 942 Hartle Ct, Napa
Santa Rosa Fairgrounds at 1350 Bennett Valley Road. Access the Fairgrounds via Gate 7 on Aston Ave
Cloverdale Citrus Fair at 1 Citrus Fair Drive, Cloverdale
Californians: If anyone has a horse trailer, Chalk Hill Ranch near Healdsburg needs emergency help. They have 54 horses in dire need of transportation off the ranch. 13426 Chalk Hill Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448 707-433-1804

To help animals and their humans, Donate to the Humane Societies and SPCA

Natural disasters of this magnitude affect more than human lives. Donate your time—and extra bags of dog and cat food—to the North Bay branches of the Humane Society and SPCA as they go about the tough work of accommodating new shelter animals.

Humane Society of Sonoma County, 5345 CA-12. (Santa Rosa), sonomahumane.org
Humane Society of Napa County, 3265 California Blvd. (Napa), napahumane.org
Yuba-Sutter SPCA, 745 Sutter St. (Yuba), yubasutterspca.org

Animal shelters in the region are evacuating some of their residents to places south here in SF and in Oakland. In some cases, it may the shelter is in danger. In others, they are making space for animals lost or otherwise affected by the fires. Our friends at the SF SPCA and Cat Town Oakland are helping out.

Many wineries and other institutions are affected. We haven’t heard updates from some our favorite places around St Helena and Calistoga. We did hear that the di Rosa Art Center galleries and staff are all safe. Friends have reported in safe as well. We will continue to follow things – it is so hard to watch but also so hard to look.


Thousands of miles to the east and south, our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico are trying to recover. We have fire; they have water. The recovery phase sometimes falls off the outside radar as new disasters happen – though in a dark twist the toxic politics will ensure that it does stay in our consciousness longer. It was pretty outrageous to see the lack of response, then the embarrassingly poor response, and cheap shots and criticisms of the people suffering through this disaster and trying to help them. But we persevere…

In general, organizations helping humans, pets, and preserving culture need cash more than stuff (and it’s also best to allow it to go to general funds). For disaster relief, friends have recommended Oxfam America. As in our local conflagration, and after the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, organizations are helping rescue and evacuate pets and other animals. From a recent story in The Atlantic:

The Humane Society of the United States, anticipating a deluge of lost and abandoned pets after the recent natural disaster, began coordinating flights of animals already in Texas shelters to other parts of the country. Eventually, they relocated hundreds of adoptable cats and dogs in the days before and after the storm. The same happened with Irma in Florida and the Virgin Islands. The same is happening after Maria in Puerto Rico.

HSUS is collecting and distributing donations for animal and human relief work. Many local organizations are helping as well. You can find out more from The Humane Society of Puerto Rico’s Facebook Page on current status and needs.

You can see feline evacuees from Puerto Rico to Safe Haven for Cats in North Carolina in this video, via this article.

Thoughts on the Oakland Ghost Ship fire

Long time readers may know that fire is among my biggest fears. I fear fire in every rickety wooden space where I go to play or hear music. Most are fairly safe, with alarms, sprinklers and clear corridors. And even in those few cases where there weren’t, my attention shifted to the music, fellowship and always had a wonderful time. That’s why we go. It’s what we do, it’s what we love. We, artists, have no choice but to create and participate. It could have been any of us.

Oakland warehouse fire
[By Janna487 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

By last count, the fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland on December 2 claimed 36 lives. We at CatSynth send our thoughts and condolences to their families and close friends. I was worried for many dear friends who might have been there. They fortunately have all checked in safe in the week since, but they are grieving deeply in the aftermath for their friends who were lost. I feel for them, and try my best to remember those who perished with whom I crossed paths like Cherushii (aka Chelsea Dolan), Cash Askew, and others. But this is not my story. It is the story of my friends who knew them best. The personal remembrances they have posted are not mine to share. I did find this article helpful in understanding the victims better. Their stories are another reminder that it could have been any of us.

As we grieve, we in the arts community brace for a round of crackdowns on spaces, from both authorities and landlords. Ghost Ship was an outlier – most spaces while operating in the margins do more often than not operate with a concern for safety and cleanliness and civility. These are the spaces that are now under attack – it’s starting to happen beyond Oakland, with reports from New York, Denver, and here in SF. My own neighborhood in San Francisco was a warren of old factory buildings and warehouses that contained a thriving underground scene in the 1980s at a time when I just a kid in New York buying a first synth. I saw the waning days of that scene, with some of the last large artist-studio buildings being displaced in the past couple of years to make way for offices and condos. Fire is not necessary for authorities to displace artists, but it can certainly make it easier. But even the most safety-minded among us can’t compete easily in places when both the powerful and the populists do not value artists. New York has done better. The grim artists’ spaces of the lower east side may have long given way to boutiques, restaurants, and other upscale spaces but artists are still colonizing spaces and they have “paths to legality.” If authorities here want to help safety in a way that doesn’t show contempt for artists, a similar system of support for bringing things up to code and then operating would be useful as well.

Although I maybe starting to “age out” of some of the underground spaces of the Bay Area – even if my spirit wants to be there, my body and mind are not as enthusiastic – I still cherish many of my past experiences both as a performer and an attendee. My first time out and about in the world as Amanda was at a large warehouse space in West Oakland in 2011, and shortly afterwards I performed at a very nice space in an old factory in East Oakland as her. Some of my early shows in the mid 2000s at underground spaces in San Francisco were very informative for my solo practice today – a few of them even written up here on CatSynth, but I hesitate to link directly to them as authorities may use them in their crackdowns.

This is already a perilous time for those of us in marginalized communities, such as people of color and LGBTQ individuals. Coming together to create and enjoy, even in the edges of society, is one way we cope and thrive; and now we have to fear that may become more challenging as well. So some will forced further out to the edges. And another tragedy will happen.

It could have been any of us.

on Thursday (not SFEMF)

I was hurrying home to San Francisco after 7PM yesterday to catch the first night of SFEMF. The radio programming was interrupted with an news update of a large fire in San Bruno, a town just south of San Francisco, near the airport. Specifically, it was near Skyline Blvd (CA 35) and not far from I-280, the highway on which I was traveling. Instantly, I thought it was wildfire out of control on a hillside. It is California, after all. The report then said that there were “several blocks in flames” and people hearing a large explosion and injured people being brought to local hospitals. This was something different. And I was on 280 heading north directly towards it. The smoke was visible above the ridge from miles away. As I approached the ramp from 280 to highway 35, it was closed off and covered with emergency vehicles. Beyond it was the column of smoke and the fire itself in the hills off to the left. The smell of the smoke and burning was intense, even inside the mostly enclosed car. A steady stream of cars jamming the streets down from the hills.

I know the area along Skyline Blvd moderately well. It is a high ridge between the Pacific Ocean and the suburban towns south of San Francisco, dotted with wooded hillsides, ocean views and surprisingly dense suburban developments, many of which had that iconic 1950s and 1960s look. I had explored the area when looking for a new home 2007 and I would sometimes escape into the hills along highways 35 and 1 as breaks when I worked in the area. I wondered if the houses and neighborhoods I had seen were among those now in flames.

After the concert, I came back online to get more information. I checked both our local newspaper online, where I found out it was caused by a huge gas line explosion, saw a map of the neighborhood affected, and saw horrific photos and videos. I simultaneously checked #sanbruno on Twitter. The location not a neighborhood I knew, but it could have been. 40 homes and 4 deaths officially. My thoughts are with those who lost their homes or loved ones.

And in the aftermath some attention turns to lost and missing pets as well. I read both about animals being rescued and about people who knew their pets were lost. In the immediate aftermath, a local PetCo accepted pets that were found during the emergency phase. The Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA have been involved, helping residents find lost pets, taking in animals that survived and were found. You can visit their site to find out more, and also how you can contribute. I did see one of their trucks when dropping off emergency donations on the way to work on Friday…once again driving on 280.

Finally, a few small bits of good news, including a man who able to go back and rescue his cat.

Close call

One final and rather scary note from my Weekend in Shanghai. On the way to lunch on Sunday, we passed through a large bank of food stalls, apparently part of a regular weekend event. We had just talked a girl at a stall and were leaving when all of a sudden there was a loud explosion. We turned around to see that stall had burst into flames. Even though we were already some distance away, the heat was rather intense. Along with many others, we immediately left the area for safety. I sincerely hope no one was badly hurt, though I am especially worried for the girl who was inside the stand. It also hasn’t escaped me how things would be very different right now had that explosion happened only a minute earlier…

Weekend Cat Blogging: Alone in a sea

Alone in a sea of cardboard:

Another example of Luna's natural geometry set against hard artificial lines.

Vast expanses of fun…on what is otherwise a dreary Saturday for us here at CatSynth. But the extended weekend is a good excuse to complete the major projects remaining at CatSynth HQ.

The rain is actually good news this weekend for our former hometown of Santa Cruz – there has been a major wildfire in the mountains to the east. It's actually near Loma Prieta, for which the 1989 earthquake was named. Sadly, many people have lost homes in the mountains. It's a sparsely populated area, where people specifically chose to live and make their homes. Animal rescue has been a major and so far successful component of the effort, with horses and other animals being brought to the county fairgrounds near Watsonville.

We are also sad to hear about the passing of one of our Weekend Cat Blogging friends, Bonnie Underfoot. Please visit them and offer your thoughts.


Weekend Cat Blogging is being hosted by Kate and Puddy at A Byootaful Life. It looks like our favorite Luna look-a-like is having a birthday this weekend!

The Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos and Carnival of the Cats, hosted by the Catboys Realm and the M-Cats club, respectively, are both dedicated this weekend to Bonnie Underfoot.

And as always, the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Heroic cat alerts man to two-alarm blaze

From our local ABC affiliate:

BURLINGAME, Calif. Nov. 21, 2007 (BCN) – A man slept soundly this morning while a fire burned his home in the unincorporated Burlingame Hills area of San Mateo County, fire officials said.

Luckily, the man's cat woke him and alerted him to the blaze, Central County Fire Department Battalion Chief Ed Barton said.

The fire burned the man's home, which is a guesthouse located in front of a house located at 3037 Canyon Road, Barton said.

The two-alarm fire was burning when the man woke to put his howling cat outside, Barton said. The man went back to bed but woke again to the cat's insistent meowing.

When the man got out of bed to attend to the cat, he saw the fire and called 911 at about 5:21 a.m., Barton said.

The cat was not harmed by the blaze, and the man appears to have escaped safely as well.

What makes this story particularly significant is that I saw this fire. I happened to be staying in the Burlingame/Hillsborough hills above the canyon. I heard the sirens and saw the smoke, and then the fire, which looked to be quite large (as “guest houses” can sometimes be in this area). Many of you may have read about our nasty wildfire season here in California, so there is always a small worry of a house fire spreading up a canyon – fortunately, the weather has been pretty cold and damp lately.

Fires are terrible events. It was fortunate that both the cat and the man were safe.