So, Who Are You?

I get the question a lot. When I first started reporting on the Caldor Fire I wound up with a much larger Twitter following than I could have imagined. Naturally, a lot of my lovely followers were asking, “Who are you and why are you doing this?” The silence I responded with was sometimes followed by, “Why won’t you tell us?”

Let me answer the second question, first. At the time my goal was simple: Focus on this one fire, report the fire’s movements as quickly and accurately as possible, and see what I can do to help a few people in El Dorado County. Whoever was behind the keyboard disseminating the information wasn’t relevant. And to make it relevant would have been a distraction. When fire was jumping the 50 and terrifying folks in Kyburz, I had little interest in tweeting about myself.

That said, I never expected the Caldor Fire to go on for the weeks and months it did. The scope of this fire led to a sizeable Twitter following which turned into a kind of virtual community. While reporting the fire’s movement I was in side conversations with folks who were evacuated and afraid of what they would come home to, if anything. There were people messaging me with stories of growing up in their Grandfather’s cabin, a place of memories which they hoped was still standing. Still more were asking for any tidbit of information I may have about when they might get to go home, and through that we ended up talking for weeks about their lives and kids and fears and memories of the Sierra. It was strange and wonderful and I’m so thankful this community of sorts came together, despite the tragedy.

After so many of you shared your stories with me, and now that my own story wouldn’t be a distraction to my coverage, I think it’s time to share in return. I live in Ohio with my husband of 3 years and our two dogs. I like coffee too much and vegetables not enough. I’m a very anxious person but also lots of fun. I work in marketing for a college where I focus on community outreach. My degree is in Psychology. I have no training in journalism. My background is varied: I worked at a startup in San Francisco for years, a public health institute in Berkeley, an LGBT group home for teenagers in Oakland, several different public and private schools across Thailand, and I conducted research for an American university on the intersection of religion and sexuality in Laos and Cambodia. So how did I end up spending 18 hours a day for months reporting on a wildfire in El Dorado County, California?

It’s my husband’s fault. This past spring and summer I was getting restless. Work was feeling less fulfilling. I felt bored. It seemed a long time since I was really contributing something to the world. Instead of jumping ship and grabbing another job, my husband encouraged me to dive into a hobby or project for awhile. He asked me to consider something I am already doing and enjoy that, if I put a bit more time and effort into, could become something fulfilling.

I wasn’t coming up with much. I was frustrated. He was tired of my incessant whining and pushed me to answer the question with whatever came to mind: I said I’m good at sharing helpful information on Twitter and I enjoy writing, even though I’m bad at it.

And that’s how it happened. I set my old Twitter account aside (too much politics) and created a new one. I chose the name Jericho out of a book I was working on years ago about a sad boy living on an Island (it’s angsty and embarrassing and no you can’t read it). As a news junky I happened to be reading about a small fire that popped up in an area of El Dorado County I was familiar with. When I looked for more details I couldn’t find much. So I figured, maybe I can find some information to share that might be helpful to a few people there. Maybe that can be the distraction I need right now. Sending one or two tweets a day on this topic could give me a sense of purpose for a couple weeks.

Of course, the rest you know. It quickly became apparent there was a massive information gap between where the fire was at any given time vs. where folks knew the fire was. So, I dove in. Set up the scanners. Got in contact with folks on the ground. Studied satellite data. Jumped on the flight radar bandwagon. I started covering the fire’s movement in real time which led to 18 hour days (more on the pros and cons of neurodivergence later, perhaps). I made lots of mistakes and did what I could to fix them. Folks responded positively and helped me understand what information was most needed. It felt good to play a very small role in giving people a hand in a difficult time. And it was good to feel as if I was back in California again, a place I desperately love.

I learned a lot about fire science and climate change. I learned more about myself and my own passions. Mostly, I learned about the people of El Dorado County. Their resiliency has been an inspiration. I’m truly thankful for the strange little community we became a part of out of such a nightmare.

I hope this satisfies the more curious tweeps and, yes, I begrudgingly admit it feels nice to share a bit of myself with you. Now that my duty in peeling back the curtain is done, let’s get to my first project on this new blog: Investigating the origin and response to the Caldor Fire.

Cheers,
~j

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