10/27/2007 01:58 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

San Diego Fires Wind Down Leaving Damaged Property And Imprinted Kids

Del Mar, CALIFORNIA -- The last refugees were leaving San Diego's famous Qualcomm stadium Friday as the home of the Chargers was becoming....well, the home of the Chargers. The game against the Houston Texans would start as schedule at 1 p.m. Sunday.

This was a symbolic moment: the devastating fires that caused more than $1 billion in property damage in San Diego County -- with nearly a billion more in damages elsewhere in Southern California -- had FINALLY given firefighters and residents an apparent breather and a raised hopes that it signaled chance to return to normalcy. Two words about that: fat chance.

Earlier this week Mommy Nature had a fit and there were fires amid fierce Santa Ana winds temperatures. But by Friday Mommy Nature had calmed down. It was damp -- and the winds died down faster than a debate hall after Presidential debates have ended.

In media imagery terms, to some the story was starting to wind down.

Perhaps...but not really. Because this is part of a series of events that are impacting -- and imprinting a new generation. And even as an event, it is far from even STARTING to be over.

Up the I-5, the historic Del Mar Fairgrounds told a different story about the saga of the fires that scorched 810 square miles, more than twice the size of New York City.

The 40 year old stadium had been relatively accessible for volunteers wanting to get in and help and for media types wanting to see how displaced families were faring and file reports. But security was tight at the fairgrounds. Once it was announced that Qualcomm as going to close fire refugees and their families it was announced that people were allowed to go back to their homes (if they still had them) or at least go back and collect valuables until their areas were open.. So Del Mar became the prime refugee center in San Diego County.

The fact that it is heavily used is glaring evidence of the fact that many people here don't have a place to go back to due to the fires that wiped out some 1,600 structures, 1,200 of them in San Diego County.

I saw the Del Mar security first hand.

On Monday I decided to go to the stadium in my other incarnation to meet families and in particular to entertain and talk to kids and young people in a kind of private donation/visit (this post will NOT detail it since it was not for publicity, although I'm told a CNN camera showed snippets of that visit as they caught me entertaining and talking to a 5-year-old while passing by). It was easy to get into Qualcomm and San Diegans were: dropping off donations, going into personally give some things to the families.

Del Mar was different. A big sign announced parking for the Media Pool, and some cameras were poised on tripods a few yards away. A bit closer to the pavilion housing many families, there was a media credential table.Teams of uniformed Red Cross workers came in and out of the building. There were many more visible National Guardsmen. Due to an attempt to reduce people going inside and security concerns this time I (and my case with a dummy and a puppet) was unable to get in.

The bottom line is this crisis far from waning. And it's going to take a while for the signs to dissipate, the sights and smells to fade away -- and the impact on young people not just in San Diego County but throughout California to be completely pinpointed and address.

You could smell the stinking smells of San Diego County under fire on the I-5 South Thursday night once you left San Clemente and approached Camp Pendleton.

It wasn't just dark. It was smoke dark. And even with my car's air conditioner on I started coughing due to the rancid smell of lingering smoke. The smell lasted for miles. I-5 ramps that would normally be open for trucks and rest areas on this strip were also closed.

Of the seven Southern California counties declared major disaster areas due to this fire that has required some 12,000 firefighters to battle and cost some 12 lives, San Diego county fared the worst. In coming weeks there will be stories about reconstruction, the impact on businesses, what was done right and what went wrong -- all shaped by perceptions created by media coverage.

But a word to the wise: media coverage (like blog coverage) isn't always accurate.

Former San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Michael Grant looking at local media coverage in San Diego in part, writes:

"In the news media, as in any enterprise, there is always a tension between principles and realities. The first news media principle is accuracy. Accuracy is also the second and third principle of news media, and it is so important because of credibility. Lose accuracy, lose credibility, forfeit consumer trust, and the consumer remotes off to another channel.

But the news media also must acknowledge reality. When a news story is going 150 mph, accuracy tends to suffer. This is a particularly mean reality for television news organizations. A vital component of accuracy is editing - checking facts - and when stories happen at speed, editing can't keep up. Principles become overrun by realities, just as fire overruns dreams. It can happen even in newspapers, with their overnight cushion, but it happens on the fly, on television, and nothing can be done about it."

Read his post in its entirety.

The second reality is that media coverage doesn't always tell the whole story.

One overlooked story is about how entire new generation is being IMPRINTED by these tragic and horrific experiences. Since Monday I have had a chance to talk to kids and young people about the fires at various venues -- at the stadium with their brave, courageous and sometimes devastated parents...and at schools in two counties north of San Diego after I finished my programs (several kids raised the issue when they heard I was from San Diego).

The kids are resilient and have a defense mechanism so they can cope and they'd talk matter of factly about the fire. Or the fact that the particulate-crammed, orange-colored air made it tough to breathe if they had a respiratory ailment. Or, in some cases, even if they didn't.

Kids crave stability and assurances but the young fire victims were yanked out of their stable lives as surely as if they had been suddenly attacked by a child abuser on the street. Some kids seemed shell-shocked as they mentioned the fires and their pets as they stood next to worried, stressing or even grieving parents.

Meanwhile, volunteers at the stadium probably helped increase child obseity statistics because every time a kid there moved he/she was offered ice cream (and took it). Water? Food? Ice cream? Blankets? The volunteers, agencies and National Guard provided it all.

But even ice cream can't mitigate the fact that for many of these kids in San Diego now face a (non-ice cream) rocky road: this is the second time in two years they have been impacted by furious fires racing through forests and canyons to uproot their lives (particularly kids from the Julian area in the mountains east of downtown). Even kids not in the fires' paths read and heard about the crisis elsewhere in the county, decreasing their sense of security.

These kids and others throughout the country are also growing up in a world where they have had educators have to explain to them things such as 9/11, or grown up in schools where they know there are safety procedures for "lock downs" if there is a threat to them (so the know a threat is out there). It's a world in which one enterprising guy now even sells a bulletproof backpack on the Internet for high school students.

When you look into a kids eyes after doing a comedy bit that has then laughing and smiling and then ask how they are doing and you get a serious answer, you see that they KNOW. Adults many times forget how much they KNEW about what was going on the world when they were kids. Too many perceive kids as little beings who are not aware. Today's interconnected kids play Penguin Club, know about iPods, go on MySpace, at young ages see cable news and satire comedy news shows and have all kinds of bits of info embedded in their brains and all kinds of negative events (and inappropriate cultural) imprinting other generations have not had.

I often tell a story about a bit that happened at a workshop after one of my shows where I let kids try a dummy and taught them how to become instant ventriloquists. A boy who was in kindergarten had the practice dummy. "How old are you?" I asked the puppet. "One," the kid/dummy replied. "One? But you're so BIG for one. What did you eat to get so big?"

The answer from the kid:" Steroids."

Kids are like sponges, soaking things up.

And Mommy Nature and the world just aren't giving them good things to soak up these days....