SUNNY FLORIDA


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Catalina, California…Water-dumping planes and helicopters helped beat back soaring flames that threatened this quaint Catalina Island town Friday, giving firefighters a victory that allowed nearly 4,000 evacuated residents to start coming home.

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Even though the six-square-mile blaze was only 35 percent contained, the wildfire and thick smoke were confined to the tinder-dry brush in the mountains of this narrow island 30 miles off Los Angeles.

Avalon’s cobblestone streets, brightly painted bungalows, landmark casino and tourist hotels were mostly spared, with only one home and several outbuildings burned. No one was seriously injured.

“Thank goodness the firefighters did get here because that made the difference,” said Martha Ashleigh, 61, who has lived on Catalina on and off for years. “We were watching from our balcony and we could just see truck after truck go up there. They were just fabulous.”

A day earlier, flames bore down from the mountains, raining ash and chaos on the crescent harbor. Evacuated residents clambered onto ferries that passed U.S. Navy hovercrafts packed with fire trucks from the mainland.

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Many were workers who cook and clean for vacationers. Others were at vacation homes as the summer tourist season geared up.

“It’s like a war zone. The skies turned completely gray with orange streaks. The helicopters were flying all over the place,” said Anita Bussing, a therapist whose other home is in Long Beach. “People were freaking out, children were crying.”

By Friday afternoon, one ferry full of residents was headed back to the island from Long Beach, and a relay of water-carrying helicopters saturated a hillside at the edge of town where smoke curled into the blue sky. The step appeared intended to extinguish any lingering hot spots.

The cause of the fire, which erupted Thursday afternoon in the 76-square-mile island’s rugged interior, had not yet been determined.

The island’s relative isolation has proven a liability before. A 1915 fire that started in a hotel burned half the town’s buildings.

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The island’s romantic vibe was memorialized in the 1958 hit “26 Miles (Santa Catalina).” Before private jets and third homes became standard fare for the rich and really famous, Santa Catalina was a celebrity haunt for the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Cecil B. DeMille.

About 300 movies have been shot on the island or in nearby waters, including “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Chinatown,” “Jaws” and “Apollo 13.”

One relic of that era are the herds of bison that were brought over for filming and later released.

Environmentalists said it was too early to tell how the blaze affected the island’s overall ecosystem, home to rare animal and plant life, including the Catalina Island fox.

But four bald eaglets that hatched earlier this year without human help were unharmed, according to Bob Rhein, a spokesman for the Catalina Island Conservancy, which owns most of the island. The birds are a milestone in the reintroduction of the species, which was wiped out on the island decades ago by chemical contamination.

Just days before and about 50 miles away on the mainland, crews fought a fire in Los Angeles’ major park that singed a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes. That was the third menacing fire in the Hollywood Hills this spring and wildfire season here isn’t supposed to heat up until the fall.

Around the country, firefighters battled a wildfire in Georgia and northern Florida that burned 179,940 acres or 281 square miles since a lightning strike ignited it a week ago.

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The fire, which started last Saturday in the middle of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, took just six days to grow larger than a wildfire that has burned 116,480 acres of Georgia forest and swampland over more than three weeks.

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In Georgia, the fire posed a potential threat to the tiny city of Fargo, where 380 people live about eight miles west of the Okefenokee Swamp. Occupants of about 15 homes in a subdivision were asked to leave as a precaution because of the smoke and ash.

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About 570 homes in northern Columbia County, Florida, were evacuated overnight, and heavy smoke blanketed the area. A haze was seen in Miami, more than 300 miles away. (See where other fires are burning in U.S.)

To the north, a wildfire grew to nearly 86 square miles in northeastern Minnesota and across the border into Canada, cutting power and phone lines to many resorts and lake homes.

The fire, driven by high wind Thursday and fed by drought-parched forest, has already destroyed 45 structures and was threatening about 200 more. The chance of desperately needed rainfall was still days away.
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Thank you Associated Press.

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As you know Baby Boomer…I live in central Florida [about an hour to 45 minutes away from the fires] and this morning…once again, the air is full of thick smoke and ash. It has been over a month since the fires started and people are warned to stay inside because the air is so dence.

We pray for rain but are not getting any…as well a storm could start more fires with lightning. It is a chance I would take, since the rest of the area is drought stricken.

Thanks and cudos to the Red Cross and the Firefighters!

~The Baby Boomer Queen

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In WAYCROSS, Georgia, wind gusts fanned flames into treetops Monday as crews continued to battle a wildfire that has burned 125 square miles of forest and swamp land in the past two weeks.

More than 830 firefighters from Georgia and neighboring states had the blaze 64 percent contained Monday morning, said Susan Reisch, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

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“We expect the fire will continue to burn intensely this week,” Reisch said. “Crews will be working on extinguishing hot spots through the month, or until the next heavy rain at the earliest.” No rain was forecast for the next several days, while low humidity and sustained winds of 10 mph threatened to help spread the fire Monday.

The blaze has blanketed cities including Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida — about 200 miles away — with its smoke.

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The fire has burned 80,000 acres in the Okefenokee Swamp and surrounding forest in southeast Georgia’s Ware County. The blaze started April 16 when a tree fell on a power line. It spread rapidly, destroying 22 homes.

A 16-mile section of U.S. 1, which connects Waycross with Jacksonville remained closed Monday as firefighters widened breaks to keep the fire from crossing the highway into miles of tinder-dry forest.

A few families remained evacuated Monday from their homes near the northern edge of the swamp.

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Firefighters also worked to contain two smaller wildfires that broke out Sunday in neighboring Charlton and Brantley counties. Weiss said at least nine families were evacuated from Charlton County.
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Thank you Associated Press.
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For over two weeks we in cental Florida, have seen and smelt the fires of Georgia. Yesterday was especially bad. The air was thick with smoke and every night the moon is covered with a hazy ring of smoke.

The northern winds are bringing the reality that the fires is just over the state line and our area is dry from lack of April showers.

I remember in 1985, I had to come from Fort Worth to check on my Mother who lived in the Ocala Forest. At that time, the forest was ablaze and all those who had property in that area, where threatened and many lost their homes. I can not even imagine how much wild life lost their lives, as the fire swept thru the area for weeks, ravaging acres and miles.

The really dangerous thing about a fire in a swampy area, is that the peat moss will ignite and the fire will go underground with it…which means…that a fire can pop up just about anywhere, once it gets started. A mile away or 500 feet…it doen’t matter…it smoulders and stays lit until it gets a good wind pulling at it and then it runs again.

When I got to the area, after driving for two days…I was met by Florida State Troupers who would not let in past their road block…well Baby Boomers…those of you who know me…KNOW that wouldn’t be something that would stop me. MY Mother was only 5 miles away and if she was in danger, I was going in!

I had been calling her for the last four days, but to no avail.

SO what do I do…you got it I turned around…turned around again and ran the road block…knocked those puppies out of the way with my new Lincoln. Needless to say…the Troopers came after me with lights and sirens blaring…I had to stop when the cruised in front of me as I wouldn’t endanger their lives…well they made me turn around and told me they could arrest me…go ahead I stated…No Judge in this area is going to put me behind bars for going into a fire zone to get their Mother out.

Well…I finally promised to give up if they didn’t arrest me {what could I do from a jail cell?}. What they did tell me were what other routes were not blocked…so off I went 35 miles in a big u turn to get in to the burning area. {glad that some of us were senseable that night!}

As it turns out…my Mother wasn’t even in her house. She was in Silver Springs, partying with her co~workers at a Fire Party. LOL

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So, that is my adventure of the fires that burned the Ocala National Forest. You can still see the scares from that fire, on the trees that survived it. Trunks of trees still black from the fire…but everything else has come back even better than it was.

Nature has a way of taking care of business that we, as humans don’t understand.

I will pray for rain for the Georgians and Florida and for their protection from harms way.

And my heart felt thanks, to those brave Fire Fighters who have diligently fought this fire…those from the area and those of you who have come in to help, from other areas. I know you are out there!

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~The Baby Boomer Queen~

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We are having a cold front here today…the temperture is 70 degrees…wish you were here…
~The Baby Boomer Queen~

WHAT ABOUT THEM GATORS!?!?!?!

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Forward, Corey Brewer, who would go on to be named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player on Monday after scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds, giggled and said 1996 Kentucky, partly to appease his coach, who was sitting to his right, and partly because Ron Mercer was his Tennessee homeboy.

The rest of the Gators starters completed the assembly-line history quiz: Taurean Green said ’93 Carolina. Al Horford said ’98 Kentucky. Lee Humphrey said ’72-73 UCLA. Jo Noah said he lived in France for so long as a kid that he was unqualified to reply, but added he had been a fan of ’00 Florida.

Donovan then chimed in with ’96 Kentucky, as well as ’90-91 UNLV and ’70s UCLA. Strangely enough, no one said Duke’s ’91-92 juggernaut, the team whose feat of back-to-back national championships had stood unmatched for 15 years, until the Gators equaled it the next day with an 84-75 win over Ohio State. On the eve of immortality, perhaps they wanted to avoid the obvious comparisons.

By Monday night, though once Florida had departed from yet another confetti-strewn court, after dominating their second straight Final Four, there was little doubt that they had placed themselves at least on par with the Blue Devils, and possibly the Bruins, whose dynasty reigned in the days of a five-round dance rather than the 65-team NCAA tournament. So it begged re-asking the question: Gators, now who do you think is the greatest?

Donovan needed no prompting for his answer, putting the historians on notice in the opening remarks of his press conference: “I sit up here very, very humbled because I think I was fortunate enough over the last two years to coach a group of guys that has to go down in history as one of the greatest teams of all time. I’m not saying they were the most talented. I’m not saying they were flawless. But when you talk about the word ‘team, what that encompasses in terms of unselfishness, sacrifice, playing together, they have got to go down and be considered, in my opinion, one of the best teams to ever play.”

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Their coach wasn’t the only one making best-ever references. Green, sitting in the locker room with clipped strands of the net tied to his championship hat, said, “We’ve gotta be up there. Two national championships in a row — and what’s made us so great is that we all love playing with each other. I don’t think there’s been a team with our chemistry and our camaraderie that played so well together.”

To really appreciate this Florida team and realize why they’re better than the double-Dukies you have to buy into those tired old notions of love and chemistry no matter how sappy they seem at face value. Because the Gators made it look so easy over the past two Final Fours destroying George Mason and UCLA in ’06, then UCLA again and Ohio State in ’07.

They never gave us a Laettner moment, a single shot or image that’s perfectly packaged for decades of Jumbotron montages. What they did was more big-picture. Their band of juniors gave up more than $6 million in NBA cash (that would have been the combined total of Noah, Horford and Brewer’s first-year contracts in ’06-07), and returned on a mission to continue playing the most stunning brand of team-ball the sport has ever seen. That will be their legacy, even if unselfishness is harder to archive in a highlight reel.

The essence of Florida’s camaraderie was displayed on the celebration stage just seconds after Brewer had been announced as MOP. The Gators barely acknowledged the individual honor and instead formed a ring around the NCAA championship trophy, looking inward at each other while tens of thousands of roaring, blue-and-orange clad fans were looking down at them.

Green moved to the center and began dancing, with the others swaying around him and yelling “Aha! Aha!” in gruff voices. He said the Aha Dance was a ritual that began at the start of this year’s SEC tournament as a way for the players to “get crunk” before and after games, and Green, whose nickname is “Crunk Juice,” acts as the ringleader.

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Whereas Ohio State jogged (and Oden walked) out of its locker room and directly onto the court just minutes before the game, Florida stopped on its way to the floor to perform the dance in a back hallway of the Georgia Dome, culminating in a group yell of “Kick ass!”

It was only natural, then, that they repeated it afterwards or at least until the stage began wobbling dangerously from the gyrations of a dozen rowdy champs. “We had to do [the dance], because that’s what got us here,” said Green. “We stopped because we felt the stage shaking, and we thought it was going to break.”

Soon after, the Gators sat in a row on the edge of that same stage, soaking in every second of One Shining Moment on the Jumbotrons. Noah had his right arm around Brewer and his left around reserve Jack Berry, and the Noble One would recline, eyes wide in an expression of pure joy, every time he or a teammate appeared in the montage. Noah mouthed most of the words, while Brewer alternated between looking teary-eyed and ecstatic.

“It’s unreal, One Shining Moment, it almost makes you want to cry,” he said. “That’s why you love college basketball, all the guys diving on the floor, everybody playing as hard as they can play just to be in this moment where we are right now.”

A moment, mid-game, that exemplified Florida’s balance came with 9:39 left and the Gators up 58-47. A glance at the scoreboard revealed that four of the players they had on the floor — Brewer, Green, Humphrey and Horford — all had 11 points each, while Noah, last year’s Final Four MOP, had four. Ohio State did not enjoy the same equilibrium: At that point, Mike Conley Jr. had scored nine and Greg Oden had 17, but Jamar Butler and Othello Hunter had zero, and David Lighty had two.

The final box from the title game shows six Gators with at least eight points, while just three Buckeyes surpassed that mark. Noah’s constant refrain of “When we win, we all eat,” had never been more evident. What other team could watch its previous year’s tourney star, Noah, deliver a subpar, eight-point and three-rebound effort on the biggest stage of the season and have it not be the least bit of an issue?

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And what other team, for that matter, would have been able to weather such phenomenal performances from the likely No. 1 pick in the ’07 NBA Draft, 7-footer Greg Oden (25 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks) and a likely lottery-pick in ’08, speedy point guard Mike Conley (20 points, six assists, two turnovers)?

It was almost as if the defending champs consciously decided to take turns snuffing out every Ohio State run. When the Buckeyes cut Florida’s lead to two in the first half, at 24-22, the Gators’ gunners answered with three straight treys one each by Humphrey, Brewer and Green to take an 11-point advantage. And when OSU sliced the UF lead to six in the first two minutes of the second half, it was the fearsome frontcourt that responded, with Chris Richard throwing down a follow dunk and Horford hitting a jumper from the right elbow to make the score 46-36. From then on, the game’s end result was never in doubt.

Florida’s roster is as eclectic as it is talented, and Donovan’s biggest feat with this team was finding a way to fuse wildly different personalities into a well-oiled unit. Many previous title teams seemed a lot more alike, the old Dukies seemed a lot more alike; Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley were cut from a similar brat-boy mold, and there was a general attitude of cockiness that pervaded the Blue Devils’ ranks.

Michigan State in ’00 was loaded with Flintstones who grew up in the same rough-and-tumble automotive town. Even the Buckeyes, whom the Gators beat on Monday, had an inside-outside duo in Conley and Oden who had played together since the seventh grade. While Florida’s Fab Five includes two small-town Tennesseans, they couldn’t be more opposite, as Humphrey is the innocent rube and Brewer is the goofy kid with a wild streak.

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Put them together with the son of a French pop star/tennis hero (Noah), the son of a Dominican-born NBA player (Horford), and the son of another NBA player and college coach (Green), and how, exactly, was it supposed to work? How did they manage to go 33-6 and 35-5 over the past two years?

Donovan understands just how improbable this seemed three years ago. “I could sit there, recruiting a guy like Jo, and say, ‘There’s no way that he and Al Horford are getting along,'” he said on Sunday. “You know what I mean? Just their personalities being a room together [would clash]. I think the reason it’s all meshed and gelled is because of what’s most important for them. The most important thing for them is competing, being part of team, and they enjoy winning.”

While hordes of reporters were around Noah, Green, Horford and Brewer after the game, Richard, the team’s elder statesmen, stood on one side of the locker room absorbing the scene, wearing a title t-shirt thoroughly stained with soft-drink spray. When asked to explain the Gators’ harmony, he said: “We all mesh. All of us are completely different, but when we get together, we put aside all of our differences for the betterment of the team. Lee is just a quiet choirboy. Taurean is a hyper water-beetle. Jo is the rebel. Al is the mentor, the most mature one. Corey’s just a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. And I’m just enjoying the ride.”

The ride took the Gators from being an unranked team at the start of ’05-06, to a three seed heading into that dance, to a national-title run where they had one close game — beating Georgetown by four in the Sweet 16 — but won their others by margins of 26, 22, 13, 15 and 16. The ride continued back to Gainesville for ’06-07, where Noah, Horford and Brewer were lauded as heroes for bucking the trend of early departures to the NBA.

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It put them under a media microscope that magnified their every move and misstep in their encore run. Noah had spent much of the lead-up to the game talking about how debilitating the attention was, especially when it turned negative during their late-February swoon. “People were scrutinizing your every move,” he said. “Do you know how much that weighs on you?”

On Monday, Noah was running around the court in his socks — having already thrown his shoes into the crowd — and singing a different tune. “People can say whatever they want, but there’s no lying in championships,” he said. “At the end of the day you have to say [we’re] back-to-back national champions. That’s serious in my book.”

It’s serious in any book, and in an era where most elite prospects are either one- or two-and-done, a veteran, NBA-talent-laden powerhouse like ’07 Florida may never reign again. While it will be years before we know for sure how these Gators will be remembered, Noah was asked how he’d like them to be. As the de-facto mouthpiece of the team from his “better than sex” lines after the ’06 title, to his “Keep hatin'” rants during this dance he deserved the right to weigh in.

“I want people to remember this team as one that made sacrifices,” Noah said. “I want people to remember this team as one that went through so much adversity. I want people to remember this as a team that could have taken the easy way out and got paid. Instead we decided to come back, because our love for one another, and our love for winning, was more important than dollars.”

The memories mattered more than the money. And with that wisdom, the Gators achieved greatness.
Labels: Atlanta, Final Four, Florida, Ohio State

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Get inside March Madness with SI.com’s Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.

Thanks for the great words about our GATORS, Winn! ~TBBQ~

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I am very proud of the GATORS as a team and as the fine athletes that they are…GO GAOTORS! The GATOR Nation Rocks!

Reporting from the SWAMP
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~The Baby Boomer Queen~

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It’s a BEAUTIFUL day here in SUNNY FLORIDA…you ‘all should be here!
Here are some of the sights you are missing…

I will be sending these out on a regular basis…keep a lookout!