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Just Sitting in the Dark and Watching the Fire

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By Al Kamen
Friday, January 9, 2009

Former FEMA administrator Michael D. Brown was among 11,000 Boulder, Colo., folks evacuated yesterday amid raging wildfires that have scorched at least 1,000 acres. Brown, dubbed "Brownie" by President Bush during the Katrina Hurricane fiasco, moved back to the Boulder area, where he runs a disaster consulting business.

"I got back home to Boulder, the winds were just whipping up 60, 80 miles an hour. I was working in my home office, the dogs start barking, and lo and behold, there's a Boulder County sheriff with lights flashing saying there's a mandatory evacuation," Brown said during a local radio interview, our colleague Ed O'Keefe reports.

Asked about the irony of the former chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency evacuating his home, Brown said: "It was strange being told to evacuate, because, you know, I firmly believe in evacuations. When they told me that, you know, I just loaded the dogs up, grabbed my briefcase and headed down the mountain."

Brown was told there was a fire. "I couldn't smell the smoke or see it, because the [wind was] just pushing the smoke due east. I couldn't see the fire until I got down to Highway 36. And when I saw it, I was just astonished at just how large it was. So I sat and watched it for about two hours," he said.

Now we know why he was right for FEMA.

Clinging to Normalcy

President-elect Barack Obama, for years addicted to BlackBerrys (yes, he has multiple ones), may be forced to surrender the devices when he is sworn in. But in an interview Wednesday with John Harwood of CNBC and the New York Times, Obama said, "I'm still clinging to my BlackBerry."

"They're going to pry it out of my hands," Obama said, adding that giving up the BlackBerry is "the hardest thing about being president."

Obama said he expects to have access to a computer somewhere in the West Wing, if not in the Oval Office, but keeping his BlackBerry is his chief concern. "I don't know that I'll win, but I'm still fighting it."

On vacation in Hawaii, Obama often sported two BlackBerrys clipped to his belt. He has said his e-mail keeps him in touch with friends and other advisers outside his pre-presidential bubble. But Obama chafed at being increasingly kept from living a normal life.

"When we were on vacation in Hawaii, I was greatly discouraged from going body surfing. Going to get shave ice was a major ordeal. And you know . . ."

"Well, were you told not to walk outside without your shirt on?" Harwood asked.

"I learned of that after the first day," Obama responded.


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