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The Fires This Time

MJS's picture

This is shaping up as a really long day...

California wildfires force mass evacuations.

The BBC provides additional information...

USA Today and the L.A. Times, via its corporate sibling the Chicago Tribune, has a post up here.

And on a day of Santa Ana winds, the Daily Breeze has coverage as well.

Gonna be a long, long day. My ex lives with her husband in Deer Lodge Park (Lake Arrowhead), much of which seems to be in flames at this hour. I have a sister in the Irvine area: the company she works for on Portola Rd. is preparing to evacuate. My parents have been trying for over a year to sell their home in Ramona (they moved to a retirement community in Seal Beach)...today, their fair city of Ramona (36,000 residents) was evacuated. Four years ago my parents were evacuated from their home during the Cedar Fire calamity. Fire. Fire. Fire.

My move to Oregon has been postponed (for a couple of reasons) though I hope to be up there in the spring. Its wet, green environment (west of the Cascades, anyway) looks awfully wonderful right now. In the meantime, I watch the news and worry.

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Image from here*.

*This image is actually from 2003 (alert reader tp pointed out the correct date of the images situated at the top of this post). The characteristics of the SoCal wildfires in October of 2003 are nearly identical to today's fires (Oct. 22nd, 2007) in some easy to identify ways: the combination of heat, Santa Ana winds and downed power lines/transformers (the Irvine fire is said to have been caused by an arsonist) converging for a hellacious confab.

Tp provided links to a few more images of our current fires, one of which I post here:

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Comments

Submitted by lambert on

Forgive the provincialism of a Wrong Coaster. The aerial pictures are awful, but are these fires more extreme than those of the past? Where are we on scale and scope?

I remember vividly flying into LAX, and as the plane came in from the North and banked over the basin, there was smoke from a huge fire near the mountains to the East, and I thought "Welcome to LA..."

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

These fires are big, but the impact that we humans notice is dependent upon the proximity to our dwellings--much larger fires burn from time to time in the Sierra Nevadas that most of us remain blissfully unaware of.

All over SoCal, large subdivisions built right up to the foothills are in the pathways of ancient burn patterns. We contribute to the problem with our transformers/powerlines and yes, even arsonists. A small startup fire can go apeshit rapidly given certain conditions: dry fuel, heat and powerful winds. We have all these conditions right now: many spokespersons have referred to this as a "perfect storm" scenario for really large, really damaging fires.

The stress on resources is tremendous (as of this writing). We are awaiting help from Arizona, Nevada and Northern California, but such help must be mobilized, organized, etc. Governor Arnold just said that San Diego has the largest fire currently going.

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bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

We were on the phone last night, they're not in immediate danger from fire but are having difficulty breathing from the smoke, wearing masks 24/7, house sealed up and still sore throats and unable to sleep for coughing.

This is a really bad one, the Santa Ana winds are stronger than usual and lasting longer, maybe until Thursday which means that the fires will continue to spread uncontrollably for the next several days. The forests and hillsides are full of tinder from too many years of fire suppression, ready to explode. Millions of dead trees from beetle kill, pitch-filled fire sticks in some places as far as the eye can see, the product of misguided "environmentalism" horribly perverted into far more damage than clear-cutting would ever have done and an arsonist's dream, uncontrolled housing sprawl into forest lands so now the fire crews have to focus all their efforts on evacuation (250,000 so far with at least that many more still needed) rather than actually fighting fires, and worst of all no useful political leadership worth a damn anywhere in sight.

This is a really bad one. Fire equipment and staff from all over are on the way to help, saw several convoys headed south on I-5 yesterday, and still there won't be enough of either to stop these fires for many days. Prayers for all in the path, they're going to need it.

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

does not hold a fire extinguisher.

Forests are diminishing--clear cutting is fine if you seek dystopia--the real estate had value because of the forest (if the forest in the Lake Arrowhead area had been clearcut there would not have been a market for the homes). In short, the only way to have saved these homes is to have never built them. Don't build the houses in burn plains/pathways! But people do: the Lake Arrowhead area has been a hideaway for many SoCal residents for decades. bringiton is correct about the bark beetle infestation: because of drought the trees could not produce the necessary sap to ward off the beetles, resulting in these dead sentries that are little more than kindling.

My ex's house is in Deer Lodge Park which was heavily hit. The odds of her house still standing are pretty much nil. Odd twist: because we split back-in-the-day I have copies of pictures that she may be gladdened by (we have a son who is 23). Not the pics of me, but of our son.

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Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

best wishes -- this is a horrible time. Year before last the whole Panhandle caught fire, and the year before that New Mexico just about burned to the ground -- Woody, have the scars at Los Alamos started greening over? -- and there is no way to describe the anguish that arises from such a crisis.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

Might not have been explicit enough, wasn't advocating clear-cut as a generally good idea(although in some places it is actually better to clear-cut and replant, but forestry management plans are another topic altogether) only observing that the combination of NO-cutting plus draught plus beetles plus fire will end up being the same thing, at enormous cost and no lumber.

MJS, sorry for your ex and her loss, going to be a whole lot of those tragedies, terrible, terrible. Wind keeps up and this could approach Katrina in people displaced and dollar damage. Know you'll look forward to Bush flying in with Arnie for the photo ops.

Sarah thanks for the thoughts, Sis and family will be OK give or take the lung damage from inhaled soot and carcinogens. So many thousands, many tens of thousands, will be hurt much worse. The whole of the West is one big tinderbox from decades of well-intentioned but backasswards forestry management, nothing now to be done about it but clear around your own home and hope for the best. The forests are going to burn whether we like it or not.

Note: In spite of what seems to be a growing misconception, for the record I do not seek dystopia.

Woody--Tokin Librul's picture
Submitted by Woody--Tokin Librul on

but much of the devastation is gone...i took a group of visiting bloggerz to bandalier, across the valle grande, in Sept...there were still signs, if you knew whaqt to look for...aspen trees, for one thing...
that's cuz the fire was (believe it or not) more than 7 years ago... where does it go, eh, hermanita??
Me? A Quick Study, But A Slow Learner

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

to people, but I do care. Never thought dystopia was your goal.

Sensible forestry management is one thing -- clearcutting is almost never a good idea. (Almost. There are times and places where you seriously need to get rid of the standing tinder and reduce the fuel load AHEAD of the fires, else the cost will be unimaginable and the aftermath devastation.)

But "let it burn" never worked for me either.
I have friends among the furred folk around whom the world is burning.

Have you ever seen horses with no ears, because the fires burned them off?

I have.

It sucks.

Unless the rains come back soon, though, it'll be our turn in Texas next: we had the wettest year on record, and this is a desert (yeah, even the tropical parts). The end result will be a lot of leaves, brush, grass, water-sucker shoots on the trees ... and since it will at some point quit raining in Texas (it has in some parts already) that's so much fuel just waiting for a fire.
Or cattle, two or three weeks past the range fires, dying of pneumonia?

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

and chuy, Espanola was a pit. Los Alamos was pretty, but the fire-scars were still pretty frightening. I went to Roswell for my birthday last year, spent the night, drove home through the resort towns in the Sangres.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by lambert on

0. I remember a GIS geek whose sig was something like "Natural disaster -- What's natural about it?" Re: MJS's comment on what we do and do not notice...

1. Lake Arrowhead -- That's where Edmund Exley had the family cottage, IIRC.

2. I seem to remember that there are issues, around the entire basin, with dried vegetation that chokes irrigation ditches (???) that catch fire.

3. This, and the drought in the South... Very odd, or not. 80 Degrees F today up here in Zone 5.

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

Past approaches to fire management actually increased the volatility of subsequent fires, with disastrous results--ah, but that was for later generations to deal with. Wait a minute...that would be us.

I read (some time back--sorry, no link) that a devastating fire killed a number of firefighters in the southwest in the earlier part of the 20th Century, the fallout of which led to the policies of total fire suppression for the nation.

We always know best, yes? And no, I didn't think you (bringiton) were agitating for a planet free from forests, or for a dystopian future. It's just that clear cutting will take us there just as much as attempts at total fire suppresion already have.

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Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Those fire images are from 2003, the previous biggest/fastest fire to burn into developed San Diego. The current Witch fire in San Diego is burning some of the same area as the Cedar fire did, but slightly further north. By 10am San Diego time the word from the sheriff and others was that the Witch & Harris fires would be worse than the Cedar fire in terms of speed and size and homes destroyed. [So yes, these fires are bigger than usual, and may be more expensive than anything before.]

In order to save the servers that are getting hammered, I've put a clipped jpg of today's MODIS image showing the smoke at:
http://bio.fiu.edu/MODIS_Oct22.jpg
The smoke plumes carry 200+km over the Pacific.

The LA Times has a nice flash animation of fire history, showing that roughly 2/3 of cis-Montane San Diego county has burned since 1900, and even animated by decade for LA county:
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-080...

The SD Union-Trib has an overlay of the current fires on google maps that doesn't print right, and their servers are _really_ getting hammered.

As for forests--

The only forests currently burning are around Lake Arrowhead, where a multi-year drought stressed the pines enough that they can't fight off the beetles. Fire suppression to protect all of the cabins has built up more fuel: those Andropogon (grass) Ponderosa pine woodlands should have low intensity fires every 5-20 years, which wouldn't kill the trees. Under even the extant climate change, its not clear that pines (jeffery pine and ponderosa pine) will persist even on the tops of the peninsular ranges: they'll be pushed off the tops of Laguna and Palomar such sooner, but San Jacinto and the San Bernadinos in the next 50 years.

The vast majority of what's burning is coastal chaparral. The pre-settlement fire dynamics of it are complex, not well-understood, and almost certainly quite different between the Sierra foothills below Sequoia NP and San Diego. Pre-settlement, there simply wouldn't have been ignition sources this time of year, especially during Santa Anas. [There are several good papers from mountains in northern Baja California: email if you want the refs. Mike Wells' dissertation is also a good source for San Diego county.] The issue isn't just sprawl: the outlying ranchettes are goners, but urban/suburban houses on 75'*100' lots are burning, and the Witch fire may make it all the way to the Ocean through and around some pretty dense developments. Pomerado hospital (mandatory evacuation) was built in 1977. The fires started in semi-wild areas, likely due to downed power lines, and have raced 20+ miles to developed areas in less than 24 hours.

MJS: the technical term is "fireshed", the area of potential ignition that could burn through a designated point. While it is key to why Sequoia NP extends down to chaparral well below the sequoias, it doesn't necessarily apply to coastal chaparral: Santa Ana fires won't rally have barriers until the ocean, and the winds are driving the fires downhill, negating one of the otherwise important drivers for firesheds.

bringiton: I take exception to the "misguided 'environmentalism'" remark. Low-intensity (more natural) controlled burns are fought by homeowners and lawyers, not by conservationists or ecologists.

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

Pretty sloppy of me to have the image from 2003 up and not even check the date. I only get to have one glass of wine tonight (again).

So, "fire pathway" = "fireshed?" Another reason why I'm not a journalist...

Here's a (hopefully) up-to-date image from CNN:

Not as nice as the one from 2003, but a definite David Hockney-esque cubed jello effect can be discerned.

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UPDATED COMMENT ALERT: Here is a link to an examination of Forest Policy by a woman named Alison Berry. Her piece is titled Forest Policy Up in Smoke:
Fire Suppression in the United States

One can get a PDF with her article therein. So much to learn.

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Woody--Tokin Librul's picture
Submitted by Woody--Tokin Librul on

An attack on 'property.' The thing fire does, like any other "natural" scourge (e.g., flood) is that it costs insurance companies MONEY. They have to pay out, not just take in. Hard fuukin cheese, b'leevme! Fire suppression was the State's official reply to the property insurance industry.

Me? A Quick Study, But A Slow Learner

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

the things the red men knew before us.

They managed some of the grasslands with fire.

They kept the game moving, instead of cutting everything up in little penny-packets with barbed wire.

They kept the grass growing, instead of destroying the soil with plows and chemicals.

Let the insurance companies go broke, paying out damages.

It will redress a portion of the wrong they have gotten away with for the last 90 years or more, in their haste to jack up premiums and their sloth to settle claims.

They are big and clumsy and powerful and stupid now.
It is their turn to become extinct.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

and let's touch on the "I take exception to the “misguided ’environmentalism’” remark. Low-intensity (more natural) controlled burns are fought by homeowners and lawyers, not by conservationists or ecologists." comment.

I was involved in some pretty heated debates over issues of controlled burns and selective cutting in forests here in California as well as in Colorado, with actual real ecologists and qualified conservationists on one side versus self-styled "environmentalists", well-meaning I'm sure but ill-informed and self-styled which is why I used quote marks.

Unfortunately truth does not begin to compete with the PR power of cute and blond and names like "Butterfly" so never mind science and common sense, the battles all went towards Don't Burn, Don't Cut and here we are today. No disrespect whatsoever intended towards actual ecologists and genuine conservationists who have been arguing for more natural management and control policies for a long, long time.

bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

The prayers I offer are nondenominational, nonreligious, higher-entity free non-controlling little wisps of thanksgiving for blessings received or well-wishes floated into the ether for the benefit of others, that may or may not have any actual effect (that whole "envision world peace" effort hasn't worked out to well) but it doesn't cost anything and doesn't take up any time and is so much less likely to attract the attention of neighbors and law enforcement compared to the lamb-slaying-and-bonfire-burnt-offering approach.

No souls are harmed by this process.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

as part of environmental RESTORATION in many of our parks, so ... yeah, I can see the usefulness of fire as a tool.

But honestly? According to CBS News 8 in San Diego more than 500 homes and more than 100 businesses are now known burned.

More than 250,000 people have been ordered to evacuate, and the evac maps are covering huge swathes of SoCal (see the link above, click on "larger maps"). I've only been to California once -- spent a week in LA in July 97, on foot, and thought it was awesome -- and I hate the thought of what's happening out there (3,000 horses needing evac as of half an hour ago per DailyKOS).

(But, short of having staples the surgeon missed extracted with a Leatherman a week or so later, at home ... there is nothing in the world quite so disconcerting in the short term as having some nice, churchgoing woman look you square in the eye, and say in tones to frighten Chuck Norris, "I'll pray for you, then.")

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

and your prayer shawls.

From the night unto the morn many devils will be born...

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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Tomorrow? Forecasts show more heat and wind to come. Getting past tomorrow with body/soul/house intact will mean a lot to a lot of people.

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Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

The name of the fire is NM467, and the size is 15,000 acres.
No word on containment status at this time.

Looks like it's in rangelands north and west (barely) of me.
NIFC says it's a wildland fire -- I'm guessing, but it looks like Portales (Roosevelt County).

map is here: Google

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Anybody remember that from a couple years ago I think? The fixed-wing water-dropping planes were (are) all getting old and that one had the bad taste to have both its wings fall off simultaneously and on camera, and they got grounded. Meanwhile somebody else had taken a freakin' Boeing 747 and modified it with a belly scoop to pick up water in flight and drop it and turn around for another run. That sucker was impressive as shit, but then I never heard another word about it beyond that the guy was having trouble getting approval on it.

Every single shot I've seen of aerial attack on the SoCal fires has been with helicopters, which for effectiveness seem to be about as good as flipping water with a teaspoon. But nobody is saying anything about it.

Almost like nobody is mentioning where the Cal. National Guard, and most importantly their equipment, is in all this mess.....

I mean rah rah, the Gubernator is gonna pull 800 Guardsmen off border patrol and make Loud Obbs clutch his pearls and head for the fainting couch, but I dunno what they're gonna do once they get there. Wave their guns at the fire maybe?

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

because of the Santa Ana winds driving the fires in SoCal. The chopters (that's a technical term) and really old small airplanes (C-47 types) are doing all they can in the weather.

Fires that big -- did you watch Backdraft? -- create their own winds.

If the guardsmen can get out there, it'll be with hoes, axes and shovels. (That's one of their primary missions in, ahem, more normal times).

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

I would have thought rotary-wing aircraft would be even less stable than fixed in erratic winds like that, but this just goes to show my ignorance in the realms of aerodynamics. And this is one of those questions that they could be answering, for a national audience not that familiar with such things, instead of showing the 543,000th shot of Flames and Smoke and Nearest House On Fire and Attractive Lady Reporter About Getting Blown Ass Over Teakettle By High Winds so she can repeat "Yes, Jack, it's a very fast moving fire, and the smoke is so thick I'm having to wear these safety glasses pretty continually now...."

Still think a 747 could punch through a shitload of wind though.... :)

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

can shift erratically and drastically in those canyons, with fires that big. Chopters aren't the best choice -- they're the only thing the Fire Service will risk.

What's needed out there is Buff-loads of ice and snow.

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

Here.

I saw footage of the drop...scary. It actually clipped a few trees and had to fly back to Victorville for repairs on a couple flaps. If I had seen that same fire retardant drop in a movie I would have thought the filmmakers had gone too far.

The windshear problems alone make such low-altitude flights risky. Those pilots (including the choppers) are crazy or awesome: probably both.

Sarah: don't burn, okay?

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Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

but it's over an hour and a half away by car.
By fire ... we had a norther come through yesterday, dropped our temps 50+ degrees in 4 hours. If the wind is just right, the whole Panhandle goes up like fireworks...

We can admit that we're killers ... but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes! Knowing that we're not going to kill today! ~ Captain James T. Kirk, Stardate 3193.0

Submitted by lambert on

Shouldn't they be out there, you know, guarding the nation?

After all, it's highly unlikely the National Guardsman are going to join Blackwater, so why does Bush really need them in Iraq, anyhow?

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

kelley b's picture
Submitted by kelley b on

Blackwater will be sold to the states as the free enterprise private security alternative to the National Guard, while the states will also have to pay for their own National Guard units. In Iraqiranistan.

Sold as in told this is what they must do, by fiat of Dear Leader and the Department of Homeland Security, because the D.o'D. needs those guards in the new front of the war on Terra.

No Hell below us
Above us, only sky