Monday, October 22, 2007

FIRE in the air - Post 1

Mother Nature is usually absolutely beautiful. Sometimes she is an absolute horror. It's not all nature's fault - homo sapiens sometimes helps things along.

Tornado. Hurricane. Flood. Earthquake. Storm. Fire. Those have happened since time immemorial - swaths of land are devastated. Homo sapiens have marvelled at, almost worshiped, them from afar. In the middle of them, homo sapiens are helpless.

In San Diego, our two biggest threats are fire and earthquake. In the coastal cities we are about 100 miles away from the San Andreas Fault. The effect of a major earthquake here would be power, water and food shortages due to a big quake somewhere else - like Los Angeles or the Imperial Valley. Fire poses the bigger local threat, especially when there is a high pressure system over the Great Basin - we get Santa Ana winds, usually from the northeast and east, that can gust up to 80 miles per hour. Once a fire starts, the winds carry it quickly, and it often leaps over highways and whole blocks.

San Diego County, and other areas of California, are under siege again from Santa Ana winds and fires (started by people, lightning or downed wires). In the San Diego area, there are several large fires burning westward and southwestward from their origin.Ramona, with 35,000 people, was evacuated last night. Overnight, the Witch Creek Fire branch north of Ramona rode the winds westward about ten miles right into the heart of suburban San Diego. Whole areas (tens of square miles) are under evacuation orders. This fire is essentially in the San Dieguito River watershed area which stretches from the mountains to the ocean. This river passes south of Escondido skirting Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Penasquitos, then through posh Fairbanks Ranch and posh Rancho Santa Fe to posh Del Mar. It has crossed and shut down I-15 south of Escondido as it burned into the Rancho Bernardo area.

There is another branch of the Witch Creek Fire south of Ramona that is burning in the San Diego river watershed - much of which burned in the Cedar fire in 2003. That may threaten Barona Ranch, Lakeside, Santee and points west. In 2003, the Cedar fire burned across I-15 all the way to I-805 near UCSD in La Jolla.

In southern San Diego County - 30 miles south of the Ramona area fire, the Harris fire started in Potrero, just a mile north of the US-Mexico border near the BC city of Tecate. This fire will likely burn into Mexico along the Tijuana River watershed. It may go up or around Otay Mountain. If it burns around the north side of Otay Mountain, then it may threaten Chula Vista as it burns into the Otay River watershed area east of the city.

There are several more fires in the northern part of San Diego county that have flared up this morning. We thought 2003 was bad - this may end up worse.

Homo sapiens, in their infinite wisdom, has settled in river valleys, on plains and on mountain tops. They build houses all right in a row, sometimes right on top of each other. They love green belts in this quasi-desert area - whole corridors of river bottom and canyons have been made into parks and greenbelts. These parks have tremendous fuel for fires - trees, brush, etc. They become "fire daggers" right into and through the heart of settled areas.

The settled areas are not out of danger. Houses are made of wood and stucco here, with shrubs and trees for beauty. Once started, they burn well due to the construction materials and the contents. Fortunately, most people have replaced their wood shake roofs and treated their eaves. But once a house starts to burn, it burns unless water is on it very quickly. The reality is that a house that starts to burn will burn down, and may take neighbor houses with it.

The fire services are not able to stop the fires from advancing. There are not enough firefighters, not enough engines, not enough water to stop them. The helicopters and fire-fighting aircraft were all sent north over the weekend to fight the Malibu and other fires. Even if they were here, they likely couldn't fly because of the winds and the low visibility. They can only notify people to evacuate and try to control the traffic.

The weather will eventually stop it, with moist air and cooler winds from the west turning the fire back on itself. That may happen on Wednesday or Thursday. All that people can do is save themselves by evacuating away from where the fire is or will be. There are evacuation centers at high schools, and schools are closed.

Right now at 6:30 AM, we are in the middle of the city of Chula Vista, and are not under a fire threat or evacuation order. Who knows what the day will bring? In 2003, the fires were to the north of us and to the south of us, although they burned up to the eastern edge of Chula Vista before the weather turned.

Last month, we had our brush and low tree branches on our hillside cut down, which is the south side of a small canyon with a two-block long greenbelt on our side. There are no bushes or anything near our house, which is at the west end of a cul-de-sac. The winds are from the east - and any fire will burn to the west. The neighbors to the east have lush brush on the hillside. If houses just to our east burn, then we may be in danger.

What should I take in an evacuation? Family papers. Pictures in frames and albums. Laptop. Portable electronics. Batteries. Books to read. We can fill two cars with stuff.

There may be power outages today, so I don't know how long I'll be at the computer today. Our granddaughter is at friends in Chula Vista, and our daughter is 150 miles away. She was going to come down and take Lolo home, but the freeway is closed at Escondido. We may end up with Lolo for the week, which could be fun.

All of a sudden, genealogy is going to take a back seat to survival.

UPDATED 8 AM: Added some detail after reading it. I copied my critical genealogy data from my desktop computer to my flash drive so that I can update my laptop sometime. We've been watching the TV reports on all the local channels. I'll probably go to the library for awhile today. I'll probably stop and get a full tank of gas on the way.

UPDATED 1 PM: There is smoke smell everywhere, and some ashfall. The fires are not in "rich fuel" areas - forests with a lot of wood fuel to burn -- so there is not a lot of ashfall now, and probably won't be. They are evacuating areas about 10 miles east of me and an area south of me. There is little info on the radio or TV for my area - most of the news is about the North County where hundreds of homes have been lost already. In San Diego County, about 300,000 people have been evacuated.

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