Thursday, October 25, 2007

Break in Winds Give Firefighters a Chance

My wife and I attended a parent-teacher conference yesterday with my youngest son's kindergarten teacher. She's a young woman. Her husband's a firefighter with the City of Buena Park, and he was on assignment fighting the Santiago Canyon fire. Our appointment was at 8:00am. The red sunrise over Saddleback Mountain glowed ominiously through smokey sky. I'll be glad when the fires are under control. Orange County has lost its magical happiness, and it's hard to breathe.

The Washington Post has a story on
the weakening Santa Ana winds:

In a disaster driven more than anything by wind, the breezes dying across Southern California on Wednesday translated into rising hope.

About 20 brush fires continued to roar, part of a conflagration that has blackened an area 10 times the size of the District of Columbia, destroyed 1,600 structures, displaced hundreds of thousands and sullied air for millions more across the region.

But gradually decreasing winds allowed the 8,000 exhausted firefighters to stand and fight the flames rather than dash from one hot spot to another. Aircraft arriving from across the country found free rein to bombard the fires from above. Blazes in Malibu, where the first fires leapt down canyons toward the sea on Sunday, were declared under control, and the Pacific Coast Highway reopened. So did many stores as a hint of normalcy crept into view.

Farther south in San Diego County, the hardest hit of the seven affected counties, a trickle of residents ventured from evacuation centers to check on homes that, in most cases, still stood. But the way was far from clear: A fast-moving blaze in the vast Camp Pendleton Marine base threatened the last remaining power lines that provide the county with almost all of its electricity.

The other major link, which ran from Arizona, was severed by another fire earlier in the week, forcing the power company to import electricity from Mexico to keep up with demand. The Pendleton blaze also leaped Interstate 5, shutting down a stretch of the state's main north-south artery for several hours while firefighters bent to yet another task.

"I wish we could control the wind," President Bush said while announcing that uninsured victims of the fires would be eligible for grants. The president was scheduled to tour affected areas Thursday.

Officials said they suspected that some of the fires had been deliberately set. Police in San Bernardino County said they shot and killed a suspected arsonist Tuesday night and arrested another arson suspect a few hours later. County officials also beefed up patrols to prevent looting after several looters were arrested in nearby San Diego County.

So far, only one death can be directly linked to the flames. But Ron Lane, the director of San Diego County emergency services, provided the first estimate of damage: $1 billion "or more."

Here's the Los Angeles Times story on the arsonist:

Amid worries of new blazes adding to the firestorm already afflicting the region, a man in Hesperia has been arrested on suspicion of arson, and police reported shooting and killing another arson suspect after chasing him out of scrub behind Cal State San Bernardino.

Law enforcement officials said today that they didn't know whether either of the men had started any of the more than a dozen large fires that have devastated Southern California in recent days, including the nearby Lake Arrowhead blaze. The brush fire in Hesperia was quickly extinguished by residents.

Investigators have said that at least two of the huge wildfires, one in Orange County and the other in Temecula, were the work of arsonists.

The confrontation that ended in the shooting death started about 6 p.m. Tuesday when San Bernardino university police spotted a man in a rural area of flood channels and scrub near the campus. University police tried to detain the man, but he got into his car and fled, authorities said. When he began to ram officers' vehicle, they shot him.

I would like to thank everone who commented on my earlier post on the fires. It's been a busy work week, and I've haven't had time to respond. Please join me in praying for the safety of all of those affected.