Tuesday, October 23, 2007

California Burning

I think to myself every year: The rest of the county's got floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, but in California we get fires.

It happens every October, when the dry weather system and the Santa Ana winds develop across the region. Fires breakout in the crackily dry tinder of the foothills and mountains across the state; many are set by arsonists.

This morning's Los Angeles Times reports on
yesterday's developments across the state:

Wind-whipped firestorms destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses in Southern California on Monday, the second day of its onslaught, and more than half a million people in San Diego County were told to evacuate their homes.

The gale-force winds turned hillside canyons into giant blowtorches from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Although the worst damage was around San Diego and Lake Arrowhead, dangerous fires also threatened Malibu, parts of Orange and Ventura counties, and the Agua Dulce area near Santa Clarita.

Late Monday night, new blazes were menacing homes near Stevenson Ranch and in Soledad Canyon in northern Los Angeles County. The Soledad Canyon fire burned multiple mobile homes and evacuations were underway, fire officials said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, calling it "a tragic time for California," declared a state of emergency in seven counties and redeployed California National Guard members from the border to support firefighters. Schwarzenegger stressed how much California officials have learned since the devastating wildfires of October 2003, which raged over much of the same terrain.

But as the day wore on, it became clear that any hard-earned knowledge was no match for natural forces overrunning the ability of firefighters to control them.

"The issue this time is not preparedness," said San Diego City Council President Scott Peters. "It's that the event is so overwhelming."
For the Times' complete story gallery on the fires, click here.

One of the local blazes, in Irvine, was not far from my home. My wife came downstairs Sunday night and said "I smell smoke." The smell from the smoke was so strong that she thought something in our house was on fire. I had seen some early news reports of the fires breaking out, and I told my wife, who looked out the door to see thick black billows in the sky.

I had no idea how close some of the blazes were to my neighborhood. Huge clouds of black smoke rose up down the road yesterday when I dropped my oldest son off at school. I told him to take it easy, stay inside, and go to the nurse if he couldn't breathe.

I want to thank Goat from
Goat's Barnyard for sending an e-mail yesterday to check on me. We're doing fine. Thank God there have been no fatalities in the fire disasters.