December 8th, 2017

The fire this time

Many fires have been raging throughout California, and they have destroyed a large number of homes already and continue to threaten others. You can read a lot of coverage (with maps) here, if you’re interested in the details.

Some of the coverage of the fires has featured words such as “Armageddon” and “apocalyptic.”

I’ve lived in the Los Angeles area. I still have friends and relatives there, and I visit a lot. I’m familiar with several of the places where there have been recent fires and people have evacuated their homes, and I hope for the best. I’ve seen huge wildfires in different parts of California in the past, and probably will in the future. I have a friend whose luxury home burned to the ground years ago, leaving only a brick hearth and some ashes where a mansion used to be.

Los Angeles (and much of California) is a fire zone. Fires spread fast there; I’ve seen that happen, too. I’ve driven on the freeway past a very small fire that was about six feet by six feet, arrived home in two minutes flat, and turned on the TV to see a video of the entire hill in raging flames while I heard multiple helicopters overhead.

This time the Santa Ana winds have been fierce, and they’ve been responsible for spreading many of these fires especially quickly. I wonder whether arson was initially involved in any of them, as it sometimes is, but I haven’t seen a word about this. What I do see discussed is the fact that the heavier-than-usual rains earlier in the year fed the growth of a larger-than-usual amount of vegetation, and now that it’s dried out and the winds are strong there’s plenty of extra fuel to be burned. Here’s a photo of the sort of thing people driving on the freeway have been seeing; I know this area well (on 405 near the Getty):


10 Responses to “The fire this time”

  1. Frog Says:

    The process is entirely natural. What is not natural is the humongous overpopulation of SoCal.
    I am not afflicted with Schadenfreude but neither is my heart flowing over with sympathy for a population that has given us all many Leftist and Latino (La Raza) gifts. Mansions burning down where they should never have been built, what can one say to that?

  2. Oldflyer Says:

    Driving down I-5 Monday evening we saw a caravan of CALFIRE trucks headed south and knew that someone was in trouble.

    I am very critical of California in nearly every way, but one thing I admire is the dedicated, unselfish and professional response of fire departments from near and far when a fire threatens. These men, and a few women, are amazing. It has to be particularly daunting when howling winds are pushing the fires forward at frightening speed.

    I read in the local rag this morning, that some expert says the power companies should shut off electric power when the Santa Ana winds start blowing. They believe at least some fires are started by downed electric wires igniting brush. But, some result from human action. It takes little imagination to realize that this is a cheap and efficient method for spreading terror.

    Frog is correct that there are just too many people living in questionable areas. The terrain lends itself to brushy hillsides surrounding residential developments. His attitude toward mansions is also understandable; but many long time residents had property which appreciated in value beyond the wildest imagination. I doubt that insurance will cover replacement at today’s cost.

    Steven Hayward at predicted that climate change would be cited as a cause of these fires; and sure enough the NYT picked up the narrative. As it happens though, 500 homes were destroyed in the same areas back in the early ’60s. Most of California experiences a short annual rainy season that spur brush growth, and lengthy dry seasons that turn it into efficient kindling. Can’t change that.

  3. J.J. Says:

    I was domiciled in Los Angeles for a number of years in the 1970s. Many of the pilots I flew with had been in the area for many years. One thing they were cognizant of and warned me about was living in high fire danger areas and high flood areas. Both dangers that aren’t apparent until the right weather conditions come together.

    One fellow I remember had a home in Malibu Canyon, a high fire and flood danger zone. His main line of defense was a Cat D4 bulldozer. He kept a fire line cleared out around his home and had constructed an earthen dam to divert flood waters away from his home as well.

    California is a very deceptive place. It can be like paradise until it isn’t. Then be prepared to suffer the wrath of Mother Nature.

  4. CV Says:

    The Getty Center was designed with fire prevention in mind, including its own reservoir:

    I witnessed a forest fire near Yosemite when I visited a couple of years ago. Fortunately it was brought under control fairly quickly, but I still remember how scary it was and how difficult it was to breathe the air in the small town we stayed in.

    From earthquakes to wildfires to mudslides to wild animals, California is a tough environment to live in. But it’s also just extraordinarily beautiful. I can understand why so many people are willing to assume the risks of living there.

  5. Paul in Boston Says:

    I lived in LA in the late seventies and witnessed a few of these fires around Pasadena. They are quite terrifying if they’re close.

    I also learned that the Indians called the area, “The Land of Smokes” because there were fires in the area constantly. There is nothing new under the Sun.

  6. Stu Says:

    A nephew and his family live in Bel Air and were forced to evacuate. As matters currently stand their home appears to be slightly north of where most of the damage has been done. The delightful town of Ohai is currently under siege. Such beauty and such destruction.

  7. TommyJay Says:

    There was some fire official on-air very recently referring to those people who started these fires. When pressed, he back-peddled at bit and said that there is no evidence of intentional fire starting.

    I believe it is true that globally, lightning starts most wild fires; but lightning is amazingly rare in coastal CA. Powerline ignition is possible but rare too. Then there is the coincidence of these fires starting, in multiple locations, a few days in advance of Santa Ana winds and high temps.

    As a fan of true crime stories, I had seen the case of John Orr. He had failed to become a cop and also a fire fighter, but somehow managed to become a fire and arson investigator. Many years later he was convicted of multiple arsons of commercial buildings that resulted in a few fatalities.

    The punchline was that in the decade or so before his arrest, there averaged 67 wild fires per year in the Pasedena/LA area. After his arrest, the average was 1 per year. I double checked my grasp of the numbers presented, or maybe the presentation got it wrong; because that is just stupendously large.

  8. AesopFan Says:

    J.J. Says:
    December 8th, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    California is a very deceptive place. It can be like paradise until it isn’t.
    * *
    Not just CA: the coasts are like that as well in hurricane season.
    I have a sister in Houston who lost her car in the flood this year, and her apartment complex still has empty first floors, with ongoing restoration.
    But when it’s not underwater, it’s beautiful on the beach.
    BTW, She sent me pictures of the snow on her balcony this morning.
    Global warming inverted?

  9. The Other Chuck Says:

    How much of the devastation caused by fires in the last 20 years or so could have been prevented? In forest areas designated wilderness old logging roads that were maintained and used for access during fire season have been either abandoned or removed. That means equipment and crews are unable to get in quickly when a fire starts.

    The U.S. Forest Service has also implemented the theory that letting fires burn themselves out is nature’s way of thinning unwanted underbrush. Do you remember the fire that wasn’t fought in Yellowstone and the resulting landscape around Old Faithful? The same thing happened in California’s Lassen Volcanic Park a couple of years ago when the Obama appointed park superintendent stopped a crew who could have easily put out a small lightning strike blaze.

    As to the recent very destructive fires in California they are nothing new. If you take a tour through the Mother Lode area you will see the old tin roofed brick buildings with iron window and door shutters. They were built that way for a reason, and it wasn’t to stop thieves from getting in.

    Where I live many people have roof mounted outside sprinkler systems. We also maintain a 100′ dry vegetation clearance. It isn’t foolproof but better than allowing the natural landscaping that is now burning up Ventura County.

  10. Artfldgr Says:

    my post wouldnt post here is other stuff

    REMOVE the most flammable non-native trees in select areas most at risk for fire;
    RESTORE those areas with more naturally fire-resistant native trees and plants; and
    RE-ESTABLISH greater biodiversity of flora and fauna, including endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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