Sunday, August 30, 2009

FIRE! (updated again)

Outsiders often do not realize that Los Angeles is backed by mountains, primarily the very steep, rugged terrain of the Angeles Crest. In fact, in the winter, there is the somewhat surreal experience of typical LA weather while looking up at snow-touched peaks. You can be at 6000 feet in less than an hour after leaving downtown. The country up there is really spectacular, and from the top, LA looks like some weird, mystical city.

Last week, much of LA County was looking at the fire east of the city, above Azusa. On Thursday, a small fire was reported over La Cañada Flintridge, which started near a ranger station (hence the moniker, Station Fire). It didn't seem like much at first, although it produced enough smoke to make a pillar behind the skyscrapers.

This weekend, the Station Fire exploded in all directions. 10,000 homes are threatened, from the San Gabriel Valley to the Newhall pass. Our own friend Susan Russell is nearby and has been following events at her blog. As I write this, firefighters say that the flames will reach historic Mount Wilson Observatory within 2-4 hours. As reported by the LA TImes,
The top of the 5,712-foot mountain, which sits above Altadena, is home to multimillion-dollar astronomy projects for UCLA, USC and UC Berkeley. Georgia State University also operates a $20-million facility and a powerful telescope array at the Mt. Wilson Solar Observatory. As well as the observatory, this peak is topped by transmitters for every TV station in LA.
There's a webcam at the top. The LA Times has an excellent, updated interactive map. Firefighters hope to keep the flames East of Interstate 5 and highway 14, and north of Interstate 210.

This fire is not being driven by the Santa Ana winds--thankfully, they have yet to put in their annual appearance. The hot, dry weather and the tinder-box fuel have been enough. Temperatures have been at record highs in Southern California this weekend from the coast to the interior.

Those of you who pray, please keep brave, exhausted firefighters, fearful residents, and choking locals in mind. The fire is less than 5% contained.

Update: two firefighters were killed today. Please keep their families in your thoughts.

Update 2: Yes, that's a DC10 flying low over the mountains to drop retardant.

Update 3: Look, if the firemen and police tell you to evacuate, LEAVE. The first people injured stayed in a house up a canyon and thought jumping into a hot tub would save them (How stereotypically Californian). Last night, there were 5 people up another canyon who refused to evacuate and are now trapped, and are begging the firemen to bring in a helicopter to rescue them. DUMB. There is no house worth a life, but people who won't leave end up putting firefighters and other people in danger, hampering the firefighting effort, and costing more money. JUST GO when they tell you to! (I think people who refuse to evacuate and then have to be rescued should have to pay back the cost!)

Pics from the LA Times and the BBC


Erp said...

I have a feeling that if the Bible had been written in California, Noah would have been escaping the big fire.

I hope everyone down in the southlands stays safe: firefighters, residents, animals.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Prayers ascending!

Ann said...

Thanks for posting this - scary times. Prayers all around - especially for rain.

Erp said...

Two firefighters died yesterday on this fire

Arnaldo Quinones, 35, of Palmdale, firefighter for 8 years
Tedmund Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, firefighter for 26 years

134 square miles have burned (nearly 35,000 hectares or about 85,000 acres) and a number of houses.

They need rain (unlikely) and cooler temperatures (and no Santa Ana winds)

IT said...

Current forecast is no cooling before Tues-Weds

Unfortunately it won't rain in Southern California before Oct-Nov.

Erp said...

Well there is a hurricane heading your way, Jimena, though it is unlikely (a) to hit you and (b) is several days away.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

I´m so sorry for all...

Prayers ascending,


it's margaret said...

Please know that I do hold this in my prayers.

Erp said...

People should also remember the prison inmates working the fire lines.

IT said...

It's very creepy you can see the flames above Montrose and La Canada from the freeways around downtown LA. The fire is sprawling across a massive, rugged area. They are still fighting on Mt Wilson.

HOWEVER it's also surreal, because it's not affecting life very much for most Angelenos. Traffic even within a few miles of the flames in La Canada isn't changed. The air is hazy, but mostly clear downtown. The majority of people in the vast LA basin are unaffected by the terrifying flames lapping up the mountain and down to the San Gabriel and ANtelope valleys.

105,000 acres so far.

I compare this to my experience in San Diego, where the 2003 fires burned 320,000+ acres (2400 homes, 7 dead), and the combined 2007 fires burned 300,000 acres, over 1400 homes, 7 deaths. In San Diego, the entire city was under blood red skies with ash falling like snow and city functions were all shut. THe entire city waited, breath bated. the city both years was disturbingly close to seeing fires roar through the canyons to downtown.

Downtown LA by comparison is surprisingly undisturbed and unperturbed. The fires are sufficiently far away that most people in the sprawling metropolis are igoring them. And that's strange too, that such events can be ignored.

Of course, in LA< there are more places to go. San Diego has her back to the ocean; I fear that one year, the fires will race down the canyons like chimneys and destroy the city by fire, the way Katrina took New Orleans by water.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I love Erp's link. That is a very good thing putting "useless" persons to good use!

Erp said...

122,000 acres (a bit over 49,000 hectares). The good news is that the temperatures should drop slightly and the humidity should be a bit higher.

I can remember the Oakland fire of 1991 which killed 25 and destroyed over 3300 homes. Like LA life in the greater Bay Area went on for most except for the smell of smoke (not sure about Berkeley/Oakland who were between the fire and the Bay).

IT said...

Oh, I had family and friends in Berkeley for that one. LIfe in Berkeley was like it was for us in SD 2 years ago: definitely disrupted. Everyone on edge, shut down, poised, anxious. You can see from Susan Russell's blog that it's like that in Altadena and the San Gabriel valley.

LA is so sprawling that most people can only see the fire as the smoke rising. And that's rather white smoke, and looks at a distance like clouds.

Fred Schwartz said...

As an old Whittierite this is a fairly common occurence. pretty much each and every year some part of the Los Angeles metro area burns. The area has become so populated that now these fires threaten homes each time one goes up.

I do have a strange but "good ending" type of story. My father was a fire fighter for Whittier for years. Each year he would go in pursuit of these fires and be gone for days/weeks. I always new when he was home because my mom would require my dad to take all his clothes off in the "doghouse" (our word for service porch) and the smell of burnt brush would permeate the house. At once I Knew he was SAFE and HOME.

Erp said...

Things are looking better for Mount Wilson though the cam is no longer up. The firefighters had to evacuate a couple of times according to various accounts but came back today and set some backfires and now have a group of 150 there to take care of things.

Read the updates from the observatory director (now hosted by the fine folk at Georgia State since the observatory is off the internet). Thanks are due to the firefighters including some from as far as Helena, Montana.

David said...

The scale of this really hit home when the local NBC affiliate mentioned that the burned area was the size of the North Texas suburb I live in! (Plano, TX)

Erp said...

Hmm, if Wikipedia is correct and Plano is about 71 square miles in size, the burn area is over 3 times that size at over 140,000 acres (219 square miles).

David said...

Well see, it's gotten even bigger since I last heard...