Weekend Assignment #216: Fire!

The Weekend Assignment is posted each Friday at Outpost Mâvarin; a roundup of responses goes up the following Thursday, so if you’d like to join in, you’ve still got some time. Karen says: Don’t worry if you don’t get your entry in by the end of the weekend. It’s called the Weekend Assignment because John Scalzi originally designed it to give folks something to write on weekends, but times have changed since then. Now the meme is launched on Thursday nights / Friday mornings, just a little later than Scalzi used to post it, and you have a whole week to respond. Still, I for one am grateful if you don’t all wait until the last minute!

Weekend Assignment #216: Tell us a story or anecdote that involve fire in some way. It can be a forest fire, a house fire, a campfire, logs in the fireplace, or even a lit match, a tale of comfort or destruction. Whatever comes to mind, if it’s interesting and fire plays a role, we want to read about it!

Extra Credit: Is the area where you live subject to dangerous wildfires?

Like Karen did in her Assignment, I’m going to tell a story that I’ve told before, but may be new to some of you if you weren’t around for the original post (most of which follows, with some minor changes and edits). I won’t vouch for whether any of the links still work, but I’m leaving them in anyway, just in case you’re curious.

My fiery diary: 10/21-10/24

As we were online reading updates about the Ranch Fire on October 21 – of the dozen active wildfires that started in Southern California this past weekend, that’s the one closest to us – Tall Paul said, “When we retire, let’s move somewhere that doesn’t have fires.”

My husband was born and raised in SoCal, and he’s lived with fire season, flood season – which usually follows fire season, unless it’s a drought year – and year-round “earthquake season” – all his life. I guess it’s getting old for him. Considering that when these things aren’t happening, our coastal areas have a truly enviable climate and gorgeous, dramatic vistas all around, I still view them as part of the “price of paradise” (yes, them and the traffic) – but I haven’t lived here as long as he has.

I’ve lived in the Northeast (blizzards and nor’easters), on the Gulf Coast (hurricanes and waterspouts), and in the Mid-South (thunderstorms, ice storms, and tornadoes). I can’t think of anyplacethat doesn’t have issues with nature. The weather is still one thing we can’t do much about, unless you’re the mad scientist or megalomaniac with a weather-control machine who shows up as an occasional plot device. But that doesn’t mean it won’t make you nervous – probably the opposite, really, since in my observation worry directly correlates with lack of control over a situation. All you really can do is stay informed and be prepared to keep yourself and your family safe.

This is my summarized chronicle of the fiery events we recently experienced; I kept notes, and then put it all together in one post as things were winding down.

10/21/07 (our first wedding anniversary!) 4:45 PM

I’m really glad we didn’t have this weather a year ago today – it would have really messed up an outdoor wedding.

The Santa Ana winds have been kicking up this weekend, and there are two wildfires currently burning in our general area. Fortunately, we’re not in Malibu, which is getting quite literally toasted. (Just goes to show that wealth is no protection from nature, I guess).

I don’t think our area is seriously threatened at this point – one fire about 12 miles west of us is expected to be contained in a few hours, if all goes well, and a larger one to the northeast probably isn’t moving directly toward us. But depending on that one’s progress, it could move toward the next town, which means the kids might stay with us tonight and not go back to their mom’s house. We have to see how the next couple of hours go. (Good thing we’re saving the anniversary plans for next weekend.)

We’ve closed all the windows, but I can still smell smoke in the air. The sky is a very odd orangey-gray color, and the sun looks red through all the smoke clouds. We’re trying to stay inside, but I will have to walk the dog this evening, and tomorrow morning – and there’s no telling how long this stuff will be in the air, even if the fires themselves don’t get too close. The winds are still blowing, the air is very dry, and the weather is forecast to warm up in the early part of the week – none of these things is comforting.

Later that evening: The kids are staying with us tonight, and we’re waiting to find out if school is canceled for tomorrow.

10/22/07, 8:15 AM:

At the office, 30 miles southeast of home, the winds are quiet and the sky is clear. It’s a typically beautiful California day.

On the way here, fierce crosswinds made keeping my Honda Civic in its lane on the freeway a challenge while driving into the western San Fernando Valley. The winds kept up through the night, and are strengthening this morning; along with that, the sun, warm temperatures, and very dry air will all make the fires harder to get under control.

The fires to the north and east of us grew dramatically overnight. As long as the Ranch Fire continues on a mostly westward path, we’ll be out of direct threat, but we’re still under smoke clouds, and you don’t want to be outdoors unless you have to be.

Safely at the office, I’ll be keeping up with the news today, and probably fretting about whether getting home tonight will be complicated.

10/22/07, 11:25 AM:

The latest from the Ventura County Star website. (It’s not much of a paper, but they’re the best place for truly local updates. The LA media sites treat the VC=boondocks most of the time.)

My stepdaughter is home sick today. Usually she stays alone (she’s 13), but her mom’s with her, just in case the Ranch Fire takes a turn to the southwest, Both the kids are back at our place tonight, and we’re even further away from the worst of it than their mom’s house is, so hopefully we won’t suffer from anything more than the smoke and lousy air quality.

10/22/07, 1:15 PM:

Naturally, I’m most concerned about the Ranch Fire in Ventura County north of home, but it’s only one of a dozen fires throughout SoCal today. The LA Times website has a wrapup and a current map.

The most recent update from the VC Star website mentions concerns that a couple of fires could merge. When I look at the maps, two of the largest – the Ranch Fire and the Buckweed Fire – look like they’re not very far from each other as it is. Each has already burned well over 25,000 acres.

The Ranch Fire is almost surrounding the small town of Piru, which is to the north and separated from our town by about 20 miles and some mountains. Evacuations have been recommended, but aren’t yet mandatory – so a lot of people are staying. Sorry, I say it’s not worth it. Your family’s safety is more important than your belongings, and while you have some warning, you can get some things together, throw them in the car, and go. Besides, if you wait till you’re ordered to leave, and so does everyone else, it’s going to take longer to get out of town.

10/22/07, 3:20 PM:

Talked to Tall Paul about 15 minutes ago, and he said the air all over Ventura County is really bad. I’ve got tabs in Firefox open to monitor the Ventura County Fire Dept. and the Star website.

And my Mom-in-law in San Diego County has fires about 15 miles away to both the northeast and southeast of her home. But she doesn’t follow the news, so her son had to tell her about it. We don’t know her evacuation status – hopefully she won’t end up in Qualcomm Stadium. Over 250,000 people in SD County have been ordered – not asked – to evacuate.

10/22/07, 7:30 PM:

I’ve been home for a couple of hours, and was a bit surprised by conditions here. Even though there are now three fires burning to the northeast of us. some combination of the wind patterns and the mountains must be what’s sending most of the smoke further west. The sky over Simi Valley is clearer than it was yesterday, and the winds are a little milder.

But tomorrow is supposed to be warmer, and the only thing predictable about wildfires is that, like hurricanes, they’re unpredictable. The Santa Ana winds aren’t expected to subside much for another day or two, the humidity is in the single digits, and none of these fires is more than 20% contained right now. The huge Buckweed Fire could merge with the newer Magic Fire (near Magic Mountain amusement park). which is the closest one yet to where we are.

Due to the air quality and generally uncertain conditions, the local public schools will be closed tomorrow, so Tall Paul’s getting an unexpected day off with the kids. That may help me be less anxious tomorrow – at least he’ll be home if we’re threatened here, and he can take care of the kids and Gypsy.

10/23/07, 8:45 AM:

I don’t know whether it’s the winds or just the fact there are so darn many fires going on, but the smoke’s not particularly concentrated anywhere this morning.The winds are dropping a bit today, but the temperatures are supposed to get HOT (in the 90’s), so it’ll be another rough day. The weather won’t be much help for another couple of days, or so say the weather wizards.

San Diego County has it really bad. Tall Paul needs to check back in with his mom this morning.

Help is coming in from other parts of the state, and other states too – the firefighters are making their usual heroic efforts. And FEMA’s on their way here too. Oh boy.

The Magic Fire is threatening unincorporated areas to the northeast of Simi Valley. This is what I’ve worried about since Sunday:

MAGIC INCIDENT (LA County near Magic Mountain)- 06:12 am, October 23. The fire that started near Magic Mountain in Los Angeles County and is nearing the Ventura County line.

It is now approximately three miles away. Intense backfiring operations overnight appear to be working to slow the advance of the fire. 428 personnel are currently assigned to the incident. Approximately 950 structures are threatened.


It is 20% contained. Smoke from this fire is blowing into the Simi Valley and Westlake Village areas and the amount of smoke is likely to increase as the fire moves into the county.

The Ranch Fire is 10% contained and is now the biggest one near us (41,000 acres burned); containment is estimated as of next Wednesday.

Schools in our area are closed and Tall Paul is home with the kids – he’s monitoring from there and will let me know if anything affects us.

6:00 PM, 10/23/07:

The winds are starting to slack off a bit, and the forecast is expected to be much more favorable to the firefighters starting tomorrow – the Santa Anas should subside, and cooler, moister air is expected to come in. No major new fires broke out in our vicinity today, which is very good news. The Magic Fire didn’t get too big and it’s now 40% contained. The Ranch Fire is still huge and only around 10% contained, but its path doesn’t seem to be headed our way.

The smoke has definitely come back to our town today, though. The sky is grayish and dusky, and if you can see the sun at all, it’s very red. Even so, schools are supposed to re-open tomorrow, but they’ll probably try to keep the kids inside.

Mom-in-law is OK, but many people in San Diego County (around 750,000!) have been evacuated and can’t say the same. It’s being declared a Federal disaster area, and the President and FEMA are on their way. (So if it wasn’t a disaster area already…sorry, just couldn’t help myself there.) It’s almost the direct opposite of Katrina – fire instead of flood. I heard there are some areas where the firefighters just can’t keep up, and eventually some of the fires may burn all the way to the ocean. I feel guilty for feeling relieved that it’s not nearly that bad here.

8:45 AM, 10/24/07:

I stepped out to walk Gypsy earlier this morning, and there was barely any breeze at all. The temperatures are still supposed to get into the 90s today, but cooling is expected starting tomorrow. But the winds have noticeably dropped, and are forecast to decrease even more.

The good news this morning mostly comes from the fires in my area. The Magic Fire was fully contained as of last night. The Ranch Fire is still going, but isn’t gaining much ground into Ventura County and doesn’t seem like it will move much south and west, so it’s not likely to threaten us directly. The Malibu Canyon fire has gotten a lot of the news attention – because it’s in Malibu – but there’s been a lot of progress with that one too.

There are some coyotes that live in the hills behind our house, and I realized yesterday morning that I haven’t heard them for a few days. Maybe they’ll be back soon.

Hopefully as things get better in L.A. and Ventura counties, the firefighters can get some rest, and then go help out in San Diego and Orange counties, which are where things remain very bad.

That was our biggest direct exposure to the wildfire season of 2007. But we’ve already has a few really hot, dry weekends this year (they always seem to start on the weekend – why is that?), and not enough rain over the winter, so the predictions for this season are not pretty. If we’re threatened again this year, I’ll probably be posting updates about it here and on Twitter (assuming online access and phones, of course) – but I’d really prefer not to write about wildfires again any time soon.

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  • I see the news about wildfires all the time. I have a hard time imagining what it must be like to live close by when they are going on; I’d be very stressed. When we went to LA a few years ago there were some bad fires going on, but they had most contained by the time we got there. I hope you don’t have to worry about them this year.

  • I had forgotten how serious things got in SoCal last fall. Thanks for the vividly reconstituted play-by-play! Let’s hope we all luck out for the 08 fire season.

  • Mike – It is stressful, trust me. Unfortunately, we had another fairly dry winter and some unseasonably early hot weather, so this year may be another rough one for fires.

    Karen – That’s right, you have to deal with this fire stuff in Arizona too. If we go through another round of it this year, I’ll probably be posting another fire diary – but I’ll be OK if I don’t have to do that.

  • Southern California certainly does have its share of fires. When I lived in Thousand Oaks, I especially remember getting nervous as the flames got close and closer.

    On the topic of natural disasters, did you hear about the tornadoes out my way? I work not too far from where one touched down and did some damage–I had just left work and evidently barely missed seeing it. I’d much rather see the pictures though than in person.

  • Literary Feline – I did hear about the tornadoes out your way, Wendy – NOT a typical California weather story! Glad you missed them (or they missed you)!

    I lived in T.O. during my first three years in California (2002-05) – did we overlap?

  • No, I’m afraid we didn’t. I was there from 1991 to 1995. A very long time ago.