The opinions expressed here are well-reasoned and insightful -- needless to say they are not the opinions of my employers

23 October 2007

Have some fire, Scarecrow!

We just returned from a weekend trip to Death Valley. Beautiful fall weather and we avoided ruining several sets of shocks on the road to Racetrack Playa. I'll write about the trip soon, but on the way home Sunday night we passed through the origins of several southern California wildfires. The Santa Ana winds have been as wild as I ever remember them, with 100 mph gusts in places. Between Cajon Pass and Corona we passes 3 or 4 big rigs that had been blown over. Passing through the Santa Ana mountains we came across the Santiago fire in its infancy: This one began near Silverado Canyon, where I had a field trip planned two weeks from now. Five minutes earlier and we'd have been driving through as it was crossing the road. As it happened we came upon a closed road and had to make our way south along the coast. So far, 20 or so homes have burned in Modjeska Canyon, and several of my students have been evacuated. They closed the school down on Monday afternoon; driving to school the winds and gray sky made me think of a volcanic eruption.

By the afternoon both yesterday and today the sky overhead was relatively clear though the smell of smoke remained. To the south the fires in the San Diego area are producing a thick, dark brown smoke that hangs on the horizon. The smoke to the north (most from the Santiago fire) is thinner and the sky reminds me a lot of the pre-clean-air-act sky from when I was a kid, though this doesn't make my eyes burn as much.

The image below is a sunset image taken this afternoon at Aliso Creek in southern Laguna Beach. I missed the cherry-red sun by a few minutes, but the smoke here is from several of the LA fires in addition to the Santiago fire. Below is an image taken on Monday by NASA, showing the smoke from various fires being blown out to sea. The chaparral covering the local hills and mountains is uniquely well adapted to life with fire as the climate is not conducive to the kind of bugs that promote the decay of dead vegetation. The leaves contain oils and resins that allow them to hold moisture. Many of these plants are more flammable than Christmas trees or eucalyptus. Unfortunately, the 21st century humans who live adjacent to the chaparral have not adapted to the fires as well...UPDATE (8:40 AM): A couple of new fires on Camp Pendleton to the south have closed I-5 between LA and San Diego, and some parts of the Marine base are being evacuated. The smoke is much heavier over campus than it was on Monday when the campus was closed, but the Santa Ana winds are largely gone.

Also, I corrected some spelling erorrs...

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