Fires in San Diego and nearby

Nan Sterman Talkingpoints@PlantSoup.Com
Wed, 29 Oct 2003 15:40:06 PST
So many people have been asking about the fires in this region that I 
figured it was time for a report.

Fortunately, my family and home are fine though we were not sure on 
Sunday and early Monday that that would continue to be the case.  We 
were packed and ready to evacuate by midday Sunday, thanks to a 
neighbor who is a fire chief and whose wife keeps us all apprised. 
My community in eastern Encinitas (about 3 miles from the coast) 
narrowly escaped a disastrous fire in 1996 (only four homes were 
lost) so we keep a close eye when fires  threaten us.

Early Sunday morning, there were banks of smoke coming from, at one 
count, 8 fires in San Diego County, all in the eastern part of the 
county but going nearly from the northern border all the way down to 
the border with Mexico.  The southernmost fire did cross the border.

We were in the middle of one of our occasional Santa Ana winds which 
blows from the deserts in the east towards the west (normal airflow 
is from the ocean on the west, towards the east and brings us our 
infamous marine layer).  Because they are from the deserts, Santa 
Anas are very hot, very dry winds.  Lips chap, skin cracks and hair 
is a joke during a Santa Ana.

At the same time, we live in a fire habitat.  Our native habitats are 
fire adapted and fires are part of the natural cycle, devouring 
biomass on a periodic basis and causing f dormant seeds to sprout and 
rejuvenate the chaparral.

As humans invade the native habitat, we bring with fire suppression 
tactics so that the native habitats burn very infrequently, but still 
accumulate biomass that dies on a regular basis.  In wetter 
environments, the biomass would become a nice, thick, spongy mulch. 
Under such dry conditions, however, what dies becomes a thin layer of 
paper-dry carbon-based material.  That translates to enormous amounts 
of fuel just waiting around for an errant cigarette, dragging 
tailpipe (sparks) ,etc.  The largest and most deadly fire at the 
moment, the Cedar fire, was caused by a lost hunter who lit a signal 
fire so his buddy could find him.  He might regret that decision for 
the rest of his life.

Another problem is that our region was planted with combustible 
eucalyptus trees in the early 1900s.  Eucalyptus did so well that 
they spread throughout the area.  In a fire, they go up like 

In more mountainous areas, native pines have been plagued by pine 
bark beetle.  The number of dead and near dead pines is tremendous, 
and they too are more fire prone than healthy pines would be.

So the fires started to spread with the wind and the huge fuel load. 
They looked to be making a clean sweep, north to south, east to west. 
One fear was that they would all merge.  That fear still exists.

Under normal circumstances, San Diego has a fairly good fire fighting 
force.  However, many of our fire fighters were deployed to San 
Bernardino to the north  and other areas where fires started burning 
earlier last week.  When the fires hit here, we were operating with a 
reduced crew.  There were too few of them to  try containing the 
fires - only to save people and buildings.  Reinforcements from 
elsewhere didn't arrive until late on Tuesday, after more than 1100 
homes had burned, a dozen people died and hundreds of thousands of 
acres were destroyed.

Schools are closed, most nonessential businesses were closed until 
today in the City of San Diego and coastal communities.  Yesterday, 
the sky was the most awful shade of orange tinged putty, thick and 
smoky. Ashes rained down like big snowflakes.   It was impossible to 

Today, the winds have shifted and are blowing from west to east (and 
driving the blaze that directoin) so we have a bit of blue sky,  but 
I suspect that the clearer skies are still filled with micro 
contaminants -- my chest aches.

Communities in the mountains to the east of us are meanwhile being 
decimated.  You might hear people talk about the rural towns of 
Cuyamaca, Julian, Pine HIlls, Alpine, Descanso... these communities 
are all taking it very hard.  The community of Cuyamaca is virtually 
gone.  This is after homes were destroyed in rural Valley Center (to 
the north) and in suburban Scripps Ranch, Tierra Santa  and San 
Carlos (central).  The Otay fire in the south seems to have caused 
only minimal loss of property. .

Up towards the north in Riverside County, the mountain resort of Big 
Bear was evacuated yesterday and pretty hard hit by that fire.  It is 
now moving towards Lake ARrowhead which is another mountain resort in 
the area.  Further north in Ventura county, the fire in Simi Valley 
is still burning.

That's all for now


Nan Sterman			Plant Soup (TM)
PO Box 231034
Encinitas, CA 92023		760.634.2902 (voice)
Talkingpoints@PlantSoup.Com	760.634.2957 (fax)


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