Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Southern California Wildfires

It may not have escaped you notice that Southern California is currently under siege from over a dozen wildfires. The San Fernando Valley, and in particular the Northern end where I live, is surrounded to the East by the fires in Canyon Country and to the West by the fires in Malibu; home of my grad school alma mater; Pepperdine University. Despite living within a half mile of Victory Trailhead, which has been closed and is an access point into the Santa Monica Mountains, we have be spared any damage, we are however now victims of the resulting smoke. The sky to the East is obliterated with a thick black layer of smoke which turns the sky umber orange as the sun sets. The photo you see here I took from just down our street. Several local schools have been closed due to the high level of air pollution and the smoke is acting as a layer of insulation and is blanketing the heat in, as I write this at 8:30pm the thermometer on our porch reads 89F.

On the subject of air pollution I received an email from the Race Director of this weekend’s half marathon, Number 2 in the Xtrerra SoCal Trail Series at Boney Mountain, giving me a heads-up that they may have to postpone the race until air quality improves, they will make an announcement Thursday at noon. The short term weather forecasts that the Santa Ana winds will die down in the next 24 hours allowing the cooler ocean air to come inland and reduce the temperatures, they are forecasting possible rain at the weekend which will obviously help the firefighters and home owners in the affected and threatened areas. It will remain to be seen how quickly the smoke dissipates. Here's a satellite picture from Monday showing the smoke's footprint along the west coast.

Overall the devastation is hard to comprehend, due to the geological landscaping and the southland’s concerns over earthquakes most houses are built with a timber frame and nearly all are sided in timber, changes to building code that require materials to be used that have a higher fire retardant characteristics are due to come into effect but not until 2008 and 2009; too late for so many. As of writing this there are 18 fires ranging from Santa Barbara south to the Mexican border, San Diego and its surrounding areas are particularly affected, and as far East as Lake Arrowhead, over 800,000 people have been evacuated including mawz76 a fellow Nike+ runner from Fallbrook. Over 1000 homes have been burnt and at the last count the total acreage on fire exceeds 430,000, to put that in perspective a football field (including the in zones) is roughly an acre. Current estimates show at least half a billion dollars in damage and President Bush has declared a state of emergency in California, releasing much needed financial assistance to the state. Wondermom24, again a Nike+ runner is surrounded on three sides in La Mirada and likens the orange atmosphere to something from a sci-fi movie. Jessica in Orange County (OC) and a runner with the OCTR has seen several of her local trails go up in flame. Addy has friends and family in OC and is keeping a nervous eye on the news. There are another two months left in this year's fire season before Winter and we can start to think about the real possibility of rain in any substantial volume or on a regular basis, of course with so much devastation to the vegetation the next concern will be soil erosion and mudslides. The fires are so widespread it is hard to not know someone who has been affected; this part of the world is beautiful in many ways but can be so cruel in others.

My thoughts and best wishes go out to those affected and the brave souls who stand on the fire-line.

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