I haven't been posting or reading for nearly two weeks now. I do have a
reason. The following is a short reminiscence on my family’s
experiences with the recent forest fires in Southern California. We do
live in interesting times.
The forests here are not unlike those abutting other communities in
other parts of the country. They have too many trees towering above
thick undergrowth; in short, fuel. Add to this a bark beetle
infestation that has been killing off drought weakened pines.
No one wants his home to burn down, so fire suppression is the rule of
the day. Fast moving cool fires taking out sparse undergrowth have been
replaced with very hot, more disastrous fires. Flares moving through
the tops of the trees send out embers to start fires in the undergrowth,
sometimes miles away.
This area boasts of a weather phenomenon known as the Santa Ana winds.
These winds are formed when a high pressure area forms to the north and
east over Nevada and Utah. As the air sinks, it is forced down the
slope of California's coastal mountains, gathering speed as it shoots
through narrow canyon passes and rising in temperature as it compresses.
Fall days with temperatures in the 90s and humidity in single digits
are not uncommon.
In Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind," he describes the Santa Anas as winds
that "curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On
nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives
feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks.
Anything can happen."
And when a lost hunter shoots off a flare to invite rescue, or when a
burning cigarette is thrown from a car, or when someone throws an
incendiary device into dry brush, it happens.
For us, it all started sometime in the middle of the week of 19 October.
Forecasts of rising temperatures, low humidity, and high winds, put
everybody’s nerves on edge. We start to pack photo albums into boxes
and to move these and a small file of papers into the garage. On
Saturday, we attend the Breeder’s Cup horse races at Santa Anita in
Arcadia. There is one fire (the “Grand Prix” fire) burning. It has
burned to the edge of the road and has turned day into night with smoke.
But since it is many miles away from our home, no problem.
On the way back, a second fire (the “Old” fire) has been started by an
arsonist and is spreading rapidly. The highway to our town is open only
to residents. By Sunday, our car and pickup truck are packed with
keepsakes and impedimentia. Late Sunday, we have decided that nothing
will happen tonight and Margaret goes to bed. A knock on the door, and
a quiet evening is put aside. Coffee is brewed, the cats are rounded
up and put into their carrying cases, a few last minute items are saved,
good-byes are said to the neighbors, and we are off to our youngest
daughter’s house (cats are welcome there). An hour and a half trip is
doubled due to the route we must take to avoid flames. We arrive safely
and bed down for the night.
Family and friends are really wonderful at a time like this. All the
kids and siblings were willing to have us (most did not want the cats).
Friends tried to reach us by phone and email to see how we were and if
we needed anything. It is a great feeling not to feel alone.
Finding information on the fire is easy. Finding valid and detailed
information is difficult. Television news loves shots of flames soaring
into the heavens, interviews with exhausted fire fighters, and
predictions of doom and gloom. We head for the internet and settle on
http://www.rimoftheworld.net/ as our best overall source of what is
really happening. We read and post on the Green Valley Lake bulletin
board, study the burn map, and avidly read what Ranger Al (a genuine
folk hero) has to say. If you will now turn to the burn map
(http://www.rimoftheworld.net/features/burn ), look at the right hand
side for the hamlet of Running Springs. Just above that is a road
leading seemingly to nowhere. At the end of that road is (honest) Green
As the week went on, the Santa Anas faded and were replace by an
on-shore flow. The temperatures cooled, humidity went up, but the
direction changed, and the fires stopped ravaging the foothill
communities and focused instead on the mountains. Highway 18, which
runs along the top of the mountain range became the “battleground”.
Rimforest, Skyforest, and parts of Crestline burned. These communities
were still to the west of us. Then finally fuel and wind and the fire
jumped the highway and headed for Lake Arrowhead and environs. The
Cedar Glen area and other canyon communities were heavily damaged. The
fires headed north and east towards Running Springs to the south of us
and into the Deep Creek drainage basin to the west. Nervous time.
Then towards the end of the week, it snowed. Hallelujah. The
temperature dropped 60 degF in a few days and moisture fell. The fires
were slowed but not out. Arrival of more firefighters and equipment
from other states allowed more resources to be applied to the local
fires. One by one, the news crews were pulled from the Los Angeles and
Ventura county fires. Soon only a few were left and were covering our
At last! On Monday, November 3, the mandatory evacuation order Green
Valley Lake was lifted. On Tuesday, Margaret and I, the cats, and a
newly purchased gasoline powered generator headed home. It was as we
had left it. We unpacked and hooked up the generator to the essentials:
the furnace, a lamp, and the television. It being an absolutely
gorgeous fall day, we walked to “downtown” and chatted with a few other
locals who had made it back. It’s good to be home. Thanks be to God,
we were spared. One thing I learned is that being away from home
voluntarily is much different than being forced out.
The heavy rains forecast for this weekend have been revised to scattered
showers. This could have led to mud slides and an even greater disaster.
Santa Ana winds are forecast for Wednesday.