Monday, June 16, 2014

Wildfires in Southern California

When you grow up in Southern California, you develop almost a cavalier attitude about wildfires. You learn through experience they are going to happen. Every year you hope the hills and the mountains will escape fire season. However, you also know the Santa Ana winds will bring out the bad people. You then make a choice. Either you live in the hills or mountains or you pick the flat land. People new to the area fall in love with the mountains without understanding there are dangers and it is a roll of the dice.

In the 1950's, not only were there prescribed burns but the clouds were seeded to produce rain. After several mishaps (substitute disaster), the cloud seeding stopped and the burns were less frequent. That means like most fires, the undergrowth can be up to 30 years old. That's a lot of fuel. Since the area is not prone to thunderstorms in the summer, it is a given many of the fires are arson. With the winds, downed power lines start some of the fires. Power tools create sparks and start fires and campers start a few. Regardless of the reasons, wildfires are part of daily life.

The Los Angeles Basin and the surrounding areas vary in elevation. From Riverside, it is possible to see the smoke from the fires as far away as the San Fernando Valley. Depending on wind direction, ashes from the fires travel everywhere. There have been many times when the entire valley was surrounded by fire. Even if you are not in the direct line of the fire, the ash and smoke makes it hazardous.

Southern California continues to grow and many developers have moved further into the hillside, creating expensive homes. These homes have great views but as callous as it sounds, it is hard to feel sorry for the people who believe their homes will be safe. If you live in the hills, you will be guaranteed at least one scary fire. Southern California has exceptional firefighters who are well trained and dedicated. Because they are so good at what they do, they have saved countless lives and homes. It is sad when a home burns to the ground but it minuscule to the numbers they have saved. The news will focus on the one home, showing it repeatedly without giving our firefighters credit for the other 20 on the block still standing. Kudos to our firefighters!

People who live on the flat land are not always safe when the wind is blowing embers but there is generally less fuel and spot fires are easier to contain. Our family is fortunate no lives have been lost but several family members have lost homes. Two of them opted to move to the flat land, one moved to another mountain community and lost the second home there. It is always going to be the roll of the dice. Living in the Southern California hills and mountains with the Santa Ana winds is the perfect storm. Wildfires are a way of life.

1 comment:

  1. When I was much younger, I wanted to live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. But driving through the crazy number of wildfires in the 1980s cured me of wanting to live in or near wildernesses. Today, whenever I see the sky suddenly get dark, I poke my head out the door and sniff for the smell of fire.

    The View from the Top of the Ladder


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