Thursday, July 3, 2008

Earth, Wind, and Fire

Nope, not the legendary '70's band, but my latest source of climate angst. Once again, California's earth is on fire, helped along by the winds. However, this time it's a little close to home. As in "evacuation standby" close. As in "we have our valuables packed" close. So here's the deal:

Tuesday: The Gap Fire (it has a name, so that makes it official) started up in the mountains around 6pm and was blowing toward Goleta (my 'hood). So I immediately turned on the TV to listen to 20 different reporters all reporting the same "it's coming your way" news. Very similar to Hurricane Watch news in Florida. They evacuated a couple of nearby neighborhoods, but not us. Everyone kept referring to the Painted Cave Fire of 1990 (otherwise known as "The Day Santa Barbara Burned to the Ground") when the fire started up on the mountain and 20 minutes later had made it all the way down the mountain, across the highway, and to the ocean. Just a little bit scary.

Wednesday: All was well during the day, except for the air quality advisory, but then the power went off around 7pm. I walked outside and it was pitch black from smoke and showering ash flakes. The "sundowners" (the winds at sundown) were causing the fire to spread and it knocked out our major power line that comes from the Hoover Dam. The fire had "jumped the canyon" (more fire jargon I've been learning) which meant it was bigger and closer. Getting more scary.

Thursday: The power came back on in the middle of the night and we turned on the TV to learn that 650 acres had burned, but there were no new evacuations. Whew! By 9am 2,400 acres had burned! In only 8ish hours! County officials have declared a local state of emergency and The Govenator has asked Dubya to declare a federal emergency in the state. So that's the latest and I guess I'll just have to wait and see which way the wind blows tonight...literally.

Although some of this is reminiscent of the hurricane days in Florida (over-anxious reporters, no power, valuables packed, freeways jammed with evacuees), there's one significant difference: you can't "ride out" a fire like you can a hurricane. With a hurricane you wake up the next day and your roof might be gone and some trees are down, but if you try to "ride out" a fire, you're toast...literally.

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