Wednesday, October 24, 2007

24 Oct Fire Report from North San Diego County 

It looks like we in Carlsbad are out of the woods unless there's some new fire. We woke up this morning to a beautiful sunrise and no smoke overhead. We could see smoke to the north and south, but there was a broad corridor of blue sky centered on us. Nice. Unfortunately since then the smoke has diffused and it pretty much covers the county. The sunlight has a warm amber tint, sort of like early sunset, but at midday, Last night the setting sun was a very deep tangerine orange going to blood red as it disappeared below the horizon. I'm sure artists would appreciate the lighting effects but I think it's unearthly. Winds here in Carlsbad are very light from the NW. The Santa Ana is definitely breaking down and the forecasters are predicting normal weather by Saturday. Even with that, it was pushing 90 degrees F. at 1300 and the earliest projected containment date that I've heard for any of the fires currently burning is 1 Nov.

The Witch Creek fire and the Poomacha fire have merged and the combined fire is burning northward towards Riverside County. The major action is now in the far northern part of the county (inland, except for the Horno fire--see below) and the far southern part of the county where the Harris fire is still threatening some populated areas. Go to and click on the latest map in the "news releases" box on the right for the official word. The map seems to be about 6 hours behind the real time reports on TV.

Many areas that were evacuated, especially those close to the City of San Diego, have been opened for repopulation. They're trying to get people out of the emergency shelter places like Qualcomm Stadium and the Del Mar fairgrounds and either back home or into some more permanent accommodations. The last I heard on the TV, still only one person had died as a direct result of the fire, but 4 or 5 others have died from indirect effects such as respiratory problems from the crappy air and heart attacks. I don't know how many injuries, but I think the number is still south of 200, most of them firefighters.

The Horno fire, wholly within Camp Pendleton Marine Base, started overnight. It was not on the news at 2200 last night, but by 0600 this morning I-5 was closed in both directions. It was open southbound by 0830 and in both directions by noon. Traffic was a mess in Oceanside this morning.

Everyone in the county, whether or not they have been directly threatened by the fire, has been affected by it. Last evening I took my dear daughter to her piano lesson in Oceanside, and the condo complex where the teacher lives had about twice its usual complement of cars. I took that as evidence that residents were putting up friends and family that had to evacuate. Inside the piano teacher's unit, besides, of course, the teacher and her piano, were two cots and three sleeping bags, and her young nephew, in addition to three students (including my daughter), two parents (including me) and a young friend of one of the other students whose family had been evacuated from their Rancho Santa Fe home. The other parent told me that a couple of houses on that kid's street had burned to the ground, but his house had survived.

The size and swiftness of these fires is unprecedented. The local firefighting establishment has been pretty much overwhelmed, so they early on decided to let the fires burn in open land and concentrate on saving homes and other structures. They've done a pretty good job, but not as successfully as they would have liked. One would hope that the post-mortem from this experience will result in at least as many improvements in techniques and organization as arose from the 2003 fires.

The economic effects of this fire will probably be felt for the next 3-4 years at least. I don't think we have enough construction tradespeople in the area to rebuild in less than that. Some people who had to evacuate were just finishing up rebuilding from the 2003 fires. I expect the powers that be will be taking some hard looks at the zoning and development laws and regs, but people will still build in danger areas, the same way they build along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Take your pick, fire or flood. Water is another issue. I've been saying for at least 20 years (my wife will vouch for me) that the ultimate limit on California's population and economy will be due to the scarcity of water. We will be cursed to live our lives in interesting times.

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