Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Witch Creek fire, which is the one that has put North County in peril, has burned in the neighborhood of 164,000 acres and is still only 5% contained. It started Sunday near the village of and has spread more than 20 miles west and south, destroying parts of and Poway, and it is now threatening the village of and the cities of , Solana Beach and Del Mar, the latter three of which are right on the ocean. Encinitas and Del Mar extend inland a few miles, but Solana Beach is pretty much. There's another fire that started Sunday, the Harris fire, burning right along the Mexican border and it has consumed upwards of 30,000 acres. It is currently threatening the cities of Spring Valley and Chula Vista, as well as parts of and El Cajon.
There are currently eight separate fires burning in (which has about four times the area of the State of Rhode Island) and more than 300,000 people (about 10% of the county's population) have evacuated from their homes. They are being put up in places like Qualcomm Stadium, the and many high schools and churches. Over 1000 homes have been destroyed by the fires. The only hope of containing these fires is for the Santa Ana wind conditions to dissipate and for the humidity to increase, which the weather folks say won't happen before Thursday, although it is blowing a lot less today than over the last two days.
Amazingly enough, the last I heard only one person has died as a result of these fires, and injuries are surprisingly (to me, at least) low as well--I believe fewer than 100.
If any of you are interested in following this in real time, I recommend the video stream at <http://www.10news.com/video/14036255/index.html>. You can also see a map at <http://www.sdcountyemergency.com/newsreleases/102307_0530_Evac_FirePerim.pdf> but it takes forever to load because a lot of people are accessing it and the server is having difficulty keeping up. I believe the map is updated 2 or 3 times a day.
This is a very big deal and will turn out to be much worse than the Cedar, Paradise and Otay fires of 2003, in which we actually had flames within two miles or so of our house. If any of you have experience with this kind of thing, you know that two miles can become zero miles in about 5 minutes if conditions are right, due to flying embers. Back then, we had ash falling like snow, but haven't seen that yet this time around. The local emergency services people learned a lot from that experience, and things are being handled much more smoothly.
I'll try to update as time goes on. If I "go dark" it'll mean we had to evacuate, and I am deskbound, cybernetically speaking.
UPDATE: 1630: Well, good news and bad news. The good news is that here in Carlsbad and in other coastal areas there has been a slight onshore flow today, i.e., westerly winds bringing moister air from over the ocean. This indicates that the Santa Ana condition is beginning to break down and lessens the danger to Rancho Santa Fe, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar.
The bad news is that there's a new fire that originated with a house fire on the La Jolla Indian Reservation, called the Poomacha fire, which is spreading towards Palomar Mountain, site of the famous observatory. This is not good because Palomar Mountain has a lot of dead trees on it due to insect infestation, and it hasn't burned, according to the TV folks, "in decades." The terrain is very rugged and there's little road access, so fighting any fire there will be extremely difficult.
Also the Witch Creek fire appears to be spreading north to join up with the Poomacha fire. And the Rice fire, which started near Fallbrook, is spreading northward toward Riverside County. According to the TV people, it is being fought just west of I-15 at Rainbow. One of the TV reporters is saying that there are still high winds at Ramona, near where the Witch Creek fire started, with gusts in the 60 mph range. This is not necessarily inconsistent with the onshore flow at the coast, but if all goes well the winds should gradually diminish inland as the Santa Ana dissipates.
The Harris fire is still going strong in the far south county, and the possibility of westerly winds adds a new dimension to fighting the fire, because the fire crews might have to relocate from the west side of the fire to the north or east side.