California Burns Again



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Sunday Nov 11, 2018 California Burns Again   On Saturday Afternoon I visited Century Shopping Center and as I was walking around the mall I began to smell smoke.  It got worse as time passed until the sky became a brownish gray color and the air became difficult to breath.  What I was smelling was smoke coming from the Woolsey fire that is burning across parts of Ventura and LA Counties.


The Woolsey fire has burned over 83,000 acres, destroyed at least 177 properties, and has probably taken at least 2 lives.  President Trump, never passing up a chance to make political points, has blamed the high incidence of wild fires in California on miss-management of forests but as usual he is jumping the gun without getting all the facts.  The truth is that the area being burned by the Woolsey fire isn't forest at all but is mostly covered in brush and grass.  The real problem here is the changing climate.

California is going through a pretty long drought but last year, while rainfall was still a tad below normal, there was enough to drive lots of plant growth out in the wilds.  Then we had the long hot summer.  It wasn't as dry as last year but it was still very dry.  This dries out all the vegetation that grew in the spring after the relatively wet winter.  Now along comes the Santa Ana winds.  Santa Ana winds blow from the North East and push air from the high desert.  As this air flows down the hills into the LA basin it compresses and warms up while the it also gets very dry.  On Friday the temperature in the burn area was in the mid 80s with relative humidity down around 5% which means almost no water in the air at all.

Under these weather conditions all it takes is a spark near the tinder dry grass and you have a brush fire.  To make matters worse the dry ground cover sends embers into the air causing the fire to do what is called spotting, where a spots of vegetation burst into flames in random positions, making the fire very difficult to contain.  The 40mph winds push the fire along very quickly and also make it impossible to fight the fire from the air using either fixed wing airplanes or helicopters.


The winds made the fires pretty unstoppable.  The area of the burn does have fire roads cut into it which are intended to act as fire breaks but the fire quickly jumped those.  As the fire raced toward the sea it jumped the Ventura freeway which at this point has 5 lanes plus 2 shoulders in each direction so it is a pretty wide barrier to cross.  Pushing on it managed to jump Mulholland highway and Pacific Coast highway also.  In all 200,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes.,  Two bodies have been found in a burned out car on Mulholland but this is still being investigated to see if their deaths are related to the fire.


Fortunately overnight the Santa Ana winds died down and early on Saturday the wind direction switched from offshore to onshore.  The smoke, that was being pushed out to sea, was being pushed back into the LA basin.  This change of wind was really good news.  It stopped the fire from advancing leaving the burn area at 83,275 acres (about 130 square miles).  This allowed the fire fighters to get about 10% containment on the fire  The bad news is that the Santa Ana winds returned early this morning with winds gusting up to 30 mph.  These windy, dry conditions are expected to hang around until Tuesday.


Not far way in Ventura County, near the city of Camarillo, the Hill fire also continues to burn.  This fire has scorched 4,531 acres (about 7 square miles) and has destroyed 2 structures.  Fortunately this fire has not caused any fatalities.


In Northern California a third fire, known as the Camp Fire, has also burned a large area of Butte County and has wiped out the town of Paradise.  This fire has been more deadly that the Woodley fire with as many as 23 people have lost their lives.  As of this morning it had charred 109,000 acres (about 170 square miles) and 6,513 structures have been destroyed.  Smoke from the fire reached as far as San Francisco causing school closures because of air quality that was termed "worse that Beijing".


Having three large fires burning at the same time means that fire crews are spread out across the three fires.  The crews fighting the Camp fire cannot get help from fire departments in Southern California as they are busy with the Woolsey and Hill fires.  They are also not available to swing down into Southern California to help out there.  This just means that the crews at all three fires are short handed making it more difficult to fight each of these blazes.


There seems to be little doubt that the increase in the frequency and strength of wildfires in California over the last 10 years has been driven by global warming.  The wildfires are coming more frequently and are getting larger.  It is perhaps time that the American People sit up and take notice.  Over the last few years we seem to have just staggered from one disaster to the next with hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.  At the same time Washington State residents just rejected a ballot measure that would have introduced a carbon tax in the state showing that the average American citizen are looking to the Federal Government to take action.


It seems time that we step up to the plate and start to get serious about reducing the amount of carbon we push into the air.  How about making a new years resolution to cut your carbon footprint in 2019.  Better still start cutting your carbon footprint today.

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