Larry and I went to Colorado last Wednesday. The day before I noticed a massive plume of smoke rising from a canyon to the east of us. It startled me, how quickly the smoke had appeared; I'd been in the vet's office for only 45 minutes, and there it was: billowing into the sky like a mushroom cloud. It was horrifying and amazing at the same time. And it was pusillanimous compared to the fire to come.
We read with horror about the Station Fire in La Canada, burning north and west and southeast all at once. It plowed through Big Tujunga canyon. We'd just taken a Sunday drive through it a couple months ago. I remember noting the luxurious houses nestled into the hillside. I remember thinking how dry everything looked. I wonder if I worried about fire then.
It's weird when something important happens when you are not at home. I was in Switzerland for ten days after Michael Jackson died. It felt so surreal. So did these fires, except that I knew the area it was burning and I knew people in its path. I clicked on the interactive fire map and watched the Burn Boundaries expand like Hitler's Army in 1939. By the time we flew home Sunday evening, the fire had tripled and was 0% contained. "Out of control," said fire officials.
We were on the south side of the plane. We could see a smaller fire in Idyllwild . I couldn't take my eyes off it. We are so hermetically sealed from Real Life, with our cars and shops and TV, that when Nature shows up, it's awe-inspiring.
One friend posted pictures of the view outside his condo window at night. Black with a dot of orange one night. Black with many splotches of orange the following night. And then a wall of orange. He says he's safe. I emailed our other friend again. I looked up his address on Google and gasped. His house was one street away from the burn perimeter. They're OK and so is their house. But most of those houses we saw on our Sunday drive are gone. One of them belonged to a woman who worked at Larry's old job.
Mount Wilson is the highest mountain in Los Angeles county, home to communications towers and an historic observatory. The fire was marching toward it quickly.
If Only That Were Snow
Some Cal Trans workers who live up near Mount Wilson are bitter that the fire fighters didn't douse their homes, and instead took care of the historic observatory. I feel very bad for them. But I can't imagine that the firefighters took time out to say, "Hmm. Nah, let's skip those guys." But then if my house burned down I might be so angry I'd think the same thing.
Author Mike Davis made it pretty clear we should let Malibu burn. It's a desert. Don't build a mansion on hills that the Chumash Indians were doing controlled burns for centuries. But then it happens to you or someone you know.
Eventually the fire moved east, into the mountains high above Sierra Madre, where we live. We never saw flames but we saw the smoke. There's been smoke for days. And we saw those red helicopters with their giant hoses that drop loads of water.
The fire burned east again, into the hills high above Monrovia. Like termites taking over one room at a time. This afternoon, we went out to the supermarket. There was a pinch of white cloud above the smoke. By the time we got out of the supermarket, a towering pyrocumulus cloud had erupted. That's when so much heat gets thrust into the atmosphere, it creates its own weather.
We are OK.
But it's only September.
The Santa Ana winds haven't even started.
There are some stunning time lapse videos available here.
This one is particularly jarring.
Sep 4, 2009
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