Fire Season

Any place that one lives, there is some type of natural disaster that they can face. In the west it is earthquakes and fires, and with the northwest you can add volcanoes, the central part of our country it is tornadoes, flooding and blizzards, and the east coast hurricanes and with the northeast there is the chance of blizzards also . Where I lived most of my life, and the ones who’ve read my short bio also know, that wildfires and earthquakes, plus the fact that I also fought wildfires for a number of years, are the natural disasters I faced. I do have a few pictures that I’ve taken over that time, and the many memories that these pictures bring back to me, and I will, from time to time, tap into these memories for use in my fictional worlds. The next 2 weeks I’ll be posting a short story in 2 parts, that deals with this subject of wildfire, and the unsatisfactory outcome that many face.

In the area where I grew up, fire season ran from April, and ended in December, with some of the worst fires happening in late September or October. For many who live in areas with lots of rain, they would consider the area where I lived as desert. But it truly is not so, since I’ve visited and enjoyed the desert, and there is no comparison between the two regions. Where I presently live, we have at least 9 months of winter, and many times more, and barely any other season. This is quite different from most of my life, where it was completely reversed. Rainfall was measured on the coast, and an average year was around 9 to 10″. Winter ran for around 3 months and even through that time, there would be weeks of sunny beautiful days. In the mountains the area rainfall could average into the 30’s, and there could actually be snow at the highest elevations. But the snow never remained very long – a couple of weekends to a month, and it was usually gone.

So with such a low amount of rain the vegetation has adapted and much of it goes dormant once past the wet season. Then, as summer advances, and temperatures rise, sometimes reaching the 100’s that could run for a couple of weeks, this would lead to the vegetation drying out even further. In the area where I presently am, if there is no rain for a week, they are in a drought. And if temps rise and stay a couple of days in the high 90’s then they are having a heat wave. Of course we who are from a drier climate, laugh at this. Again the area I grew up in has been running an 11 year drought – creating a tinderbox, just waiting for something to light it off. Then, as summer winds down, and fall arrives, most of the time with little or no rain, a weather condition usually developes with  high pressure over the four corners region and  low pressure off the coast – santa ana winds. These winds can reach hurricane force, and generally blow out of the 3 directions of the east, changing as the high and low shift locations. Temperatures rise, and humidities drop, sometimes into the single digit range. This sets the stage for conflagrations.

I’ve heard people, who really know nothing about these fires say, “I don’t worry about them. I’m sure that if I saw one I could outrun it and be safe.” All I can do is shake my head because of their ignorance. Let’s look, for a moment, at a fire that was pushed by these winds back in the 70’s on the west coast, and until the 2000’s was the largest fire in California’s history. It burned 186,000 acres. Here’s some averages for you. This fire did this damage in 5 days, and that averages out to 25.83 acres a minute. That’s an average, so when it first started it would be burning less than this, and at its full intensity more. I know of no one who runs that fast. In the wildlands, fire spreads exponentially. And here is what this means: If, in the first 5 minutes a fire burns 1 acre, then in the next 5 minutes it will burn 2, and then 4, and then eight, especially when pushed by santa ana winds. Another example of this was back in 1975. A fire was reported by the lookout, and the first engine on the scene arrived only 5 minutes after the initial report, and it was already at least 2 acres in size and running. We were dispatched and was somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes away, yet, by the time we arrived on scene, it was probably at least 500 acres in size, and flat running over anything in its way. in the 2 days that it burned, it consumed over 7,000 acres before suppression efforts stopped its advance.

On that same fire there was a small rural community directly in its path, and it did burn through it. There was a few structures lost, but not from lack of trying to protect them. The intensity of the fire, plus the thickness of the smoke hindered efforts. At one home we were protecting we put 2 lines of water into the fire to knock it down, and it did nothing. The fire was so intense, that initially the water was evaporating before reaching the fire. Eventually as it consumed the fuels it had to burn, it lost its intensity, and we were able to save the house – you always wish that you could save them all, but it is something that is quite impossible.

So, once again, this year the southwest received less than average amounts of rainfall. And, as already being demonstrated, this fire season will be another tough and severe one – with comments from people who do not live in these areas, saying that “They would never live where natural disasters could affect them”, forgetting, that no matter where you live you can face nature’s fury.

So, in the next 2 weeks I’ll be posting a short fictional story, parts 1 and 2, that deals with the other side of this. Not from a suppression point of view, but of ones trying to save their home, unsuccessfully, from one of these santa ana pushed fires. While fictional, it is very close to the reality that many in the backcountry face or have faced in the past. And one further note, “Time of Isolation“, has an official release date as an e-book, of June 20, 2012, and will be available in all e-book formats. The genre is Science Fiction and is the first in the Survival series.

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