Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fires Are Burning

Today has been a very warm and windy day. The Santa Anna winds started to pick up early afternoon and the temperature soared to the high 80's and humidity dropped to 6%. The weather conditions eerily reminded me of a Sunday four years ago when we woke up to find San Diego on fire. That day it was dark by noon and ash was falling from the sky. I wasn't sure if it was my imagination but I thought I could smell smoke today. The sky was clear, but I decided to check the news online just to be sure. CNN has scary pictures of the fires burning in Malibu. Nothing about San Diego. I check the website for the local newspaper and the Malibu fire is the top story there as well. Perhaps my neighbour has started smoking again. Nobody around here smokes - so whenever he lights up the smell permeates the neighbourhood.

Mid Afternoon
I decide to go for a run through the park and enjoy the warm weather. Half way through the park my eyes are irritated and itchy and I walk the rest of the way. By the time I return home the sky has gone dark and you can now taste the smoke in the air. This time I skip the internet and turn on the local NBC affiliate. They pre-empted hours of programming the last two weeks for the LaJolla Mud-Slide and the burst water main by Sea World. Surely, they will be covering the smoke filled sky. The T.V. tells me there are two fires burning in San Diego The Harris Fire and The Witchcreek Fire. Even though the air is heavy with smoke and it looks like the city is on fire around us -- the flames are currently 70 miles away. The Santa Annas have blown the smoke to the coast. The same thing happened during the Alpine fire. So far 1 dead, 9 injured. The T.V. tells us to be rest assured this is not another Cedar fire. The fire protection equipment and staff is so much stronger then 4 years ago. Everything was put in place ready for fire season on Friday. The air tankers were on standby at the airport before the fire started. By late afternoon 6,000 acres have burned. The Cedar fire was 400,000 and took a month to put out. A little perspective for those are panicking with the dark smoke filled sky, we are told.

Late Afternoon
NBC decides to air the football game and crawl the news during the game. The live news feed continues via streaming video on their website so I continue watching the news online. In the midst of all the re-assurances that the fire is far away and not a repeat of the Cedar fire the newscasters gently suggest that now is the perfect time to get together as a family and discuss evacuation plans. The screen flashes with the list of things to take with you in case of evacuation. Important papers, family photos - the things that can't be replaced. All the things I remember the people I met in the Gulf Coast mourning that they had lost.

An hour later we learn air bomber are not flying. The smoke was too thick for them to take off. High winds are causing the fire to jump around and the path is unpredictable. The winds are too high for the helicopters to fly. Communication has been lost with one of the fire crews.

7 PM
We are up to 14,000 acres burned between the two fires. 1 dead, 19 injured. To the south the fire crossed the border to Mexico - the Tecate border crossing has been closed. To the north, the residents of Ramona are on evacuation alert. 2,000 mandatory evacuations and 7,000 advisory evacuations so far. The Harris fire is currently 5% contained. The Witchcreek Fire is 0% contained and continues to head southwest towards heavily populated areas.

There is no rain in the forecast. Sadly, this is only day 1 of the Santa Anna's. It is expected to get hotter and drier as the winds continue to pick up for 2 more days. The optimistic tone of the news is starting to change. NBC is now saying that attempts to stop the spread of the fire have been unsuccessful. They are now warning this fire could be worse then the Cedar fire (click here for the 7pm news update).

Govenor Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for several counties in Southern California. The Govenor will be flying down to San Diego tomorrow. The fire is now approaching the area where the Cedar fire started four years ago.

9:30 pm
They are using the reverse 911 system to send out mandatory evacuations for all of Ramona.

10:00 pm
Evacuations continue to expand. They now include North Eastern Areas of Poway and San Pasqual. Firefighters from other parts of California are starting to arrive to provide aid. Air quality for San Diego has now been declared unhealthy and school closures are beginning to be announced.

10:30 pm
Evacuees that were sent to Poway High School are now being asked to move to Mira Mesa HighSchool due to the thick smoke and poor air quality in Poway area. Reporters are now confirming that the fire is following the same path at the Cedar fire that burned into heavily populated areas of San Diego four years ago.

11:00 PM
The Mayor gave a press conference to announce that the fire is progressing faster than anticipated. It is expected that the fire will cross into the San Diego City Limits between 1 am and 2am this morning. The city has requested outside help in the form of 100 strike teams. Some resources from Northern California are now en-route and should start arriving sometime tomorrow. The Witch Creek Fire is being considered the most urgent of the California wildfires and will be the first to receive outside resources.

It is requested that people not evaculate until the order is given. For those in the path of the fire it is suggested that people start packing so they are ready to go when the order is given. Roads are already extremely congested with the large number of people fleeing the fire.

It was hoped the winds would taper off overnight. Unfortunately, the winds are picking up. Time to close the windows for the evening and pray for a change in weather.

Click here for the local NBC streaming live coverage.

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