Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego Fire, October 24, 2007

Local news copters were in the air yesterday (Tuesday 10/23) showing us pictures of smoke and fire, but frequently without captions to identify the location or time. If nothing else, this fire will give us fire file footage for the ages. Monday, the winds were too strong to permit either water tankers or news copters from flying. The helicopter in the TV news picture taken Monday night is actually a tiny toy controlled by Kareem to buzz the hapless cat.

The local television station coverage of the fires has changed. Like a lawyer chasing an ambulance, some of the big network anchors have appeared in town, wearing paper face masks and broadcasting in front of the same blackened chimney stumps on a block that burned Sunday night in Rancho Bernardo. There are also plenty of photo ops for officials at the Q (local nickname for Qualcom Stadium, the largest evacuation center) telling everyone how high their spirits are. Apparently, it’s newsworthy to mention that costumed clowns are roaming the stands to cheer up evacuees, and they don’t mean journalists. Michael Chertoff and the duck tape guy from FEMA were at the DES (SD County Department of Emergency Services) operations center saying with straight faces what a heck of a job they’re all doing coordinating things. Arnold hovers in the background in a short sleeve shirt that shows us how hard he’s working; and hometown Presidential hopeful Duncan Hunter shows up periodically at news stations to tell us how he’s harrying the Washington bureaucrats to help us.

The headline crawl at the bottom of the TV alternates between Spanish and English. Fuego Nuevo sounds much more ominous than new fire. We’re unable to confirm whether K&J’s house in Arrowhead Villa is safe, because the news from there is much more sporadic. Every region is focusing on their own fires. We did learn however, that the whole mountain has been evacuated, giving them some comfort that if not burned, their home may be somewhat safer from roaming bands of looters. Meanwhile, yesterday the gang drove up to Scripps Ranch and took a reprise of the 2003 photo: Kareem in front of the still-standing house.

Back to the TV coverage: This morning, the sincere and exhausted local news talking heads are warning us that rattlesnakes disturbed by the fire are dangerous, and that panicked wildlife from the undeveloped areas might be roaming our streets. Who knew? To be fair, many suburban dwellers, motivated by a need to help, might otherwise try to offer food to the wildlife and could end up being harmed.

Wednesday morning, the winds were beginning to change. The sunlight in our back yard is filtering through a white haze that covers the canyon so thickly the houses on the far side are mere shapes. The Harris fire which caused the evacuation of nearby Spring Valley and which is closest to our house, threatened to cross Highway 94 from the south. Last night, the voluntary evacuation area included neighborhoods in Rancho San Diego within blocks of our house, which is about 2 miles north of 94. While the fire still burns, we don’t appear to be in any serious danger today.

The air quality at our house is worse Wednesday morning than any time so far. The winds at our house, which determine the direction of the Harris fire, are SW at 3 mph. In the north of SD County, much of the smoke from the Witch fire now burning Camp Pendleton is blowing out to sea, and when it meets the onshore flow it moves right back in, but further north. Once the weather predictions come true however, most of the smoke that’s now out at sea will begin to blow back into San Diego. As of now – after years of complaining that LA smog is messing up San Diego – a glance at the satellite map shows that Orange County and LA are getting much of the smoke from San Diego’s fires.

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