Sunday, May 10, 2009

Jesusita Fire

Ok, a little off-topic, but apparently the Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara is national news. I don't live near the fire zone, but my day job as a financial writer is near the ocean and the Santa Barbara zoo at the south/east end of town, so I saw the smoke last week.

I just read that Santa Barbara has had four major fires in the last 14 months, far above average. They have burned 300 homes, which is more than fires of the previous 20 years combined burned.

For the most part, they take place in the wooded hills, most of which are wild growth. The topography of the area is such that there is flatland near the ocean, then hills climb suddenly to a ridge. Beyond the ridge are more valleys and ridges all the way to highway 5 that bisects the state. It's not quite that neat, but only the lower parts of the first hill face have been developed into neighborhoods. So a lot of this fire is burning beyond the populated area.

But what has made this fire stand out is the breadth of the evacuation area, which covered the (unwooded) flatlands almost to the ocean. The wind blew the fire both east and west along the face of the hills from its origin. There are mandatory evac areas and evac warning areas. The last fire's warning area was just a couple of miles from us, which was unprecedented. For this fire, the warning area came right up to us (the office closed Friday morning).

This is more remarkable when you see the wind patterns. The ocean air currents were pushing cool, moist air against the face of the hills. When we left Friday morning, it wasn't smoky, but we could see the smoke against the hills. Driving home south on 101, the hills come out to meet the road, and then it was smokier. Still, it was a good time to leave since the routes away from the office were already under fire warning.

Like most locals, I know of people who were evacuated. I won't find out tomorrow if anyone I know sustained damage.

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