Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Perfect Firestorm

SOCAL (October 23, 2007 -- 0930hrs) -- As the Sun rose over Southern California on Tuesday, Wildfires continue to devastate a dozen counties. Nearly 350,000 people have been evacuated from San Diego county alone, and additional evacuations are expected.

According to the National Weather Service, the Santa Anas will continue to blow today, rendering any effective containment unlikely. 245,957 acres, or 384 square miles,are now burning with more expected. New fires seem to sprout up every hour and the National Interagency Command Center reported 19 new blazes over the past 24 hours.

In San Diego County, the Witch fire now covers 10,000 acres and is zero percent contained. This fire is one mile east of the City of Ramona, and all citizens have been evacuated. Further East, the 20,000-acre Harris fire is spreading unchecked. Strong winds are hampering suppression efforts. The blaze is threatening the Potrero CalFire station and structure protection is in place.
The San Diego Sheriff's Department reports that there were two arrests overnight for looting in the Ramona area. Two 18-year-olds were taken into custody. Sheriff's Lt. Mike McClain says that the deputies are on patrol looking for criminal activity in evacuated areas.

CalFire will launch a search and rescue mission today in the Harris fire scorched area to look for illegal immigrants who are lost or have been killed. The fire burned a rugged region criss-crossed by trails used by illegal immigrants. Several were discovered Sunday night injured with burns.

Further North the
Los Angeles Fire Department has assigned two Strike Teams of Firefighters to assist the Los Angeles County Fire Department in their battle against a brush fire between Agua Dulce and Canyon Country, California, twelve miles north of the City. The Agua Dulce Fire in Canyon Country is currently at 35500 + acres and is 20% contained. The fire is heading southwest to Santa Clarita.

Detailed fire suppression efforts can be found on the Los Angeles Fire Department’s twitter, which is regularly updated by the department’s communications specialist Brian Humphrey. Locations of major fires can be found on Google Maps.

Additional firefighting teams have arrived from southern Nevada to assist San Diego County firefighters who have been stretched so thin that many stations are unmanned. The Northwest is sending strike teams to help fight the Southern California wildfires. In all, 25 units are being dispatched from Oregon and Washington state.

Volunteer firefighters from the East coast are self-responding and airlines are offering discounted fares to firefighting teams.

The worst California wildfire of the past decade was the Cedar Fire in October of 2003, which killed 15 people and destroyed more than 4,800 structures, many of them houses, as it burned nearly 300,000 acres in San Diego County.

San Diego Fire Department Blog

The Santa Ana Winds -- Explainer

Santa Ana winds are a California firefighter’s nightmare. These blustery, dry, and often hot winds blow out of the desert and race through canyons and passes in the mountains on their way toward the coast.

The air is hot not because it is bringing heat from the desert, but because it is flowing downslope from higher elevations. As fall progresses, cold air begins to sink into the Great Basin deserts to the east of California.

As the air piles up at the surface, high pressure builds, and the air begins to flow downslope toward the coast. When winds blow downslope, the air gets compressed, which causes it to warm and dry out. In fact, the air can warm at a rate of 29 degrees Fahrenheit per mile.

Canyons and passes funnel the winds, which increases their speed. Not only do the winds spread the fire, but they also dry out vegetation, making it even more flammable.

Source: NASA

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