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October 28, 2003

Fans and fires
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM *

This is a page of status reports on Southern Californian members of the SF community who live in areas threatened by brush fires. Additions and updates (Mitch, are you okay?) should be sent to (via Mary Kay Kare)

Meanwhile, an astonishing satellite photo of the region shows the extent of the fires, and the strength of the wind that’s feeding them. (via Claude Muncey)

Comments on Fans and fires:
#1 ::: Kim ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 10:41 AM:

I've decided I'm much more afraid of fires than I am of earthquakes out here in So Cal. Fortunately none of these fires are near me, but I know a lot of people with family, friends and co-workers who live near them. The news this morning said about a half million acres have been burned and over a thousand homes have been lost in these fires. Frightening stuff.

#2 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 11:06 AM:

We live quite some distance (like 5-6 hours north) of the fires, but my wife is in mourning today as it looks like the first house she can remember living in (built by her father who died many years ago) is in the fire area, as well as the house her godparents have lived in for about 50 years. Both are in the San Bernadino area.

#3 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 11:50 AM:

I remember one briefing I got once years ago about brush fires in the hills of Southern California. One speaker (and it's been too long for me to remember) flatly said that these areas were the greatest fire hazard in our near a major urban area anywhere in the world. It is the combination of the annual climate cycle, the kind of vegetation and the winds -- and it is worse than usual this year. One fact still stands out. In one case a fire front was clocked moving across a hillside at 60 miles an hour . . .

#4 ::: Diane ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 11:59 AM:

You know I've been watching the news but I had no idea as to the extent of these fires until I saw that satellite photo. At first I thought it was just clouds and then I saw the orange of the flames. That's downright frightening.

#5 ::: Trinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 12:26 PM:

I'm on my way, with the help of Richard Foss, to rescue some of my various belongings from the path of the fire headed toward my mother's house.

#6 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 02:26 PM:

Animations of the smoke plumes, as seen from the GEOS-10 satellite, here, (requires Java.) The last frame is very noisy because of a large proton flux caused by a massive solar flare, third largest ever recorded, info on that from here.

#7 ::: clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 02:34 PM:

Sympathy to all involved.

Dr. Pournelle has posted: "Niven has made it back to his house. It's intact. Everything around them is black and burned, and the house smells of smoke, but it's intact. Out to the east, Tim Powers place is safe..."

- I suspect mental images of "major urban area" vary - by LA standards there aren't any in Idaho, but an Idaho high schooler might likely name some? - Nasty to remember a really big fire has the energy of a Hiroshima bomb maybe every 20 minutes.

#8 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 02:39 PM:

There are moments I really feel my age. I was alive when Sputnik went up (but don't remember it) but clearly remember those first pictures from TIROS and Telstar. Now the orbital pictures of my wife's first home burning are fuzzy because of a major solar flare . . .

I think I'll just sit down somewhere quiet.

#9 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 03:21 PM:

Quiet? Heh. Let me know if you find one.

"It is the business of the future to be dangerous, and it is amoung the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties." - A N W

#10 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 03:46 PM:

Just talked with Dave and Stella Bloom down in San Diego. They're safe, and just went back to their house yesterday.

Still waiting to hear from Nancy Holder. Her house is in the Scripps Ranch area, but isn't listed among the blocks burned. I'm guessing she's evacuated and still waiting for an all clear before she goes back.

#11 ::: Nicholas ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 04:43 PM:

The fantastically huge original image (4 MB) is available from NASA's Earth Observatory page. It's an astonishing photo; San Diego is completely invisible under all the smoke.

Also unfriendly to modem users is the Forest Service's historical fire map (2 MB) - indicating both the active fires, and every previous fire in this calendar year. There have been many more small fires than I realized.

#12 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:02 PM:

Claude: I feel your pain. I remember Sputnik.


#13 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:36 PM:

My mom says she doesn't want to be outside for long (she lives in Riverside). She went out and there was ash crunching under her feet on the back patio. She says she thinks my brother's house is in a safe area. But she's an optimist, and he does live in San Diego. I'm waiting to hear from him directly.

One firefighter described the fire as "an incandescent hurricane."

#14 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:38 PM:

Thanks Mary Kay -- I just got a call from my wife and her godparents home in Del Rosa is safe -- but it is only one of three houses on their block that survived.

Stefan, I actually have already found it, and have a week scheduled there in February, which is much to far off. (They had fires there too, in 1998.)

#15 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 05:40 PM:

clark, by New York standards there aren't any "major urban areas" in all looks like burbs. (Well, and projects...those look sort of urban.) Matter of perspective.

#16 ::: Seth ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 07:08 PM:

My sympathy to everyone in the danger zone. Two forest fires swept through my neighborhood as a kid, and they're among some of my most vivid and terrifying memories.

Clicking through the series of photos Teresa linked, I found the caption on the third photo interesting: "A firefighting prison inmate takes cover from flames threatening homes in Devore, Calif." Are prisoners on the fireline new, or simply something I hadn't heard about before now?

#17 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 07:11 PM:

Seth, in California it's been common for at least 20 years (that I know of) to have minimum-security prisoners in "work" camps. They often do things like maintain fire breaks and fire roads; during emergencies, I believe they do less-critical firefighting, too.

#18 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 07:30 PM: steers you to

which is an article by Mike Davis (of City of Quartz fame) about the demographics of whose houses are being hit.

#19 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 07:59 PM:

Early in the nineties, about a dozen inmates died firefighting. I don't recall the time or place.

There's a truly striking photo here at Eschaton, which I found via Calpundit.

#20 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 09:39 PM:

The air is pretty bad, but doing okay here in West San Fernando Valley, and so is Roby James. Thanks for posting that URL!

I also started a new emergency newsgroup on SFF Net for people to touch bases, etc.:



Those of you who read SFF Net, be sure to refresh your newsreader's list of newsgroups to see it.

#21 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 09:56 PM:

I heard from my brother. He's OK -- physically, anyway. Two of his friends lost everything. He said "ash is all over everything, and it looks like it's snowing." Fellow New Yorkers, does that sound creepily familiar?

#22 ::: jonathan vos post ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2003, 10:11 PM:

Several days of red skies and coughing from smoke in the San Gabriel Valley. But my SF-author-professor wife and I are safe and okay.

A decade ago was the great Malibu and Altadena fire, which killed several and did $1 Billion property damage.

We were 2 blocks from the mandatory evacuation line. I sent my wife and son several miles down from the foothills where we live, with boxes of tax records and all our writing on diskettes.

As I was the local elected Town Councilman, I stayed behind to help my neighborhood. A fire marshall deputized me. I delegated dub-tasks to other neighbors, including closing off West Altadena to car traffic except for one street, which I monitored, demanding proof that drivers either lived here, or were pre-arranged to assist evacuation.

I turned away several hundred carloads of people who just wanted the enetertainment value of watching my neighbors' homes burn down.

Many cars I turned away went a block downhill, and then the passengers walked uphill to watch, often with bottles of beer or joints in hand.

I was most shocked when I had to send away two women pushing baby carriages with infants in them -- rolling their babies TOWARDS the fire. I explained that the infants' lungs were more sensitive to smoke.

"Think of it as evolution in action."

This is a great tragedy for California. But a fine backdrop for Governor-elect Arnold to grandstand with his buddy Emperor Bush II. *sigh*

-- Jonathan Vos Post

#23 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 10:28 AM:

Another perspective on the fires is at Susan Kitchens' 2020 Hindsight -- she is one of my wife's college friends and her family has a cabin up in the Arrowhead area. She has some good links for information including some message boards with a lot of traffic about the fires.

#24 ::: jonathan vos post ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 10:44 AM:

This morning's Pasadena Star-News details how someone from my small residential Altadena was caught last night starting a brush fire in the Eaton Canyon area of the San Gabriel Mountains, i.e. the foothills right above my town where the 1993 fire began.

The allegedly mentally ill man was caught when his fire was just four feet across. That fire was doused, and the man is held on $50,000 bail.

The 1993 fire, by the way, was started by an allegedly mentally ill illegal immigrant Chinese man, who (in that same Eaton Canyon) strated a fire about 3 a.m. to keep warm. He could not read the English signs for severe fire hazard.

He did, to his credit, try to put it out as it spread, and was burned. Hence he was not tried for murder.

This puts our transit strike (all commuter trains and busses), now in its 3rd week, and our supermarket union workers strike (3rd week) into perspective.

I can't grumble about the extra 2 hours to 3 hours a day I spend driving my 14-year-old to and from University, because the busses are out. Or that many of my college students miss classes and exams because of bus trouble. I just create and give makeup exams in my unpaid nonclassroom time, and am thankful that I have a chance to teach at all.

Bye for now...

#25 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2003, 08:46 PM:


Oh, in my pre-coffee morning bleariness I forgot the mention the Fantasy aspect of the arrest of the arsonist in Altadena.

He says that he was told to start a fire by two people. "My dead father, and Mother Nature."

M. Night Shmayalan would ask "what if he were telling the truth..." and get a big budget... Critics would complain that it was Stephen King territory.

#26 ::: Keith Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 04:55 AM:

Diane writes:
You know I've been watching the news but I had no idea as to the extent of these fires until I saw that satellite photo. At first I thought it was just clouds and then I saw the orange of the flames. That's downright frightening.

The flames aren't actually visible in the satellite photos. In the higher-resolution versions, you can see that the locations of the fires are plotted on top of the photographs in red.

#27 ::: Diane ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 11:32 AM:

Keith Thompson writes:
The flames aren't actually visible in the satellite photos.

Thanks, I stand corrected. It's still quite a sight. I'm just very grateful that everyone I know out there appears to be okay. Thanks Teresa for the link to those status reports.

#28 ::: Kathy Li ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2003, 05:03 PM:

Actually, for me, the true scale of the fires hit when KPBS began listing the freeway closures and pleading with us to stay off the roads so evacuees and emergency vehicles could get where they were going. We live and die by our freeways out here (I mean, we give them the honorific article.) A single closure, like when the crane fell on the I-5/I-805 merge a few months back, can stop the city for hours. And there they were listing the 15, the 163, the 52, the 8, the 805--and the list kept on going. We're not like L.A.: we've only got a dozen or so freeways and a handful of major ones. THAT was when it got really frightening. And then when the Cedar fire hopped the I-15 (ten lanes)... yeeps.

Thus, the Southern Californian mind. :)

But it wasn't until I saw the Big Map that I saw how we were situated wrt the LA and Mexican fires.

#29 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: November 02, 2003, 03:01 PM:

Inside an Arsonist's Mind:
Anger the Likely Motivation Behind California Fires

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