500,000 Forced to Flee Their Homes in California Due to Fires:
The terrible story is here. I just hope everyone who has to flee makes it out safely.
Friends of mine had to gather up their belongings and critters, and flee home twice already. The fire went by in one direction yesterday and in another today. So far I think their house is safe. No sleep in about 24-48 hours.

They expect to get some sleep tonight. They found shelter in a place with WiFi,and sent this Google map link that shows the course of the fire(s). It's current as of sometime earlier today.
10.24.2007 1:16am
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
At least one law school in San Diego has postponed midterms, because some students have had to evacuate.
10.24.2007 1:38am
Runnin fast:
And it all could have been avoided.
10.24.2007 2:42am
Gabriel Malor (mail):
Actually, we're at 1 million people displaced.
10.24.2007 2:55am
Oren (mail):
Runnin fast:

Irresponsible government didn't cause these fires - they are an integral part of a health forest and are going to happen whether humans want them or not. Unfortunately, when then government decides to get in the fire suppression business, it turns the problem from bad to worse in that old growth accumulates and then causes these mega-fires. Unfortunately, politicians are physically incapable of sacrificing something small in the short term (a few dozen houses burnt down by a small fire) in order to prevent a huge catastrophe down the line. After all, that will most likely happen to the next guy.

The funny thing is that it's not even government incompetence! The politicians are properly responding to the incentives in front of them which emphasize short-term gains over prudent long-term planning.

PS. Somehow, even though the politicians screw it up so badly, I still prefer them to some of the less scrupulous industry. At any rate, industry are subject to the same short-term/long-term bias that government is (perhaps more so). A whopping percentage of CEOs admitted they would sacrifice long terms profits to meet quarterly expectations ().

Also, in the final analysis, a clear-cut forest is no longer a forest at all - and I'm not willing to sacrifice the whole thing just because we can't manage it in an ideal manner. There is intrinsic value to having a forest around.
10.24.2007 3:42am
Oren (mail):
link for above --> NYTimes cites about the CEOs
10.24.2007 3:43am
Visitor Again:
It's astonishing that there have been very few lives lost as a result of all these fires. I've read and heard of only one fatality directly resulting from the fires, and that was in San Diego on Sunday, the day the fires first broke out. If there have been more deaths directly attributable to the fires, they are very few.

Anyone who has experience with wildfires knows how unpredictable they can be and how fast they can move. But these fires are even more deadly because they have been powered by Santa Ana winds that have reached 70 miles per hour and more. These winds come from inland, they are very hot, they blow down hills on which the vegetation is bone dry from years of little rainfall towards heavily populated areas.

Not only do the fire fronts move and jump with ferocious speed, but they also produces embers that the winds may carry for miles, each of them capable of igniting a new fire. Even areas that have been pretty much "citified"--with paved roads and sidewalks, fenced-in yards and cultivated lawns and flowerbeds--are not safe in these conditions.

Hills with tinder-dry vegetation, Santa Ana winds and fire--a deadly mix. I wonder whether the low loss of life figure is a result of the evacuation orders and the relatively large number of people willing to obey them.

We're supposed to get some relief from the Santa Ana winds in the next day or two. That should give firefighters a chance as the existing fires become less fierce and more subject to containment while fewer new fires break out to divert their attention. Let's hope so.

Written from the relative safety of the flatlands in the bowels of Los Angeles early Wednesday morning.
10.24.2007 5:06am
Josh644 (mail):
I understand that wildfire suppression can result in a dangerous buildup of fuel. The devastating Yellowstone fires of 1988 are directly attributed to this practice. But I would like to know for certain whether ill-advised wildfire suppression is to blame for the current fires before making assumptions.
10.24.2007 5:27am
NickM (mail) (www):
California had a very heavy rainy season in 2005-06, followed by a vey light rainy season in 2006-07. That's a recipe for a lot of dry vegetation.

But many (perhaps most) of these fires are arson. Press reports indicate that the fire in southern Orange County was the result of three separate intentional ignitions (it hasn't been announced yet whether these appear to have been coordinated).

There's no way you're going to prevent arson fires. You can't clear all dry brush - and you wouldn't want to anyway for ecological reasons.

10.24.2007 5:46am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
"At least one law school in San Diego has postponed midterms, because some students have had to evacuate."

Good thing the CBE wasn't giving the California Bar Exam! They don't stop it for anything. Ask Jerome Braun.

"Santa Ana winds that have reached 70 miles per hour and more"

I encountered Santa Ana winds during February (not fire season) at the Grapevine on I-5 at over 105 mph. I can't imagine what they would do during fire season.

It is all very sad. My friends from Northern California say the drought this year was caused by global warming. The weather is getting so unpredictable. Georgia is having a bad drought, too -- almost all the drinking reservoirs are riunning out of water.
10.24.2007 9:27am
Oren (mail):

But I would like to know for certain whether ill-advised wildfire suppression is to blame for the current fires before making assumptions.

I don't think this is one of those things you can know for certain - at least until you build a large number of identical Californias on which to perform an experiment.

Here's what we can do by way of evidence - we can look at the historical trends of the fires (both by looking at human records and by way of old tree trunks) and they tend to indicate that these fires are regular events. They aren't caused by fire suppression any more than levees are caused by hurricanes.

Comparing the temperatures, however, shows that they were historically a lot less hot than currently which strongly suggests that they had less available fuel. Hence, it's not unreasonable to conclude that, at minimum, fire suppression makes extant fires worse.
10.24.2007 10:35am
Ted Frank (www):
The adverse effects of fire suppression can be more than offset by controlled burns—but environmentalists sued to prevent such forest management, undoubtably contributing to the problem. Meanwhile, environmentalists get to blame global warming for the fires. Win-win!
10.24.2007 10:39am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Heh... I'm sure if you asked those friends last year, the rains were also caused by global warming.
10.24.2007 10:42am
Oren (mail):
Ted - Controlled burns are a good idea but they are no substitute for just letting the damned thing burn when it catches fire.
10.24.2007 10:44am
Unintended Consequences:
Did I hear correctly that the citizens of San Diego County had recently voted against tax increases to pay for firefighters?

Talk about irony.
10.24.2007 11:32am
Unintended Consequences:
Did I hear correctly that the citizens of San Diego County had recently voted against tax increases to pay for firefighters?

Talk about irony.
10.24.2007 11:32am
Don Miller (mail) (www):
I have a lot of opinions about these fires and land development in California.

My opinions are based on training and experiance. I am a volunteer firefighter. I am a fully qualified wildland engine boss and strike team leader. I spent 30 days this summer on structure protection assignments in the mountains of Idaho.

There is a better way to prevent major losses of homes in these types of events. It requires government action, strong land planning activities, constant vigilence and actions that most home owners don't willing go along with.

There is a term in wildland firefighting called "defensible space". Is there enough room between the vegitation and the the home to be defendible. Is there a defensible space around the subdivision?

The reality is that there often is no defensible space. Government land use requirements don't require it, Planning and zoning organizations don't demand it from subdivision planners, home owners don't maintain it.

People want to have trees next to their house. They let the brush grow up next to their yard. They keep their yard small as possible so that it is easier and cheaper to maintain. They build their houses at the top of draws so that they have "a beautiful view". They ignore or are never informed that that draw is a chimney. If a fire ever starts at the bottom, we will be unable to save their home.

I have met many environmentalists who will tell me that defensible space is the answer as well. But when they are confronted with subdivisions with no trees, or brush removed for 100 feet around every house they moan about the loss of habitat.

The problem is going to get worse too. People are building more and more in the Wildland-Urban interface zones. They come from urban areas that are hydranted with full-time career firefighters. They move into these areas with no hydrants, protected by small volunteer fire departments. They build in bad locations, take no effort to protect themselves and are shocked that the level of service isn't the same as it was back home.

We had two fires that directly threatened my hometown this year. The worst one, the Warm Springs fire, was 35,000 acres. We brought in engines from around the area as fast as we could, but were only able to have 15 structure engines to protect 100 homes. We put the engines at the homes most threatened. Most of the homes were saved by farmers with plows racing ahead of the fire putting in lines around them.

California doesn't have farmers with plows to protect their homes anymore.
10.24.2007 12:25pm
Mike& (mail):
Tom Smith is blogging his experience. Interesting reading.
10.24.2007 1:41pm
Here's a detailed local update on the various fires, containment (not much containment yet), injuries and housing losses as of late yesterday.
10.24.2007 4:02pm
Time to move back to the Midwest, my California friends. SoCal is not meant to harbor so many people. Nor a football team that beats the Irish.

It just ain't nacharul.
10.24.2007 4:16pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
Hoosier, have you ever seen those big water pipes rising up out of the Canal over the Grapevine toward L.A.? One look at THOSE and you KNOW SoCal isn't meant to support as many peopple as live there.
10.25.2007 3:15am
Mary Katherine--Yep. "Cadillac Desert" indeed.
10.25.2007 11:50am
Randy R. (mail):
The problem of water in the west is one that will only get bigger and bigger in the coming decades. There simply is not enough water to sustain the current lifestyle and population of the people there already, and it will only get worse.

Trouble is, anytime you say something like, you can't have a lawn of grass in the desert like you do back east, some stupid idiot starts mouthing off about his right to do with the land what he pleases.

And as for the fires, these stupid idiots think that they havea right to build whereever they want to, with a complete disregard for the consequences. And why not? As long as insurance companies are stupid enough to actually insure these people, they will continue to build in fire draws, floodplains, coastal areas, and near mudslides. Course, we are the ones that end up paying for this foolishness, either with higher taxes or higher insurance premiums.
10.29.2007 2:06am