Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego Fires

The past few days here in San Diego have been difficult for many. More than 500,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Many are being housed in shelters around the county, including 12,000 people at Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley.

Some early estimates of the cost of the fire damage are above the $1 billion mark.

Huge areas of the county have been affected. If you click on the picture to the left, you'll see the fires in Southern California and the smoke plumes blowing off the coast and out across the Pacific Ocean. The two large fires and the one smaller fire closest to the California/Baja California border are all in San Diego County.

For those of you who know the San Diego area, rest assured that the downtown area, the zoo, Coronado, La Jolla, Mission Bay, the beaches, Balboa Park, Point Loma, Old Town, etc are just fine! We have had no damage in any of these areas, besides some falling ash and hazy, smoky conditions.

In the north, the Rice Canyon and Witch Creek fires
moved in from the back country into some areas of northern and central San Diego County: Camp Pendleton, Fallbrook, Escondido, San Marcos, Palomar Mountain, Rincon and La Jolla Indian Reservations, Lake Hodges, Rancho Santa Fe, Ramona, Poway, Rancho Bernardo, San Pasqual, Barona, and the El Capitan Reservoir.

In the south towards the Mexican border, the Harris Fire affected
parts of Potrero, Tecate, Barrett Junction, Dulzura, all along Highway 94 and Otay Lakes Rd, Engineer Springs, Jamul, Otay Mountain, Lyons Valley and into the very eastern edges of Eastlake. The fire worked its way up Mt. San Miguel, taking out the KPBS transmission tower.

Many other areas that seemed to be threatened were evacuated but were
not reached by the fires. These areas include Solana Beach, Del Mar and Chula Vista.

The San Diego Fires continue, but seem to finally be waning a bit thanks to the huge efforts of the firefighters and the weakening of the Santa Ana winds. Today seems to be the turning point for the fires -- they aren't advancing to the west as they have been for the past 3 days, which means they may turn back on themselves and burn out.

Also, we're seeing many areas which are no longer under immediate threat being reopened and residents are being allowed back to their homes.

There are, unfortunately, many areas in the back country that are now threatened as the winds shift, including the historic town of Julian. I was there a few weeks ago and will try to post my pictures of the town later today to my Picasa site.

Here's a portion of a letter I sent around to friends yesterday. I've added a few links to the text:
Hello All:

I'm sending a quick e-mail with some information about the fires here in San Diego. First, thank you for the kind thoughts and messages. Maik and Andy: I just read your e-mail and it was nice to hear from you two -- and know that you're thinking of us. Michael: I was in a meeting here at work when you called and left your voicemail. We were discussing impact on the store here, whether we should remain open for the day, etc. Thanks so much for your call -- it was great to hear your voice when I finally got to hear the message!
Let me tell you guys right away: Dave, Tj., Bill and I are all OK. We're (luckily) in a small strip of the county that hasn't been affected much by the fires -- the winds are blowing the fires from the west to the east and there (so far) haven't been many fires directly east of us -- so, no fire and very little smoke and ash.
As Dave mentioned in his blog, we began to see the effects in the North Park area of town on Sunday evening. Dave had a group of us over for beer, bratwurst and good company. In the evening, we began to smell and see the smoke and later even saw the ash falling.
We've been in the middle of a long bout of Santa Ana winds -- this is when the airflow shifts from the usual cool, moist ocean breezes (west to east) and instead blows east to west from the desert, across the mountains and foothills and through the city towards the ocean. It isn't very often that this happens (maybe a few times a year) -- and usually has the same effects as the Föhn has in Bavaria: headaches, sinus problems, maybe some dry skin (because the humidity drops and the temperature rises) and tempers flare up a bit!
BUT, this time the Santa Anas were sustained for a much longer period and the humidity dropped all around the county to near zero. This, on top of very dry conditions over the past 1/2 year (almost no rain at all) combined to cause a huge fire hazard.
The two major fires are north and south of us. About 500,000 people have been evacuated due to increased fire risk. Thousands of them are right here next to the IKEA at our football stadium. Bill and I drove there yesterday and dropped off a few things -- things are calm, everyone has plenty of food and drink, they have their children and pets with them -- it is devastating to see so many people unable to live in their own homes, but at least they are safe. There are dozens of other smaller evacuation sites around the county and north towards LA, too.
Many, many acres have been burned already -- last I heard, it was 241,000 acres (almost 98,000 hectares). The scary part is they don't have it under control -- the two fires continue to burn towards the coast -- the area north of La Jolla called Del Mar and Solana Beach have both been evacuated -- the fires could reach the ocean if they continue to burn.
About 1000 homes have been destroyed -- but they don't have a good count yet -- not even the firemen can get into the burning areas. LUCKILY, very few people have been injured -- and only one death has been reported.
Most people were unable to come to work today -- we have just a handful of people working. But, there are very few customers, as well! Some co-workers have lost their homes -- I know of three personally who have lost their places. Also, many, many more have been evacuated and are staying somewhere other than their own homes.
Here's a great site you can go to and see some of the photos and videos from around the county.
And here's a site that shows the maps of which areas are burning or have been evacuated.

For those of you who know me well, you know I'm a map geek. Here's a Google Map link provided by KPBS, our local public radio station. They are updating it hourly and there's LOTS of information available about different areas, evacuation sites, temporary animal shelter sites, etc. Also, I found a Flickr photo pool of fire photos. Other local news sites covering the fires are: Union-Tribune, KNSD, KFMB, KGTV.

I'll post again in a few days once the fires are fully under control. It looks like the worst is definitely behind us.

- T

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