So. Many. Fires.
Blaze breaks out in Fullerton
The terror of a wildfire tearing through communities, consuming homes, is likely unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t lived through, or fled from one. And in the wake of a blaze, those stories abound.
But every once in a while a picture of humanity will emerge from the ashes — a kind of happy ending against a backdrop of destruction. We’ve seen a few of those this week already, as fires ignited up and down the state.
Stories like that of Rachel and James Page, a Windsor couple who on Saturday was forced to evacuate their Windsor home to flee the encroaching Kincade fire. Rachel, as it happened, was 39 weeks pregnant and experiencing signs that her coming-baby wouldn’t wait until Halloween, as expected.
The couple had planned to have the baby at home, but plans change. So they checked into a hotel in Napa outside of the evacuation zone, and with the help of mid-wives, Rachel gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Here’s from the story in the San Francisco Chronicle:
“She had a really gorgeous, beautiful, straightforward birth,” said Bee Lauher, a licensed midwife, who delivered the baby along with Napa Valley Midwives partners Heather Hilton and Kristina Parks, as first reported by the Napa Valley Register....
This isn’t the first time the Napa Valley Midwives have worked in a hotel during a crisis. In 2017, they delivered a baby at the Westin Verasa Napa with the Wine Country fires burning close by.
Sure, after the baby arrived, the couple got a call from the hotel desk informing them that guests had reported screaming, but they explained a baby had just been born and everything was fine.
Charming, too, are stories about volunteers who come together to rescue animals — like this piece today in the Los Angeles Times about a group that banded together to rescue horses today as the Easy fire burned a path through Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles.
The equestrian community has consistently come together during fires. Volunteers often find people who need help through word-of-mouth or on social media, especially through a Facebook group called Southern California Equine Emergency Evacuation.
“People come from all over to help out,” Perera said.
Or the mysterious man who appeared unexpectly to rescue alpacas as the Kincade fire gained ground on the ranch.
Finally, we saw a great story emerge out of Los Angeles this week, where laborers showed up to tend the houses or yards of the affluent because their bosses had fled and neglected to tell them the neighorhood had flames breathing down on it and was under mandatory evacuation orders.
That, by itself, is a little depressing and maybe infuriating. Until you read tweets from the reporter who wrote the story and learn that after publication, a reader had reached out and offered to replentish the wages for the housekeeper who was more worried about losing a day’s wages than avoiding the fire. People can be cool, sometimes.
The rhythmic metallic clang of construction rang through the Santa Rosa neighborhood of Coffey Park, an area that should have been a ghost town.
But despite the heavy smell of smoke wafting in from the Kincade fire buring just miles away, and a mandatory evacuation order that included much of the city, work continued as usual on Monday for many of the city’s laborers yesterday morning.
In a story published today, the gifted Vivian Ho and I take a look at the those who stayed behind to work while thousands fled. For laborers and domestic workers, a day’s work can mean the difference between having money for food or not.
“We still need to make money,” landscaper Jordan Stokles told me, as he took off his hat and wiped sweat from his brow.
In a sad twist, many of the construction who stayed behind worked to rebuild the houses burned down by the devastating wildfire that tore through the same area two years ago.
“(Santa Rosa is) an agricultural community and everything is very time-sensitive when it comes to harvesting the crops,” Ariel Kelly, the chief executive of Corazón Healdsburg, told Vivian.
“We have those visa workers on temporary agricultural visas and they’ll be concluding their stay because this is the end of the season. There’s this concern that ‘if I don’t finish the job, I won’t get paid’…I know that after the first wave of evacuations happened last Wednesday night and a number of them were at our shelter, they were still leaving to go back to work.”
Hill fire in Riverside county fire quickly growing
Sheriff lifts evacuation orders for parts of Sonoma county
As the wind dies down and firefighters contain the Kincade fire, the Sonoma county sheriff is giving the greenlight for more county residents to return to their homes.
The evacuation orders have been lifted for four separate areas of the county, including the city of Santa Rosa, much of which had been under mandatory orders to leave.
The Kincade fire has been the biggest and most destructive of recent fires this season, burning nearly 77,000 acres and 206 structures over six days. Weakening winds offered a reprieve, and by this morning firefighters had been able to contain 30% of the fire.
My colleague Susie Cagle talked to some Sonoma county residents, still traumatized by a fire that devastated the area two years ago, who simply refused to leave their house, vowing instead to protect it from the flames.
Fire investigators meanwhile, are criss-crossing the county, assessing damaging and looking for clues as to which factors could best prevent, or at least resist, future fires.
New: Yosemite fire kicks up near Easy fire north of Los Angeles
Easy fire north of Los Angeles continues to grow
Firefighters working the Easy fire north of Los Angeles are dealing with a growing blaze, a situation frustrated by fast-moving Santa Ana winds gusting across southern California.
The fire that ignited just after 6am had charred 1,300 acres by noon, threatening about 6,500, an untold number of animals, and the 125,000 square foot Ronald Reagan Presidential Library perched on a nearby hillside.
Ventura County Fire Capt. Steve Kaufmann told the Los Angeles Times that high winds were complicating efforts to contain the blaze, dispersing water dropped by aircraft before it reached the fire.
“The air assets are challenging at best,” Kaufmann said. “You can see a lot of the water that’s coming from the super scoopers is atomized because of the wind. It’s definitely makes it challenging for us.”
By around 12:30pm, the fire had moved west was encroaching on the Classic Equestrian Center.
Rounding up animals and moving them to safety has been a major component of evacuations, an effort made more difficult for large, less-mobile animals like cows.
One rancher staring down the Easy fire apparently enlisted the help of a photographer to evacuate his horses, who appears to have been happy to oblige.
Gusty winds fuel several new blazes
In addition to the Mureau brush fire that kicked up this morning just north of Malibu, a count one in southern California’s Riverside county and another to the north in Kern County.
The fire in riverside was reported at 7am, writes the Los Angeles Times. According to Cal Fire, five acres have burned, along with two vehicles and three buildings, and the fire is contained at 10%. LA Times says 119 firefighters have been dispatched to fight a blazed fueled by Santa Ana winds gusting up to 60 mph.
In Kern County, the area surrounding Bakersfield, a vegetation fire dubbed the Thief fire has burned about six to eight acres, but Kern county firefighters are holding the line.
New: Mureau fire ignites just north of Malibu
Fire knocking on the door of the Reagan library
More than 1 million people in northern California were still without power on Wednesday as Pacific Gas & Electric initiated a new round of blackouts in 22 counties, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Parts of northern California, including areas just east and north of San Francisco, were spared from the blackouts after weather took a favorable turn. One area spared from an additional blackout was San Rafael, in Marin county, which on Tuesday morning was just blinking to life after a shutdown that lasted several days.
Residents there talked to me about the financial impact the blackouts would have on them and their families. Eddie, who works at a nearby restaurant, told me he had been out of work for four days after the lights went out at his place of business. He said the blackouts had affected the entire community and closed the grocery stores that were close enough for him to reach by foot.
“Schools have been closed. Nobody can go out and buy groceries. This area is really taking a hit and losing profit,” Eddie said.
Across the street from the transit station – where trains weren’t running thanks to the blackout – Colonial Liquor had just opened its doors after two days without power.
The man behind the counter, who declined to give his name, said: “I’m going to have to work for six months straight to make up what I lost.”
Bill Horton waited an extra hour for a bus to take him to his job in Petaluma because the trains weren’t running.
“I’ll be OK,” Horton said. “But so many of the people you see here riding public transit, they live pay check to pay check. They fight over those hours. They can’t afford to lose several days wages.”
Video: the moment the Getty fire started
The eucalyptus tree has been something of a menace in the history of California wildfires and has played a role in sparking the Getty fire in west Los Angeles, officials say.
Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles mayor, said Tuesday that video footage shows a branch breaking off a eucalyptus tree and sparking the fire. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which operates the lines, said the utility recently cleared away nearby brush to reduce the risk of fire, but the the branch came from outside the clearance area. The mayor called it “an act of God”. (The fact that the wind played a significant role in sparking the fire is a good illustration of why PG&E began shutting off power to begin with).
The Los Angeles Times published video of what is believed to be the moment the Getty fire started.
The eucalyptus tree isn’t native to California is actually considered an invasive species. Not only can the trees alter fire patterns and soil moisture, but eucalyptus oil is highly flammable and in some places have been known to explode when they catch fire.
That’s why efforts have been made in California to clear away the tress in an effort to reduce fire risk.
KQED published this explainer several years ago on the tree’s role in fires:
Fifteen major fires roared through 9,000 acres of the East Bay Hills between 1923 and 1992, incinerating some 4,000 homes and killing 26 people. The Oakland “Tunnel” fire, considered the worst in California history, caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damage, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and killed 25 people. Following the Oakland fire, disaster experts urged large landowners in the East Bay Hills to work together to manage vegetation to prevent another catastrophic wildfire, says Tom Klatt, who manages environmental projects for UC Berkeley and serves on the UC Fire Mitigation Committee.
In early October, when PG&E started shutting off power in the area around Oakland as a way to reduce the threat of fire, I visited the Oakland Hills neighborhood and spoke with one home owner who had lived through the devastating fire in ‘92 and rebuilt her home on the same spot. She’s made sure to clear away the Eucalyptus trees on her property since then, she told me.