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California - Fires

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#26 Redbetter

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Posted 30 August 2020 - 02:52 PM

I don't know that the manzanita has driven much of this.  Tall manzanita itself wouldn't be a good indicator of a problem, since the shrub is reasonably fire tolerant.  It survives periodic fires.  Density would be more of a concern.

 

The problem is that fire suppression has eliminated periodic removal of the accumulated fuel, dead foliage etc.  That results in hotter fires and higher density..  This is true whether an area is dominated by manazanita, pine, or hardwoods.  In the actual mountain forests the lack of fire has led to an incredibly high number of trees per acre, several times the historic average.  The understory is full of small trees that suffer more from drought and burn hotter because of the density and accumulate pinestraw and such on the forest floor.  That in turn burns larger trees that would normally survive fires.

 

The horrific drought that only abated in the last few years has resulted in the death a very high percentage of trees in the mountains.  At 3,800 feet nearly 80% of trees died in the Sierra Nevada leaving standing matchsticks just waiting for a spark.  The drought peaked in ~2016 and, combined with temps that were several degrees hotter than other droughts, proved to be a prolific killer.  Bark beetles added to the devastation.  The trees were so stressed and had so little water that they couldn't resist the bark beetles the way they normally would.  Warmer winters prevented normal die offs of the pests that would otherwise keep their numbers in check.  


Edited by Redbetter, 30 August 2020 - 02:53 PM.

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#27 KI5CAW

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Posted 01 September 2020 - 03:12 PM

Everything you say is absolutely right. The bottom line is, long term fire suppression has created the current problem. Now, how to mitigate the problem going forward, in a densely populated state with a dry climate, I have no idea.



#28 Redbetter

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Posted 01 September 2020 - 03:52 PM

Forest management practices are changing from what I can see, but it will take a generation or so to catch up with a problem that has developed over many generations.  There are more planned burns now, as well as allowing some natural fires to burn in remote areas where possible..  There is also active culling of the understory and clearing of the massive amount of standing dead wood from the drought and beetles.

 

The climate side of it is only going to get worse, so the goal posts will keep moving.  My impression is that fire districts and insurers are going to need to get aggressive in limiting foliage immediately next to homes and require more active clean up of accumulated pine straw/leaf litter around residences. 


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#29 gwlee

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Posted 02 September 2020 - 01:11 PM

The climate side of it is only going to get worse, so the goal posts will keep moving.  My impression is that fire districts and insurers are going to need to get aggressive in limiting foliage immediately next to homes and require more active clean up of accumulated pine straw/leaf litter around residences. 

I am living in the central sierra at 4,300 feet. It’s a much bigger problem than most people realize and nobody knows what to do about it. Many of the people living here are retired, too old and infirm to do their own fire clearance, too poor to pay others to do it, have already had their insurance canceled, can’t afford to pay what the FAIR plan costs, so are going without insurance, and they don’t have the resources to fund upgrades to their homes to make them more fire resistant. 

 

CalFire and the county can inspect, issue citations and fines, lien property, and take the property for nonpayment. If so, they will be increasing the homeless population, further reducing their tax base, assuming financial responsibility for the residential fire clearance problem,  and they don’t have the resources to mitigate it either. Country government was reducing services and furloughing people for before the pandemic hit. As you say, it’s going to get much worse before it gets better. 



#30 Redbetter

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Posted 02 September 2020 - 05:41 PM

I am living in the central sierra at 4,300 feet. It’s a much bigger problem than most people realize and nobody knows what to do about it. Many of the people living here are retired, too old and infirm to do their own fire clearance, too poor to pay others to do it, have already had their insurance canceled, can’t afford to pay what the FAIR plan costs, so are going without insurance, and they don’t have the resources to fund upgrades to their homes to make them more fire resistant. 

 

CalFire and the county can inspect, issue citations and fines, lien property, and take the property for nonpayment. If so, they will be increasing the homeless population, further reducing their tax base, assuming financial responsibility for the residential fire clearance problem,  and they don’t have the resources to mitigate it either. Country government was reducing services and furloughing people for before the pandemic hit. As you say, it’s going to get much worse before it gets better. 

This is a problem that has built over generations, some of it foreseeable and downplayed/neglected, and some of it unintended consequences of nationwide affinity for trees.  Unfortunately, folks don't anticipate what they can or will be able/willing to do or pay to have done 10-20 years down the road.  Early errors compound:  trees and shrubs are planted too close, allowed to overgrow and are not maintained.  Trees continue to grow.  In California some of the tree choices are insane for an arid fire-prone region and these choices were made generations ago:  all of these huge eucalyptus trees in populated areas are an indication of that.  

 

Having grown up partially on an Ozark farm that is still in the family and I have a stake in, I am aware of how this plays out.  Eventually, someone gets old enough that they can't or won't maintain things like they should...and they resist the efforts of those who actually will pay or do the work to maintain things.  It isn't just family, I have seen this repeatedly with farms and places in the city that people have owned their entire adult lives.  At some point many folks go into unsustainable mode and can't/don't or won't maintain homes or surrounding property, eventually leaving it for someone else to deal with then they are gone.  When it only affects them and their property it is not a problem other than for their family, but when it impacts the whole community as well as the whole region...well...then things will have to change even though the change is painful.

 

There isn't going to be a one-size fits all solution for this, but the fact remains that fire prevention efforts must be aggressive.  If folks can't find a way to maintain the property, etc. then they will probably have to sell and move on.  It is unfortunate, especially since rural residences are likely to be owned by older demographics, but that is also contributing to the problem.   I can think of other solutions that would work without doing any harm to the property owner and be a win-win...but good luck selling them on that (personal experience.)  



#31 gwlee

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Posted 02 September 2020 - 08:10 PM

This is a problem that has built over generations, some of it foreseeable and downplayed/neglected, and some of it unintended consequences of nationwide affinity for trees.  Unfortunately, folks don't anticipate what they can or will be able/willing to do or pay to have done 10-20 years down the road.  Early errors compound:  trees and shrubs are planted too close, allowed to overgrow and are not maintained.  Trees continue to grow.  In California some of the tree choices are insane for an arid fire-prone region and these choices were made generations ago:  all of these huge eucalyptus trees in populated areas are an indication of that.  

 

Having grown up partially on an Ozark farm that is still in the family and I have a stake in, I am aware of how this plays out.  Eventually, someone gets old enough that they can't or won't maintain things like they should...and they resist the efforts of those who actually will pay or do the work to maintain things.  It isn't just family, I have seen this repeatedly with farms and places in the city that people have owned their entire adult lives.  At some point many folks go into unsustainable mode and can't/don't or won't maintain homes or surrounding property, eventually leaving it for someone else to deal with then they are gone.  When it only affects them and their property it is not a problem other than for their family, but when it impacts the whole community as well as the whole region...well...then things will have to change even though the change is painful.

 

There isn't going to be a one-size fits all solution for this, but the fact remains that fire prevention efforts must be aggressive.  If folks can't find a way to maintain the property, etc. then they will probably have to sell and move on.  It is unfortunate, especially since rural residences are likely to be owned by older demographics, but that is also contributing to the problem.   I can think of other solutions that would work without doing any harm to the property owner and be a win-win...but good luck selling them on that (personal experience.)  

This problem was generations in the making, and it will take generations to solve once we stop talking and start doing. In the meantime wildfire has the momentum, so we can expect ever bigger wildfires to burn until they consume enough fuel to solve the problem for us. 



#32 tommm

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 10:24 AM

I spend a lot of time hiking in the mountains and the problem I see is thick underbrush in logged areas. The big trees are taken allowing sunlight to the ground and the manzanita and tobacco brush grow thick and tall.  The big trees many times survive fires - you can see many live trees with blackened lower trunks in past fire areas - but the brush burns like crazy. In situations like the Paradise CA fire where there are high winds it doesn't much matter what the mix is, the fire gets into the crown and everything burns.  Several years ago we had a fire here (Reno) in 70+ mph winds. They clocked the fire spreading at over 35 mph.


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#33 tommm

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 10:26 AM

103 F here today, with smoke from the Slink and Castle fires. We have lived here 1/4 century. For most of that time we had a killing frost in the first or second week of September. Now it is more like first two weeks in October. Dry year again. Bears are coming down 4 miles from the mountains to eat apples in our yard. No food up there.  The corn plants in mtn meadows dried up before they could flower.  Climate change.  That's the real problem, but the one people don't want to face.


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#34 gnowellsct

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 06:17 PM

I had always thought to retire to northern CA.  But I have only one family member left, and my close friend died when he was 57.  No particular social reason left to go pay sky high real estate values.  I have given thought to OR and WA but the fires are there too.

 

The thing about this smoke is, it's not just an abstract thing that might kill you twenty years from now.  Particular matter kills fast.  Cardio and circulatory problems, strokes and that kind of thing.  The Helena Montana smoking ban (which was in force for 6 months and then repealed) got a lot of attention because of the close association of the ban's implementation with a decline in heart attack admissions and then an uptick after the ban was repealed.  

 

Unfortunately the situation with prolonged exposure to wood smoke is much worse.

 

There is the draw of going back to my home state.  But my home state doesn't exist any more.  My home state had ten million people.  Skies were clear and forests were green.  CA has forty million and is on fire.  (1% of the state by area just this year

 

Upstate NY is looking pretty good.  Just stay here.  Property taxes are pretty steep though.

 

Greg N


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#35 John Fitzgerald

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 06:47 PM

Don't people try to help their neighbors who cannot afford to pay for cleanup?  I've helped out several around here with that sort of thing, but we don't have a lot of wildfire danger.   Some won't accept help when offered, though.  I've seen that too.



#36 gwlee

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Posted 04 September 2020 - 09:56 PM

Don't people try to help their neighbors who cannot afford to pay for cleanup?  I've helped out several around here with that sort of thing, but we don't have a lot of wildfire danger.   Some won't accept help when offered, though.  I've seen that too.

Yes, of course, but the scale of the problem is enormous. I am still fit enough that I can do most of my own work, which requires several weeks each year, but I still need to spend $2-3K each year to hire professionals to do work that requires a professional crew and heavy machinery to do safely. The county gets a bit of grant money occasionally and spreads it around to the most needy, but it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to what’s needed. 

 

Tuolumne County is enormous, and most of it is managed by one government agency or another that doesn’t have the resources to manage it properly: National Parks, National Forest, Designated Wilderness, BLM, etc. By comparison, private lands are small potatoes, but much of it’s adjacent to or surrounded by public land. In 2013 about a 1/4 million acres of this public land burned here in the Rim Fire.

 

Since then, the fire danger is greater here, and the danger is spreading to the highly populated coastal counties, so CA resources are being spread ever thinner. This isn’t a temporary problem that’s going to go away, so we must learn to live with it. 


Edited by gwlee, 04 September 2020 - 10:24 PM.

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#37 dhferguson

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 12:45 PM

Cheers,

 

Living as I do in a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area, I believe it is certainly true that wildfires have been larger and more prevalent in the past few years than before.

 

Inland Northern California experiences two weather seasons: a cool and wet winter and a hot, dry summer. While we in the Bay Area might experience modest grass fires and the like in August, the usual fire season is in the fall transition between these two seasons, when warm, dry winds can occasionally really get going but before the rains dampen everything.  Lightning is, however, a common summer occurrence in the forests of the Cascades and Sierra, and so these areas do experience frequent, albeit generally smaller, mid-summer fires.

 

This past months' fires were caused by a rare major regional lightning storm, the result of moisture from a Baja hurricane remnant somehow making it this far north and interacting with our normal summer airmass. For those of you who don't live here, know that severe mesoscale thunderstorms are almost unheard of in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when winds are light and an inversion layer is a daily occurrence, meaning the smoke stays trapped for days, or in this case even weeks. Smoke from fires up to a couple hundred miles away can blow or drift from this area to that, with obvious repercussions for DSO observing. In our current instance, the smoke has been so thick I can smell it, and I've been keeping my telescopes inside to avoid exposure to particulates.

 

As others have stated, a confluence of factors has combined to support conditions necessary for enormous fires. To give you a sense of the enormity, for example, the "SCU Fire," whose northern border is about 12 miles away from me, has burned something like 625 sq miles, equivalent to a square about 25 miles on a side. Another almost equally large fire was located about 50 miles north, and there are also several fires of > 50 square miles within, say, a 100 mile radius. First, fires were suppressed for decades in these areas, meaning scrub and dead trees have built up. Second, as one post explains, we experienced a major drought during the 2011-2016 period. This, along with a related bark beetle infestation, killed off a significant fraction of our conifers and, as they say, added fuel to the fire. Third, the lightning storm started many small fires over large geographic areas, causing fire suppression resources to be dispersed and insufficient. Thus, the blazes grew together unabated into monsters.

 

Now California is heavily urbanized. Fly over the state and you won't believe how much undeveloped land there is, by far the vast majority. Much of it is public land: national forests, BLM, certain large military bases, various regional park entities, etc. The good news is that much of the undergrowth has now been burned out. The bad news is that plenty remains, in particular on land adjacent to large population centers such as the SF peninsula. For example, the "CZU Fire," which burned in a redwood forest south of San Francisco (the larger redwood trees are highly fire-resistant, BTW) is another example of a lightning-caused fire that grew out-of-hand.

 

We here in NorCal are likely to experience additional large wildfires due to plentiful fuel and a slowly warming and overall slightly drier climate. However, these will mainly occur in the fall, be wind-driven, and without the smoke lingering nearly as long. I hope they won't all happen at once though, as they did these past few weeks.

 

Happy observing always,

 

Don



#38 gwlee

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 01:23 PM

Cheers,

 

Living as I do in a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area, I believe it is certainly true that wildfires have been larger and more prevalent in the past few years than before.

 

Inland Northern California experiences two weather seasons: a cool and wet winter and a hot, dry summer. While we in the Bay Area might experience modest grass fires and the like in August, the usual fire season is in the fall transition between these two seasons, when warm, dry winds can occasionally really get going but before the rains dampen everything.  Lightning is, however, a common summer occurrence in the forests of the Cascades and Sierra, and so these areas do experience frequent, albeit generally smaller, mid-summer fires.

 

This past months' fires were caused by a rare major regional lightning storm, the result of moisture from a Baja hurricane remnant somehow making it this far north and interacting with our normal summer airmass. For those of you who don't live here, know that severe mesoscale thunderstorms are almost unheard of in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, this is also the time of year when winds are light and an inversion layer is a daily occurrence, meaning the smoke stays trapped for days, or in this case even weeks. Smoke from fires up to a couple hundred miles away can blow or drift from this area to that, with obvious repercussions for DSO observing. In our current instance, the smoke has been so thick I can smell it, and I've been keeping my telescopes inside to avoid exposure to particulates.

 

As others have stated, a confluence of factors has combined to support conditions necessary for enormous fires. To give you a sense of the enormity, for example, the "SCU Fire," whose northern border is about 12 miles away from me, has burned something like 625 sq miles, equivalent to a square about 25 miles on a side. Another almost equally large fire was located about 50 miles north, and there are also several fires of > 50 square miles within, say, a 100 mile radius. First, fires were suppressed for decades in these areas, meaning scrub and dead trees have built up. Second, as one post explains, we experienced a major drought during the 2011-2016 period. This, along with a related bark beetle infestation, killed off a significant fraction of our conifers and, as they say, added fuel to the fire. Third, the lightning storm started many small fires over large geographic areas, causing fire suppression resources to be dispersed and insufficient. Thus, the blazes grew together unabated into monsters.

 

Now California is heavily urbanized. Fly over the state and you won't believe how much undeveloped land there is, by far the vast majority. Much of it is public land: national forests, BLM, certain large military bases, various regional park entities, etc. The good news is that much of the undergrowth has now been burned out. The bad news is that plenty remains, in particular on land adjacent to large population centers such as the SF peninsula. For example, the "CZU Fire," which burned in a redwood forest south of San Francisco (the larger redwood trees are highly fire-resistant, BTW) is another example of a lightning-caused fire that grew out-of-hand.

 

We here in NorCal are likely to experience additional large wildfires due to plentiful fuel and a slowly warming and overall slightly drier climate. However, these will mainly occur in the fall, be wind-driven, and without the smoke lingering nearly as long. I hope they won't all happen at once though, as they did these past few weeks.

 

Happy observing always,

 

Don

I lived most of my life in Santa Clara County before moving East to the Central Sierra about 8 years ago. Like the Bay Area the worst of our fire season is in the transition between between Summer and Fall. The ignition sources here are divided between lightning, PG&E, and various other human causes. Today, PG&E warned of Public Safety Power Shutdown starting Monday, which coincides with a NWS Fire Weather Watch for this county. 



#39 JMW

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 01:27 PM

Been living in Reno 34 years. Some years the fire smoke is minimal other years it goes on for weeks. This is one of those years.

 

We probably will be retired in 3-4 years. Have considered living in other places but enjoy hiking in the Sierra Nevada range too much to move very far away. July - September has seemed to be hotter in the last decade compared to when we moved here. I seldom run the air conditioning except for the days over 100 or with nasty smoke. My air conditioning has been on for two weeks now. Looking forward to highs dropping down to the mid 80s soon. The smoke only goes away when the wind blows it in another direction. 

 

Have no answers except to keep my property as fire safe as possible by installing a metal roof, concrete siding and cutting trees and bushes down that are too close to the house for a good defensible space. 

 

Hope to be able to go out in observe and use my observatory for some EAA soon. Just depends on wind and fire smoke.



#40 gwlee

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 02:30 PM

Been living in Reno 34 years. Some years the fire smoke is minimal other years it goes on for weeks. This is one of those years.

 

We probably will be retired in 3-4 years. Have considered living in other places but enjoy hiking in the Sierra Nevada range too much to move very far away. July - September has seemed to be hotter in the last decade compared to when we moved here. I seldom run the air conditioning except for the days over 100 or with nasty smoke. My air conditioning has been on for two weeks now. Looking forward to highs dropping down to the mid 80s soon. The smoke only goes away when the wind blows it in another direction. 

 

Have no answers except to keep my property as fire safe as possible by installing a metal roof, concrete siding and cutting trees and bushes down that are too close to the house for a good defensible space. 

 

Hope to be able to go out in observe and use my observatory for some EAA soon. Just depends on wind and fire smoke.

This week the smoke thinned enough here, near Sonora, CA, that I have been able to do some stargazing even though the conditions are poor.

 

I pay a lot attention to maintaining and improving defensible space, but doubt my little well defended acre in the middle of the Stanislaus NF will not have much of a chance in major forest fire that’s leaping from crown to crown in this steep terrain.  It would certainly help to prevent the spot fires that start miles ahead of a major fire from spreading if anyone is foolish enough to stay here and fight them instead of evacuating when a major fire is advancing. 
 

Own of my hiking buddies is a retired fire battalion commander, and he warned me to evacuate ASAP ahead of a big fire because he doubts CalFire would risk putting a crew on this steep ridge with a major fire advancing. As I see it, the most realistic benefit of defensible space is in preventing a small, isolated fire that starts here from something like a nearby lightening strike from getting out of control while I fight it until the fire department arrives. 


Edited by gwlee, 05 September 2020 - 04:23 PM.


#41 dustyc

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 02:46 PM

Smoke from those fires were over Phoenix for about 2 weeks. Created a persistent haze that blocked out views of everything save for  planets and the moon.

Arizona has 2 million acres of old growth Ponderosa pines. The largest stand in the lower 48. Over half a million acres has burned so far. Some reports predict between climate change, human triggered fires, and lightening strikes the forest wil be gone in 20 years. Most of those trees are 150 to 200 years old.

Yet people continue to move further into these areas and demand total protection for their little cabin in the woods.



#42 cuzimthedad

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 03:09 PM

Treasure Valley in Idaho is still getting smoke. Not as bad as it has been though, but bad enough I won't be setting up for a couple more days it looks like.



#43 JedF

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 04:30 PM

We’re in a location where any wind but an easterly covers us with a smoke plume from an active fire, and an east wind would likely be the worst case scenario for fighting them. 
Yesterday late afternoon into the evening we had pretty serious ash fall, with a good accumulation by this morning including pieces that were obviously the remains of pine needles - no doubt from a small (450 acres) but mostly uncontrolled fire about 30 miles NW.   

I haven’t even looked at an astronomy forecast in weeks...



#44 VNA

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 06:19 PM

Hello,

It is hot no very hot--all we need is another fire or two, a thunderstorm with lightning of course and then the earthquake and why not a cloud of locusts!

A pool is helpful and a ir conditioning--no I am not demanding!  ;-)

Stay safe and cool.



#45 Redbetter

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 06:45 PM

A new fire blew up today at Shaver Lake.  I was outside around noon and saw the giant thunderhead-looking white billow in that direction and said to my wife, "Looks like a new fire, and a big one, probably several thousand acres already and growing fast."  Fire fighting tankers have been flying in and out regularly.



#46 Heywood

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 06:48 PM

I may need to relocate to California someday.  Is there any place or places in the state that would be safest from wildfires and the smoke caused therefrom?

 

Thank you.



#47 dustyc

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 07:18 PM

My wife and I have discussed this too. 

No getting away from smoke. That's dependant on the winds and fire location. 

Fires? Heart of the major metro areas would be pretty safe. Take weekend trips If you want to see the forest. 



#48 davidmcgo

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 08:39 PM

I’m in the suburbs east of San Diego and this fire went from 20 acres to 1500 in a couple of hours this afternoon.  Probably 15 miles straight line to my house but the smoke is all the way across the sky.

 

https://twitter.com/CALFIRESANDIEGO

 

D1E28EF2-1D2C-44CB-BDEA-CEB2236109A6.jpeg

 

Dave


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#49 gwlee

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 09:16 PM

A new fire blew up today at Shaver Lake.  I was outside around noon and saw the giant thunderhead-looking white billow in that direction and said to my wife, "Looks like a new fire, and a big one, probably several thousand acres already and growing fast."  Fire fighting tankers have been flying in and out regularly.

I am a few miles North of Yosemite NP at 4,300 feet. We are socked in by smoke today and there’s significant ash fall. Local news sources and the CalFire Incident webpage aren’t showing anything that looks big enough or close enough to account for it. My brother, who is 10miles West and 2,000 feet lower, reported hearing fire retardant bombers passing overhead from Columbia Airport and believes they were headed South, but he can’t see anything. I suppose they are headed for the Creek Fire near Shaver Lake.

 

It’s grown to 36,000 acres with zero containment, and I believe the forecast is for much worse fire weather over the next few days: Hot, dry winds from the desert to the NE. 
 


Edited by gwlee, 05 September 2020 - 10:15 PM.


#50 gwlee

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 09:29 PM

I may need to relocate to California someday.  Is there any place or places in the state that would be safest from wildfires and the smoke caused therefrom?

 

Thank you.

Conditions here are changing so quickly it’s hard to say with much confidence. Previously, I would have suggested the central coast, but friends living in Santa Cruz County and students at UCSC we ordered to evacuate a couple of weeks ago, and just returned yesterday. Their homes were OK, but they have no water or power. 




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