Sunday, August 30, 2009

Water, Air, Earth (no Fire)

Meanwhile, when it wasn’t burning somewhere, today was a nice day for a bike ride. I’m still focusing on hills; I climbed 3,770 feet today in 55 miles. Up, down, over, up again, down again, back over, and like that. One advantage of this plan is that you get to enjoy many great vistas.

When I started out, the air was baking hot, but by the time I got back, some less hot air had started moving in from offshore. Not cool air, maybe, but less hot. I refilled my bottles a few times along the way.

Shot these last weekend from below. This time I took a matching picture from above.

Catalina Island lies 26 miles offshore, shrouded in mist.

A cruise ship slowly steams away from San Pedro; a container ship unloads.

The Catalina ferry returns past Angels Gate.

The Gerald Desmond Bridge leads to Long Beach’s downtown, near my home.

The Fire This Time

A lot of energy is being released in the mountains north of Los Angeles.

These pictures were taken from the top of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, about 30 miles south of the fires. The big fire in these shots is the “Station” fire, which started a few days ago in the canyons behind La Cañada-Flintridge. It has spread considerably beyond that by now, both east and west, and to some degree north and south. These pictures are looking almost straight north.

As of tonight, total area burned is more than 65 square miles, and with hot dry weather forecast through at least tomorrow, the multiple firelines show no sign of showing down.

Downtown Los Angeles is safely separated from the burning mountains, but it’s not far enough away to avoid the pall of smoke and flying ash.

The cloud over the city makes even the mightiest skyscraper look tiny and inconsequential.

(Keep in mind that the towering smoke is twice as far away as the skyscrapers.)

Last night I finished reading a novel centered on a (fictional) event that took place during the six-day riot that scorched Watts and neighboring communities in 1965. I wasn’t around to see that smoke cloud, but I have a feeling the one towering over Los Angeles this week is of a whole different order of magnitude.

Small Fires

Yesterday I deliberately didn’t ride hard, and didn’t take this road around the perimeter of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, because there had been a fire back here. I didn’t want to be working my lungs too hard if there was going to be a lot of smoke, and I wanted to stay out of the way of emergency crews.

It turned out I could have headed back here after all; the fire was out already by yesterday, and smoke was light, if there was any.

The fire consumed about 235 acres. (A square mile is 640 acres.) It damaged six homes and destroyed a couple of “outbuildings,” as they call structures that aren’t homes. It’s pretty easy to imagine it being worse.

As you can see, the fire burned right up next to a few homes, and it wasn’t far below some others. That had to make for some nervous hours for homeowners.

The headline-grabbing fires have been in the San Gabriel mountains; the biggest right now has scorched 42,500 acres, and is only 5% contained. Homes have been destroyed; more are threatened; families have had to evacuate; the fire may knock out broadcast television in the Los Angeles area when it crests Mount Wilson, where many antennas are located.

(When I got home tonight, my cell phone inexplicably dropped service. I live far from the area that’s burning, so I know my local cell tower hasn’t burned. But it may rely on relay transmissions from up there. Or it could have been completely unrelated.)

I’m relieved for friends who live on Palos Verdes Peninsula that damage here was so light, and that the fire is out.

Summer on the Run

Tiny Footprints

Never eat anything bigger than your head.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Over the past couple of weeks, we have spent considerable time and money getting one of our (relatively small) boilers retuned and recertified to ensure it puts out less than 30 ppm NOx and 400 ppm CO when it’s running, to keep our Los Angeles air clear and pristine.

In the distance you see a sample of Los Angeles’s natural high air quality.

Our plant sits right under a flight path into LAX. The gorgeous colors in the sunset are courtesy of the annual wildfires (as of tonight, four) in the hills surrounding Los Angeles.

This one in particular was acting lively tonight as I left work around 7 p.m. This is the “Station” fire, north of La Cañada, at the point where the Angeles Crest Highway comes out of the hills and into the open San Gabriel Valley. Note the smaller smoke plumes to the left of the main column, where smaller branch fires are burning.

The fire is burning right about where the Tour of California has been routed for at least the past two years.

Note that the air is fairly clear, except where the smoke plume hangs. The evening wind was blowing the plume to the west, out to sea (and toward the airport). Overnight, the wind may well shift. On the horizon, behind the leftmost electric pole, is the skyline of downtown Los Angeles.

As I watched, I saw fire come up over a ridge, about 20 miles from where I was standing. At a moment like this, my thoughts go to one of our tenants, a second-generation Los Angeles County firefighter, who may be up in these hills right now.

I’m equally concerned tonight about a new fire, on Palos Verdes Peninsula, where I have often taken my bike, and where I had planned to ride this weekend. As it is, with all the smoke in the air, any kind of exercise is a proposition of dubious wisdom. As long as the fires were located in hills so far north of here, I hoped I could ride down by the coast and take advantage of the cool sea breeze.

I have friends whose families live within a few miles of the new fire, which has already burned homes. I hope they get it put out quickly, before it causes more damage.

Day by Day

August 25, 2009

August 26, 2009

August 27, 2009

This smoke is in the hills behind Azusa, from the “Morris” fire.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And So It Begins

On a clear hot day, when you can see every bush and patch of rock in hills thirty miles away, a spark catches a tuft of grass afire, and the wind puffs it up into a conflagration that belches up a pillar of smoke.

Because the day is so clear, you can see the smoke from everywhere, a looming, three-dimensional reminder that all this paradisiacal weather comes at a high cost for some.

By this time tomorrow, the wind will have switched a few times, and this well-defined totem of destruction will have been transformed into a dun smear blown all across the northern skyline, obscuring shapes that today stood clear and distinct.

Fire season has begun.