Sunday, November 16, 2008


I’ve always known that you don’t want to mess with fire. It has this strange and wild (at times uncontrollable) quality about it. That’s even more real to me after this fall in Los Angeles. Obviously, until now, I’ve only watched from across the country at these “wildfires” burning in Southern California. But this weekend especially it became a little more real and a little more sad; these sets of fires are really out of control and destructive. When you know the areas and live close to them, when you know people who live or work there, when you go outside and smell what smells like a giant campfire and see smoke just blanketing the air, it hits home.

A bunch of friends and I went to see the new James Bond movie Friday night. The movie got out around 11:15 p.m. As my three friends from Pasadena and I were going out to the car, we looked out from the parking garage and could see this orange glow on the other side of the Valley. It was a good 20-mile distance across the Valley from where we were in Sherman Oaks but we could tell – that was a wildfire, and we’re all pretty new residents in SoCal. I checked the L.A. Times website on my phone and sure enough, a wildfire in Sylmar, the exact direction we were looking, had started around 10:30.

By morning that fire we saw, which had only been covering maybe less than 100 acres, had grown to over 2,000. The number of homes and people evacuated by morning was tremendous. Not much later, we hear news about fire in the other direction from Pasadena, in Orange County. This one, too, absolutely ravaging the area.

Here’s a map of the area:

View Larger Map

I have learned a lot about the science of wildfires this fall. The Santa Ana winds blow fiercely over the mountains toward the ocean. And no joke, a windy day in Pasadena with the Santa Anas is pretty ridiculous. And the air is dry, dry, dry – I have the worst static-y hair right now (also ridiculous). Embers fly in the wind and can make a fire skip about and grow in no time at all. That’s how fires can “jump” 10 lanes of a freeway, something that would seem to be an OK barrier.

Watching pictures of the fires up in Santa Barbara on TV Thursday night was crazy. They had 75 mile per hour winds; there’s no fighting that. That fire just goes where the wind blows. Ridiculous is the one word I get stuck on.

And then I get sad for the people who are losing homes, cars and stuff. It’s one thing to say, “It’s only stuff.” But that’s when it’s not your stuff. There is sadness and loss hanging in the air, like the smoke. Everybody feels really bad because there were so many situations where firefighters just had to evacuate because the fires were so large and unfightable.

Here’s a picture coming west on the 210 to the 118 on my way to church this afternoon. This smoke is from the Sylmar fire.

And this picture is of the San Fernando Valley (“the Valley") on my way to the Dream Center this morning for church. The smoke is just sitting in the valley air.


  1. yeah, back home in VA we had fires in the great dismal swamp all summer. it was peat moss that was burning (decades and more of old organic matter that in a few thousand years will become coal). that stuff is like 10 feet deep, so the fires spread underground. there would be no fire visible to put out, but terrible nasty smoke that smelled horrible for most of the summer, depending on which way the wind blew. there were some days that visibility was down to a few hundred yards, and that was 15 miles from where the fires were "burning". it took a tropical system (read: hurricane remnants) with several inches of rain to finally put them all out. but it was bad because they burned for like 2 months. tho thankfully only a few structures, if any, were burned.

  2. makes me think of the dead marshes in lord of the rings.

    and i'd much rather have a campfire smell than burning peat moss smell.