17 November 2008

Firestorm in Carbon Canyon!

Like many Carbon Canyon residents, I have been evacuated and remain away from my house about 36 hours now as the Triangle Complex fire has roared through the Chino Hills range and vicinity in Corona, Anaheim Hills, Yorba Linda, Brea and Chino Hills. The photos here show later afternoon views on Saturday of the growing threat the Sleepy Hollow, while the (blurry) evening detail was taken about 8:30 that night as we evacuated.

I have not actually heard any news this morning, as I write this from my office at work, though the climatic conditions are far better today than yesterday (and which was much improved from Saturday.) As far as the Canyon is concerned, it appears that damage has included a few homes destroyed on the Brea side and only a garage and some other smaller property burned down on the Chino Hills portion.

For those in Brea who have lost their homes, I am very sorry to hear of their loss and hope that, should they choose, that they can rebuild and rebound from the tragedy as best they can.

My understanding is that there were two units lost in Hollydale Mobile Home Estates, from which my father-in-law was evacuated and remains away, and a couple in Olinda Village. On the Chino Hills side, the flames reached to within probably 150 yards or so of our house, having descended the ridge separating Carbon from Soquel canyons and charred a portion of the property of friends of ours. The fire also reached the perimeter of other neighborhoods on both sides of the canyon and affected outlying areas such as the Vellano and Pinehurst areas of Chino Hills to the east and the sections north of Lambert Road and State College Boulevard, east of Brea Boulevard/Brea Canyon Road and up into Diamond Bar on the Brea side.

Briefly, I'll say that our first awareness came from my father-in-law, who called from Hollydale to ask if we could see the fire in Brea. This was in the early afternoon on Saturday and I hadn't ventured out much to that point. Once I got off the phone with him, I did see the plume of smoke to the northwest and called 9-1-1. The operator told me about the fire in Corona, but had to transfer me to someone else about Brea. The second person then said that there was fire in Brea that had been reporter and was being responded to. At that point, we decided to drive over to our local fire station on Canon Lane (which is being discussed for closure and relocation, incidentally, for a new station on Eucalyptus Avenue just west of Chino Hills Parkway) to find out what they knew. The firefighters there were just starting their lunch, but one of them came over to tell me that they had just returned from the Brea location. When I asked if it was advisable to stay put, he indicated that it was definitely desirable to do so. When I turned the car around to head back home (and this was about 1:00 or so) the smoke was spreading rapidly to the south and west, giving an obvious indication with the very strong Santa Anas blowing that the fire was moving west.

Like nearly everyone else, we were glued to the television for most of the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, though there didn't seem to be an immediate threat to the eastern side of the Canyon until the winds died down. This seemed to give the fire freedom to move in whatever directions provided the most hot, dry fuel, including back to the north and east and toward the Canyon. I was on the phone, at about 7 or 7:30, with my uncle telling him that to that point we were OK when my sister-in-law, who lives in Oak Tree Estates a little east of us within the Canyon, called to say that the Chino Hills city website was listing a mandatory evacuation for Sleepy Hollow and asking if we'd like to stay with them. I headed outside to see how matters looked out there and the orange glow was definitely noticeable to the west, but the steepness of the hill on our southern side of the community did not allow for a glimpse closer to us. Just then, my next door neighbor came up and said that a television report repeated the evacuation order. At that point, even though I was partial to waiting for an in-person order from authorities, we decided to start packing up, although we didn't rush as if it was an absolute emergency. I also went over to retrieve some photos for a neighbor and went to talk to another about his plans before we headed out.

When I drove out of Sleepy Hollow and made the slight climb on Carbon Canyon Road, I stopped near a cattle pen and took some photos (this and others to be posted as soon as I can get my computer back in my house and download them) of the huge orange glow to the west before heading up toward Oak Tree Estates via Canyon Hills Road. I found out, though, that this west gate is not open to visitors so had to turn around and head back down. As I did, the even more massive area of orange from the fire coming from the south loomed. Again, I stopped for more pictures and a video and, while making the latter, heard a Sheriff's Department vehicle driving through making the announcement over the speaker that a mandatory evacuation was in effect. Hightailing it over to Canon Lane to access the gate there, I made it to my brother-in-law's house to find them packing up. From there, we went to the home of a colleague of my wife's just outside the Canyon and spent the night with them.

On Sunday morning, we climbed a hill affording a 360-degree view and observed the situation. It was pretty obvious that, except for a few hot spots, the Chino Hills side of the Canyon was relatively calm, whereas the huge plumes of smoke, orange glow, and occasional flames coming from south Diamond Bar and from Brea was where the major action was and would continue to be throughout the day. Being bombarded for almost 24 hours, allowing for a few hours of sleep, with continual fire coverage and seeing that our part of the Canyon seemed less at risk, we took our kids to lunch and the movies before heading over to Ayala High School for a briefing, some time spent with neighbors and friends, and to have dinner. We were fortunate enough to have friends who were allowed to return to their home, but had booked two nights at a hotel, so we were given the key for the last night. We watched a little of the coverage last night, but everyone was tired so we all went to sleep a little after 9 last night.

As I've said, I have not seen or heard any news this morning, though will catch a little TV here. Hopefully, if all the hot spots are out and the fire is better contained to the west and south, we'll be able to return home today.

This leaves the timely matter of the continued appeal of the Canyon Crest housing project for the north side of the Canyon in Brea. The 165-unit luxury development would entail 4-6,000 square foot homes on lots ranging from a 1/3 acre and up over a little under 400 acres. Obviously, the Triangle Complex Fire occurred in the very area where Canyon Crest is proposed. Tomorrow night is the scheduled continuation of the hearing, though I'll have to find out later whether it has been postponed or not. I'm hoping that it won't be, for one reason, which will be my ending comment on this post:

If officials in Brea (and Chino Hills, concerning other housing developments) think that the relatively little damage done by this fire is testament to planning, foresight, and the skillful deployment and brave work of fire officials ONLY, let me just say that, if this fire had not started miles and miles and hours and hours away, but had started IN THE CANYON, there would have been a significant loss of homes and property.

I will also state that there has been much improved planning, property control, and the work done by firefighters was amazing.

But, that fire took about 17 hours to move several miles or more from the Green River neighborhood of Corona to the Canyon. This allowed ample time for firefighters from areas quite far away to be deployed and then allow the intricate planning mechanism to be put into place. For example, there were firefighters posted up the hill from my house by 8 p.m. on Saturday night, about twelve hours after the blaze first started, and they were from Devore, near San Bernardino.

If that fire had started at 9 a.m. Saturday morning in Carbon Canyon, there could not possibly have been enough time to get the kind of response necessary to prevent the significant loss of homes.

Remember: there were relatively new homes in Yorba Linda with closed eaves, no attic vents, tile or composite roofs, stucco exteriors, and so on that burned because of the intense heat, violent winds, and large embers.

In an environment like Carbon Canyon, even so-called "state-of-the-art" homes like are proposed for Canyon Crest are not "fire proof." Moreover, the more homes that are built (don't forget the three developments-- Pine Valley Estates, Canyon Hills, and Stonefield--in process, approved or in proposal for 202 more houses on the Chino Hills side) the more of a response has to be generated (more water, more personnel and equipment, more planning and execution of evacuation plans, and more money.)

Given what we've seen and taking into account the other issues of future water supply, traffic, loss of open space and habitat, and pollution (and the pollution generated by fire is also significant), there is no reason whatsoever why a moratorium on any large multi-unit development within the Canyon should not be imposed. Developers have had more than enough land to develop and profit to be made, cities have more than enough of a problem to maintain their existing infrastructure, and there are more than enough issues with traffic, schools, refuse disposal, water distribution, pollution, and etc.

It is time to limit all new construction in Carbon Canyon to single and small multi-unit development (whatever that might be). We are facing the prospect of 367 more hours, over 1,000 more people, and 3,700 more daily car trips in Carbon Canyon if and when all four major developments are approved and built!


Jody Takes Pictures said...

Paul, I was with the firefighters when they fought so hard to save the Hollydale Mobile Home Park. I don't know if you are interested or not, but this link http://prints.alltherightshots.com/g/triangle_complex_fire_15nov08 shows some of the images from that night.

Paul said...

Hi Jody, thanks for the comment and sorry for the delay--I rarely go back through the blog and check for comments on older posts.

I'll follow the link and view the pictures. Thanks for letting me know. My father-in-law lives in Hollydale and will be interested, if he doesn't already know about it.