15 August 2016

Fire Threat in Carbon Canyon

As profiled ten days ago in the Los Angeles Times (click here) and reemphasized by the latest massive blaze in the Clear Lake area of northern California, this has been a notable summer for wildfires in California.

To the date of the article, 5 August, 223,600 acres, or some 350 square miles, had burned in 4,000 separate incidents, taking out 300 houses and killing eight persons.

Much of the state is susceptible to wildfires, given the length, severity and reach of the unprecedented drought that has gripped California for several years running.

Some people might be lulled into a false sense of security because of the good rain and snow that fell on parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains last winter, but much of California received very little precipitation--this includes southern California and our own Carbon Canyon.

The Erskine fire near Lake Isabella in Kern County killed two people and blackened close to 50,000 acres.  The San Gabriel Complex fire in the mountains above Duarte and Monrovia burned over 4,000 acres.  The Soberanes fire in Monterey County scorched about 54,000 acres.  The Sand fire near Santa Clarita claimed almost 40,000 acres.

Then, there are the hundreds of fires that range from under 10,000 acres and lower--in one week, there were 300 separate incidents recorded throughout the state.

Now, southeast of Clear Lake, in an area already hit by three major fires in 2015 alone, the Clayton fire has destroyed 175 structures in 3,000 acres.  The fire doubled in size yesterday alone and is only 5% contained.  Read the latest on that blaze here.

It is telling that, even with all of this activity, the statistics are dwarfed by what happened in 2008, when, by 11 August, there had been around 1.2 million acres burned in wildfires.

This was before the Freeway Complex fire in mid-November raged through much of Carbon Canyon sending a lot of us on a three-night evacuation, during which Sleepy Hollow was a sudden wind shift away from being significantly engulfed.

Plus, since 2010, a staggering 66 million trees have been killed by bark beetle infestations, which are exacerbated by drought conditions and those trees become bone-dry fuels ready-made for wildfires.

But, back to 2016.  There's a long way to go this year.  The fall Santa Ana season awaits.  Our region had another winter of about 4 inches of rain as the drought continues.  This summer has had some hot spells--today registered 106 in Chino Hills at about 4 p.m.  Dry plant material is everywhere.

So, we have to be aware of what is possible here in Carbon Canyon during this last half of the year.  2008 is possible again.

Meanwhile, housing developments in these parched hills, which are most vulnerable to wildfires feeding on those dry fuels and driven by winds at upper elevations, are being built and proposed with the possibility of several hundred new structures added.

There's a reason why CalTrans has placed signs on the Brea side reading "Entering Hazardous Fire Area."

Why the department doesn't have those signs on the Chino Hills side is puzzling.

Why our local, regional and state planners continue to act as if conditions have not changed when they work with housing projects is mind-boggling.

Why we hear so much about the demand for housing as if we had all the water in the world, didn't have the worst smog in almost a decade, had plenty of funds to pay for the infrastructure needed to support the new housing, and so on, is truly mystifying.

Why a proper sense of context and perspective continues to elude leadership when it comes to to development (though intense lobbying, builder-friendly statutes, and an evident weakening of regulatory controls come to mind) is bewildering.

Maybe we'll get lucky and escape without another major fire in Carbon Canyon this year?

Addendum, 16 August, 1:15 p.m.:  Another wildfire, the Bluecut, reaching 1,000 acres in within one hour, has broken out near Cajon Pass at Devore.  6:15 p.m.  The Bluecut fire is now pushing towards Wrightwood and has consumed almost 7,000 acres. 9:15 p.m.  This fire has exploded to some 15,000 acres and there are 82,000 people evacuated in 11 hours.

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