October 22, 2007
Elaine Meinel Supkis
California is very lenient when it comes to building for bad weather or earthquakes. For example, steel roofs are not mandated for everyone. These work well in earthquakes and fires. Housing exteriors in fire areas which happens to be most of California, should be completely fireproof. The best materials, adobe, are not safe in earthquakes, though. The Santa Ana winds are a regular event and these fires happen like clockwork. There should be many changes in the way people live in California but I doubt anything will change.
Southern California Brush Fires. Television News Photography of a fire I covered which began in the Summit Valley area of the Cajon Pass on Interstate 15 and spread to Oak Hills, located between San Bernardino and Victorville. County, City, California Department of Forestry and US Forest Service response. Some of the largest flame lengths I have ever shot up close, it was HOT! Great example of why brush clearance near to homes is so helpful. Original shot on SVHS-C; 6:36 length, 1 edit for youtube, the rest is uncut. Aired KCBS2, KABC7, KCAL9, KCOP13, ABC Network News, etc. Copyright Larry R. Erickson
I don't know if this is from the latest fires. It looks like it might be. All the fires in California when the hot winds blow, are very explosive. Year after year, the same thing happens to the same places. But not exactly the same places. Since the fires that happened six months or two years earlier have burned out most of the big brush and kindling, the new fires are in slightly new neighborhoods which were missed in earlier firestorm events.
My family has lived in California ever since we took it via warfare, from Mexico. We have lived through many firestorms and earthquakes. Generally speaking, the most common way of dealing with this is to ignore it and then run like hell when it happens. This was OK 130 years ago. Today, the place is mobbed with people and running away is problematic.
I watched the fires this last 24 hours on You Tube. One person took his little child out to film the fires! He and his son stood around as fire engines roared up their cul de sac road and then turn around. Then the flames leaped over the hills and the man stood at a gas station, filming this and chatting with his child! Gah! Talk about insanity. Meanwhile, cars cluttered the streets and made the fire engines crawl along. In many places, people act like this is normal and so they don't get out of the way of the fire fighters. But the nature of these fires in such violent winds is, it can suddenly happen a mile down the road!
Worse, the main kindling tends to be houses. However these fires rage when burning bushes and grass, when it takes over a house, this is a huge boost. The best is a gas station. Boom! I once spent a night in NYC during a riot, hosing the roof of our house so we wouldn't go up in flames. Embers and ash flew overhead and mixed with screams, etc, was an unforgettable night. No fire fighters showed up and our mayor, Beame, thought he was quite successful because he didn't shoot any looters or fire bugs that night. We got rid of him, of course.
Back to California: this Santa Ana wind isn't the worst. In the 1800's, there was one Santa Ana that set the record for heat, over 130 degrees. The birds and cattle died and in Santa Barbara, the residents had to flee to the adobe Spanish church because it was the only slightly cool place. If this was the temperature today in California, the fires would be 10X worse.
There are several things I have noted, looking at pictures and videos. One is, there are an awful lot of tall, wooden fences in California. I remember this from when I last lived there, too. They should be outlawed. Adobe walls that are free standing are less a hazard in an earthquake than wooden fences in fires! If the adobe is quite thick and if the wall isn't stupidly placed right on a fault line...many things are built smack dab on some of the world's nastiest fault lines...then they can't do much damage in an earthquake since they shouldn't be load bearing.
But the roofs are very important here! They can't use asphalt-based products. I remember when many roofs in So Cal were wooden shingles! Just like my brownstone in NYC had an interior sprinkler system, so should all houses in California. If there is a fire raging right outside, the sprinklers can keep things from exploding inside! For this is what happens: the interior heats up and the contents like curtains, flame up and the house burns from inside out.
The sprinklers are not for saving the stuff of the owner, it is to prevent fires from spreading wildly. By the way, my fire insurance costs were greatly reduced by these sprinklers. Another bonus. When building, it isn't that much greater cost to install sprinkler systems. Indeed, it is very cost-effective. But no one pushes for this even if people die in these fires. One of the many mysteries of life.
California wildfire in the Twin Pines area of Riverside County, near Idyllwild. In the edited video a US Forest Service Captain from San Bernardino National Forest Station 34 and the crew from CDF Riverside Ranger Unit Engine 66 prepare as flames rapidly advance towards them and the home they are protecting. A couple air drops. This fire was the last major one in the area until last years deadly fire which killed the crew from Forest Service Engine 57. Even though there was some impressive fire behavior, The Silent Fire was small in comparison to the 2006 fire. Aired on KNBC4 & KABC7. Photography by Larry R. Erickson, Copyright.
Added: 7 months ago
Note that after this fire, another one happened and the fire fighters died. They rush about, trying to protect houses while home owners do little and home builders actively try to stop, all kinds of sensible laws designed to protect houses from fires. Some Californian communities have laws about plants and such surrounding houses. But a sprinkler system would be far more effective, I would venture to say. Even more, a system that lets a fine sheet of water run down the entire side of the roofs like a sprinkler system that works like lawn sprinklers, would make sense. Here in my neck of the woods, this can't be easily done due to super cold winters but in California, it should be required.
This is footage I took from the deck of my office during the fire, this is probably around 6:15- 6:45 PM when the fire had moved off the hills and down into the beach houses.
I was approximately 1000 to 1500 meters from the fire path, maybe up to half a mile. As you can see the wind was blowing straight out to sea, which was lucky and probably why the fire wasn't any worse than it ended up.
I wrote about that storm and wondered why the buildings were made so ineptly. Flat roofs with TAR PAPER took the cake. Some of those looked like they were auditioning for the final night of the Burning Man celebrations.
Fire erupts across the street from pepperdine