Oh my stars!

Southern California inland basins are going to get hard freezes, down to 26F (-3.33 C), the earliest in the year I can remember this happening. That’s going to hurt agriculture and in the coldest areas pipes could freeze.

That’s not the worst part of it. Tomorrow we’re looking at winds gusting to hurricane speeds. This will create huge sandstorms, tear off branches and knock down a few trees, rip off weakened roofing and, worse of all, knock down power lines. (That’s how many of our fires get started.) It can blow embers miles ahead of a fire front. It turns a smoldering flame into a raging furnace moving as fast as the wind.

As you can see from the map below, we’re (Santa Clarita) predicted to have intensity 6 gusts. The weather stations are predicting 60-80 mph.

2019-10-29_15-32-58

Martin Wind Gust Intensity Scale –

8. Extensive widespread damage.
7. Trees are broken or uprooted, building damage is considerable.
6. SOME Trees are broken or uprooted, building damage is possible.
5. Slight damage occurs to buildings, shingles are blown off of roofs. HIGH WIND WARNING CRITERIA
4. Twigs and small branches are broken from trees, walking is difficult.
3. Large trees sway, becoming difficult to walk. POWER SHUTDOWN THRESHOLD WIND ADVISORY CRITERIA
2. Large tree branches move, telephone wires begin to “whistle”, umbrellas are difficult to keep under control.
1. Small trees sway.

The currently burning Getty Fire is likely to have been caused by downed power lines. Last year’s catastrophic Woolsey fire and the 2017 Thomas fire were caused by power lines. It is widely suspected that utilities have been scrimping on maintenance and juries have held them liable. (I’m not completely sure about that. Juries have been known to award liability for some pretty spurious reasons.)  SoCal Edison is looking at about $4.7 billion in liability while PG&E is looking at $8.5 billion.

To avoid this, utilities will be running blackouts in the affected area. Large scale blackouts during Santa Ana wind events are a new thing, instituted after downed power lines caused catastrophic fires for with the power companies have been held liable. Right now, there are a half-million customers in blackout east and north of the SF Bay area. SoCal Edison is predicting about 200,000 customers in blackout in SoCal today. Tomorrow may be much worse.

What happens when you have winds gusting that fast, single-digit humidity and a wildfire? Nothing good.

OTOH, if an area has already burned, it won’t burn again for a couple years. It will be several years after that before it will burn as intensely. Firefighters count on that. Fighting a big fire has all the strategy and tactics and logistics as fighting a war.

It is possible to build a home that will stand up to almost any fire assuming it doesn’t get damaged by wind or falling trees. There are many things you can do. Like putting metal screening over all attic openings. Fire retardant paint on all exterior wood. Fireproof roofing is really important. (Wood shake need not apply!) Stucco or other fireproof exterior material. Fireproof window treatments that reflect the heat back out the window. (White or silver metal Venetian blinds are great.) Keeping vegetation and other flammable materials well away from the structure. Keep the vegetation you do have green and moist.

Most homes don’t measure up and would be expensive to fix up.

In fire season out here, it is best to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Property can be replaced, you, your loved ones and your pets cannot. Evacuation for the Tick Fire came within a mile of where I live.

The heroes of the story are the firefighters who work impossibly hard under hellish conditions at great risk to their lives. Hardly a fire season goes by when a crew of firefighters don’t die fighting a fire. My hat is off to them.

Firefighter’s Support Alliance