It’s Sunday evening, and I am prepping this California Check-In post for Monday. I am in the wondering/hoping/praying/crossing fingers and toes stage, hoping that you guys won’t get lightning strikes tonight.
Check in, if you can, and let us know how you are doing.
Flow chart – courtesy of Sister Golden Bear – does this just about cover how you guys are feeling?
Sister Golden Bear also sent this link:
This is a really good list of evacuation prep recommendations from someone who’s lost her house twice and had to evacuate numerous times.
Chunky bruise colored sky in Sacramento. No overnight lightening, the smell of smoke pervades everything.
Thank you Sister Golden Bear for your helpful guidelines. Fingers crossed for all the norcal, central valley and south bay jackals.
Sister Golden Bear
This pretty much nails my mood. And I ran out of coffee yesterday morning.
We dodged a bullet last night since the expected dry lightning storms failed to materialize, and the high humidity and light winds have helped slow the fires. Friends reported some light rain around the bay last night, although I didn’t get any.
Here in the south SF Peninsula (near Palo Alto) the air quality is better than yesterday, albeit still “moderate” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” i.e. me. Skies are brownish gray, but much of that is probably the morning fog. But my eyes and throat are still irritated from the smoke, as well as having a splitting headache, plus chest tightness, even though I barely have left the house for the past week and had the HEPA filter on overdrive.
I did drive up to SF yesterday, since the air quality was better near the ocean side. Drove around Golden Gate Park for a bit. I would’ve liked to have gotten out and walked but the air quality was still poor enough that that would’ve been a good idea for me. But at least it helped with the cabin fever.
BTW, I learned that the PurpleAir maps (best for real-time air quality monitoring, as long as there’s sensors in your areas) apparently gives erroneously high readings with smoke. To correct this, change the pulldown menu that says “None” to “LRAPA” and it will close to the readings from the more sensitive air monitors used by governmental agencies.
It was really a weird Marie Kondo experience figuring out what to pack up if I had to leave. I’m in the flats near the bay, so realistically I’m in little danger but the state advised all residents to have a go bag ready. At the moment, I’ve just packed a day pack and a gym bag, so that I’d have my travel CPAP machine, valuables, laptops and power cables/charges, toiletries, and a few changes of clothing and extra shoes. Aside from the essential papers/valuable jewelry it’s actually not that different than when I’m using them for carry-on luggage. But I’ve got the mental list prioritized for what I’d put in the bigger suitcases if there’s an official warning. Strange days indeed, most peculiar.
As long as we’re doing the Balloon Juice California Branch, any news from or regarding Mnemosyne? I was under the impression she was taking only a short break.
I miss her pluck, humor, always knowledgeable comments, and all-around presence. Hope she is doing well.
Some friends in Menlo Park reported a little rain, but not enough to make a difference. For a while I was 2 miles from the evacuation zone for the SCU complex, but they’ve moved back the line in north Santa Clara county. The winds have been blowing from the west, pushing the fire away from me.
No Go-bag packed but I know where everything is. I’m in the flats, so probably safe.
Several friends have been evacuated.
Thanks for the wonderful information.
Not my part of the world, but my nephew and his wife bought a shack out there 3 years ago and have put heart and soul into making it into something and were almost done. It is now ashes.
My younger brother sensibly packed a suitcase and a few photographs on Friday before motoring away from faculty housing at UC Santa Cruz an hour in advance of the mandatory evacuation order, and is now comfortably ensconced in the spacious garret here at The Crumbling Manse™ on the edge of downtown Oakland. We are unlikely to be menaced by wildfires here, although the air quality would be nothing to write home about even if we still had a functioning Postal Service.
I’ve been watching CalFireCZU on twitter. Things are slowly improving; I may be able to return home next week. Also watching the satellite heat maps, and they also are improving. My cat Buzzy is acclimating to a new house with 3 cats here already. It’s on the border of another evacutation zone (SCU fire), but so far we’ve not been officially told to leave.
I’ll be telling stories about this for a long time. The trip back into the CZU evacuation zone to rescue baby chickens in particular (this was day 2, my MERT badge from work helped convince CHP to let us go in a mile past the perimeter roadblock).
The sky is gray and the air quality index is high here (been worse though). For a visualization of the current AQI, I use Purple Air South Bay The loss of Big Basin still hangs heavy on my heart. And I’m constantly checking the HamCam to make sure the observatory is safe. Several Girl Scout summer camps in the Santa Cruz mountains have also burned, ones that we’ve visited recently. I am just devastated.
This tweet is from one of the toughest women I know.
We are bracing for lightning strikes in Honeydew. Dad has his heavy equipment gassed up; I have my boots on and a McLeod at hand. Fingers crossed that those clouds will bring rain first
Lodi here. Air quality is horrid. Hazy sky and limited visibility. Weather service says that it is supposed to clear tomorrow night.
Here in NoVA it’s bright and sunny with cumulus clouds. And oppressively humid and still. And there’s a LOUD thunderstorm near by, but no rain here yet. I really don’t like these little red popup things. Too often, they popup and sit over an area for hours on end. Fortunately, these are moving now…
Stay safe out there in the west (and the gulf coast, and …). Fingers crossed.
Ugh. In Sac the difference from yesterday is stark–while we had “good” air quality Sunday morning the same push of clean coastal air didn’t happen overnight and current downtown AQI is 161. The mow-and-blow crew have their dueling gas leaf blowers fired up next door right now, thanks guys, the briefly leafless lawn is much appreciated. Take the rest of the week off.
My rooftop weather gizmo tells me lightning rolled through last night around midnight and again at about three. Nearest strike was ten miles away and I heard and saw nothing, so nothing like last week’s violent show. Fingers crossed there are no significant new fires, we have plenty already. There are probably no personnel to look for spot fires, much less put them out.
@laura: “Bruise colored sky” is a perfect description of it.
The smoke smell was a little better on Saturday, but it was bad yesterday and is worse today. At least our AC is working; as long as I stay in the bedroom and leave the air purifier running, I can mostly breathe okay.
of course not, lightening comes when the sun comes up.
now, lightning, comes with thunder.
Best wishes from not-in-hell Socal. We’re just getting a summer heatwave and a couple fires. Hope our comparatively mild problems will allow some resources to be diverted up there.
@Sister Golden Bear: Can I ask where you learned this?
Reports say there are teams from LA and Orange county working CZU.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
Air quality sucks, on the bright side there doesn’t seem to much left for the lighting to set on fire. The whole Diablo range east of the Bay Area seems to be burnt out now.
And Trump is still president, I look forward to more lecturing about the necessity to rake a few hundred miles of ranches for leaves.
I’m in Pasadena, and the main thing we’re having trouble with is humidity. It’s been humid enough it just doesn’t cool down much at night, and the temperature is much less tolerable. On the positive side, the humidity is better for fighting fires.
I’m not far from Sister Golden Bear, and she mostly covered the situation here too. The one detail I’d add is that over the weekend a Red Flag Warning (essentially “extreme fire danger”) had been issued for the entire Bay Area because of the storm system they saw coming in, but with the change in where that storm went, that warning was lifted late this morning.
The weather reports were saying the city of San Francisco actually did get a bit of rain last night, so hopefully we can get some Wet on the Napa fires.
Hard to adequately convey the lack of historical precedence for the current fire situation but the fact that California has the second and third largest fires in recorded history and they are but 22 and 10% contained respectively, puts numbers behind what we think we’re seeing. It would be helpful if those were the only two but there are many more and several other Western states are having a go, too.
It’s impossible to mentally pivot from what it’s like here and the one-two hurricane punch bearing down on LA. Great summer, or greatest summer?
Temperature is down, no wind, no lightening. So we had a good night. The fire complexes are finally showing some level of containment, except I can’t get info on CZU complex in the Santa Cruz hills. I have not heard from my friend that lives in Bonny Doon and his stables there. I’m guessing those are all gone.
Light rain in Los Altos last night, and the air quality is marginally less bad. The air still smells like smoke, but it’s better than yesterday. I have a lot of friends in Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz who have evacuated, and more in Milpitas and east San Jose who are packed to do so.
The only thing missing from that hell-chart is earthquakes [knocks frantically on wood]. There was one a week or so ago in San Jose, but it didn’t even break 2.5.
She’s been back to work from home and has been extremely busy is what she informed me about a month ago. Said she’s fine and will be back when she’s not going 90 mph all day long. My description, not her’s.
Walnut Creek. It is hazy here with a heavy odor of smoke. Haze is bad but there still are hard shadows. My throat is sore and my eyes are watering.
We had to cancel sailing yesterday because of poor air quality and limited visibility on SF Bay. It was a good decision.
One of my kiddo’s best friends is supposed to begin her freshman year at UCSC. Poor kid. Sure hope the campus comes through mostly intact.
Fire in CA is far more common than a lot of folks realize. Lots of people live here of course, but it’s a big state with population areas broken up by hills with lots of chaparral, which burns rather easily, fast and hot. So anything that sets it off usually burns a lot of acres before a lot of people can get deployed. And as well a lot of the fire fighting/protection has to be done by hand crews, most of whom are prisoners who get paid and I believe time off for working fires. Of course they aren’t allowed to become firefighters after they get released, because they have a record. They risk everything and their reward is almost nothing. But of course because they live in prison, in close quarters a lot of them have COVID. So in a bad fire situation, with limited crews, there is going to be a lot of damage that might otherwise be contained. Welcome to 2020.
Sister Golden Bear
@NoraLenderbee: Something I read yesterday, sorry I don’t remember where off-hand, but it was someone reputable.
The problem as I understand it is that PurpleAir’s monitors use a laser to measure air quality, which works fine for normal pollution, but overstates smoke levels.
The monitors used by governmental agency actually run the air through a screen that measure the particulate level and are more accurate, but updated less frequently.
It’s a known issue, so PurpleAir offers the ability to “convert” (i.e. adjust) the reading. The LRAPA is apparently the closest the governmental figures. More info if you click on the question mark icon in the “Map Layer Data” box of the map.
Sister Golden Bear,
Thanks for the note about PurpleAir. I live to the west of you. Drove back from a week in the High Sierras on Saturday, thinking we’d get away from wildfire smoke in the mountains as we drove home…
Yesterday was miserable. Stuck inside with all the windows & skylights closed. Stinging eyes. Googling HEPA filters for our forced-air furnace system (as I figured out how to run the fan w/o heat). A bit of light rain last night. Could see the Santa Cruz Mountains from the kitchen earlier this morning, they’re slowly disappearing as the smoke level rises. Our house runs mostly on solar energy, and Tesla put out a request to keep electrical usage to a minimum during peaks hours to assist power demands on the grid…
And so it goes…
Enhanced Voting Techniques
@Ruckus: Well this is first time in my life that almost the entirety of central coastal California went up at once. Usually is one big fire after another, not six big ones at the same time.
For the rest of BJ, here is a USGS map of all recent events in CA. The map can be adjusted to give info for anywhere.
My understanding is that the prisoners on the wildfire crews get moved to the fire fighting camps at the beginning of the fire season. One of the reasons a lot of them agree* is that the fire fighting camps are a lot more spacious and have better food than the prisons do, so their circumstances are a lot better when they aren’t actively fighting fires.
*I hesitate to describe what they do as volunteering, but they are allowed to say no to the chance to fight fires.
Better today. Doesn’t look like our large fires grew much overnight. Containment is up on both of them. Containment can kind of serve as an indicator of future trends – if they are containing say, ¼ of a fire, that usually indicates that they can protect people and structures, and are now starting to work around the wilderness side of it. Also, they often don’t go straight for 100% containment – they’ll shift resources to other fires, etc. and slowly work it down, ramping up if those other fronts approach people. Going from 25% to 100% can take weeks, but it’s usually also not a threat to people during that time.
I think lightning is still in the forecast for today, but it doesn’t seem like much came of it yesterday. There’s a handful of new fires, but not hundreds like a week ago. Apparently the state is ramping up firefighting training of CA national guard members. A bit late to the game, but hopefully they can get some real manpower trained up for the windy months.
@Roger Moore: It is volunteering, but I really wish the state used it more as a mechanism for rehabilitation and return to society than they do.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques: Same here. 300 active fires, 20 major ones, most out of control is new to me. And CalFire not exactly being confident in their ability to make those numbers smaller is also new.
Have we ever had statewide ‘prepare to leave’ announcements before?
Still outside of the evacuation warning zone here in western Bay Area–hot and smokey, but safe so far. Cousins’ parents have preemptively left their homes in the hills to temporarily stay with their kids (my cousins), just to be safe. Have bags packed and the car gassed up in case we have to flee, but it’s looking like we probably won’t need to. Friends in Santa Cruz have been checking in, but it’s a bit dicier over on that side of the hill.
We had dry lightening go through last night around midnight. The worst of it was in the upper elevations. But CalFire is on it and many of the spot fires were stopped. The storms were not the relentless 48 hours that we were warned about, but around here it was more like an hour.
Here’s a local update:
Me too. It’s my own alma mater.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques:
I lived in an area in socal that was right on the edge of Angeles Forest. On a hill top that was a view of all of LA out the back yard and across the street houses out the front with their back yards chaparral. We had a fire right down to the back fences of the houses across the street. Last year there was a fire that burned down one house and damaged a bunch more. My buddy of 47 yrs lives about a mile east, also with that same chaparral behind their subdivision. Their house has burned down twice, in 94 and and 09 and they had to evacuate in that fire last year.
Fire and earthquakes are a part of living here. Mother nature doesn’t give a damn about how much we paid for a house or the view or that we even live.
The thing is, without those prisoners we can see how effective the firefighting isn’t. We have air tankers dropping water and fire retardant but there are only so many of them. The ground crews are a big part of the fire fighting equation, take a large portion of them out, which is what COVID has done and what stops the advancement? Running out of fuel is what. The 4 fires going in norcal in 2017 faced a lot of this problem, they spread faster than the crews could get in and work and a lot of what burned was houses and those can’t be cleared out of the way of fire like chaparral can. I lived north of the bay for a while, it’s beautiful but when it burns, it burns hot and fast. I lived in a chaparral area in socal and when it burns, it burns hot and fast. And then it regrows and is ready to burn hot and fast in about 2 yrs.
Thanks for the Mnemosyne update. Next time you’re in contact, let her know she is missed.
Safe for now. Both fires near me would have to travel through a decent amount of suburban sprawl before they could hurt my house.
Air quality has been great to horrible based on wind patterns.
Flanders' Other Neighbor
The Berkeley hills are still intact, but smoke is prevalent. Stuff is organized and mostly ready for a quick exit to family in Arizona should the need arise. I’m not terribly worried, but you can still see the scars in the Oakland hills 30 years later, so why gamble?
@trollhattan: Campus is intact as of this morning.
Fire lines on that edge of town are good.
Santa Cruz city, and University, are going to be disrupted well into autumn (people up hill who have lost homes / lost work: more unemployment than already caused by Covid, and more overcrowding for residents who can’t or won’t move away).
Students learning remotely might be the one bright spot, actually.
Santa Rosa, CA: Pretty smoky air, but we were not awakened by thunder last night — certainly a relief for sleep reasons as well as fear-of-fires reasons. Looks like I won’t go on my weekly hike this week, however. Huffing and puffing my way up the side of a steep hill — which I normally enjoy! — would not be so good for my lungs.
We’ve prepped for possible evac, even though I think it’s unlikely for us because of where we live. But still, things can be unpredictable.
Any word on what’s happened to the Taungpulu Kaba Aye Theravadan Buddhist Monastery? I assume it was evacuated, but it’s on Big Basin Way, and . . .
Sitting there kept my late wife going when she was at Stanford.
We got a little rain in Forest Meadows last night – the roads were actually wet this morning. Smoke seems a bit better today than yesterday.
San Francisco here. No rain in my ‘hood (outer Richmond district, near the ocean) but no lightning last night either. Cal Fire’s site looks like most of the fires are slowly being contained.
I don’t smell smoke today; we have major overcast but that’s pretty standard out here at the beach. A friend of mine who grew up out here (44th Avenue @ Anza) likes to say she never saw sunshine til she was 6 years old and went to visit Mission Dolores (at 16th Street and Mission).
And it should burn every ten years, at least, to keep down the danger of the super-hot uncontrollable fires we now see in brush which hasn’t been allowed to burn in decades. And should burn for healthy regeneration of the plants; all of CA ecology is fire adapted, and coastal scrub, chaparral, woodland biomes have some species which require fire.
But of course, we wouldn’t let the chaparral burn on its “natural” decade-timeframe, because there are people and houses and roads etc we want to protect in between the brush — and that’s a problem which has been getting worse for decades, too, as people choose to move up from the smoggy urban valleys into the wildland-interface. Can’t blame ’em for wanting to do that.
The potential safe season for controlled burns is getting shorter, too, because of climate change.
Dunno if there is any answer beside evacuate the whole state and burn it all to the ground sometime.
Packed the crash bag yesterday (first aid, blankets, rope) , and found everything for the go bag, and warned my kids, and settled on a rendezvous destination outside the area of big fires …
and then overnight, humidity went up, temperature went down, we got a couple spells of very light rain which improved air quality …
and this morning’s SacBee fire maps, which show active fire based on irradiance, show that outside active fronts, the fires have died out in the interior of the large burn areas, and a couple of the smaller fires seem to have pretty much gone out.
and the containment numbers for the active fires have finally risen
So I’m a lot less worried. Sustained high winds last night could have been catastrophic.
OTOH, one of the active fire fronts is eating its way into gorgeous coastal Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and another is eating its way into the big redwoods in Butano State Park, and I think Wilder Ranch is still threatened, if it hasn’t already been consumed.
Mingled relief and mourning.
I’m not sure All of California is supposed to burn. All the golden hills that make up a large fraction of the current fires is a European invasive. The pre-European grasses could recover quickly from fire also, but *those* species were selected for because the pre-European Californians practiced a form of landscape burning to improve their own hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
In other words, humans have been choosing the vegetation here for a long time, and we can change it. Perhaps we would like to go back to pre-European landscapes, but that is a firetrap as well. So maybe we should go further back to pre-human landscapes, but those required megafauna to stay in balance and be properly grazed.
North of Sacramento at the foot of the Sierras. Some very light sprinkles last night with a few lightning strikes. No delta breeze to clear out the smoke overnight so Air Quality Index started with 162 overnight and has now (1pm Pacific) worsened to 175. Temperatures remain below 100 and no wind at all. Watching (hearing) the Air Tankers fly overhead every hour between the fires and resupply at McClellan Field in North Sacramento. Lincoln CA seems to be directly in their approach and take-off flight path.
Thanks much, I’ll pass the good word along.
Good point. IIUC a lot of those invasive species were imported via animal fodder, the seed essentially hitchhiking.
We’re harvesting two wet winters followed by an extremely dry one, coupled with historic high temperatures. And because NorCal fire season extends into November now, we have three long months yet ahead of us.
Whomever coordinated bringing sheep and goats in to munch down the grasslands between Cal Expo and the American River Parkway earlier this month earned themselves a MacArthur Genius Award, if I get to nominate somebody.
All the golden hills that make up a large fraction of the current fires is a European invasive.
An annual, Bromus tectorum, called cheatgrass or downy chess. When mature, its spiky awns cause mouth sores in herbivores, so it’s only kinda adequate fodder early in the season before they develop. It does not really form a sod, because the roots die at the end of every season.
The native bunchgrasses were sod-forming perennials with deep roots, adapted to periodic grazing, but unable to survive continual overgrazing.
I have no idea what you are proposing to change.
It’s impossible to go back to “pre-human” landscapes because the climate — of last century, say, before global warming — would still not be the same as that of 10,000 years ago, and could not support that old landscape in today’s actual world.
Hell, we can’t even go back to “pre-Smokey-Bear” landscapes of seven decades ago.
Only the alpine tundra, subalpine woods, and open desert in CA are not fire-dependent / fire-adapted. Our other ecosystems — not just the invaders’ grassland you mention — are naturally supposed to burn.
Fire can be suppressed for long periods, but nature always bats last. Eventually, a lightning strike, or even spontaneous combustion of volatile oils from chaparral in hot sun, will start a natural wild fire, without human ignition, and against humans’ best efforts at prevention
But we can’t let them burn, because there are people and buildings we value in the way of the flames.
It’s an unsolvable problem.
I don’t see any way out this conflict between physics (fuel plus heat = fire) and our human desires.
@trollhattan: well, the argument you always hear is California is a Mediterranean climate, so it has to burn down every few years. Apart from the awful fires in Greece I don’t hear about that region going up in smoke every few years.
Australia has our same climate, and is also burning down a lot with crazy large fires. Italy? Jordan? Spain?
Cyprus has a real problem with wildfires.
I don’t see any way out this conflict
It would help if there were fewer people.
Overall California usually lives OK with fires. We get a few big fires each year, and lots of smaller fires. The hills about a mile from my house burned down last year. We were put in evac alert, then they contained it. But I look at that hillside this year and it looks just as ripe to burn this year as last year. wtf. If we are going to live with fire then we need landscapes that burn, then go into some kind of fireproof status for a decade.
@Sister Golden Bear: Thanks! My husband did a little research and found that, as you say, it’s a known issue. They’re working on an algorithm.
Holy crap, Portola Valley AQI shows 448 for PM 2.5. Highest I’ve ever seen.
I think by today everyone along the coast is breathing a sigh of relief that the worst is over — even though the fire is only minimally contained, it’s been kept away from the city, so not nearly as tragic as it could have been if fire overran the campus and the whole city of Santa Cruz.
Morbidly funny to hear the tourism bureau telling visitors to go away and stay away for a couple of weeks, at least, to allow locals to use motels/vacation rentals for evacuation housing until we find out what didn’t burn in the hills and what’s safe to return to.
One of my friends is in the shelter at the community college …
That’s a good chart. Luckily, in Oakland, the fires are still a ways away and the temperature has dropped into the low 80’s/high 70’s the last couple of days.
Australian fires of summer 2020 consumed rainforest that in theory should never experience fire (and has no defense against). Our summers have become so much longer and winters likewise shorter, the landscape does not have time to adapt. We’re living it.
Forest thinning (“raking”), prescribed burns, targeted grazing and other smart management practices can counter the trends to an extent (presuming we’re willing to invest in those) but we’ve baked in a century or more of unintended consequences to come.
Well, yeah, less people … but that’s just as much of an unsolvable problem as all the rest of it.
I am really not in a good mood today (although, lord forgive me, I should be happy because everyone I know personally is safe and more-or-less well).
I’m not moving. I had left CA looking for a better (less crowded, safer, less expensive) life, and hated being away from paradise. (Not Paradise the town, paradise the CA state of mind). I’d rather be in a bad mood here than miserable anywhere else.
So, I admit I’m part of the problem. Perhaps less of a problem than some residents, because at least I don’t live in the riskier wildland-interface. But then, neither do the residents of the city of Santa Rosa which was burned out two years ago, nor the residents of the city of Vacaville which burned five days ago. Those are big cities, and didn’t do anything wrong, except simply exist in a resource-limited world.
Out of the 100,000 evacuees today, some will move away from CA in the future, and most will stay (and rebuild if necessary).
If you have any good suggestions for how to persuade, say, twenty million free individuals to move out of CA (where? to Iowa?), well, I’d be happy to hear them.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques:
It is truly a confluence of shitty circumstances hitting all at the same time. We need more water dropping planes. But they cost a lot of money and need a lot of water. And crews. We need more hand crews, to clear fire lines.
The weather has been no help, it gets HOT and that creates a better situation for starting fires because the brush-chaparral becomes more flammable. Add in winds and a lack of humidity and a spark and bam, you got fire. The widespread lightning easily supplied that spark. A confluence of everything that could go fire happened and over a wide area and the result is predictable, even if it doesn’t happen all that often.
Sorry to have hit a tender spot.
I think that the human population of the entire world will contract over the next century. Already the US has too few births to sustain our current population, and Trump has done a number on immigration.
I wasn’t suggesting that something will or could or should be done to force or convince people to move out.
@Ruckus wrote: Their house has burned down twice, in 94 and and 09 and they had to evacuate in that fire last year.
I was reading just yesterday about someone who has been burned out six (6!) times. Mother Nature bats last. CA is essentially a desert. Climate change means more fires. It is only going to get worse.