Autumn is in full swing now, and in a lot of places around the country that means the weather is getting cooler, and the leaves on trees are changing colors. Red, orange and yellow colored leaves make the trees look like they are on fire. Here in Southern California, they literally are. This isn’t anything new for our area. We really only have two season a year: Fire and Rain. But our rain season only last a few days last year, so that means lots and lots of dry grass and trees to fuel fires. We’ve had some big fires already from the dry year, the Esperanza fire taking the lives of 4 firefighters, and the Day fire that burned thousands of acres in LA county. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more.
As of now, there are at least 12 fires burning in 7 counties, the worst being in LA county in Valencia (near Six Flags Magic Mountain), and Malibu. San Diego County is getting a beating too, with fires in both the north and south near the border. The biggest fuel for these fires, besides the dry brush has been the winds, the Santa Anas. Called the Devil Wind by the original Spanish settlers to the area, the origin of the name “Santa Anas”, seems to be in some dispute, while the reality of the winds aren’t. Blowing down from the Great Basin, across the Mojave and Sonora deserts, these warm, dry winds heat up the autumn days and can turn a spark into a raging fire in minutes. Racing through moutain passes, the wind speeds can reach up to 70-80 miles an hour. It’s these speeds and the sometimes unpredictability of the winds (as seems to be the problem this weekend) that makes fighting them so difficult.
Because of the frequency of fires in the Southern California area, our firefighters are some of the best and most experienced in the country. We have some of the newest equipment for fighting fires, such as Sikorsky helicopters fitted with water tanks, and a DC-10 airplane fitted as a super tanker. Watching the planes flying overhead as they head to local lakes can be a regular scene. But these firefighting tools are powerless against the Santa Anas. So fires can rage almost unabated, with firefighters on the ground doing what they can to save homes, leaving hillsides to be turned to blackened char. And the only thing we residents can do is watch and wait.
While other places can have their wind colored with leaves flying lazily through the sky, Southern California’s winds blow hard with smoke, dust and ash. Black, brown and gray re the colors of our wind.