The California Wildfire That Burned Big Sur – Part 5

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   Posted by: BJ Johnson in studio
This entry is part of a series: Spherical Magic & The Basin Complex Wildfire »

Spherical Magic & The Basin Complex Wildfire – Day 21

7/11/08, 5:30 AM

So much for fires moving slower when backing down hills. I said that wildfires are unpredictable. This one proves that. When I crashed last night, it was still near the top of Uncle Sam. This morning, it was already over the ridge top of Elephant, one mountain closer to us. There isn't a very deep valley between the two, so the front moved quicker than I would have liked. (Not moving at all, I would really like.) The nerve meter went up a few ticks after seeing this. I thought I had a few more days than I now have to get this built, up to speed and do some training.

Work on clearing the fuels is going really well. Every stick and leaf that is gone helps me to relax just a bit more, as if you can call this relaxing.... If the fire is contained before it gets here, we'll at least have a really neat place.

Got some office work done this morning when I got up. Couldn't sleep anyway, so may as well move some things along. Double-checked the "shopping list" that I prepared yesterday (but got the changes done too late to make it to the shop before they closed). Should have moved it along so the parts could have been here today but assisting the clearing operation took most of the afternoon. Today would have been good to work on assembling the pressure header. The wind shifted to the NW last night and blew the smoke out. Still hot but better hot than hot smoke. Maybe the wind will hold. Left this afternoon for the shop and to get stocked up with food and water. We're going to have to be long-term self sufficient, so provisions is a high priority item.

Decided to wear a short sleeve shirt, Joy's in shorts and tee. Heck, by the time I got out of the shower, dressed and out to the living room to leave, my shower was waxed. Good thing the truck has Air, so I can dry off. Got to the highway leading over to Salinas and stopped dead. What's this, it's only 4:00? Inched along for miles. Came up upon a Highway Patrol car sitting behind a pickup; the officer talking to two guys. Looked ahead and the line was speeding up. Jerks! Stupid California gawkers can't pay attention to the road and create a multi-mile parking lot, so they can.... I don't know what they get out of it. The clown who started it doesn't care. He's long gone and certainly oblivious to the long term effects of his selfishness. Because of this, we nearly missed the shop hours AGAIN. Today, it was important to get there, more so than yesterday because of paragraph one and I was really steamed at this traffic jam created for no reason at all.

Got there in time, though, and we set to work gathering the parts to build a 2" diameter, 4 input, 3 output header that connects the tanks with the pumps. Going in, I asked some more pertinent questions about the two pumps we have. After digesting the specs. and conferring with Joy, my Financial Officer and Sounding Board, we made the decision to move up to a higher output pump to take the place of one of them. Still a 2", isn't as good a construction but having the extra power and throughput seemed like the good thing to do. While we were "hip pocket engineering" the assembly I had drawn out, not knowing exactly what parts they may have available--but the objective is there, I spotted a 3" version of the really cool 2" pump that we have two of. I asked about the specs on it and the price difference between it and the bigger one we had just opted for. NOW, we're talkin'! 85 PSI through a 3" input/output at 275 Gallons Per Minute. Yeah, baby. MORE POWER! The 2" pumps push 151 GPM and I was becoming increasingly concerned that we may not have adequate throw with them. I don't have that concern quite so much anymore.

The assembly of parts went well. Had to redesign part of it to accommodate the new 3" but it's gonna be sweet. Black matte PVC fittings and bushings throughout, full flow ball valves on each tank, and on each output line...

DARN! I just realized that we didn't change out one of the ball valves for a 3". Now, I can't finish it tomorrow and start filling unless we go back. I could close the tank valves and fill, yes, but that won't leak test the joints until it's way too late. Well, gotta take that 2" pump and a few other fittings I already had back and we're already doing a "cardboard run" to the recycle transfer station to get that stuff out of here, so I guess that's the plan. Mistakes like this could make the difference between success and failure. I had better not make another.

Coming out of the shop with [almost all of] my goodies, it was COLD! Overcast, fog, wind, and us in Arizona garb. Joy dropped me off at Home Depot and she headed to Costco for the supplies. By the time I was done getting the remaining hoses and fittings for the RainBirds (and a really big pipe wrench for that 3" stuff), mist was falling. Yay! We happily loaded my haul into an already stuffed truck and headed off to our local Cowboy Bar for dinner on the way to the studio.

What? 9:00! They're gonna close! Joy called and, once they recognized who it was, gladly started our order for us while we drove toward them. Nice to be regulars. That was the good news.

The bad news is, as soon as we started up the grade that leads to our valley, the mist stopped, the fog dissipated, the clouds disappeared. Rats. It was getting warm. No help for the plants.

We had a nice dinner. Good to get out after a long stretch in the trenches but gotta get back, unload the food and get some rest.

No help indeed. Coming around the corner on the winding flat portion of the road leading to our place, I saw a sight that I prepared Joy for. Didn't want her driving off the mountain, now that we had our plan almost complete and a lot of it and both of us were in this truck. The ridge in the distance was totally in flames. Never saw it this severe. Last night in comparison was a set of stationary bonfires. This fire was active, exhibiting extreme fire behavior with group tree torching, spotting and short crown runs. This was across the west 45 degree span that I described last night. The southeast was fairly calm looking. I shot some panos and a few long lens closeups but couldn't watch anymore and came in to work a bit to try to get myself tired enough to wind down and go to sleep. As you can see, that's not working.

Night Panorama
This is what we saw when returning home from arranging for the tanks, pumps and fittings.

The smell of smoke increased suddenly and I closed the windows. Have to turn the air conditioner on and let it work on pre-cooling this place, so that there is an oasis available tomorrow. The wind up here was calm when we got home but it has now shifted back south again. It will be there until Sunday evening and now I'll have to work out in the smoke. Even while working on this edition with the windows closed, I smelled more smoke. Had to check that it wasn't the studio. Leave nothing to chance. Everything is okay but it has gotten so thick out there that I can no longer see the bright flames on the mountains that were so clear a couple of hours ago. I went outside to check for them further but couldn't stand it for more than a couple of minutes. Eyes burned, throat tightened, nose searing. It's like being up on the roof an sticking your face right into the chimney.

Looks like I'm going to be wearing that respirator earlier than I thought.

7/11/08, 6:45 AM

Stuff up here changes pretty fast. I was looking out the window while writing Edition VI as the sky began to turn from black to blue over the mountain to the east and was lamenting that the thick atmosphere outside looked like a cloud that we are often bathed in evenings and mornings, but was smoke instead. If it's this thick now, what will it be like later. Once the Edition was finished and sent, I rose, stretched and looked around outside. It is now considerably lighter and I decided to see how bad the smoke may really be. Something about the rock garden looked oddly familiar, as did the flowing structure of the haze--and it's coming from the north again. What's going on? Opening the front door, I was immediately struck by... cold, wet air! It is a cloud. Yippee! The rocks look odd because they're wet, as is the driveway. I expected dry and warm. The marine layer made its way to us after all.

The good news/bad news for this is, the cloud layer will retard the fire some but we're now below VFR minimums and that means no air support.

I hope it stays for a little while, though, and not just for my having to work out there. T-Storms are predicted for Sunday. If the moist layer is present, as opposed to the dry layer last time, we may not get any new fires but a good dousing instead.

Learned today that we have a rare tanker in the fleet. A 60 year old Flying Boat called Martin Mars. (See? More space related stuff in here) It's a 162,000 lb. flying dreadnought patrol aircraft built for the United States Navy during WWII. Only four were constructed, two remain. It lives in Canada and travels with three 18-wheelers to carry fuel, supplies and parts. Outfitted with a 7,200 gallon tank, the 48 foot tall aircraft powered by four 2,500 HP Wright Cyclone engines fills itself by skimming across the surface of a lake, taking the water in through a belly scoop. Once full, the crew injects 30 gallons of ThermoGel fire suppressant and it heads off to the assigned zone and drops, saturating 3.5 acres of forest with each run. Don't wanna be in the way of that puppy. I'll try to get some shots of it. I'd like to try to get a ride in it, but that's probably not gonna happen.

Martin Mars  The Martin Mars

In other space-related news, NASA Dryden is providing infrared scans, accurate to within 0.5 degrees Celsius, of the Complex from Ikhana, a Predator B unoccupied drone doing flyovers at 20,000 feet twice each day. The perimeter, intense heat and isolated heat scans are sent to Ames Research Center in Mountain View, just up the coast, processed and sent to the Interagency Fire Center in Boise and from there to the Incident Commander here.

Ikhana  Ikhana IR Scanning Predator-B

I'm gonna take a nap.




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