The California Wildfire That Burned Big Sur – Part 6

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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 – Days 22-23

7/12/08, 12:55 PM

Nap was good. No, I haven't been asleep continuously since I wrote that. Did get a good long sleep last night, though. I just wanted to let you know that we're here and continuing to work.

Got the 3" full-flow ball valve and a few omitted parts for the pressure header yesterday, along with a 2.5" fire female to 2.5" fire female gender changer, so that we can hook the pressure header fire truck port directly to the hydrant across the spur road during off hours and fill the tanks through it. With the limited recovery capability of the local water system, and not knowing how much may be available for how long, filling with a 1.5" fire hose just seemed way too iffy. When the water is in the reservoir, how ever much there may be, I want it now. There'll be time later for it to recover without depriving anyone of service water. Filling with a garden hose 24 hours is way undesirable but not out of the question.

Our landscape guys are almost completed with clearing. Yesterday, just before heading to the shop, I commissioned the foreman to build a frame of railroad ties staked in position with re-bar around the south and east sides of the tank farm where the pea gravel is the deepest. If I don't, the gravel will 'squeeze' out when the water fills the tanks and expansion/contraction/seismic activity will begin to spread the nice, flat mound we have out into the surrounding area and the tank will begin to tilt. If it's not perpendicular within reason, it'll drive me nuts but if it's not perpendicular out of reason, it could rupture the tank. He and his 3-man crew did a really pro job in the span of time it took us to get the missing plumbing bits. Looks like it's been there for 20 years. Feels really good to see it.

On the weather front. Thanks to the many wishes for favorable conditions, the cloud hung around us all day yesterday, even though the Sun was trying to burn it off. Much better to work in. Last night, it returned and kept us cool. Awoke this morning to not even be able to see our own trees. This is unusual for this time of year and I am ever-thankful for it. It is also significant in that it is going against what the Weather Service data shows.

The layer is thin enough vertically to enable air support to see down through it for their drops. We can hear them moving through on vectors but only can see them if they fly overhead within a vertical 90 degree field of view.

I always have a fuzzy feeling when I awake to see that we are in a cloud layer. It covers, surrounds and caresses the studio, the people within, the plants outside. Now, I have a new level of appreciation, for it is helping to save our lives. Sometimes, we are above the layer looking down on a puffy cotton surface that hides the valleys below. Magical, especially when bathed in moonlight.

I hope I'm not jinxing it but it looks as if I have gotten my lost day back. This two day influx of moisture and lower temperature is showing a positive effect on the fire's advance. Infrared fire activity plots show diminished advance and diminished heat. Thanks to these data, I can confirm what I can observe on the ground. The front was nowhere near as active last night as it was two nights ago. At times, it seemed as if it was not there. I knew it was; out there waiting in the silence. A very ominous feeling to not be able to see one's foe that is so powerful and unpredictable. Having those Predator scans is very good indeed.

Still making that cardboard run before the transfer station closes (was too late to do it yesterday on the parts run) and then back to assembling the pressure header.

There is a fire meeting at the fire station this evening. The fire jumped a dozer line to the SE of us a few miles. Mandatory Evac. is in place for sections near it. Once the meeting is over, I may work under lights tonight to complete assembly and begin filling. We'll evaluate as it goes.

We're stocked up for the long haul. The freezer is jammed, we have two flats of water but I want to get more.

7/13/08, 2:55 AM

After getting this morning's studio tasks out of the way, I joined Joy in processing the mountain of cardboard and paper for the trip to the transfer station in the village before they close at 3:00 PM. Took more than an hour to break down and stuff the shipping boxes that have accumulated into the truck. Seems that we did this not two weeks ago... Yet, there it is, one whole truckful, stuffed to the breaking point with cardboard. Again. If we had to jam one more box in there, we couldn't do it. We sure do order an amazing amount of stuff.

Once that was off-loaded into the huge container, we stopped at Murphy Lumber and got a second 5 gallon gasoline can and three quarts of motor oil for the engine-driven pumps and generator, went back up the road a bit to fill the can, then stopped at the Running Iron cowboy bar for a well-deserved Margarita and a 7up & soda with a lemon for Joy.

Coming back up the hill, we encountered six trucks from Ventura County FD sitting at the mail boxes. The five L.A. County trucks rolled through while I was talking with one of the guys from Ventura. The crews come up here to observe the progress of the fire and back-burning operations and radio their information to Command. Pretty cool to have all of these guys getting experience in this area because the view from here is good.

Piping LayoutPiping Layout
Piping Assembly Layout

Arriving back at the ranch with a couple of hours to spare before the next fire strategy meeting, I went down to the tanks, spread out a large tarp and laid out the pressure header bits in formation to confirm that everything is there. I can then easily pick the part I want to work with from the layout and either install it or create a subassembly and set it back into place in the layout again for installation later on. Joy came down to see how things were going just after I had found that two fittings were missing from the mix. I couldn't believe that I had miscounted; not after the many times that I had recounted and recounted. Seeing that things weren't going as planned, she quietly retreated to let me work things out. I thought:

"Well, this is why you didn't take advantage of having the tanks delivered on 4th of July morning. Now, you can call in that offer of a favor and get the two missing pieces on Sunday morning, so you can fill the tanks on schedule."

BJ At Work Fitting Pipes  BJ At Work Fitting Pipes

I kept staring and poring over the assembly before me, disbelieving that I had screwed up this badly. I got on all fours to move the parts a bit to better align them as they will be installed. Something caught my eye. A thin crescent of gray that shouldn't be there inside the 3" steel hose barb. YES! One of the missing fittings was hiding inside, even though I had moved it around at least four times. Okay, I can eliminate the need for the other one temporarily and I'm good to go. Then, looking into the box, I saw the 2" male quick connect half that would be going back, as I had changed to another style. Wait, this one isn't going back, it's the new one! Looked at the laid out setup and realized that I had assembled it in the previous manner. THERE was the other fitting! I had them all. I hadn't screwed up. Just a bit of brain fade.

The fire meeting was essentially about the change of our area from Evacuation Advisory to Voluntary Evacuation and an area that was in Voluntary to Mandatory. A section of the line was breached and this flipped a pre-set trigger point. If certain condition sets are exceeded, these trigger points are put into action. This one was caused by air-borne firebrands starting a small separated fire outside the containment lines. I saw this breach on this morning's IR scans and wondered how serious it might become. There is a crew out there right now trying to scribe a dozer line around it but it is not known at this time if they will be able to complete the line before the fire advances to it. Therefore, the evac is raised to the next level for the areas nearby.

I talked with the Command Center Information Officer and he is having the Structure Protection Database updated to reflect our current capability. Triage crews are sent around to evaluate properties for defensibility. If you haven't taken care of your property and it will be a risk to try to defend it, you are pretty much written off. Don't help yourself, even a little bit, we can't help you a lot. We were already in good defensible shape when they came by a while ago but now having done all of this extra clearing to make it squeaky clean -and- having nearly 11,000 gallons added to the capacity up here, plus equipment to work with, he was really impressed. Further impressed, when he asked:

"Have you been working on it for a few months?"

"Nah. A little over 8 days."

His eyes almost popped out of his head. I am in my element with this type of situation. I don't deal well at all with the stress of confrontation but with competition of strategy and clarity of design, I'm pretty darn good. I wasn't chosen to work on the best racing team in the world by being indecisive in that arena. You have to think quickly and arrive at the definitive solution or you lose. I can't choose what to wear in the morning and stuff like that (good thing the racing team has uniforms), but that is a different kind of decision. There is no logic with which to work the problem; no upside/downside, no advantage to be gained over another path.

We returned home and I set out to assemble one ball valve to tank one before the Sun set and begin filling that tank. I un-taped the bulkhead fitting on the tank and found that the person at the factory hadn't taped it properly. This allowed an untold amount of dirt and small stones to enter while we were rolling it around. I'll have to bring the vacuum down in the morning and clean it out, then probably get into the tank to see how much is in there and perhaps remove that as well. Can't have dirt in the fittings or stones going through the pump. Drat!

There is another meeting tomorrow evening to update us on the current state of the fire. I'll look at the IR scans in the morning and then get the assembly going.




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