The California Wildfire That Burned Big Sur – Part 9

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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 27-29

7/17/08, 8:25 PM

Just shot a few more frames of the reservoir valley in a major upsurge but those will come tomorrow, along with whatever I shoot tonight. Gotta give you something to look forward to...

Joy's breathing has been much better, due to the clearing out of smoke from the area. Yaaay! Winds have been out of the NNW for two days and, looking out to the north, one would hardly realize that there is a huge, raging fire at their back. Marine layer returned again last night, so activity was down a bit... not in all places, however. Looks like it is coming up the valley tonight as well. Good. I like it.

Our grounds crew is about completed clearing, trimming and hauling. Now, we turn to the RainBird irrigation project and get the buildings and grounds covered in on-demand rain. Having experience in how fast and how slow the fire advances on given days, I now have a better idea on how to pace myself in these various stages of tasks that all must be completed. Some, can wait until the onslaught is imminent, others must be done way ahead of time.

I'll see if I can generate a 3D render of the irrigation model and put it on the above images page, so you can see how it is planned and fits together.

Our visiting L.A. fire crew caravan knocked off early at 4:00 today. It's that California Leave Work Early On Fridays thing (even though it's only Thursday).

For the past few days, now that the stress level has become acclimated and the adrenaline is washing out of my system, I've been having buyer's remorse from going way out on a limb investing all of this money in this system, perhaps only to see it not put to use.

On the one hand, I know that rolling the dice is not what a responsible person does with their lives, their family, their home and their livelihood.

That's why it was the Right Thing To Do.

On the other hand, we manage our finances and make purchases carefully; weighing each one as to its benefit against its risk. This major expense, coming at this particular time, could turn out to be not the thing to have done. It was duly considered over a few day's time after the fire had started and it was readily apparent that it wasn't going to be put out soon, but the relative urgency and uncertainty of how fast the fire would advance and how far it would spread drove the decision at a rate not normally encountered. We didn't panic, but we weren't going to sit around on our hands either, like a lot of people up here have done. If the fire crews turn the fire back in on itself, those who gambled and did nothing win.... for now. Our commissions are long and the checks far between. I pray that I haven't put us in a really bad spot.

Sun is now setting. Time to go check the fire. Hope you get something out of the images, whatever that may be.

Chews Ridge at NightDozer LinesBurn Line
Chews Ridge, Luna and Jupiter - taken the evening of 7/16
  and
Dozer lines, 3 blades wide, along Chews Ridge toward the reservoir.
  and
Where the line was held on the northwest front, the trees continue to stand.

Joy just alerted me to a major flare-up in the reservoir valley.

The following sets of images show just how changeable
a wildfire can be.
Enterprise PlumeEnterprise Plume +50m
7/17 An unusual plume erupts from the valley before us, looking like Enterprise 1701-D. The image to its right was taken only 50 minutes later. Double PlumeDouble Plume +3:30
7/18 The valley erupts again and also up on Chews Ridge.
The image to its right was taken only 3:30 later.

7/19/08, 1:55 AM

My Wildland Nomex fire suit & hood, Nomex/leather gloves, Bullard full brim helmet and Thorogood Hellfire 9" Leather Wildland boots arrived today. Tried them all for fitting. Combined with our existing respirators and goggles, I'm good to go.

Joy's helmet and gloves arrived as well, but her suit, hood and boots are coming in a separate shipment. She looks pretty cool in that hat. If Joy's suit doesn't get here in time, we plan to use my leather welder's jacket/apron for her body protection. I use it for blowing glass, so it's good for a measly 451°F.

The radios are due to arrive on Monday. Perhaps her protective gear will as well.

The wind that normally cools us off at night, blowing from the south up the mountain until morning, is doing us in. Last night was the absolute worst. The level of smoke was unbearable. Thick, choking, acrid. I am really in bad shape. Nose streamed all day and it's pretty darn raw from all of the blowing. We figure that there is a significant element of poison oak that has been incinerated and the agent within it is now airborne and irritating our nasal cavities and eyes something fierce. Today was unbelievable. I must have gone through two boxes of facial tissues today. Needless to say, we stay inside as much as possible.

To my surprise, Joy is doing quite well under the circumstances.

Winds today were thankfully out of the NNW, as they will be for the coming week or so, but the evening local condition prevails at night, so the windows are closed at the first sniff of smoke and the AC goes on, so we don't heat-soak. We dug out the humidifier to see if that will help heal our membranes as we sleep tonight.

The AC unit is a floor-standing type with a 6" duct leading to the sliding door to expel the hot exchanger air to the outside. This creates a partial negative pressure in the studio that will draw in smoky air through any leak in the building. To that end, tomorrow we will construct an input duct to the AC exchanger from outside, creating a closed loop, so that this will no longer be an issue and the air inside will be less contaminated.... (says here).

Tomorrow the local condition should lift in the morning again and the prevailing winds will clean the area out--for the daylight hours at least. Then, we'll be right back in it again.

The fire took an unusual turn today; two of them, actually. Mid-day a huge burst of smoke billowed up from the area that has been advancing upon the reservoir for the past few days.

Huge Plume
Flare
Flare
7/19 The valley erupts again, sending this huge plume up over us.
Ash fallout was the order of the day. The windows were closed until morning and respirators are employed whenever outside.

This evening, it is as if that never happened. Smoke settled into the valleys as if it were morning fog. No plumes anywhere; just lateral layer upon layer softly undulating. Quite beautiful, actually. If I didn't know it was a fire, I'd never connect it as being related at all. I have shots of it in both stages.

The Ops map shows that the slop-over that happened at the MIRA Observatory has been corralled at the new dozer lines constructed around it. This is good news. So far, this is the only section that has escaped the primary dozer lines and could easily have marched up the valley toward our location had this operation not been successful. There is one small slop-over on this new line and we'll be watching it carefully. We can see some isolated fires out on the mountainsides tonight through the smoke. It is interesting that these are in areas way back from the front that had burned days, weeks ago. Must be hot spots that have smoldered for all this time and finally ignited hapless trees that could have been spared had they been doused.

Our visiting 6-truck crew came up just before noon and knocked off at 15:30 today, pretty much on schedule for a Friday afternoon.

Time to go try out that humidifier. My nose feels better already.




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