The California Wildfire That Burned Big Sur – Part 7

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   Posted by: BJ Johnson in studio

Spherical Magic & The Basin Complex Wildfire – Day 24

7/14/08, 11:55 AM

Piping is going well. The 2" ball valves and fittings have been installed to all four tanks. All that remains is installing the dimensionally stable suction flex hoses between the separate hard sections and from those to the output valves. All four tanks are now capable of holding water. We test filled tank 1 yesterday to a minimal amount during a fire hose test. No leaks. Tanks 2, 3 & 4 will begin being filled today. The test fill was done with one section of 1.5" fire hose to get Joy some experience with it and myself experience with the type of hydrant that is on the water system.

During this operation, Joy suffered an injury when the hose bucked while she was looking into the tank through the top-mounted port. High output hoses have to be constrained, else they dance around wildly, due to reaction force. It's a high velocity jet of water exiting the end. If it weren't tied down by the rest of the hose (and could still have a supply of water), it would fly off on its own at a pretty good clip. When the hose bucked, the 4 D-cell MagLite she was gripping tightly, so it wouldn't go down into the tank, slammed into her cheekbone and partially contacted her right eye. Some ice and a kiss on it helped it to feel better. Doesn't have a shiner today, so the First-Aid application seems to have been effective. This is exactly why the test was performed. Can't have an inexperienced person handling a piece of equipment like this with no training when the guano is hitting the recirculation device. It's only prudent. Just what we didn't need right now—if ever. I got into an unprompted altercation with a neighbor who tries to call the shots up here. He gets into everyone else's business, jokingly admits so, and tells them "how things are". His wife works in fire training and assumes the position of the fire authority up here. We are happy to put to use any expertise that people may have up here but they should also have a grasp on logic and reality ...or at least tact. They live with their son across the street. Our relationship with he and his family has been good. He advised us on where to get our tanks. This good relationship will likely be strained by this unfortunate and uncalled for happening. I had earlier called the Water Board President to let him know what we wanted to do later on and how we would be doing it: slow fill, from the hydrant, off-hours so as to not tax the system. His daughter cheerfully took the message, writing it all down and said she would let Steve know, as he was out of town until Monday. (How can anyone be out of town NOW!?) I gave her our number and said that if there was any problem, he could call anytime. After this, we performed the hose test and stopped, not continuing until later, after Steve had given permission. I had been on the Water Board as engineer, so didn't see any problem arising. Long after the fire hose test, I was working on the flex piping portion and the "authorities" stopped out on the road, on the wrong side just around a fast blind downhill corner, and called to me. I dropped what I was working on and walked over to our fence. He said forcibly that I was not allowed to fill our tanks using the hydrant. They didn't witness anything at all, only the hose loop now draped over the fence and back in again; not hooked up to anything. I said:

" I had called Steve to let him know an..."

He cuts me off:


"I know. His daughter took a message and would get it to him and that he'd call if there were any..."

His wife cuts me off officiously:

"You cannot use a hydrant for yourself. If a crew comes up here, you are preventing them from attaching to it and this is a yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda..."

Yeah, right. If trucks come up this road, as they often do these days—but not ever needing any hydrant hookups—there's no need right now, not only can I hear them coming a half mile away but I can have that hose off the threads before they get the truck shut off and the wheel chocks placed. Gimme a break, lady. At least try to come up with a reason that has some semblance of reality. I said in a calm manner that we know what the capacity is, we're not trying to steal the water (yes, the water company will charge us for it—but that's another story), we're being transparent about the whole thing and it was actually a test of the fire hose. Don't want to put someone on equipment without any training. (That's supposedly the business she's in, so one would naturally think that she should be able to understand that.) He suddenly and explosively flashed over, whipping his head, red-faced and threatening to get out of the car as he lashed out yelling again:


No one deserves treatment like this. I just bit my tongue and looked off into space, trying to stifle what must be a minor smirk on my face at the absurdity of all of this and my having to spend valuable time on useless crap, even though I was moderately alarmed inside. This guy is big. Some people use their size to get their way but if he&#039s this volatile, we need to reassess our interactions with them. A few moments passed with them shouting whatever and I finally turned and walked away. They noisily sped off. You&#039'd like to think that people would come together—even lowering their normal protective barriers—and help each other in times like these. That's how I was brought up but, sadly, that is not always the case. I called the neighbor next door to the west who is a new person on the water board to get her opinion and let someone on the water board know what just happened. She said:

"Yes, they stopped here to tell me to go next door and stop you."

Ah. Preemptive strike. Don't stop to ask the situation, just assume and attack. Nice. Interesting how people turn when there is a crisis or they see an opportunity to assert their control. Of course, there's nothing to stop. We never started. That's what I was trying to tell them. We talked calmly for 15 minutes or more about this and other water company matters surrounding it (I -was- going to volunteer my engineering services again as a consultant, pro bono). She assured me that, even though he volunteers time to the water company "unofficially" as assistant water master, he does not speak for the board. She whole heartedly sympathized but would not put herself on the line, preferring to pass the buck to Steve. Not a surprise but that wasn't the purpose of the call. What was a surprise to her, was when I let her know that this is how they filled their tanks a couple of years prior. What a bunch of b**ls**t. On to more "pleasant" things, in comparison. The fire slopped over a dozer line up by the MIRA Observatory at 05:00 Saturday. They are hitting it with air power while trying to get a dozer line around it. This precipitated an "upgrade" to Mandatory evac. of the area SE of us and we went into Voluntary evac., up from Advisory. A Sheriff came to contact us, let us know what was going on and get our contact info. A different crew from L.A County stopped by, probably from the Structure Protection Database update I provided, and we walked the property for a while. The Captain briefed me on how the fire would probably propagate, depending upon the direction and whether airborne or ground. I briefed them on the local wind conditions at various times of the day and how it would influence the situation. We showed them the tanks and equipment and they were very satisfied that we have our place in about as defensible a condition as can be expected. A couple of things were suggested and we'll get to those once our system is complete. Out to do that now. Just heard that the next door observatory owner, whom I spoke with yesterday and informed him of our work around the structure and his lands last week, has arrived. He's bringing us a key, so we can get inside if a firebrand gets in through the vents and we need to defend from the interior. Bully, who camps out on the road to snag anyone he can and bend their ear for longer than you'd care to waste, glommed onto him. Bob asked him if they were staying to fight the fire when the time comes.

"Oh, YEAH. Don't worry, We'll take care of everything for ya. We're good neighbors."

Where's that 24" pipe wrench?    

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