The California Wildfire That Burned Big Sur – Part 4

   Posted by: BJ Johnson in studio

Spherical Magic & The Basin Complex Wildfire – Days 19-20

7/9/08, 9:15 PM

Today was even hotter. One of our landscape guys came and continued to clear fuel on the ground and limb-up trees to break the flame ladder. If you get the grass and scrub really short and cut low-lying limbs, especially from easy to ignite tree types, the fire will creep slowly along the ground with the flames not reaching very high and the trees are way less likely to catch. When you've got 10 acres to deal with, you can't whack it all, so you have to choose how far that program extends. We did extend it over and around the observatory and past a neighbor's house. The gentleman who currently owns the observatory is getting on in years but does come out in the spring, borrows a neighbor's riding mower and cuts the weeds out only about 40 feet from the building. After that, the terrain drops off and he's almost lost it more than once trying to go too far with the rider. Had to go over and save him. We just decided that it would be good to have our guys, while they were clearing our land, to clear the entire rest of the hill on all sides around the observatory and down to the pond. He doesn't know but I don't want that facility to be lost. It is one of the reasons we bought this place.

I was about to leave for the supply house when the landscape guy came into the rock garden cleaning stuff up. I went out to move shipping boxes and equipment and drag leaves out from under bushes with my hands, so he could blow them into a pile for barreling. It was difficult but I kept about five minutes ahead of him for two hours. By then, the store would close in an hour—and it would take me that to get there. Muscles feel remarkably well, for all that I've been going through. Guess I'm in better shape than I thought by recovering so quickly from yesterday's push. Done for the day. Time for a beer or three. Done, except for Joy calling me to come look at something down at the tanks. There, between 3 & 4 is a 1.5" hole in the gravel pad drilling down into the ground! Before we started this project, there stood a pile of leaves that the guys hadn't taken away or burned. Seems that we've covered up a gopher entrance, although I don't remember any mounds about. Perhaps it's a King Snake. They're fun. They are. Pretty, too. Chinook drop  A Chinook makes a drop on the ridge. 7/10/08, 2:10 AM Just went out onto the south porch to see if I could see the front through the smoke. The closest section, on Uncle Sam, is in places half way down the portion that we can see over the top of Elephant Mountain. This isn't much of a change from its position on the 6th (Sunday evening). When the fire is backing down the hill, it moves a lot slower. Advancing up the hill is another story. It feeds on the fuel that is being heated in front of and above it and it is supplied with an unobstructed flow of air from below; a perfect scenario, so it moves very rapidly. This is one reason why we are so concerned. The ridge line to the NW from there and a short ways to the SE is all ablaze, subtending an angle of 45°. I was taken aback when I first saw it. Each time I go out, I am hoping that somehow it is going to be better. Never is. At times, an entire groups of trees will burst into flames, towering flames hundreds of feet into the air like rock concert pyrotechnics, although it's not fun to see. A separate section farther to the SE at nearly that angle is still on the other side of the ridge but is very bright, lighting the clouds for quite a distance from the site. Seeing nearly 90° of fire is not a happy feeling because you know you are at the middle of it. I feel so sorry for all of those life forms out there who cannot move to get away. At least this has happened at a time of year when young animals and birds have grown enough to be able to flee and not perish. Those species who are able to move but not move quickly enough are not so fortunate. I can't bear to watch for very long. I feel for them all, deeply. One of the endangered California Condors that was missing was located and is in fine shape. We expect to see increased wildlife populations here as the fire progresses in our direction. This will of course mean more, Foxes, Bobcats and Mountain Lions, so we have to be a little more careful. If they are pressed for food, they do come around here. Pressed for territory and food, we'll have new neighbors for a while. Bird population is already up; different species, too. We ran out of bird seed today filling the feeder. Tomorrow's trip into town to get the needed parts will include a stop to get another 40 lb. bag of seed and more suet. I made an analysis with the topo map tonight and our fire hose will reach from our tanks on the NE corner of the property up to the observatory that sits ESE from us, so we can defend it as well. (I KNEW I wanted the tanks over there for some good reason. Didn't really dawn on me until tonight—even having thought about clearing around it. I'm so stressed.) There's a hydrant up there but, as I said earlier, it's little more than a wishful thought when this many chips are down. We'll have to re-configure to get that far. One 300' section won't quite make it. This will mean a lot of running, dragging a 1.5" 400' single jacket fire hose full of water up that hill. I don't know if we could even pull it full of water. It'll take more time but we may have to drain it on something useful or into a container that will hold that volume temporarily and pressurize once we're up there. I'd hate to waste our resource. If you need one more gallon and you don't have it.... We may opt to get another 4 sections, if only to save our bodies and time. I'd like to find a Y fire fitting. Then we could use all 600' — 400' up the hill and two 100' sections off that to get around both sides. Each hose will have less pressure when they are both running but we can cover a greater area. If one of us needs more distance, we can shut the other off temporarily and get the pressure back. If the fire happens to advance first up our section of the property that is out in front of the dome and we can defend the observatory, it will make our job of defending the studio easier. We'll see how the finances are after we're set. Hmmm, I had better go over there tomorrow and see if the louvered ventilation windows are closed. Wouldn't be good to defend on the ground, only to have airborne brands fly in through the vents. Gotta run as many scenarios as you can—while you can—in relative calm, so you will be less surprised when it all goes south in a way that you didn't think of. Time to try to get some rest. Temp at this hour is still 87°. At this altitude under these conditions it doesn't drop much like it does in the valley. The fire loves it. Tomorrow will be another 100°+ day; the last for a while, thankfully. We can get through the day by looking forward to a 68° night. Should trickle down to 88°/55° by Sunday and the relative humidity is creeping back up out of single digits. Yaaay. That will slow the fire down... if it isn't going up another mountainside by then. Timing is everything.    

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