Wednesday, October 24, 2007

If It's October, Then San Diego Must Be On Fire

Like everyone else, I've been following the big story du jour. The wildfires in California.
Seems every year it gets worse.

I grew up there. When I was a kid, we loved the Santa Anas. Their timely arrival always in October meant a comfy night of tricker-treating, the gentle warm evening gusts enveloping and swirling about you as you plodded along in your dime-store costume, sometimes lifting the plastic mask off your head which would always be pulled up because it was too warm to keep over your face. It meant sleeping with the windows open, falling asleep to the breathy gusts of warm wind blowing through the house, rustling the trees and leaves with rhythmic 'shwoooses'. It meant the T-shirt and shorts season would be extended just a few more weeks before the dreary, cloudy, foggy, rainy days of November set in. It was the California version of Indian summer.
It also meant a little excitement in the neighborhood as the amateur pyros would take to the canyons rimming the area and set off small fires, the strong desert winds acting like a narcotic to them, signaling a subliminal suggestion planted in them somewhere along the line to grab a book of matches and go for it when the high winds would blow.

But it was never as crazy as it has been lately.
The local fire departments would often get these small canyon fires under control in short order. Folks whose homes clung to the edges of these canyons would sometimes have it well in hand by the time the firefighters showed up, hosing the creeping blazes down with a backyard waterhose. The next day my friends and I would walk past the canyons edge on the way to school and see a blackened area, maybe not much bigger than an average backyard or 2 charring a canyon side. It was seen as a nuisance. I can't recall a fire ever getting into someone's yard, or threatening a home.

Now in the distant areas of the county it was a different story. There would almost always be a "big" fire out in the boonies that time of year. Usually out beyond the Navy base, Miramar. We could see a tall plume of smoke way off to the northeast, tinting the sky at dusk with an intense orange glow. The smokey haze obscuring our kitchen window view of Mt. Palomar for about a week at a time. Sometimes these fires would be more to the due east, out in Santee. The last bit of farm country in S.D. in those days. Sparsely populated, mostly by what we city folk called the "cowboys". Again, really no damage would come of these fires, except burnt shrubs, maybe a shack or outbuilding. The fires weren't even newsworthy in those days. The local Conservation boys and fire departments would eventually get it under control, but I gathered it was no big hurry. These areas were just open scrubland, threatening noone except the occasional cowherd. It was just part of the seasonal thing out there.
I can recall one time when a fire out near Miramar did stray close to the residential area, but still far enough away to not be a concern. The Santa Ana gusts blew ash from the burning scrubland over the neighborhood, dropping it's featherweight gray payload like a weird snowfall. All us kids marvelling, standing outside, arms outstretched, pretending that it was snow. Something none of us had ever seen.

Like earthquakes, the seasonal fires were just routine. Never a threat. Just part and parcel of the devil winds of October.
Now it's all changed.
When I left California over 20 years ago, the Ranch Bernardo subdivision was still new, barely finished, as was the Mira Mesa subdivision- the "rich kids" who went to my high school lived there, bussed in because even though the homes were there, the schools were yet to be finished. And many more swanky homes were starting to be developed out in the boonies. The city was growing, more folks coming to the state wanting to live the California Dream and the developers and contractors were more than happy to oblige. They began to fill in canyons, doze into hillsides, pave over former cowfields and fill the outlying areas with house after house after house. As I watch the news about the current wildfires out there now some of the areas I recognize, but the names of the subdivisions and communities I do not, that's how much the landscape there has changed in just a few short years.
And it is because of this that the once seasonal nuisance has become a regular disaster, getting worse with each passing year.
I am agogged at what is transpiring out there. But at the same time I am amazed at the foolhardy ignorance. The congestion of homes built into the boonies, coupled with seasonal droughts and goofball enviromental regulations that will for some reason allow high density communities to be built in fire prone areas, but disallow any proactive fire prevention to the remaining open scrubland because it might bum out the 3 titted Norwegian blackbill and mess up its' migratory temporary nesting ground is the epitome of the madness that I saw coming up the Hudson and so wisely fled from.

My heart breaks for those who have lost their homes and the terror they are going through. I know I would be inconsolable if it were my house. But at the same time, surely they knew that there would be a possibility that something like this would or could happen. It happens every year, it has for generations.
It's just that now the greed of man and the desire to have a tony address has made it a disaster of ginormous magnitude.

And with every passing year it WILL get worse.

1 Comments:

Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

That was a most enjoyable bit of history. The price of living in paradise: fires, earthquakes and mudslides. I prefer soggy old Oregon.

10/24/2007 2:32 PM  

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