Like clockwork, within 72 hours of the Red Flag warning of strong Santa Ana conditions and almost to the very day of the four year anniversary of the tragic Cedar Fire, we now have another set of wildfires racing across the backcountry landscape of eastern San Diego County. The Cedar Fire engulfed more than 300,000 acres, the largest in California history, including 300 Scripps Ranch homes and thousands more across the County. The current fires, “Harris” now at 12,000 acres close to the border near Tecate and “Witch Creek” now burning and estimated 5,000-8,000 acres just east of Ramona have already grown tremendously from their birth this morning and are currently out of control. We can smell the acrid smoke and ashes are flying around and landing on my yard…and we are about 40 miles away from the Witch Creek Fire. Although much better prepared than back in 2003, strong winds and severe turbulence have effectively prevented the use of San Diego County’s most valuable firefighting assets, the aerial tankers and helicopters.
Now we learn that the evacuation order has been issued for all of the City of Ramona, including San Diego Country Estates, a suburban enclave in a beautiful backcountry setting about 20 miles east of Scripps Ranch, where we have several clients and friends. It’s starting to get personal, again.
Anyone who has lived in southern California is familiar with Santa Ana conditions and the risks it poses. For those unfamiliar, it’s a strong high pressure system (clockwise wind patterns) that reverses the normal cool and moist on-shore flow from the ocean. Instead, air is blown in from the east after having been warmed and super-dried in the desert at the extreme eastern part of the County. Most Santa Ana events consist of wonderful fall days of 80 degree temperatures and super clean and clear air. But when this super low humidity and accompanying strong winds meet up with a campfire or break an electrical line sparking a fire, it can be a recipe for a major disaster.
San Diego is generally blessed with so many fabulous natural features, most of which few other City’s share; desert, mountains, canyons/valleys and, of course the beaches and ocean, all within about an hour or less of each other. The year-round weather is generally unbelievably great. Unlike other areas of the country we have no hurricanes, no tornados, rarely floods and most important to me, no mosquitoes! But nature has not left us completely out of her realm of powerful events. Earthquakes, while infrequent, do occur and can be very scary as well as devastating. The Santa Ana, on the other hand, occurs with regularity, primarily each fall. It’s normally benign nature can make us complacent to the threat it poses.
Let us hope and pray that the winds subside enough to allow the tankers and choppers to fly in the morning. Meanwhile, another huge “thank you” is in order for the hundreds of firefignters currently on the ground and having to deal with these monsters. While I and more than a million more of my neighbors in San Diego are comfortably monitoring the events on TV, these brave men and women will be fighting a wild fire on most difficult terrain and under terrible conditions, trying to save lives and property for many days to come. Bless them all.