Friday, November 14, 2008

The Talk of the Town

Wow, today was an exciting, fun-filled day to be in my little hometown of San Luis Obispo. =) I'm out here visiting my mom, and this morning we smelled smoke. It was probably a little before 8:30 this morning, and we walked into the backyard and it looked like the whole mountain ridge nearby was on fire!

So I did what everyone else in town did--I went out to watch.

I took this photo from the corner of Johnson Avenue and Laurel Lane. It seemed to be the closest place I could get to the fire, but it wasn't actually a good place to watch it because the smoke was blowing directly toward where I was standing obscuring things. I took this when a short gust blew most of the smoke away, but while waiting to see something, I did see countless police vehicles charging up the road and evacuating residents. Also saw two flatbed trailers with bulldozers being moved into position, an ambulance (just in case, I assume, since as far as I know, nobody was actually injured), a phone company truck, a cable company truck, and fire trucks from Atascadero, Arroyo Grande, and Pismo Beach. And another truck loaded with road blocks which they started erecting to block people from entering the streets. And finally, an airplane flying around in circles dropping fire retardant on the fire.

I have to say, I found it amazing how quickly all these resources came together. The fire had only been burning for all of about a half hour. Given the far more serious fires south in Santa Barabara last night, I wouldn't have been surprised if the planes and extra fire trucks from the area had already gone south to help out there. But I guess they still had plenty of resources for our own little fire.

But like I said, the close-up view I couldn't see much because there was just too much smoke around, so I changed tactics and backed off. I walked out to Terrace Hill for the "big picture." This photo was taken perhaps an hour or so after the fire had started. Maybe a little more.

This ridge, so far as I know, has no official name to it. I've never seen it named on any map, and nobody I've ever talked to in the last 30 years has ever known a name for it, so I've always called it Reservoir Ridge. The reason for this is because just behind the ridge is Reservoir Canyon, and so it seemed reasonable to call the ridge Reservoir Ridge--and it just flows off the tongue so easily. Perhaps if I tell enough people, it'll stick. Someday. =)

Now you're probably thinking, what the heck does any of this have to do with letterboxing? Well, I could have posted this on my Walking SLO blog, but not many people read that. But so this post isn't completely irrelevent, I'm going to point out a letterbox in this photo. See that red arrow? It's pointing to a tiny, almost invisible pile of rocks in this photos, which is the landmark for my Sacrifice at Reservoir Ridge letterbox. After I planted the box, I hiked down a road/trail along that line of trees to the left of the fire. I am also happy to report that the letterbox survived the fire unscathed if you choose to still look for it. =)

Now the absolute coolest thing to see was planes dropping the fire retardant on the fire. I've seen it on the news, I've seen it in pictures, but this was the first time I've actually witnessed it LIVE and IN PERSON! And it's really cool to watch!

I had my puny little digital camera with me, and the pictures aren't great, but there you go. I took this photo just a split second too soon--that red absolutely explodes into color, but my trigger finger was just too fast.

The other problem with my digital camera--it can't take two consecutive photos one right after the other very quickly. This is the same plane dropping the same load of fire retardant as the last photo, only a second or two later, but by then, it was already too late. The load has already been dropped and isn't very visible anymore. I saw several other drops but missed getting photos completely. In fact, they're hard to get photos of because they do several "fly-bys" before actually dropping the fire retardant, probably to make sure they're lined up correctly. Practice runs, if you will. So we'd watch another fly-by wondering, "Is this when he'll drop the fire retardant?" Sometimes yes, sometimes no. *shrug*

After dropping the fire retardant, the plane flew about 100 feet over Terrace Hill, and I took this photo. Notice the underside of the plane is red? I guess they have to wash the planes after each use. I can't imagine they leave the fire retardant just sticking to the plane like that once it's done for the day.

Small, orange dots on the ground then would move into the area where the fire retardant was dropped. They were firefighters, the infantry for the war against fire. The orange dots were all over the mountain, although they're way too small to see in any of the photos I took.

So that's what I did this morning. About two hours after the fire had started, it seemed pretty clear that the fire was getting under control. I walked back to my mom's house. The power had been restored. (The power was out when we woke up this morning--completely unrelated to the fire, I might add.) So I logged onto the local news website to see if I could get any additional details about the fire. It said 200 firefighters were sent in to fight the fire, which burned about 100 acres. No structures burned and no injuries reported.

By the time I went out for lunch, I could no longer see anything burning and no smoke was coming off the ridge, although the orange dots could be seen moving around all over the burned area. Strangely, although at this point the fire looked pretty contained to me, the news reporters said "full containment" wasn't expected until about 8:00 this evening (still an hour away!), and the fire wasn't expected to be "completely" out until 10:00 tomorrow night. (That doesn't surprise me--wildfires can burn and smolder for days--I learned that quickly while hiking through Florida!) They started letting people back in their homes hours ago.

And now, we have a black hill to look at for the next several years as a reminder of today. =)


Anonymous said...

Hey Ryan,

Is this fire contributed to by the Santa Anna winds or are they not blowing now?

Soggy PA

Ryan said...

It's hot and windy, indeed. About 90 degrees with some pretty good gusts of winds, but as early in the morning as it happened, the fire was largely extinguished before the real heat of the day started, and the winds aren't anywhere near as strong as you've been hearing with those other wild fires. It's darn right tame in comparison.

I forgot to mention--this fire was started by "arching powerlines." Blame it on the power company. =)

Anonymous said...

Wow...your photos remind me of a mountain fire near Asheville, NC in the late 80's.
I remember helicopters with buckets scooping water from a nearby lake.
Scary and fascinating at the same time

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