California is STILL burning
September 12, 2015 9:28 PM   Subscribe

After two devestating fires - Rocky and Jerusalem - Lake Country is hit again. This time with the Valley Fire. Lake County is an hour north of Napa in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it has spent the past three months more or less constantly on fire. In just under seven hours, the fire has burned an estimated 20,000 acres. This time, it's heading straight for two of the larger communities in the area: Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake. Four firefighters have been treated for second degree burns received while fighting this new, explosive fire.

Residents trying to escape the fire were forced to drive through flames, and some even had to abandon their cars and leave on foot. All major highways are blocked.

The story, including the evacuation effort, is unfolding live on Twitter.
posted by guster4lovers (105 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Ugg. How are you faring?
posted by persona au gratin at 9:31 PM on September 12, 2015

They've evacuated Calaveras county and San Andreas, also. The skies are thick with the pall of ash today. I was going to go to my Uncle's cabin this weekend, but he told me that it's hard to breathe up there at the moment. If we get the bad luck of the draw, it will be so long to my Uncle's cabin (and Midnight the cat, in all likelihood).

I drove up North to Oregon and Washington a few weeks ago, when they were having their fires. It's as bad as I've ever seen it.

People think of apocalypses as rapid, cataclysmic events, maybe the length of a Roland Emmerich film. But it's a gradual process of seasons and retreats, of more ash lines, more blasted hills, more deserts where there were forests and fields.

Here in California, we are living the apocalypse. I've no patience for climate change deniers anymore. Not after seeing the lands that I love wither and burn these past few years.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 9:48 PM on September 12, 2015 [56 favorites]

I forgot to add: Previously.

This video of someone actually escaping the fire is awful. You can also hear/see the gas station in Middletown exploding in it as well.

Persona au gratin, my family and their menagerie of pets are all safely evacuated, thanks for asking. But the fire is likely to take my aunt's house in the next hour, and my parents' house is not that much farther away. It's hard to come to terms with the fact that everything they own - everything - could be gone in a matter of hours.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:51 PM on September 12, 2015 [17 favorites]

Wow, that is an insanely fast spreading fire. We would often have summer grass fires that occasionally burned some houses here and there when I was back in Oklahoma, sometimes even large enough to get large areas smoky, but even when the winds were whipping down the plains (15-20mph sustained isn't at all uncommon in that area), so to speak, they wouldn't get that out of control that quickly.

Not even after a year-long drought.

All that is to say, I really feel for you guys. It's scary when things go that sideways that fast.
posted by wierdo at 9:52 PM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Down south, I'd not at all be surprised if we had a massive fire this fall. All the growth is back from the 2003 fire, which burned from the LA County line to Lake Arrowhead, about 40 miles away. That fire had embers and ash falling down 30 miles away. There have been smaller fires in the San Gabriels since the last big one in 2007. Anyway, we're overdue, and I'm terrified as I have asthma that is triggered by fire smoke.

Good thoughts up to you in NorCal. We know what it's like, and it's awful.
posted by persona au gratin at 9:56 PM on September 12, 2015

I'm so sorry, guster4lovers. Let us know if there's anything we can do!
posted by persona au gratin at 9:57 PM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

guster4lovers, My parents were evacuated about an hour ago from Hidden Valley Lake. They're in a hotel lobby without a cell phone, and I'm having a hard time getting information from here in PA. Thanks for posting this and I'm really sorry about your families' homes.
posted by DarthDuckie at 10:02 PM on September 12, 2015 [5 favorites] is a useful resource for this stuff.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:04 PM on September 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

Where I am (just south of San Luis Obispo, just in from the coast), I look at the brownish hills climbing right behind my apartment and am feeling simultaneously (1) incredibly and undeservedly lucky that it hasn't hit here and (2) scared shitless that luck will run out any second now. The closest fire to me was last month's "Cuesta Fire" which was located in the hills on the exact opposite side of S.L.O. city, threatened but never reached the little town of Santa Margarita and took almost two thousand firefighters over a week to get "fully under control", yet only burned a total of about 3300 acres. From 20 miles away, I only occasionally smelled any smoke. It was a gloriously successful effort and a massive relief, compared to some of the uncontrollable fires elsewhere in the state. But I still feel my luck (and my community's) can't go on much longer. I have so much sympathy for everyone in the fire zones, especially the relatives of Mefites (and maybe some Mefites who can't join this conversation because they're in evacuation mode).
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:07 PM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

DarthDuckie, I'm so sorry to hear that. Let me know if there's something I can do. Twitter is the only place really giving any kind of up-to-date information, and even my parents don't know much of what I'm seeing on Twitter.

And frankly, the news coverage is terrible. People are pissed, especially when you compare it to another fast-moving fire: the Oakland Hills fire in 1991. I've learned more from a few periscope and facebook videos than traditional news.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:09 PM on September 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

oneswellfoop: I know that sense of guilt and fear. Because I know it will all burn, and soon. It just hasn't in 12 years.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:18 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks. They're safe if not exactly comfortable. And they won't let my brother come get them since they don't want to add to any congestion on the roads. I remember watching the news coverage of the Oakland Hills fire at college with friends who were from the neighborhood and recognized the houses. It was pretty awful.
posted by DarthDuckie at 10:20 PM on September 12, 2015

This picture is from near downtown Napa. It's just unreal how fast this fire is moving.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:21 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's any way to even get up there with Highway 29 shut down (until 2 am at the earliest). Who knows when and where this will end.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:23 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

guster4lovers: I found you on Twitter and will tweet stuff from down south media to you.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:24 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Welcome to the West Coast. All the forests, from Mexico to Alaska, are burning down. There have been an unbelievable number of huge fires over the past few years.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:37 PM on September 12, 2015

The view from my dad's place in Mendocino County earlier tonight.
posted by St. Sorryass at 11:27 PM on September 12, 2015

That video is terrifying.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:36 PM on September 12, 2015

Live feed from Middletown lost his signal a minute ago. Hope he's OK, he was walking around Middletown filming what was burning.

My parents found a hotel in Clear Lake.

The information still seems really sparse, so no idea if their house is still standing.
posted by DarthDuckie at 11:38 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

DarthDuckie: find her on Twitter. She's RTing relevant stuff.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:39 PM on September 12, 2015

That is, find guster4lovers
posted by persona au gratin at 11:40 PM on September 12, 2015

I grew up east of Fresno in the Sierras and I've watched the forests where I grew up burn down to the dirt. People back home are talking about how if it does rain hard this year there will be serious mudslides. The drought stress is allowing the bark beetle to run rampant, turning what is left of the forest into a tinderbox. It is not going to stop anytime soon.

I made a cider from my Grandma's apple trees because I'm not sure if they will be there next year. The canary is dying, it's time to get the fuck out of the coalmine.
posted by The Power Nap at 11:40 PM on September 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thanks! I've been following the #valleyfire feed and have seen her posts.
posted by DarthDuckie at 11:48 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

It doesn't show up on the latest MODIS image.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:24 AM on September 13, 2015

It's nice to have some news, though I feel a little like a crack addict every time I refresh the Twitter feed.

My parents don't believe it's possible that all of Hidden Valley Lake is gone, but I don't think it's that unbelievable given the rate the fire is spreading.

Chocolate Pickle, they don't seem to be updating any official maps right now. I mean, the fire has been going for eleven hours, and it's 25,000 acres (or even more).

And this scares the shit out of me:
“I’m looking in all directions, and all I see is fire,” Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said Saturday night. “This is unreal. … This thing just blew up on us.”

He predicted a harsh reality for the area’s residents this morning.

“When daylight comes, and they see the devastation,” he said, “it’s going to be unbelievable.”
posted by guster4lovers at 12:32 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

A couple of people have linked to radar showing what appears to be rain in the fire area saying "good news, light rain is failing near the fire."

I don't have the heart, nor absolute certainty I would need, to chime in and say no, sorry, that is soot and ash that the radar is seeing.
posted by wierdo at 1:25 AM on September 13, 2015

I think they're seeing rain.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:39 AM on September 13, 2015

Meanwhile, local dumbshits in Oakland are protesting the removal of flammable, invasive eucalyptus trees from the East Bay hillsides because, TREES! MONSANTO!
posted by benzenedream at 2:59 AM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Those eucalyptus are awful in fires. They go up a mile from the fire line with 250' flames.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:01 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

But how will they feed all the koalas in the Bay Area? Just the ones working for Uber...
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:30 AM on September 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

This is really awful. I hope everyone got out ok, along with their animals. With climate change, I wonder if some of these fires are essentially the end of the current local biome and the ushering in of another. Is it in New Mexico it's been noted that after recent fires forests have been retreating to higher elevations?

(As an aside, I'm not a big twitter the level of spam on that hashtag typical? I mean, it seems like every other post is some douchey organization, company or cause using a "trending" thing to "promote" themselves. Of course every other every other tag is someone saying "I'm praying for you" which is just...noise.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:01 AM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Darthduckie's husband here, really frustrated at the lack of concrete news.
posted by octothorpe at 4:42 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

OK, now it's on MODIS.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:07 AM on September 13, 2015

Local numbers/info for help in the area of the Valley Fire.

Yeah, it seems like the local news agencies are totally asleep at the switch here.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:13 AM on September 13, 2015

Over here in damp old London, I was sort of aware that there were bad fires in California, but notthing more than that - but last night I got talking on ham radio to someone in NorCal. He'd just had to evacuate his business and move out a shedload of equipment, getting it done an hour before the fire hit, and wasn't far off having to do the same with his home. "They've stopped talking about acres and started talking about square miles, and that happened overnight", he said. "There's nothing to be done about it, the fire services are helpless."

Really brought it home. Good luck to everyone there.
posted by Devonian at 5:18 AM on September 13, 2015

Up to 40,000 acres now.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:53 AM on September 13, 2015

And it looks as though much of Middletown is destroyed.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:54 AM on September 13, 2015

Oof, I've got friends in Kelseyville and their parents have an orchard in Clear Lake. I lived in San Diego during the massive 03 fires; started the day with smoke and ash, ended with fires moving throughout the Miramar base and some thousands of suburban homes in Tierrasanta reduced to ash. Terrifying how fast these fires can move.
posted by Existential Dread at 6:49 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

That is so scary and sad. We go to orienteering events in Boggs Mountain every year or two and have spent a surprising amount of time in Cobb, which is a lovely town. I've lived in California for four years now and have been getting somewhat used to fires but not really. The speed at which the Valley Fire went from nothing to destroying entire towns in the stuff of nightmares.
posted by carolr at 7:30 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

A couple of people have linked to radar showing what appears to be rain in the fire area saying "good news, light rain is failing near the fire."
I don't have the heart, nor absolute certainty I would need, to chime in and say no, sorry, that is soot and ash that the radar is seeing.

I've seen fire and I've seen rain
posted by bowmaniac at 8:02 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't light rain simply evaporate before it ever has a chance to do anything helpful?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:21 AM on September 13, 2015

Rain would increase the humidity which would slow the spread of the fire.
posted by peeedro at 8:44 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've lived in CA all my life and find the fires of the past few years to be escalating and terrifying.
posted by samthemander at 9:03 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is insane. I'm in the Central Valley, west and a bit south of these fires, and our skies are just post-apocalyptically weird, orange and gray with no sense of time of day, for days now.

I have a couple of acquaintances up in the hills fighting this fire, this one is a bear. The firefighters, emergency personnel, and everyone else who drops everything to go fight these and help however they can are fucking amazing people, I have profound respect for them.

All strength and good fortune to those directly affected, those working to fight the fires, and I'm thankful we at least can evacuate people and pets ahead of time. I agree with the sentiment in the thread: how much longer will large swathes of this state actually remain safely habitable? It's entirely possible that, within a few years, California will have a huge internal refugee crisis, if constant fires make big chunks of the foothills or SoCal too dangerous to live in.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:11 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Live Periscope from a reporter from LA (because local news hasn't bothered to get people in there). He's been using Periscope to get people information all night.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:34 AM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

The fire is actually CAUSING the rain, according to the people with the fire crews. Wish I understood how that happened. There is rain reported in other places close to the fire

The lack of news is so, SO frustrating. Conventional news media are hours behind - some are still saying "10,000 acres" when the fire is up to 40,000. Containment was just announced at 20%. No real word on anything in Hidden Valley (where my family lives/lived), though rumour is that at least half is gone.

Some historic buildings have burned, like Harbin Springs, Hobbs Lodge.

Thank GOD for Twitter. Re: spam (in response to maxwelton). When a hashtag is trending like #ValleyFire is, there is some spam. It hasn't been a huge amount, considering how fast the hashtag is moving - 700-1000 tweets per hour. The "I'm praying for you" is at least better than the person who tweeted about a romantic novel that uses the phrase "burns with passion."
posted by guster4lovers at 9:45 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thank GOD for Twitter.

Yeah, we haven't gotten any useful information from any print or TV media outlets. Everything has been from Facebook or Twitter.
posted by octothorpe at 10:07 AM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the local news is just terrible. Yesterday, as the fire exploded, the NBC channel in the Bay Area ran a story about the four firefighters who had been burned, then followed up with some interviews with local firefighters from local firehouses who were gearing up to go help out, and yet nowhere on screen, among all the graphic clutter was there an indication about WHERE the fire was. I assumed they were discussing the ongoing Butte fire (65k acres) in the Sierra foothills. And a map? Forget it. Worthless.
posted by notyou at 10:15 AM on September 13, 2015

Periscope videos aren't archived. Follow @GadiNBCLA to catch his as they happen. Here's the latest. Generally, you can view them for a short while.
posted by guster4lovers at 10:21 AM on September 13, 2015

Some historic buildings have burned, like Harbin Springs

Harbin resort lies a couple miles west of Middletown up a grade and canyon and features both hot and cold springs. A small oasis, it is surrounded by tinder-dry hills covered with explosive-dry plant fuel. I have been hoping against hope that it would be spared but I've seen several twitter reports that it burned. Shame, because they just put in several nice new structures. At this point I can only hope the twitter reports are false.
posted by telstar at 10:25 AM on September 13, 2015

One of the fire chiefs just confirmed to Gadi Schwartz that Harbin is "pretty well destroyed."
posted by guster4lovers at 10:30 AM on September 13, 2015

I have friends in Lake County and I have no idea right now whether they are safe or will still have a home after this. its so frightening.
posted by supermedusa at 10:59 AM on September 13, 2015

The fire is actually CAUSING the rain, according to the people with the fire crews. Wish I understood how that happened.

You just need to understand two facts about the atmosphere.

1) Warm air can hold more water vapor than cold air.

2) Warm air is less dense than cold air.

So, big fire. Big fire heats up the air. Hot air is less dense, thus, it wants to float on top of the colder air. This is, of course, how hot air balloons work -- fill a bag with air, heat it up, fly.

Since it is warmer, it can carry more moisture as well, so if that's available, it will do so.

That air rises. As it rises, it encounters much cooler air -- typically, you can see a change of 5.5-10°C for every kilometer you climb. That cools that hot air off. But since that air came from the warmer surface (even before it was warmed further by the fire) it almost certainly has more water vapor. As it cools, it rapidly reaches the dew point, and the water starts to condense out. First, as a couple, then simply as rain.

Anytime you see a large amount of air lifted, you can see rain. This is the reason for the Front Range's famous 2PM storms -- the westerly winds are pushed up by the mountains, and they trigger the storms which hit about 2PM. Since the plains just to the east don't have that lift, they don't see it, so they remain very dry, while the mountains get the rain and snow.

You can see the reverse, where a large amount of air falling becomes much warmer and drier. Californians are familiar with this, of course, this very thing is the Santa Ana winds, coming down from the mountains, rapidly heating and drying. It's one of the reasons that fire happens so often in California, but it's not limited to just there. The Chinook winds in Western Canada and the Northern US are the same phenomenon.
posted by eriko at 11:05 AM on September 13, 2015 [20 favorites]

Wildfire Today has an updated map of the fire, plus some other helpful info. It's a great site maintained by a retired wildland firefighter.

It must be indescribably tough, waiting for word on the fate of your home. But this fire grew so explosively, concurrent with two other huge CA blazes, that it's probably going to be awhile before crews can turn their attention to tallying the full extent of the damage from this OR the Butte Fire.

We hope that the lower temps / higher humidities in the forecast will help aircraft and ground crews catch up and secure more of the fires' perimeters this week.
posted by Lycaon_pictus at 11:19 AM on September 13, 2015

Biswell's book Prescribed Burning is well worth re-reading.

Written before the last Oakland Hills fire, he pretty clearly set out the conditions under which that could be expected to happen to California -- again -- as it has in past decades.
posted by hank at 11:35 AM on September 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

Eriko, thank you for answering my indirect question. That's fascinating.

Reports seem to indicate that much of Hidden Valley Lake is still standing. There are videos of isolated pockets of burnt houses, but very little information out there still. The Press Democrat is the best of the conventional news outlets.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:18 PM on September 13, 2015

Just FYI: Yubanet has been reliable for Sierra Foothills fire news.
posted by notyou at 12:24 PM on September 13, 2015

The Valley fire is about 60 miles northwest of me, and the Butte fire is about 60 miles southeast. I had the whole house fan on last night. When I got up this morning, the kitchen floor (which has a sliding glass door, which was open) was covered in ash.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:02 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

We got fogged off of Hawk Hill just now, but before it got too foggy, there was a very distinct smoke layer visible to the north.
posted by rtha at 1:29 PM on September 13, 2015

There was ash on my car and motorcycle here in San Jose this morning, where I am 100 miles south of the fire and as far as I can tell (as in I could be completely wrong) the fire is moving east-southeast with the wind. Super crazy. The sky is fairly clear but looking more to the horizons it's definitely smokey.
posted by MillMan at 1:40 PM on September 13, 2015

The #valleyfire tag on instagram is terrifying.
posted by rtha at 2:47 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Local website with good info and maps, with frequent updates. A friend linked to it and it seems like it's pulling in accurate info.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:49 PM on September 13, 2015

And yes, all reports I'm hearing currently are that Harbin has burned.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:54 PM on September 13, 2015

From twitter:
-- Paradise Pet Resort in Rohnert Park has room for boarding dogs & cats. 707/206-9000.
-- R-Ranch at Berryessa is offering: "We have room for up to 100 horses and lots of cabins available. Laundry and showers offered call Brad 7073374927"
posted by gingerbeer at 3:09 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Guster4lovers, Darthduckie, I hope your families and friends are okay. This is just terrifying.
posted by theora55 at 3:37 PM on September 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

50,000 acres.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:55 PM on September 13, 2015

You in California are on my mind a lot. I live in Central Washingon and we've had the worst fire season EVER. Mr. Roquette and I have hardly been out. We've seen ash fall in Yakima.
Besides the humans and their pets and live-stock, the P.A.W.S. Sanctuary for elephants and other exotic animals is very near the fire. They ONLY use protected contact with the elephants and big cats. Evacuation is probably impossible.
So far keeping their buildings wet and the fire-break provided by goats and the good fortune that the fire turned have spared them.
Many in the zoo community are angry that more hasn't been done to move the elephants and other animals.
There is a huge debate about the ankus, also called a bull-hook, and whether it should totally be banned.
I honestly don't know if elephants can be trained without it, or made to do things like go into a truck without them.
I haven't checked how Safari West is doing.
Like many others I have no patience with climate change deniers. The heat, just the higher temperatures, not even the fires are damaging red-woods.
This fire season is a huge disaster.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:59 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Update, Safari West is fine.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:32 PM on September 13, 2015

Lest the Safari West update sound glib to anyone who doesn't know what Safari West is: Safari West.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:52 PM on September 13, 2015

Latest fire map shows a lot of Hidden Valley Lake is destroyed, and reports on Twitter go back and forth between "OMG ITS ALL GONE1!!" and "The vast majority of the complex is fine." The truth, as usual, is probably far more complex. And honestly, we won't know much until people are allowed back in.

There is also a scam running right now on the "Hidden Valley Lake Forum" on Facebook where people still in HVL are finding homes that are intact but unprotected and looting. The security staff at the gates are now refusing to let people in so they can get a handle on it. It's disgusting, but shouldn't be surprising, that people take advantage of a tragedy when possible.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:55 PM on September 13, 2015

If we get a rainy season this year -- the runoff from the burns is going to be a big issue to manage.

What I learned when I started restoration on a fire site back around 1990 -- do anything and everything to interrupt sheet flow. Both rain and wind will sweep sediment downhill, but a little turbulence in sheet flow is like that dead air space on the back side of your fan blades. It makes the water or air drop some of what it's carrying every time the flow is interrupted.

Drag a pickaxe along contour lines every few feet leaving an inch or two gouge and an inch or so berm downhill of it, every few feet across any bare areas.

It's the least you can do, almost. And it makes some difference.

Fill channels with anything handy. Chicken wire works surprisingly well -- anything carried by water falls through it and stays down, so holes fill themselves. And the wire rusts away in a few years. Willow stakes are better of course, anything that will root.

The critical problem is the _next_ fire. The one that burns in the invasive annual grasses that are fire-adapted, that spread roots a half inch below the soil and several feet across and gather every drop of dew -- and make viable seed and die back in midsummer, ready to burn. Fire in that stuff sounds like popcorn, as they throw their seeds in all directions. Half of the seed lands in the new burnt over charcoaled surface ready to sprout.

Spray sugar water. It feeds the soil microbiology, which soak up the minerals in the ash the first winter and spring -- cheating the invasive annuals that otherwise thrive the first spring after the burn.
posted by hank at 6:15 PM on September 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

A true Hellscape: Heading toward Middletown on through Valley Fire
posted by gwint at 6:36 PM on September 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

My uncle and my cousin's family live in calveras county, my uncle had already lost his house in a house fire a few years ago, but he'd continued to live on the site out of his car and an outbuilding. All burnt the day before yesterday, and I guess all of his neighbor's houses. My cousin is also a firefighter and apparently is on her seventh day straight fire fighting.

I've never lived anywhere that had a serious threat of wildfires--what a terrifying thing, it's like a slow motion tragedy that you can't do anything about.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:41 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

A true Hellscape: Heading toward Middletown on through Valley Fire

posted by mudpuppie at 8:32 PM on September 13, 2015

As a lifelong east-coaster, the whole idea of giant wild fires seems so alien. For some reason they never seem to rise to the top of national consciousness in the way that other disasters like hurricanes, blizzards or earthquakes do. If there was a hurricane with that caused the devastation that this fire has done, CNN would be reporting on it 24/7. Frankly until I got married to a California girl and traveled to the west coast at the age of 38, I'd never really thought about forest fires except in an abstract way. I remember being really shocked that they had the evening fire report on the local news out there and were treating it the same way that we treat weather or traffic reports on the east coast.
posted by octothorpe at 8:32 PM on September 13, 2015

posted by zagyzebra at 8:44 PM on September 13, 2015

There's now a reported fatality associated with the Valley Fire, and reports of 25+ hospitalised. No other details yet on the fatality.

We keep going from hope to despair about the status of HVL. Here's hoping tomorrow brings relief, and more information about what's still there and what's gone.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:56 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mudpuppie, looks like that is the same guy who was linked earlier. He was in Anderson Springs and didn't realize how bad things were and left late, so to evacuate from Anderson Springs, he had to drive through miles of fire. Incredibly lucky nothing had fallen to block the road.
posted by tavella at 10:12 PM on September 13, 2015

tavella: "Incredibly lucky nothing had fallen to block the road."
For once the Youtube comments are actually helpful.
Q What circumstances lead you to doing this?
A Almost all the roads pass through fire zones, so the only way to evacuate is to drive through the fire.

Q I'm amazed nothing had fallen on the road.
A Its a pine forest, so the branches burn away first, and then, with no branches left to catch the wind, the trunks just burn down, without falling over. I've seen the aftermath of one fire, not far from Middletown, years ago. The trees looked like wooden stalagmites.
posted by brokkr at 3:30 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

The traffic report on the East coast is causing the fire report on the west coast in a roundabout way. That fire map is scary. I don't know what it's looked like in past years though.
posted by mike_bling at 7:59 AM on September 14, 2015

Last I heard, several weeks ago, 10% of Trinity County had burned. I think the fires started in July. They are still burning and still not fully contained. I am going to miss trees.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:00 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

My elderly parents drove out on roads with visible flames. Luckily it hadn't yet jumped the highway where they were so it was only on one side. But they did watch the Shell station and the small family mexican restaurant where I get tacos when I visit explode from their car.

And frankly they had more notice than most people. They're up on a ridge and they could see the fire, which they originally thought was a rain cloud, jump 3 ridges, about 10 miles, in 30 minutes. They started getting stuff together when it jumped the first ridge. Right as they were starting to load the care out the door, someone knocked on the door and told them to leave. They at least got out with their papers and valuables, most people barely managed to get their kids and leave. I had been harassing them already about getting stuff in one place since there had been fires all summer in that region. And, man, the lost and found pets page is killing me - I can't even look. It's a rural area, and pets are often outdoors during the day. The farms...I can't even..... The security for the subdivision are breaking into people's houses to rescue pets for people who weren't home. And they stiff forgot their iPads and it turns out the cellphone they barely know how to use anyway, has a shot battery.

This could have been so much worse: it was a weekend during the day, so security was short staffed so it took longer to notify people, but at least kids weren't at school and most people weren't away for their 45 minutes (on average) commutes on the wrong side of the mountain. It was still light out when people left (my parents really can't drive at night.) And HVL is a gated subdivision, Middletown doesn't have "staff'. Lake County is one of the poorest counties in the state. I doubt the cellphone ownership rate is anywhere close to more urban areas - and so yes a text notification system would be nice, but wouldn't have helped my parents. They're in the SF and Sacramento media market - which only started reporting anything on it after the social media posts of people fleeing started popping up.

So I'm of mixed feelings about those videos and the people doing Periscope streams. On the one hand I just want people to just get out. On the other hand, as someone who's home may or may not have burned down, we have NO information about what's going on. The news only reports the most dramatic stuff. Some of the Periscope video, from the NBC reporters, that didn't make the 20 seconds of footage that the news showed, was video of homes in HVL that were untouched as of yesterday evening. From that footage we think my parents' house is still standing (and obviously the fire is still burning). This case seems like an ideal use for drones, as soon as they are not interfering with anyone trying to fight the fire. But people are so desperate about stranded pets they're starting to try and sneak back; so while on paper I get that they're being "stupid" to the point that they are endangering fire fighters. But you can bet I hugged my own kitties extra tight and all we're worried about it childhood Christmas ornaments and antique furniture from all the places we lived when my dad as in the service. On a less selfish level, that footage meant that this fire is starting to get some attention, since it's like what the 14th or 15th fire of the season. It took something like 48 hours to be declared a state of emergency. People here in Pittsburgh only know about it because of that footage, and more attention, means more resources. And this is one of the poorest counties in CA. Most folks were already on the edge. So yeah, I'm torn.

And to all the folks who feel like the #valleyfire Twitter tag needs reminders that people shouldn't be living in pine forests during a drought... Think what you want, but don't clutter up one of the few sources of information with your scolding, and don't you dare expect ANY sympathy or support when your area gets hit by a disaster. Pittsburgh can barely deal with normal winter snow fall since government resources have been cut so close to the bone. The folks who live there do because they are retired with family in the area or work in the bay area or napa, and can't afford the BA housing market. The market crash means they are underwater, and they're already in the cheapest market so its not like they can go anywhere else. And yes there's a drought but lots of these folks have been here before the drought started. And oh yes, a discussion needs to be had about under what circumstances people should live where and I would be happy to have that conversation in this thread since I think folks here are smart, but not in the same place people are still trying to find missing people and pets. Grr....
posted by DarthDuckie at 10:03 AM on September 14, 2015 [14 favorites]

wow, gwint, that video is spine-tingling scary

down here in oakland it definitely smelled smokey yesterday but i hadn't realized how quickly the fire was spreading... i just saw pictures of harbin completely devastated and it really brought it home for me since i was just there a couple months ago. my friend's dad lives up in the area and had to evacuate yesterday.

in college one of my friends saw her parents' house burn down in the big montecito fire in santa barbara a few years ago, but i can't remember a wildfire season quite this savage before.
posted by burgerrr at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2015

I'm glad your parents are safe, DarthDuckie. And I know what you mean about the lost pets/animals page. I can't look either. On the news last night, we heard mention of an emergency shelter in the area that was telling people it wouldn't accept pets, and we both started yelling at the TV.
posted by rtha at 11:30 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the things about this fire is it started low in a valley, and, again -- fire is hot, hot air rises. Valley fires climb fast -- this is what killed those smokejumpers in the Mann Gulch fire, when a fire started running up a ridge, and burned 3,000 acres in ten minutes. The only survivor there lived because he set a backfire and burned the fuel around him before the main fire got to him, by the time it did, it went around because there was nothing left to burn. The firefighters who tried to run to the top of the ridge were caught by the main fire and died.

Such fires are now called escape fires, because unlike backfires, which are designed to control a fire by creating a firebreak, escape fires are set to (hopefully) create a refuge from a larger fire. They're really only an option if you're in a grassy area, woodlands won't burn quickly enough and would burn far too hot for you to survive.

That fire, and the Blackwater Fire in 1937, led to the 10 standard firefighting orders and 18 Watchouts Situations.

The 10 Standing Firefighting Orders.

1. Keep informed on fire weather conditions and forecasts.
2. Know what your fire is doing at all times.
3. Base all actions on current and expected behavior of the fire.
4. Identify escape routes and safety zones and make them known.
5. Post lookouts when there is possible danger.
6. Be alert. Keep calm. Think clearly. Act decisively.
7. Maintain prompt communications with your forces, your supervisor, and adjoining forces.
8. Give clear instructions and insure they are understood.
9. Maintain control of your forces at all times.
10. Fight fire aggressively, having provided for safety first.

The 18 Watchout Situations -- situations where the chances of you being killed fighting a fire go way up if you're not extra careful.

1. Fire not scouted and sized up.
2. In country not seen in daylight.
3. Safety zones and escape routes not identified.
4. Unfamiliar with weather and local factors influencing fire behavior.
5. Uninformed on strategy, tactics, and hazards.
6. Instructions and assignments not clear.
7. No communication link with crewmembers/supervisors.
8. Constructing line without safe anchor point.
9. Building fireline downhill with fire below.
10. Attempting frontal assault on fire.
11. Unburned fuel between you and the fire.
12. Cannot see main fire, not in contact with anyone who can.
13. On a hillside where rolling material can ignite fuel below.
14. Weather is getting hotter and drier.
15. Wind increases and/or changes direction.
16. Getting frequent spot fires across line.
17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.
18. Taking a nap near the fire line.

If you're thinking "General Orders for Sentries", they were the explicit inspiration for the 10 Standing Firefighter Orders.)

As in many things, we've learned the hard way -- by looking carefully at how people died doing this, and figuring out what killed them, then devising procedures to keep that from happening again.
posted by eriko at 11:34 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Coverage of Harbin, with photos.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:43 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks rtha. That report about the shelters at least seems to be some kind of misunderstanding. Some of the signs that are being shown on the rules, aren't for the shelters but for the kitchen/food areas in the shelters. And even though the Red Cross can't accept pets in the shelters they are working with local animal shelters to make sure that everyone's pets are taken care of.
posted by DarthDuckie at 6:14 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

In a place like Lake County, almost all residents have pets or livestock, and it outraged me at first that the Red Cross wasn't accepting them. However, they have since relented and allowed residents to bring "small animals" with them. The rest all accept animals, and the outpouring of support and offers to care for livestock or board pets for free, or even drive into evacuated areas to feed pets that had to be left's humbling.

I have personally found it frustrating to see how many people are on the #ValleyFire hashtag solely for the purpose of asking about the status of Harbin. I know it means a lot to people, but at certain points, almost 1/4 of tweets were people asking about Harbin. Even when it was confirmed by the fire chief that it was gone, people refused to accept it until there was photographic evidence.

Everyone gets to care about the things they care about, and I wouldn't ever say they're wrong to care about Harbin. But when thousands of people are still waiting for news about their homes, and many already know that they've lost just felt insensitive. I am sad Harbin is gone, and I know its loss is felt by many, but no one narrative should demand a place of privilege when so much has been lost by so many.

Today, the smoke has pushed down into Marin and it has made everything feel a bit surreal, eerie even. I showed my students photos of the fire for a language activity we do - we generally use funny pictures, but they were really struck by some of the most iconic images from this fire so far - the horses in the back of the truck, the car melted into the asphalt with an untouched vineyard behind, the burnt-down apartment building with the playground still standing...

My storytelling class is using the semi-viral "leaving Anderson in flames" video as background to their original narrative about leaving everything behind to be burned in the fire. Many were tearful while writing it. I'm grateful they get to use this tragedy to practice empathy. That's a worthy goal of any tragedy - to increase empathy.

As of this afternoon, we received a few eyewitness reports that both my parents and my aunt still have a house. HVL does not seem too badly affected - the 68 houses lost number seems to be pretty accurate.

We are the lucky ones.

And DarthDuckie, my parents AND aunt/uncle moved up to HVL because they work in Napa/St. Helena and were just priced out of the market. They were lucky to have waited until post-crash to buy a house.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:55 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, as a former Harbin visitor myself, Harbin's probably the most notable issue for those of us who aren't locals to wonder about. Also, it's easier to ask about Harbin than it probably is to find out information about your specific house on your specific street right now for most people.

A friend of mine has family in Lake County, so far she reports that the fire's not going in their direction but they are packed and ready to go at a moment's notice. I'm not sure what's going on with the animals as yet, friend said she gave them a friend's number of a place they could take the animals. I hope those get evacuated anyway, just in case.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:00 PM on September 14, 2015

Sure - there are very few things up there that people from outside the Bay Area know about. I get that.

Stated more precisely, my problem is more with the people who A) would rather ask than do a very, very preliminary search, and B) refuse to believe officials that something is gone until they see it for themselves.

With so much uncertainty, I'd like people to listen to and trust the word of officials.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:04 PM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Update: it seems that both my parents' house and my aunt's house have been spared. We saw my aunt's house in a video posted to Facebook today, and yesterday, a reporter who was on my parents' street said that it all was okay.

So we are luckier than many. The estimate is that it'll still be three days before they can get back in.

If you read nothing else from the reporting on this fire, please read this. It is a profile of the woman who is the only confirmed death so far, Barbara McWilliams. The last few sentences are a punch to the gut. It's the first thing in all of this fire disaster that made me viscerally feel the tragedy. Adrenaline and uncertainty keep all the other emotions at bay...but I sure as hell felt it with this article.
posted by guster4lovers at 9:33 PM on September 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

guster4lovers: that's wonderful to hear! I think my parents' house is also OK, at least for now. Thank you for all the updates.
posted by DarthDuckie at 7:12 PM on September 16, 2015

Besides the humans and their pets and live-stock, the P.A.W.S. Sanctuary for elephants and other exotic animals is very near the fire. They ONLY use protected contact with the elephants and big cats. Evacuation is probably impossible.

The Butte Fire is 49% contained now and the fire’s western front around San Andreas is under control. Here's the view from PAWS today.
posted by homunculus at 6:22 PM on September 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ah, a spotting of the rare Californian Elephant.
posted by brokkr at 12:39 AM on September 18, 2015

Video tour of Harbin destruction.
posted by telstar at 2:37 PM on September 18, 2015

While the McWilliams story is tragic, I'm not particularly thrilled with the "blame the authorities" take on it. Especially since she was not exactly proactive in saving her own life. If you can't drive or otherwise leave your own house, and a neighbor shows up offering you a ride out, and you send them away expecting them to come back and rescue you later if things are really bad... she had a hand in her own demise.
posted by tavella at 12:41 AM on September 20, 2015

she was not exactly proactive in saving her own life. If you can't drive or otherwise leave your own house, and a neighbor shows up offering you a ride out, and you send them away expecting them to come back and rescue you later if things are really bad

She didn't send anyone away. From the article:
She called McWilliams, who told her she had declined an offer to go with a neighbor to find out more about the fire. McWilliams said she told the neighbor that she would leave with her after she returned with more information. The power had gone out.
As I read it, her neighbor had intended to go get more information and then return. At that point McWilliams didn't understand how close the fire was: she thought the smoke was from the Butte fire far to the east. For an elderly person with MS, hopping in the car to go along for a ride is not a simple thing, and evacuating is a serious hardship. It makes sense that she didn't accompany her neighbor at that time based on the limited information she had.
posted by homunculus at 9:22 AM on September 20, 2015

The place was already under mandatory evacuation, and the neighbor offered her a ride to Middletown (from other stories). She refused. I'm sure she felt she had good reasons, same as when she didn't go with the caretaker at 3pm. But that meant that she expected other people to return into a dangerous fire to rescue her when she wasn't willing to endure even temporary discomfort to prevent them from having to. At *6:30* she was still refusing to take action on her own, dismissing her caretaker's concerned call, despite the power having gone out, because she was certain that someone would turn up if it got bad without her having to take any action to make it happen. By 7:27, the entire subdivision was in flames.

There's kind of an old joke about that.

Now, I think it was her right to make those choices, but I'm not going to blame the cops and firefighters for not saving her from her bad choices.
posted by tavella at 12:20 PM on September 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

But that meant that she expected other people to return into a dangerous fire to rescue her when she wasn't willing to endure even temporary discomfort to prevent them from having to.

For a 72-year-old with advanced multiple sclerosis, leaving doesn't mean "temporary discomfort," it's a genuine hardship, and at that point they didn't realize that there was a dangerous fire coming their way. But if the LATimes article guster4lovers posted is accurate, then McWilliams was planning on leaving with her neighbor when the neighbor returned from gathering information about the fire, and then she was going to stay at the shelter at the Napa County Fairgrounds. But it sounds like the neighbor wasn't able to return, I assume because the roads were blocked.

At *6:30* she was still refusing to take action on her own, dismissing her caretaker's concerned call, despite the power having gone out, because she was certain that someone would turn up if it got bad without her having to take any action to make it happen.

What action was she supposed to take at 6:30? Again, she was 72-years-old with advanced MS, and she didn't have a car and couldn't drive one anyway. It's obvious that she still didn't understand the immediacy of the danger she was in when Hittson called, but I don't see how she was "dismissing" her caretaker. And since Hittson told her she was sending the police, it wasn't unreasonable for her to expect a rescue after that, but by then it was too late.

There's kind of an old joke about that.


Now, I think it was her right to make those choices, but I'm not going to blame the cops and firefighters for not saving her from her bad choices.

I don't blame the cops or firefighters either; the whole thing was beyond their control. But I also don't blame McWilliams herself; she didn't understand what was happening, and then it was too late.
posted by homunculus at 12:36 PM on September 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

At this point the Valley fire is 97% contained and the Butte Fire is 100% contained.
posted by homunculus at 10:19 AM on October 4, 2015

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