Saturday, July 11, 2015

Fire: A Potentially Deadly Consequence of the Drought

Grass and brush fires are often spread even more quickly by brisk winds.
With the severe drought that we are experiencing in California, wildfires are a constant threat.  South of us, in both the Central Valley and in San Diego County near where Steve's brother David lives, large brush fires have burned tens of thousands of acres of meadow and forest land and damaged and in some cases destroyed homes and personal property. 

With water at a premium, firefighting is challenging and consumes critical water stores from an already severely depleted supply.   Berkeley was one of several cities and towns that cancelled municipal fireworks events due to concerns about fire and the amount of water - an expensive commodity these days - it would take to hose down areas that would be at risk for igniting or to fight a fire if one erupted. Here in American Canyon, the fire engines and firefighters stood ready to respond to any incidents stemming from the city's fireworks display.

On the night of the 4th of July, a wind-fueled grass fire that involved 320 acres in Vacaville threatened 200 homes. It was completely contained, however, and a teenager was arrested on Friday and charge with causing the fire.  Some news reports attribute the cause of the fire to illegal fireworks. 

The hills were a verdant green in early spring.  Lack of rain has killed the grass.
Tonight we had our first (and I'm hoping only) fire scare. Behind our apartment complex is open space. A railway and road run past, and beyond that are hills that border the valley.  They were green in the early spring but with the drought, the grass has dried so the hills are covered with dry grass, weeds, and brush that is a dull wheat color. 

Despite the publicity and stern warnings from the police department, kids have been lighting off fireworks and we've all been concerned about the potential for a fire being ignited.

I looked out of the sliders and was shocked to see thick brown smoke.
At about 7 PM this evening, I was watching TV and resting when a helicopter flying close by overhead caught my attention.  I looked out through the sliders and was shocked to see dense, gray-brown billowing smoke coming from one of the hills nearest the complex. I grabbed my cameras and headed upstairs to get a better look from the landing. 

A grass fire was moving very quickly across a field behind the ruins of an old cement and basalt plant.  The plant has been abandoned since the 1970's but the city has been considering a plan to develop the area and the historic buildings into a  town center. I'm not sure where they are in the process, but the buildings are considered historically important, and would make a unique and interesting city center, no matter how the city planned to develop the area.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter alerted me to the fire.
The helicopter bore the markings of the California Highway Patrol and at the point that I became aware of the fire, the American Canyon Fire Department was already on scene.  As I watched, more fire trucks and firefighters arrived.  They quickly brought the flames under control and remained on scene until at least 8:30 PM, when I finally went back inside.  At that point, I could still see two trucks (out of a total of at least four plus an emergency response vehicle) present and several firefighters carefully walking the burned area, but the fire trucks had begun to leave so clearly they were wrapping up the scene.

Distressing to me was that just a short time after all of the fire safety staff cleared the scene, I heard some kids out in the back parking lot of our apartment complex firing off rockets and other fireworks -- totally illegal and very risky given the amount of easily combustible dry grass.  Especially after a fire so close, one would have thought that their parents would use some common sense.  

The area at the back of the complex where the fire broke out.  The garages extend from the fence that separates the property from the railroad tracks beyond.  The low buildings, rotunda building, and silos are all part of the abandoned cement and basalt factory.  The fire spread across the grassy expanse beyond the buildings.
Three of at least four fire apparatus that responded to the fire.
Firefighters controlling the spread of the mostly grass fire.
I watched as fire moved across the field.  These fires often spread quickly when fueled by the strong winds that are typical of this part of the valley.
Firefighters extinguish the fire at the leading edge where it was spreading across the field.  They had this area of the fire out within minutes.
The field behind the abandoned buildings where the grass fire broke out.
The fire extended across the expanse behind the abandoned buildings. Multiple firefighting units brought it quickly to a standstill.
The sun was beginning to set as the firefighters wrapped up their efforts and inspected for any remaining flames or embers.
Firetruck leaving, moving past the rotunda building.  The buildings are covered in graffiti. Hopefully they will be restored one day and be the centerpiece of a new city center.


  1. Scary stuff Cathy, As kids, we got up to mischief, but this is crazy, they know full well what the consequences of their actions are. If parents are aware of what the kids are doing then shame on them. In Aberdeen, lies an area where the Grampian mountains come to an end, kids have been known to intentionally start fires there.

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  3. Hi Alistair, yes, it IS scary, especially with our severe water shortage. As it is, we are having to ration water around the entire state. We have mandatory water restrictions and our outdoor water use is extremely limited. Here in American Canyon, new houses can not have lawns and no new swimming pools can be built. Hopefully, a strong el nino (a Pacific Ocean phenomenon) may give us an over-abundance of rain this fall to help us to recover from this severe, four year long drought.

  4. My goodness I agree, the parents have no sense with those kids and the fire crackers. It is frightening how dry it has been in CA. I look at those dry, smoking hills in your images and shudder. I saw the special on CA water shortages on 60 Minutes. Pumping the ground water is going to wreck havoc one day. There needs to be something done because so much of our produce comes from CA. I can imagine many are working tirelessly to solve the water issues.

    1. Yes, Donna, the subject of water consumes everyone these days. We reuse and recycle water like crazy here. I thought we were big on water conservation in Massachusetts but it was nothing like what we do here. Hopefully a strong el nino will give us a break this fall and replenish some of the ground water before the damage gets too severe. Underwater aquifers that have dried out are collapsing and that is a huge worry.

      But fire is very, very scary and these crazy kids and their fireworks are a serious threat. They are smart -- they let off one or two and then take off. Even if the police are around the corner it's hard to stop it. We just have to be watchful and careful.


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