I used to live in Goleta, California which is a town just west of Santa Barbara (the coast runs east-west in this part of the state as opposed to north-south). I went to elementary school, junior high and high school there. It used to be suburban with a rural tinge, surrounded by citrus groves and avocado orchards. Most of those have been bulldozed to make way for condos and other developments.
The area is beautiful but prone to fires. When my family first moved there from Los Angeles we experienced the Sycamore Canyon Fire of 1977. In 1990, the deadly Painted Cave Fire raged through Los Padres National Forest, down the side of the mountain, and jumped over Highway 101. It burned down my then girlfriend’s house and came incredibly close to my own.
She had been watching the fire earlier in the afternoon before coming over to my place. She decided to call her mom to make sure things were o.k. and her mom told her to come home immediately because the fire was getting close. As we rushed to her neighborhood the skies got darker and darker. When we finally made it to her street we saw her parents frantically driving down the road, screaming at us to turn around.
We turned around and headed back to my place but we were stopped by the police and told the area had already been evacuated. The two of us spent the night at a friend’s house, separated from our parents, not knowing if our houses had made it. I still have a video tape of the eucalyptus trees exploding (they contain a lot of sap) across the street from my house, the power lines on fire and transformers shooting sparks down to the road. It was an incredibly scary event and a very stressful evening.
The Gap Fire, started not far from where the Painted Cave fire was set by an arsonist, is the latest fire to hit the region [the fire was started by human activity, not lightning strikes as I previously thought]. Some of my family friends were evacuated from their homes and my former high school has been turned into an evacuation center. Thankfully, foggy weather has cooled things down and most of my friends have been allowed back to their homes.
Here are some videos I found on Youtube to give you an idea of the terrain and difficult job firefighters face when combating this sort of blaze. One of my friends is a “hot-shot” and another is a fire captain. Hot-shots are woodland firefighters, the crews that go behind the lines with picks and equipment to build fire breaks as well as piloting airplanes and helicopters. It is very difficult and dangerous work.
You can see a helicopter carrying water (or flame retardant?) towards the end (6:17 and after):
This video has some cheesy music but it does a good job of showing what it is like driving in full daylight when a fire like this hits. The smoke makes it look like the dead of night:
This is infra-red footage of what used to be called a “Borate Bomber”:
[Borate bomber on the job in Utah. Photo swiped from Flickr.]