September 6, 2016

Fire on The Ridge: Even If You Live in Paradise It Can Quickly Become Hell


Up on "The Ridge", as natives refer to Paradise, California area, you don't keep a weather eye on the horizon, you keep a fire eye. This morning this was the news from my town. Cal Fire issues new round of evacuation orders, road closures as Saddle Fire burns 600 acres

The Saddle Fire, that burned throughout the night near Paradise and forced the closure of most of Pentz road and many of its cross streets, has a new round of evacuation orders in place this morning. Pentz Road remains closed from Malibu Drive to Mesilla Valley Road and all roads that connect to Pentz. Concow Road has been closed from Highway 70, which includes Jordan Hill Road, Granite Ridge Road and Deadwood Road. Pinkston Canyon Road and all roads that connect to Pinkston Canyon Road was the newest closure that was issued overnight. Nelson Bar Road also remains on the list of mandatorily evacuated areas. Evacuation warnings remains in effect this morning for Pentz Road from Malibu Drive to Canyon View Drive


This is five miles and an entire township away from my place, but you learn quickly in this town to stay informed about the position and the pace of any fire. Driving up the Skyway into Paradise I have noted at least 5 fresh spot fires by the side of the Skyway in the past week. Once I came by as Cal Fire crews were mopping up a small one. Further up the Skyway I also pass the now madrone and manzanita covered scars and burned stumps of the much more frightening 2008 Paradise fire:

74 Paradise homes destroyed by Humboldt Fire Furious winds and unusually dry conditions had fueled a fire that raced up ridgelines and surrounded the southern end of Paradise, giving this town just east of Chico its greatest threat in modern times. The flames engulfed two of the three escape routes out of Paradise - and the third was threatened as well. Firefighters ordered the evacuation of more than a third of the 26,000 residents, including a large number of retirees. With only one two-lane route out of town, it took more than two hours for residents to drive 10 miles. Some panicked. The one fatality involved an elderly woman who tried to flee even though her neighborhood wasn't being evacuated. She died of a heart attack. "The greatest fear is fire on the ridge," said Shauna Robbins, 37, who grew up in Paradise. "There's no way out. You're trapped. If the fires jump, you're in a mess."

It's a town of lava cliffs, deep ravines, and tendrils of mesas covered in dry grass and pitch pine at this season of the year. The views afforded also mean that there are, as noted above, not a lot of ways out of the town. Unlike 2008 when there were three roads out, the Skyway, which once ended at Sterling City, has been extended north east for miles to Lake Almanor, so now there are 4 escape routes. As I once did when I lived in Laguna Beach where the houses have a tendency to slide off the sides of the cliffs, I keep a "Go-Bag" in the trunk of my car. I don't think I'll need it today, but I'm keeping my fire eye on the horizon.

After all, the key part of the term "wildfire" is "wild."

Posted by gerardvanderleun at September 6, 2016 9:01 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Yeah, I lived at the western end of the San Fernando Valley 45 years ago. Same thing, every year. They said it was mostly creosote bush that fed most of those fires, driven by katabatic winds.

Posted by: BillH at September 6, 2016 9:43 AM

As long as we realize that someone is setting these fires.

Posted by: Anon at September 7, 2016 8:01 AM

CalFire planes take off from the Grass Valley airport, I hear them fly over my house, but the fire might be way over in Paradise, or it might be nearby and blowing my way.
So I turn on the local radio station, KNCO,but it's only prerecorded blather - no news there.
I go to "The Union" newspaper website - no info.
I go to YubaNet, they tell me the location of the fire, but then the website crashes from too many inquiries.
My friend's son died in a fire control aircraft, so I don't say this lightly. "I want my own drone camera. I have no information source to advize me on evacuation, and there are thousands just like me. CalFire is just plain stupid on this topic. I have spoken to too many fire fighter to believe that the situation will improve.

Posted by: BillyPilgrim at September 7, 2016 4:59 PM

Bill, try these sources if you haven't - worked for me in SoCal when trying to get real time info on fires.

Twitter- yes, lots of baloney including reporters from the established stations pushing links to their own station, but at least early on, people on the ground share photos and updated on where the fire is- to help out neighbors.

AM Radio, depending on how local, the talk show jockeys will often solicit and take calls from locals giving the same updates.

Local newspapers that have an online site, where locals have been commenting in forums. In the 2008 Pine Fire in SD, this was the most useful, even after the County staffed its fancy new Emergency Center, that took 8 hours to get rolling, and most of the updates were wasted on too many politicians claiming the microphone to pat themselves on the back, rather than update the fire map info...

Good luck! As usual, the best way is own eyes but be prepared with a back way out- you know fire goes uphill fastest of all, and you cant out-run it.

Posted by: Foo dog at September 7, 2016 8:38 PM

Living anywhere in the hills of California you need to always remember fire and be prepared for it. Metal or tile roofs, a wide cleared area (fire break) around your house, and hoses at the ready. If you really want to be safe, a D-4 Cat to make major fire breaks as needed.

I knew a fellow who lived for many years in the Malibu hills. Fires were a regular occurrence all around him. Wet winters (lots of vegetation), dry summers (lots of fuel), and careless people or lightning meant fire. His house had no wood on the exterior. Brick, tile, and metal - all non-flammables. No shrubbery near the house. And his trusty D-4, always with plenty of gas, with which he made fire break. Many fire years and his house was never touched. Some of his less prepared neighbors weren't so lucky.

During the Rat Creek fire near Leavenworth, WA in 1994, we were under evacuation alert for two weeks. The local talk radio station in Wenatchee (AM 570 as I recall) did yeoman work in keeping people informed about the fire and evacuation notices. We were lucky. After three days, the winds died down and the fire crawled rather than raced toward our house. After two weeks we got a day of rain followed by several days of cooler weather. That allowed the dire fighters to get the fire under control. It finally went out when the first snows came in November.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at September 8, 2016 11:43 AM

Proud of you .

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