Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sleep Tonight, San Diego

Sleep Tonight video: sunsets filmed to U2's haunting "MLK"

As firefighters continue to work on gaining the upper hand on the California Wildfires, despite weekend winds which could either hinder or help containment efforts, I want to send my thoughts out to my San Diego friends and my former neighbors near the Wild Animal Park.

The 3500 animals at San Diego's world renowned Wild Animal Park were directly in the wildfire's path. As flames scorched more than 600 of the park's 1800 acres, many park workers stayed behind & mounted a desperate race to save the animals, which includes large herds of endangered species that roam freely through a vast central open savannah-like area. The animals recognize fire threats. Having spent many enjoyable days wandering around the Wild Animal Park, I can well imagine the fear & panic of these beautiful creatures. As the fire raged, the large wildlife, like giraffes, rhinos, wildebeest, antelope, buffalo and elephants, remained inside open field enclosures, which are nutrient-rich & eco-irrigated ... [click on previous three links, enlarge photos to full-size to view a few of the park's animals in their savannah & you will quickly appreciate how a wildfire could race through there & how difficult it would be to round up & protect the animals]. Some smaller animals were moved into an onsite "fire safe" facility. Flames wiped out the condor pen, which had fortunately been evacuated. Sadly, two animals did succumb: a wild horse died from smoke inhalation, as did a rare exotic bird.

[wild horse with her foal @ W.A.P.] Considering the magnitude of the fire and open nature of this park, the fact that the loss of animal life was so minimal can be directly attributed to park curator Michael Mace and the group of park employees who stayed behind to ensure the safety of the animals. Thanks to their dedicated efforts, the animals are now roaming the savannah parkland and hillsides of their San Diego home again.

If you wish to make an online donation to CRES, which is the endangered species program operated by the San Diego Zoo for the Wild Animal Park, click here.

So far, San Diego County has sustained 350K burnt acres, 1237 residences destroyed, and 14 people killed with 38 others missing. Bodies of two migrant workers have been found in the canyons & ravines (I mention this as a reminder that we may never know the true death count). As of 9 AM today 10/27/07, of the fires still burning in San Diego County, the Harris is 50% contained, the Witch is 60% contained, and the Rice is 80% contained (full containment of those fires is expected by Oct 31st). The Poomacha Fire is 45% contained and remains a major concern as it burns along Mt Palomar, threatening the Palomar Observatory. Control operations for the Poomacha are difficult due to the inaccessible steep terrain. The Rincon, Pauma, La Jolla, San Pascal and Pala Indian Reservations within the Poomacha firerange remain evacuated at this time. In other San Diego areas, some evacuees are returning to homes without water or power, others are under a boil-water restriction.

Smoke from these fires reached Las Vegas yesterday, as reported by my sister there. The smoke reached me here in SW Utah today about 2PM. It's a nasty, harsh, foul lung-burning smoke, and this is after it has been filtered through some 500-miles of atmosphere. **** {6PM update: smoke has disappeared here because our winds have shifted & are blowing toward the south; for now the winds are weak, so hopefully NOT another Santa Ana brewing} ****

Even as the flames recede, though, the sweep of this wildfire is sure to have long consequences. Where do you even start, how do you begin reassembling your life after something like this -------->>>>


enigma4ever said...

great post...update on SD...and what a great is always the animals that break my heart....about the fires- today there were hardly any good updates....very frustating...thank you for this great post...

D.K. Raed said...

Thanks Enigma for understanding about the animals. These were only the ones at the Wild Animal Park. I don't think anyone yet has a grasp on the impacted pets, livestock, and native wildlife.

I was just updating now that the smoke has disappeared from SW Utah, but the winds have shifted & are blowing back toward the south. When this happened last weekend, it caused the Santa Anas in Calif. This time, the winds are weak, so hopefully no repeat (crossing fingers & toes).

Fran said...

I have been to the SD Zoo, but not the Wild Animal Park. Looks like a beautiful place, and so glad the caretakers hung in there to make sure these critters were safe & cared for. I am glad to hear the fires are contained 45-80%- it sounds like the weather is beginning to cooperate. I realize rogue winds could change that, but being an ex forest fighter, those containment levels are encouraging.
Let's hope things take a turn for the better.

D.K. Raed said...

ah Fran, you caught me tweaking this post, trying to add a few links & photos. The Wild Animal Park is really special. The large herd animals are not prisoners in small pens, but are roaming free range. I used to hike all around the central savannah, feeling like I was in Africa (like maybe the touristy part of some safari preserve).

You were a forest firefighter? That surely takes great strength & courage -- an internal fortitude, something above & beyond. I cannot even imagine the sheer bone weariness of fighting a raging forest fire.

I, too, am hoping that this wilfire season is over, so everyone can start healing & reassembling their lives.

Fran said...

Yes, I worked for a private contractor as a forest firefighter for about 5 years. What that means was we were the lowest in the chain of command. The Forest Servce people would show up with all their fancy equipment, and we (the grunts) had pulaskis, shovels/axes, and had to lay the fire hose, and had some walkie talkie radios.
The Forest Service people stood on the landing and directed us to do the dirty work. Sometimes we would light backburns, often tried to create a fuel free barrier to make a break in the fire, but once the flames were swirling way above your head in the trees with any kind of wind, you knew Mother Nature was in control. Plus once the flames are up in the trees, they create a wind of their own. It is scary as hell to be in the middle of a full blown uncontained wildland fire up in the treetops. Things change quickly, it is hot, ash everywhere, we worked 12 hour shifts. Those cloth hoses are heavy, and no matter how much of it you packed, you always seemed to be short of having enough to reach the places that needed water. At the end of the day you were soot soaked, covered in black, exhausted. Permeated with that burnt odor. You were so tired, you could sleep anywhere. Shower, meal, crash- the Government brought in mobile units to provide the above. Plus you were assigned randomly- not knowing if you might be inhaling burning poison oak (that is the most dangerous way to interact w poison oak), without breathing protective equipment.
We had someone who needed to be evacuated due to heat exhaustion- so we had to carry him on a gurney down & up a steep ravine to get to a place where a helicopter could land to get him.
We had to be trained & certified to be firefighters, and at some point they had changed the required stats for females- they had a lighterweight criteria.
That bugged me, because I thought the mountain is not going to be more forgiving due to gender.
So I took my step test (heart rate stress test) under both the male & female criteria & passed them both. Eventually, I came to the realization of how bad said exposure is for your health, and once I had a child, I decided my priorities had changed.
I was never in a situation where we were protecting homes from burning. Houses are actually more dangerous due to the fact they have so many things that can be toxic and or explosive- which is why structural fire fighters have so much more protective equipment. I was in fires where we went to the bottom of a canyon that was burning & they sent in a plane to light off the other side to create a massive back burn. If that had gone wrong, we had nowhere to go. In retrospect, I'd rather be the Forest Service person on the landing!

Fran said...

By the way- lovely video & music choice. I had heard they did get a little rain.

Pursey Tuttweiler said...

The smoke was in Utah. That is so frightening. The health hazard to all of the people within miles is so frightening and especially risky for those who are so longing to go back to their homes and salvage what they can. Where will all of those folks at the stadium go? Can you even breathe their? This is reminding me of 911, all the clean-up folks who are now sick and cannot get aide for their healthcare problems created by the air they breathed.

D.K. Raed said...

Fran, when I see the forest firefighters they show on TV news taking a well-deserved break, all sooty & dog-tired, too tired to even get up for a drink of water, I think how can they even muster up the strength to go back out there again? But they do. Thanks for sharing your first-hand memories. I had never thought about breathing burning poison oak! You passed BOTH tests! Wow, I'm hurting just thinking about the sore muscles after that ordeal.

Pursey: the smoke WAS here in UT, I was amazed, but then the wind shifted & it disappeared back down south. As far as the San Diego air, there will be repercussions for everyone who breathed it & it will be very bad for the clean-up crews. One fact about living next the pacific ocean like they do: the prevailing winds blow from West to East (except during a santa ana), which does tend to send bad air inland fairly quickly. This constant airflow toward the East lifts the bad air over the coastal mtns where it becomes disbursed in the jet stream fairly quickly. we really are a small planet.

Fran said...

I'm guessing a lot of the wildland firefighters took a crash course in trying to save a house from burning, in the CA fires. Without specialized safety equipment- especially the breathing protection gear, and communication/location gear structural firefighters have, they were probably told to stand back & try to apply water from a distance. We used to take bandanas, saturate them with water & tie them over our noses & mouths (bandit style) as a low tech makeshift air filter. The Government has some kind of formula- doing the 12 hour shifts, after so many days there is a mandatory rest period.
At that point, good sleep on a real bed, clean laundry & especially socks become manna from heaven. I give full respect for those working the fire lines. It is some of the hardest work out there, and in an uncontained situation, you put your life at risk. They are real heros.

D.K. Raed said...

Oh Fran, I can only imagine how sooty & filthy fighting fires is that a pair of clean socks would seem so precious. I guess the various govt agencies supply stuff like that? I don't recall ever seeing notices soliciting donations from citizens.

I was reading today about a guy with a watertruck that happened to be driving by The Wild Animal Park just when the smoke & flames were moving closer. He pulled in to see if he could help. The park workers got into his truck & directed him where to drive around the preserve hosing down structures & vegetation. Of course, they had already irrigated until the water pressure dropped, but he really helped to saturate some key stuff. He ran dry just as flames entered the park & had to leave. Just a guy driving by. Amazing.

Fran said...

I was channel surfing & of all things, Inside Edition (rag) had a piece about this park. They showed the burned Condor area, and showed the beautiful savannah like setting. They showed how the fires singed the edges and a small percentage of the total acres. The animals were free & roaming about again. What a beautiful place~ so glad it was spared.

Firefighters are supposed to have a small bag ready to go with essentials like socks & minimalist fire gear. I heard a swank hotel owner was allowing firefighters to use the hotel free of charge for meals, sleep & showers, in Malibu.

D.K. Raed said...

Fran, someone at Inside Edition likes animals. It was their original piece last Tuesday or Wednesday that gave me more info than I'd seen up to that time. I missed the one you just saw, but caught some of the burnt condor pens in an online video. If those condors had died, I think it would've ended that whole program. There are released condors from that program flying free near me, or so I hear, but I've never seen even one. Turkey vultures, yes, but no condors.

azgoddess said...

thanks for the updates...great post..for a non-blogger - smile..

and i can't even imagine what it will be like for these people - to have to come back to a leveled house - nothing but ashes left...sigh

one good thing is these people owned their own homes unlike new orleans...the renters there are still outta luck - have they started the schools back again? int he poor areas - not the rich..i mean

D.K. Raed said...

Good question AZ. About half of the San Diego Public Schools reopened today 10/29. The rest of the San Diego Unified School Dist is scheduled to reopen 10/30 & 10/31. There are a total of 42 school districts in San Diego County. [info from]

I didn't bother to look up the private school schedules, they can fend quite well for themselves.

Since the Poomacha fire is still burning, I doubt the schools on the affected Indian Reservations are operating. The Poomacha is moving north & could reach the Pechanga Indian Rez near Temecula. It's now 50% contained.

Also, I imagine outdoor school activities have been elminated since the county is still being advised to remain indoors as much as possible due to poor air quality.