Photos by Tom and Nadin Abbott
May 22, 2017 (San Diego) Some people stay behind during wildfires to ride it out. Or they take too long to leave, which can prove fatal. Partly because they hear the fire is too far and will not get to them. There is still much ground to cover. We can tell you that fires can change direction on a dime. We have been covering wildfires for some years and have seen it in the past, but not this close. We have a lot of respect for nature and how fast they can switch. The following photo essay is a good example of how a fire can switch on a dime.
Saturday we were at the command post, which was at the Border Patrol Station on Highway 94. A lot of the media did the press conference with Issac Sanchez, the Public Information Officer for Cal Fire. The backdrop for that was the fire. It is there so we all used it.
We did not move beyond our Jeep for the rest of these events, What we are telling you about took about 15 minutes. We literally went from some nice footage and photos to we left in a hurry.
This is a nice view of the front of the fire, which was about 5 minutes after speaking with Sanchez. This is when the wind started to switch from east to west, to North, but the prevailing winds were still east to west, which is a normal pattern for the east county and these were at a good clip.
Tom captured a series of shots as it went to and through a tree. We think the tree survived since it went fast but if the root systems were damaged that might not be the case.
The direction of the wind is primarily still east to west. at this point, We have not moved and this is still at some distance, so a zoom lens is being used.
You can see the wind standing still in this latter shot, and this is not a minute from those two shots. The wind is doing its switch. We got into full firefighting gear. We always wear wildland firefighting pants and a nomex tshirt, We added the yellow jacket and a helmet and we put firefighting gloves on.
The battalion Chief came first ahead of the Strike Team. Those are four engine teams assigned for structure protection. In this case, we could identify the Chief as Escondido and one of the units as Santee FD. The structure, in this case, was the Border Patrol Station that was behind us. We never got a shot of it,
These two photos were taken with the same camera, a Nikon 5100. No, the settings were not changed. The photo on the right is when the camera started to heat up and the sensor started to white out. The time lapse between the two shots is less than a second. The temperature due to radiant heat, was a nice oven. We calculate about 120-140 degrees. I did not have a thermometer on me. Radiant heat can start another fire if high enough. The triangle of fire is heat, fuel, and oxygen. Water used by firefighters is an attempt to lower the temperature.
A final shot as we bugged out, with another camera. This was a Nikon D810.
This took about 15 minutes, we went from a sedate situation to one where the fire was on top of us, This is why when they ask you to evacuate, do so. The fire covered the last 50 feet in less than five seconds. It was on top of all of us that fast. The firefighters above are trying to slow the fire progress down. They were also helped by the defensible space provided by the 94, and the dirt behind them. The station also has no trees around it. It was a textbook example of why you want to work on your defensible space. The station survived intact, and the field across from it is black. Here is one again the video of the press conference. The lead shot of flames are from another section of the fire.
Now, how do fires leap across roads or fire breaks? One of the ways is by leaping across, But generally speaking, it is embers. They can travel anywhere from one-quarter or a mile to a mile. They do start spot fires ahead of a wildfire and make things more complicated. Those who were around for 2003, and 2007 fires, as well as 2014, will remember those embers at night. Some woods are better at producing embers than others, though all are candidates. Anything high in natural resins, such as pine and manzanitas are very good candidates. The latter can even explode if the temperature is high enough. Realize, manzanita has evolved to the point that it needs fire for its life cycle. So a nice hot fire means you will get fresh manzanitas that within 15 years can grow into a mature, ready for fire, grove.