Southern California Fires

Santa Ana Winds continue to aggrivate wildfires in southern California. The spectacular satellite picture taken earlier today shows how the strong easterly winds are pushing the smoke from the fires far out to sea.

It doesn’t take much imagination to realize how extensive the fire activity is to generate that much smoke.

Below are two additional satellite pictures enhanced by and courtesy of Storm Center Communications.


This image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite shows the fires on Monday afternoon, October 22, 2007, with a smoke plume extending 480 miles into the Pacific Ocean.


In the false-color image, combination of infrared bands from MODIS have been added to the image to make burn scars (deep red) stand out better from vegetation (bright green), water (black), cumulus clouds (white), cirrus clouds (light blue) and smoke (light blue).

Environmental Impacts:

With some 245,957 acres, or 384 square miles, ablaze, Gov. Schwarzenegger had declared a state of emergency in seven counties on Sunday, and President Bush had called to offer federal assistance with the blazes.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said the number of evacuees in San Diego County alone topped 300,000. The number was expected to be far greater throughout all of Southern California.

More than 1,000 homes and businesses had been destroyed across Southern California, most in San Diego County or the mountains east of Los Angeles.

Gov. Schwarzenegger said 800 National Guard troops would be diverted from duty on the southern border to assist with evacuation and ground control in the country.

The wildfires claimed one life, in San Diego County, and injured 42, including at least 16 firefighters.

State emergency officials said they feared that the fires, devouring some of the thickest and driest brush in years, could surpass the destruction of 2003, when California experienced its worst fire season on record.

The Ranch Fire in Angeles National Forest is burning approximately 29,000 acres, and it is at 10 percent contained. This fire is seven miles north of Castaic. Currently evacuations are in effect in the Hasley Canyon, Oak Springs, Val Verde and Piru area.

The Buckweed Fire in Los Angeles County, is burning 20,000 acres at zero percent contained. This fire is 14 miles west of Palmdale. Communities of Santa Clarita, Castaic, Leona Valley, Green Valley, Acton, Agua Dulce, Mint Canyon are threatened.

The hot, gusting winds, not expected to let up until late Tuesday, at times grounded fire-fighting airplanes, which are pivotal for their ability to dump tremendous amounts of water and fire retardant.

Santa Ana winds are a California firefighter’s nightmare. These blustery, dry, and often hot winds blow out of the desert and race through canyons and passes in the mountains on their way toward the coast. The air is hot not because it is bringing heat from the desert, but because it is flowing downslope from higher elevations.

As fall progresses, cold air begins to sink into the Great Basin deserts to the east of California. As the air piles up at the surface, high pressure builds, and the air begins to flow downslope toward the coast. When winds blow downslope, the air gets compressed, which causes it to warm and dry out. Not only do the winds spread the fire, but they also dry out vegetation, making it even more flammable.

Here is a Tuesday statement from the National Weather Service in Los Angeles:

AN UPPER LEVEL HIGH PRESSURE SYSTEM LOCATED OFF THE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA COAST COMBINED WITH SURFACE HIGH PRESSURE OVER THE GREAT BASIN WILL CONTINUE TO BRING HOT…DRY…AND STRONG SANTA ANA CONDITIONS WITH EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL TO MUCH OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA THROUGH TODAY. WINDS ARE EXPECTED TO SLOWLY DIMINISH LATE THIS AFTERNOON THROUGH WEDNESDAY. HOWEVER…THE CONTINUATION OF VERY WARM AND DRY CONDITIONS WILL CONTINUE THE RED FLAG WARNING THROUGH WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON. THERE WILL BE A LONG DURATION OF SINGLE DIGIT HUMIDITIES THROUGH WEDNESDAY…WITH VERY POOR HUMIDITY RECOVERIES EACH NIGHT. THE VERY LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITIES MAY CONTINUE THROUGH THURSDAY…WHICH MAY REQUIRE THE EXTENSION OF THE RED FLAG WARNINGS INTO THURSDAY. A WEAK UPPER LEVEL LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM IN THE VICINITY OF THE CALIFORNIA COAST SHOULD BRING SOME ADDITIONAL COOLING AND MOISTENING FOR THE WEEKEND.

Here in the East we are waiting for rain. The approaching cold front may produce disappointing results. Keep up to date on the rain on this web site or check with Tom Tasselmyer tonight at 5, 6 and 11pm on TV-11 and on WBAL-TV InstaWeather Plus for updates on the storm’s progress.

John Collins

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