California Fires

Wildfires in southern California are in the news again. The satellite picture below gives you a sense of the scope of the fires.

NASA Satellite Image courtesy of and enhanced by StormCenter Communications

The satellite picture shows the smoke being blown in a southwesterly direction, away from the fires. The length of the smoke column is an indication of how strong the winds are. The strength of the Santa Ana winds fanning the fires is determined by the atmospheric pressure change (gradient) on either side of the southern California mountains.

StormCenter Communications provided the following information on the fires.

The above MODIS image captured on October 13, 2008 shows the Sesnon Fire and the Marek Fire burning about 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California.

 

Additional Information:

 

  • As of October 14, 2008, the Sesnon Fire has burned 7,000 acres and is 0% contained.  The blaze has destroyed 19 structures and it is unknown how many of those are houses.
  • As of October 14, 2008, the Marek Fire has burned 4,726 acres and is 5% contained.   The blaze has destroyed 44 structures, 39 of which were houses.  The Marek Fire has forced the evacuation of 1,800 people.
  • Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared state of emergencies in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.
  • 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.
John Collins
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