Monday, October 26, 2009

Mother Nature Speaks

I shot this from my iPhone, three or so miles as the crow flies from where I live, in rural Southern CA. What you are looking at is part of the devastation caused by the Cedar Fire of 2003. On the evening of Oct 25, a hunter set off a signal flare that ignited the dry brush. Night conditions prevented firefighting aircraft from making water drops. Then, around midnight, the very worst thing that could eventuate - eventuated:

The notorious Santa Ana winds were unleashed, fanning the flames like a blowtorch. In a matter of hours - six years ago today - the fire had moved 30 miles, burned 100,000 acres, and killed 12 people. In all, 280,278 acres were torched and 15 people lost their lives, including one fire figher, Steven Rucker. The fire was finally contained Nov 3, but it took till Dec 5 before complete control was achieved.

When I moved here in late 2006, I saw clear evidence of fire damage within two miles of our home, in three different directions. My housemate evacuated with his cat, not knowing if he would have a home to return to.

A mere four years following the Cedar Fire, this time in 2007, three different fires bracketed our community - this time from farther away - part of a series of fires that scorched a half-million acres from the Mexican border up to Santa Barbara, north of LA. Fortunately, this time, no lives were lost.

Those green shrubs you see in the foreground are baby oaks, part of the cycle of rebirth and regeneration. But two fires within four years may also signal system collapse, equivalent to global warming, an economic meltdown, or a nervous breakdown. Sustained dry conditions spanning two decades have weakened the mighty oaks and other trees in the region, making them prey for beetle infestation and other blights. Against a raging fire, these trees literally combusted. Then the Santa Ana carried their flames - across canyons, across freeways - into other vulnerable trees.

Moving walls of fire, the Red Wind, the Devil's Breath, just a couple of the names. Trust me, just a gust from the east this time of year is enough to strike the fear of God into everyone who lives in Southern CA. So far this season, the Santa Ana's have been quiet. We hold our breath, praying Santa Ana will hold hers. Then, hopefully, in two or three weeks, the rains will start, bringing this year's fire season to an end.

Hopefully, again, we will see more rain in years ahead. And hopefully, what we are witnessing is just part of the cycle of nature, not a complete system breakdown. Eventually, the earth will mend, but whether our species will be around when that happens is something we simply cannot predict.

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