Santa Ana Winds Fueling Los Angeles Fires, Clear Your Brush

la fire smoke in trees

It is Brush Fire Season in southern California.  We currently have Red Flag Conditions, which means the hot, dry Santa Ana winds are whipping around at 70+ miles per hour.  Since it’s the end of the growing season our hillsides are covered with dry brush and dead grass.  Santa Anas are predicted through tomorrow and they are supposed to pick up even more around 11pm tonight.


Right now, there are major brush fires burning to the north and west of Los Angeles, on the outskirts of the city.  The first one started about 2:00AM in Little Tujunga canyon where I used to hike as a girl and fell in love with trees and nature and growing things.

I’m sure no matter where you are in the San Fernando Valley you can smell the fire.  I could smell it in my bedroom this morning when I woke up.  And if you live southwest as the wind blows (like in Malibu Beach), there will be ash in the air.  The smell is a mixture of sage, pine and something else.  It almost smells like your neighbor has a fire going in his fireplace.  But there is a darker scent in the mix.  The smell of houses, cars and personal possessions.  The news is now reporting there are fires in Porter Ranch, Newport Beach and two at Camp Pendleton down in San Diego County.

Even if you don’t live in a threatened area you can’t help feeling edgy.  Your primal Fight or Flight response kicks in.  I’ve taken an allergy tablet as a preventative measure but the winds get under your skin, the smoke hurts your lungs and eyes.  Unless your house has a NASA-approved airtight seal there will be grit and dirt layered on everything.  And the smell of the smoke is in the house and in your clothes.  Add in the ions from the winds and your get a whole new level of crazy.

Traffic is a nightmare in the north San Fernando Valley. Many freeways along the foothills have been closed either because the smoke is too thick to see, or there is actual fire burning next to traffic lanes.  There is a wide freeway that runs along the foothills in the north called the 118 Freeway or The Ronald Regan Highway.  It is wide enough for Jack Bauer to land a jet on, so it also makes a good impromptu firebreak.  Even with the Herculean efforts of LA County Fire, the fire has jumped the 118 in the northern rocky areas and is burning on the other side.  In the past, fires have roiled down this same path through the mountains, down the canyons and the only force capable of stopping it are the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

Despite the damage so far I think we have the absolute best fire crews in the world.  LA City and County Fire can pluck a kitten from a tree one day and the next day they’re in some volcanic layer of Dante’s Inferno doing hand to hand combat with fire demons using axes and picks.

I wish Michael Chertoff was here to learn a thing or two about coordinated response.  I see amazingly good communication and coordination between several county and city fire departments, police, sheriffs, Animal Control and private ranches (for horses and large animals), the Red Cross (who wants you to check in if you’re evacuated) and even the media broadcasting information and directions from Fire Command Central.  I wish Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was here taking notes right now.  And after the fire is out they will dissect every ember and gust of wind to learn how the fire started, how it spread and how they can keep this from happening again next year.  I wish FEMA chief Michael Chertoff was here to watch how it’s done.  And unless he’s in the belly of a water-dropping C-130 tell the President not to bother. We’re busy.

If you live in a fire prone area no matter what part of the globe I would listen to the fire department who now recommends that you have 250 feet of defensible space around your house in very high fire danger areas. You might want to rethink the pine and eucalyptus trees.  Yes, I love them too, but in a fire they become 300 foot tall sparklers shooting out burning embers that can travel for miles before kindling another fire in a treetop.  This is what is helping this firestorm travel from canyon to canyon right now.

Put on your favorite Ronald Regan cowboy hat and go clear some brush.  Cut down dead shrubs and trees.  Move your firewood pile away from the house and make sure nothing flammable is growing nearby.  Never, ever, EVER use fire in the landscape.

Here’s a piece I wrote on the Santa Ana winds for my LA blog; AngelCityArt.

Here is a copy of last year’s letter to residents from LA County fire regarding brush clearance and fire safety.