Author: Sarah Mofford
Nearly every year, the mountains in California catch fire and begin to burn. This year, the fire called the “Station Fire” ignited and set the Los Angeles River Ranger District and Los Angeles National Forest aflame.
On Wednesday, Aug. 26, at about 3:30 p.m., it was determined that the initial cause of the fire was arson. As of Sept. 13, the fire was 84 percent contained, at a size of 160,557 acres, and by Saturday, Sept. 19th, firefighters expect to have the flames completely contained.
“The long, dry summers and long-term drought patterns allow for the adaptation of drought resistant plants which tend to be highly flammable,” Biology Professor Gretchen North said.
Some of the Los Angeles area has not seen a fire for the past 40 years and this build-up has allowed the fire to continue with ample fuel, becoming the biggest fire Los Angeles has seen since 1933.
At the same time, two other fires, the Oak Glen and Pendleton Fires, also started. By Sept. 3, the Oak Glen fire had burned 1,159 acres and was nearing a 90 percent containment. The fire was successfully contained by the estimated date, Sept. 7.
The Pendleton fire had burned 860 acres and was 100 percent contained by the same date. By Sept. 4, both fires were thought to be human-caused.
Though this does not necessarily mean that the fires were caused by arson, an investigation is still underway.
These three fires have been the cause of the poor air quality that has been affecting much of the Los Angeles Valley. “The smoke definitely made it hotter,” Sarah Cantor (sophomore) said when asked to comment upon how the fires affected the Occidental Campus. “I didn’t notice the air quality at first but then I could smell the smoke and there was ash on my car.” Beyond smoke and ash, Occidental was unaffected.
However, some local students and staff found themselves in the danger zone. As the fire raged, Chemistry professors Chris Craney and Don Deardorff were at Occidental giving presentations to new students.
“At noon, we received calls saying that we had to evacuate,” Professor Craney said. When Craney arrived home he found that flames had topped the ridge by his house, moving eastward and down the mountain. “It was fully engulfed with fire,” Craney said.
Helicopters overhead were dropping water over the 85-foot flames as they tried to protect the homes on Ocean View Avenue in La Canada. Craney evacuated with his wife and belongings to stay for a night with family friends before moving, due to smoke irritation, to a motel where they spent the rest of the evacuation.
When night fell, the smoke made it impossible to see farther than a block. On the night of Tuesday, Sept. 1, both professors were allowed back into their homes after controlled burns the previous day.
Bruce Steele, Oxy’s Environmental Health and Safety Manager, who lives in Altadena, was also above the evacuation line, but Steele refused to leave. He was interviewed by both the L.A. Times and a local radio show. At the time of the evacuation, the fire was in Millard Canyon above Steele’s home, about a mile away. According to Steele, he stayed at his home because he was a resource.
He was able to walk the fire crews all around the trails above Altadena. This week he is on vacation, but he has compiled a list for Oxy alumni of necessary measures he took before deciding to stay.
Meanwhile, other Altadena residents like student Kyle Owens (junior), who lives just three blocks below the mandatory evacuation line, were also in the fire’s shadow. Owens said, “I could see the fires on the hill, and could see half of [the flames] running down.”
Even though it looked far away at the time, the forest area behind her was at risk and the fire could easily have come down farther. Instead, the wind changed and began to blow the flames away, toward Mt. Wilson. Owens said, “I remember the wind kept changing but the smoke was worse in the morning [and burned off by the afternoon and evening]. It was scarier in 1993 because that was during the Santa Ana winds, which shifted our way.”
Professors North and Craney agreed that the fires could have been much worse if the Santa Ana winds had been in town. “The only things to worry about once the fires are over,” North said, “are another fire happening too soon after, allowing weeds to replace the chaparral. The second is that if we get too much rain, there could be a debris flow.”
For more information and a constant update on the Station Fire, the Incident Information System has set up a Web site, Inciweb, to give day-by-day updates that can be found at http://www.inciweb.org/incident/1856/.
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