Our Hills Will Burn   5 comments

Bust of Pyrrhus, or Pyrros, King of Epirus (319/318 BCE–272 BCE)

Bust of Pyrrhus, or Pyrros, King of Epirus (319/318 BCE–272 BCE)

Today I give homage to King Pyrrhus of ancient Epirus. It was his single-mindedness as a general that eventually gave the name to our SoCal ecosystem.

King Pyrrhus led his army into battle at Asculum against the army of Rome in 279 BC. Pyrrhus won, but is said to have remarked, “One more victory against the Romans and we will be ruined.” This is the source of the term “Pyrrhic Victory” – a victory so costly that it destroys the victor.

Such is the Southern California ecosystem. Plants grow in our canyons and on our rough, undeveloped hillsides … and those plants are called fuel. That fuel will burn; it’s only a matter of when. The worst fires will be driven by winds blowing from the east to the west, which are unusual and called Santa Ana winds.

This last week, an unseasonal fire started, driven by Santa Ana winds from the desert. Our prevailing wind is from the ocean – a wet wind, obviously.  However, when the winds turn around and blow from the east, they are blowing from the hot, dry desert, and that scorched wind sucks whatever moisture might remain in the brown hills. One spark, and fire starts. With a 40 – 70 MPH wind driving the fire (Santa Anas can be nasty), the fire department literally can do nothing but get out of the way and try to protect homes in the path of the fire.

Wind gusts can go over 100 MPH. Embers can get in the wind, causing the fire to jump as much as a 1/2 mile at a time. Santa Anas are scary when the sparks fly.

We have a Pyrrhic Ecosystem. It will burn.

The current fire, which is called the Springs fire, is still burning. It has already burned from Camarillo to the ocean. The size of the burn is 28,000 acres. That’s 44 square miles. That’s well over twice the size of Manhattan in New York City. And this huge area was completely burned in about 2 days.

Here’s a great map from Discovery magazine showing the burned area in red:


Luckily, as of this writing the fire is now 60% contained, and this weekend saw much cooler temperatures, the wind slacking considerably … there was even a little rain in our neighborhood on Sunday. This fire’s worst days are over, it appears. It should be contained relatively quickly now.

This fire is a long way from my home, fortunately. It’s about 30 miles away as the crow flies … and, importantly, it’s far downwind from us as well. The fire area is about due southwest of us, so we were in no danger from this fire.

But are Santa Anas a danger? Yes. Because our hillsides will burn, just as they did in 2007. That year, we had fires literally on all 4 sides of our house, but none got closer than a half mile. Absolutely too close for comfort!

I’ve had two occasions since we moved to Southern California when the smoke was so dense and close that it turned the daylight orange. Those were very bad days. On the other hand, that is two days spread over 35 years.

Southern California has many things to recommend it. Yes, we have earthquakes … and bad ones strike every few decades. Yes, we have really bad winds and fires every few years. But California is a really big place, and most of the catastrophes don’t hit your neighborhood, thankfully.

We don’t have floods. We don’t have tornadoes. We don’t have 100% humidity. We don’t have snow in May (I’ve actually had two days of snow at my home in those 35 years). And it will be about 72 degrees in my neighborhood sometime during the day, about 330 days every year.

But there is a cost for living in this temperate climate. There is a cost for living in a place where you can be surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. And I say you can be surfing and skiing, because you won’t be seeing me doing either of those!

I’ll proclaim my victories in other areas. Hail, King Pyrrhus!


LA Times Fire Updates

Discovery Magazine

5 responses to “Our Hills Will Burn

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  1. An excellent post. Living in Tennessee leaves me scratching my head when I read about these fires, but you’ve explained conditions, causes, and effects well. My heart goes out to all who are living with such difficulties. Thanks for enlightening me! http://ohtheplaceswesee.com

  2. Sadly, that wasn’t even the only fire going on in SoCal this past week …

  3. Pingback: California’s Cadiz Dunes | MowryJournal.com

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