May 06, 2009

Welcome to Santa Barbara

That's what I've been told by everyone I know the last two days. In fact, my friend Samantha made a point of calling me last night just to say that. The reason? We're having our first wildfire since our arrival. This is Samantha's third, and she's only been here a year. There aren't any wildfires to speak of where I grew up, so I did some research*.

For starters, the fire started on May 5 somewhere around 1:30 in the afternoon. The cause is under investigation still. From what I understand, wildfire "season" (I can't believe there's a season for this crap) starts a little later in the year. This is due in large part to the utter lack of rain that this area gets after March. See the graph I grabbed from for reference.

Of course, that won't mean much without a comparison, so here is the same graph for the town in Kentucky where I grew up.

The fire began in the Cathedral Peak area. To DS and I watching the news, the fire seemed more or less contained last night. We went to Japanese class, no one seemed panicked. On the way home, we could see flames for the first time in the dark. I went to work this morning thinking the fire was probably almost over.

A term we kept hearing on the news as a point of concern was "sundowner winds". We had no idea what that meant, so I looked it up. Here is an excerpt from a report by Gary Ryan of the Santa Maria Weather Service Office.

"Sundowners" [are] Santa Barbara's special version of the Santa Ana regime. Sundowners frequently occur in the late afternoon or evening hours - hence the name. Light sundowners create irregular rises in temperature downtown with gentle offshore breezes. Stronger sundowners, occurring two or three times a year, can create sharp temperature rises, local gale force winds, and significant weather-related problems. Rarely, probably about a half dozen times in a century, an "explosive" sundowner occurs. These extremely strong and hot winds present a dangerous weather situation. In these events, super heated air from the Santa Ynez Valley bursts across the Santa Ynez Mountains and onto the coastal plain, reaching gale force or higher speeds within the city. Dust storms occur, fires can race down the mountain slopes, and great stress is felt by the human population, by animals, and by plants.
I can tell you that last night, walking to Japanese, the dust in the wind was actually scratching my legs. Though I don't know that this is an "explosive" sundowner.

So as I said, I went to work this morning. At 1:45 this afternoon, I left work to drive 35 min south to Ventura to drop the car off for some work. I still didn't see anything too scary. Between 3 and 3:30, I started back north in my loaner car, and could see the smoke the moment I was on the highway.

I kept taking photos as I got closer, just clicking the shutter button without really looking since I was driving. Right as I was coming into Santa Barbara, I got this.

I drove through that mess. It was very creepy. With the sun shining down through the smoke, it reminded me of the lit tunnels that go under mountains back home. Not really what I want to feel like when it's actually sunny and cloudless out.

I missed my exit coming home because of the traffic and my fears of hurting the loaner car. So I went one exit down and then came back. While I was waiting on the overpass, I got this shot.

If you expand that photo, you should be able to see the insane traffic. It took me 10 minutes to go the 1 mile back to my exit.

In the time since I've been writing this, the mandatory evacuation area has expanded a few times. The fire has jumped its perimeter, and has now burned down its first actual structures. I'm a little freaked out, though everyone is telling me there is a very very low chance the fire would come here. This is based on the wind direction and the interstate being between us. However, the office where I work is now under evacuation warning (not yet in mandatory evacuation) and the winds are expected to pick up again tonight, as much as 70mph at times.

If you want to follow the fire, here are the two sites I've been checking:
County of Santa Barbara
Also, the CofSB site has a Google Map link that they've been updating periodically with the evacuation areas.

That map is also available for Google Earth, and I took the liberty of taking a screenshot for you. That yellow house is where we live. The darker shading is mandatory evacuation, and the lighter shading is the evacuation warning. We're 2.25 miles from the evacuation warning right now.

*Please note: all information included here was found via internet searches and world of mouth. I do not claim to know what I'm talking about. Please visit the links I have provided for sources that do.
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Monica said...

Oh wow, I hate this for you, but love that it was tagged under holy freaking crap.

I am scared for you, dude!

kimberlina said...

i, to, love the 'holy freaking crap' tag!!

i also love this, "I do not claim to know what I'm talking about."

please be safe, internet girlfriend!! that's definitely kind of creepy that you're so close to evac warning!