Smoke rises from Mt. Wilson above Los Angeles on Tuesday around noon. The wildfire has threatened the observatory and critical communications towers. Today it’s too hazy to see anything but the barest suggestion of the downtown skyline, much less the mountains behind it. Not that it looked quite this clear even on Tuesday – I ran the photo through auto white balance to make everything easier to see.
I’m reminded of the last time the mountaintop complex was threatened by fire, during the 2009 Station Fire… and the photos I scanned from a 1992 tour of the observatory, wondering if that had been my only chance to see it.
A fire is raging in the hills and canyons of Orange County. It’s nothing compared to the devastation in Northern California, where 160,000 acres have burned, killing 21 people and wiping out whole neighborhoods in Napa and Santa Rosa — but a dozen homes have been lost and about as many damaged in the 8,000-acre blaze near Anaheim.
Even though I live farther away now, the smoke still reached the coast on Monday, the first day of Canyon Fire 2 (so-named because it picked up where the Canyon Fire left off last month). It turned the sun orange and the sunlight yellow, like sunset but at too high an angle. The smoke is a lot more diffuse now, looking more like typical smog, and firefighters are getting the fire under control as the weather changes.
The evacuation maps and the photos of Peters Canyon remind me of the Santiago Fire ten years ago this month. That fire burned for nearly three weeks and scorched 28,000 acres. I wondered whether they ever caught the arsonist who set it. As far as I can tell from a quick search, they never did. The most recent article I found was on the five year anniversary of the fire. At that time, they had “narrowed the search to three suspects, he said, but no arrests [had] been made.”
October is always a bad month for wildfires in California. Plants have been drying out all summer, the winter rains haven’t started yet, and the hot, dry seasonal winds of fall — Santa Anas in the south and Diablos in the north — whip up the flames and drive them long distances. But in the last decade, more and more fires have burned large areas in summer, spring, and even winter, to the point where “fire season” may as well be year-round.
A few views of the smoke plume from the Sand Fire burning near Santa Clarita (in the mountains north of Los Angeles), seen from a distance. The fire broke out on Friday, just a few days after the smoke from the recent fires on the San Gabriels finally cleared out and I was able to see the mountains again.
On Saturday, the smoke plume was drifting southward, turning the sunlight yellow and orange in coastal areas. We headed inland that day and managed to escape the worst of it, though I was still wheezing by the time I got home. The views above and below to the left show the smoke cloud near sunset on Saturday evening, seen from the side. Unfortunately my phone went a little overboard with some of the color enhancements and digital zoom. My new phone’s camera is better than the old one, but I’m really going to have to do something about fixing or replacing the dedicated camera.
Monday I could see two distinct plumes of smoke rising behind the Santa Monica Mountains to the north. By late afternoon, the western plume had faded into the haze while the eastern one was still clearly visible. I took the photo at upper right from the LAX area around 6pm as I was leaving work.
This morning I could see a wall of gray cloud off to the west. It took me a few moments to be sure, but the edges and movement looked more like fog than smoke, so I figure it was the marine layer, keeping the sun off the beaches for the morning.
The sky is just plain hazy today, with no distinct smoke clouds visible from LA. (Firefighters have made some progress containing it.) Of course the smoke is settling out over the whole area…. As much as I like walking to lunch, I think I’m going to stick somewhere close by.
Wait, you’re supposed to grill the burgers, not the cars!
My first hint that something was wrong this morning was the extremely yellow sunlight coming in around the blinds as I got ready for breakfast, the color you expect right at sunrise or sunset, not after the sun’s already up. Once I walked outside it was clear there was a fire somewhere in the area, and as I walked around the building I could see smoke filling half the sky.
It only filled half the sky, though. The smoke rose from the fire near Glendora, at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, and drifted south to Orange County before winds blew it west across Long Beach, San Pedro, and the Palos Verdes peninsula.
Off to the west of the plume, the skies remained clear. Clearer than usual, in fact, because high winds had blown all the smog out to sea over the last few days. To the north and west, the sky was a gorgeous blue, the mountains and distant city skyline crystal clear. (If you view the larger image on Flickr, you can spot downtown LA right next to the first telephone pole on the left.) Smoke in the southeast turned the sun orange, bathing the area in light more suited to the golden hour.
A few miles north and a bit later, this view looking south shows the clear blue northwestern sky reflected in the building, the smoky southern sky behind it, and another building lit orange by the smoky sunlight.