On Thursday I took the day off from work and we went to the Orange County Fair. It was a particularly bizarre visit because Costa Mesa was beneath the smoke plume from the Holy Fire (so named because it started in Holy Jim Canyon) burning in the Santa Ana mountains.
The sky, except for clear blue patches to the west and south, was a yellowish brown. The sunlight was dim and yellow.
When we arrived, the entire ticket sales system was down. All the booths. All the self-serve kiosks. You couldn’t buy tickets for any of the rides, unless you could find one of the wandering cash-only ticket sellers, roaming the fair like quest-giver NPCs.
We did eventually find someone who could sell us tickets. At that point, the sun emerged briefly through a break in the smoke. The deep red-orange disc was dim enough to look at comfortably, and lit up the fissures in the cloud a lurid red.
Fair food keeps getting more and more outrageous. Deep fried Twinkie dogs and Zucchini Weenies have been joined by triple-decker donut burgers, chicken-in-a-waffle-on-a-stick, and the donut chicken and ice cream sandwich. But for sheer “because we can” ridiculousness: deep-fried filet mignon. What a waste.
It was early evening by the time we left, and as we walked to the gate closest to where we’d parked, we saw a bright orange line in the distance. Was it the glow of the flames behind the mountain? Or the flames themselves on top of the ridge? We were too far away to tell. But that line shimmered, and we watched a deeper orange glow appear and fade behind another part of the ridge. It’s hard to be sure, but I think it might be burning in the valley between the two peaks of Saddleback.
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!