Gas station without pumps

2018 November 10

Smoky air

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:23
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The air in Santa Cruz is full of smoke today, to the point where it is unhealthy (the EPA site AirNow gives the PM2.5 level as 175, well into the red “unhealthy” range).  This smoke is not coming from our local fire (17 acres and 93% contained), but from the Camp Fire 240 miles away.  The last time we had such bad air it was due to smoke from the Mendocino Complex fires back in July—we seem to be downwind of the worst fires in California since they started keeping good records in 1932  (the Mendocino Complex fires burned the most acres, and the Camp Fire, which is still only 20% contained has burned the most buildings).  Being downwind is bad, but is still a lot better than being in the middle of such fires.

Of the top 20 California fires for size, five have been in the past five years.  Of the top 20 for buildings destroyed, seven have been in the past five years.  Fire (not earthquakes) has always been California’s biggest danger for property damage.  Neither fire nor earthquakes lead to much loss of life, though smoke probably increases the deaths from respiratory illness, which is California’s fifth largest cause of death (after heart disease, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease).  Accidents are a much bigger risk for injury and death than fires are, being the sixth largest cause of death in California.  [Mortality info for California from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/states/california/california.htm]

I worry that climate change has lead to California being drier, so fires spread faster and further, and that the situation is just going to get worse. Population pressure and poor control of ignition sources (automobiles and power lines mainly) has resulted in very high probabilities of human-started fires that spread fast.  I wonder what the cost would be of requiring all electric lines to be underground—astronomical, but how bad compared to the cost of the fires prevented over the next 20 years?

Several of my close relatives have been affected by fire recently: my brother and sister had to evacuate in Colorado for the Cold Springs Fire 2 years ago (and almost all the trees on my brother’s property were burned, though the fire split around his house and the buildings were spared), my son had exams postponed at UCSB and came home early last year because of the Thomas fire, and my niece’s family have evacuated this week for the Woolsey fire (the fire perimeter is currently about 1000 feet from her house). More distant relatives lost a house in the Tunnel fire in Oakland in 1991.

I am fortunate to live in Santa Cruz, which is moister than much of California and has not (so far) suffered from any really large fires.  I do worry about some parts of town where there are a lot of blue-gum eucalyptus trees (known as “torch trees” to fire fighters, because of their high resin content)—those areas could burn very fast and spread fire to the rest of town.  Most of the blue-gum eucalyptus trees are protected by the city’s heritage tree ordinance, which strikes me as a bit misguided—the city should be actively trying to replace those trees with more fire-resistant ones that are native to the area.

2016 July 13

Brother in the news

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:01
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My brother has been in the news a lot this week, as his house was very near the origin of the Cold Springs Fire in Nederland, CO.  On Saturday, he was quoted in the Daily Camera, as one of the early evacuees:

Lester Karplus and Karna Knapp said their house is right in the middle of the affected area.

“I just saw smoke come up the valley by the next house over, and then I saw flames come up and ash rained down,” Karplus said.

Karplus said they own four horses. As they saw the fire approaching a dirt road by their home, they succeeded in getting two horses ridden to safety. They aren’t sure about two other horses, but hope their neighbor, a firefighter, let them out as they were battling the blaze.

Knapp said the couple moved to the Nederland area eight years ago with a backpack and suitcase each.

“It’s just stuff,” Knapp said.

More precisely, he doesn’t own the horses—he houses them in his barn and pasture for the owner, who was herself the subject of a news story about the horse rescue:

As Pam Harrington prepared to flee approaching flames from the Cold Springs fire on Saturday afternoon, she suddenly looked up to see a wall of black smoke before her.

The blaze she had smelled minutes earlier as she was doing chores at a barn with her 5-year-old daughter had moved in more quickly than she could have expected. After ensuring her daughter was safe in a vehicle headed out of the area, she turned her attention to her horses — a Mustang and her daughter’s pony — only to realize her only option was to ride them to safety.

The story of the rescue of the two horses is worth reading.  The other two horses were rescued from the pasture the next day.

The fire is now somewhat under control, and they let residents inside the perimeter to see what happened to their dwellings.  My brother was the subject of  some of the photos:

Lester Karplus checks his cell phone after checking on his home and finding it unharmed by the Cold Springs Fire in Nederland, Colo., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The fire came within feet of his home. (Matthew Jonas/The Daily Camera via AP) [http://www.starherald.com/news/regional_statewide/colorado-wildfire-forces-evacuations-of-over-homes/article_ad0266d0-11a6-5c88-a397-2ae503cda789.html?mode=image]

Lester Karplus checks his cell phone after checking on his home and finding it unharmed by the Cold Springs Fire in Nederland, Colo., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The fire came within feet of his home. (Matthew Jonas/The Daily Camera via AP) [http://www.starherald.com/news/regional_statewide/colorado-wildfire-forces-evacuations-of-over-homes/article_ad0266d0-11a6-5c88-a397-2ae503cda789.html?mode=image]

The remains of a satellite dish melted in a wildfire are seen near the home of Lester Karplus and Karna Knapp in Nederland, Colo., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (Matthew Jonas/Daily Camera via AP)[http://www.starherald.com/news/regional_statewide/colorado-wildfire-forces-evacuations-of-over-homes/article_ad0266d0-11a6-5c88-a397-2ae503cda789.html?mode=image]

The remains of a satellite dish melted in a wildfire are seen near the home of Lester Karplus and Karna Knapp in Nederland, Colo., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (Matthew Jonas/Daily Camera via AP)[http://www.starherald.com/news/regional_statewide/colorado-wildfire-forces-evacuations-of-over-homes/article_ad0266d0-11a6-5c88-a397-2ae503cda789.html?mode=image]

There a couple of more photos (of the unburned barn and greenhouse) at http://www.argus-press.com/news/state_news/article_2a6e45f6-3ed2-5327-bc03-49e1c38ade7c.html, again by Matthew Jonas.

Considering how big the fire was (about 528 acres in the latest estimate) and the total destruction of two of his neighbor’s homes, I think my brother was very lucky indeed to have had so little damage (the satellite dish wasn’t his—the land for it was leased to the government).

Update 2016 July 14:  He is quoted again by the Daily Camera:

Lester Karplus said he hopes to return to his home on Sherwood Road with a generator in the next few days.

“We’ll probably try and get back this weekend and start the cleaning process,” Karplus said. “We’re not sure what that’s going to look like. We’ll know more when the cleaners come to look at it. This could be anything from inexpensive to very expensive.”

Karplus said he got to go back to his house briefly to check on it during the fire, and said while houses on his street burned down, his was luckily untouched. He said there was no slurry on his property, either, but he was going to have to deal with smoke damage to his log cabin.

 

But even with a lot of cleanup ahead, Karplus said it was good to hear that he and the other evacuees would be heading home soon.

“It’s a bit of a relief, because it’s stressful to deal with that process and be outside your home,” Karplus said. “It’s nice to be able to go back to your home.”

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