23 October, 2007

Fires (new thread)

[Background here. Updates below]

Unofficial reports range from 14 to 22 homes destroyed in our neighborhood (out of about 150 in the development). But we have no visuals, and no info on which houses were hit.

The source of "14" is unknown [update: it's from an official source]. The "22" number came from someone who asked a police officer who was guarding the road that leads to the development.

I'm firmly telling myself that the above still means at least 85% of the houses are okay. But I'm getting a little sick to my stomach. We had no idea so many homes in the neighborhood were affected.

Here on the base, winds have shifted. It has gone from "faint whiff" to uncomfortable/irritating levels of smoke in the air. However, the fire itself is of zero threat to us.

UPDATE: 0730. According to officials, it will be at least 24 hours before we are allowed to return.

UPDATE II: 1000. Good news? When crossing the info in a partial list of burned homes released by the city with other known data points, it seems to be likely that the fire passed across the southernmost edge of our development, east to west. We live more toward the north side, so there is reason to hope...

Air quality is becoming increasingly bad here on the base. We are heading inland to for a quick shopping trip; perhaps a mask is in order.

UPDATE III: 1900. More good news? We are getting conflcting reports, but a friend of our landlord was on the road in front of our subdivision and says that while she saw scorched earth, she didn't see any burned homes. It was smoky and the development runs up a steep hill with some large trees that may obscure the view a bit from the bottom. But our home is one of the more easily seen, as it is high on the hill (she doesn't know which is ours). There are many reasons to doubt the development is untouched, but we are gathering more and more elements of a positive picture. We may be able to see for ourselves tomorrow.

A solid onshore breeze has developed; the air quality is vastly improved in my locale, and that breeze will have a powerful, positive effect on firefighting efforts. While many places are still burning (two spots are still very bad), the weather is cooperating and the worst is likely behind us. I can practically feel the region relax just a little. No guarantees, but officials talk as if many people will return to their homes tomorrow afternoon.

On the topic of air quality, here is a view of the late-afternoon sun on what should've been a crystal-clear, Santa Ana day...

UPDATE IV: 2000. Official city reports say that homes burned in a development abutting ours, but no mention of homes in ours. So far, we have homes on burn lists from the directly-adjacent east, north and west of us, but nothing in our subdivision. Combined with the reports above... dare we hope?

UPDATE V: Wednesday 0700. My theory in Update II holds, and hope grows. The burn list released last night seems to indicate that the fire passed directly south of our subdivision. The neighborhood to the south (across a two-lane road) suffered significant damage, but not a single house in our subdivision is on the list. Perhaps that southern neighborhood is where the "14-22" number came from? By tracking addresses, we can see that the fire swooped through the undeveloped area to our southeast, flattened the eastern edge of the development there, then hop-scotched westward through the rest of the homes directly south of us. I'm stifling my burgeoning optimism for fear of being devastatingly wrong.

The city is saying we will know before noon if "some" areas will be reopened. Even if they are, we may have to stay here on base because utilities are expected to be down. There are hundreds of thousands in our situation, and worse (over 1300 homes destroyed and two fires still burning strong).

I can't quite wrap my brain around the idea that we could be "okay." And then there is that little voice that points out that we are essentially happy that others are among the "14-22." I don't like to think about that. It occurred to me yesterday that this is a very pale shadow of what military families go through with casualty reports.