24 November, 2007


I took a bike ride along some local wetlands today, the first time I've gotten out in the middle of the burned areas rather than viewing them from the edges as I drive by. It's amazing, but five weeks later a gentle breeze can still lift feather-light ash from hidden crevices, or float a whiff of stale smoke past my nose. I brought my camera, though a dying battery and out-dated technology made for mixed results (click to enlarge).

Somehow I expected it to be almost like treading on a graveyard. In many ways, it was... but it was also encouraging because I couldn't help but see the signs of recovery. Strange how still it was, though--no mice or rabbits rustling in the brush, few birds flying overhead.

In natural settings, the winds--reported at up to 100 mph--apparently drove the fire at such a pace that it swept through quick-burning underbrush, often searing tree trunks and drying out leaves above without ever truly consuming much until it finally came upon the dead wood of structures. Notice the leaves atop the bush with its burned underparts and the fence posts alongside. Here, the small path was enough to deter the fire; in other places it crossed over (eventually destroying dozens of homes on the other side of the road).

The darkness of the burned hills has faded somewhat, and a close inspection explains the change: nature is already rebuilding, tempering black and gray with green [in deference to the Luddites dial-up users out there, the rest of the pics are in "read more"]:

Here, Mother Nature is roaring back. Evidence of what she's fighting can be seen in the foreground strewn with "logs;" they're actually fence posts. And those hills didn't used to be quite so naked... However, the air was filled with seed parachutes from the cattails that had managed to survive the fire.

More evidence of the wind and the odd selectiveness of the fire's progress... The bark around the lower tree trunk burned, the heat killed the leaves, and the wind blew down a limb. A Park Services building used to occupy the space to the right of the surviving trees.

A common sight in certain places these days: burned palm trunks, singed leaves at the base of the crowns, and a little green at the very top. These guys were lucky; a sure sign of "someone's home used to be here" is a semi-circle of "matchsticks"--palm trunks without leaves...

That's my neighborhood there in the background between the trunks. No wonder my patio looked like this when I got back (the patio floor is actually mono-chromatic, and that's not your usual SoCal dirt).

Kinda of scary to think that fine ash includes particles of peoples' homes. Yeah, we're feeling just a little lucky... < /understatement>

For us, things are definitely back into a "normal" routine. But normal still includes bath towels instead of entryway rugs/mats (easier to wash out the ash that gets tracked in), regular
concern for friends and coworkers who lost everything, and a rather mundane daily question: "Is the air quality good, with the humidity/breeze such that it smells okay and we can open the windows?"

Can't tell you how blessed I feel when I consider that the remaining effects of the fires for me are towels at every entry, and a daily check for air quality...