The La Tuna Canyon Fire


YEAH FOR ME, a natural disaster looming over me made national headlines.  Whoppie!!

*cough* I mean ..

Labor Day Weekend 2017 will be remembered around these parts as the weekend of the La Tuna fire … and because the name sounds like some Spanish fish grill.  Raging up in the Vedugo Mountains threatening Burbank, Sunland, & Glendale; it is the largest fire within Los Angeles City Limits in history … because … I guess it kinda is in Los Angeles?  That area also included the Crescenta valley, where I live, and ironically where my dog lives too.  The fire was quite huge … massive … 7000 acres cutting across the Vedugos, raining ash, smoke, and allergies across a good swatch of SoCal.  It was so bad, brunch plans were ruined.  Heck, they even closed roads keeping people from happy hours or worse a good place to live stream the fire.

Alright, I am kidding a bit about a very dangerous and potentially deadly thing.  But I feel I have the right to because a) That was my happy hour that got ruined, and b) there were no reported injuries other than some cases of heat exhaustion.  At last report, only three buildings were damaged (all of them fully destoyed, but still only three).  The fire crews & police did evacuate people threatened; but that ended up to be only 1,400 people (remember there are literally millions of people in this area) of which to my understanding currently 90% are back home.  At last report, we are still under a state of emergency … but then again, the Starbucks is full of people going through their daily business.

And I do say “latest” and “currently” because the fire is still active.  There hasn’t been an update since last night, but at that time they said the fire was 30% contained.  But the ‘since then’ makes for a better ending to this blog … so bear with me.

For starters … it’s a good idea to pull up a map to get a feel of things here; to help here is an image of the burn area, but you may want your own map as well.


This map represents the fire on Sunday September 3rd.  Some key features here are — La Crescenta is to the middle right.  The red cross there is approximately where my house is (not because I am some important thing, just that  I was two blocks from a shelter).   Burbank is to the south … for scale, as the crow flies, that is about 4 miles between my house and downtown Burbank.  The white shaded area is the fire burn area. If you see the white line going through middle of it – that is La Tuna Canyon Road, the canyon where the fire started, thus the name.  The only ‘over the mountain’ route through the Verdugos other than Highway 2 (an interstate) to the east (and the right side of your pic).

As much rain as we had had this spring, it’s been a very dry and very hot summer.  Most of the last two months, the temps were in the 90s and 100s, and besides an occasional humid gloom from the ocean, it hasn’t been wet at all.  Like no rain whatso ever.  So all that growth that happened in the spring, now was dead, and itching to catch fire.

My experience with the fire starts with an ironic twist on Friday – a day off for me.  I never take the La Tuna Canyon road.  It could be scenic, but the 2 is way more scenic & usually faster.  But I needed to go to a part of Burbank under heavy construction (the Lowe’s not the IKEA) and through taking La Tuna wold be faster.  That was about 10am on Friday.  Within a couple of hours after taking that road, it would be closed for the fire, and is still not open.  I remember nothing of that drive that suggests that a fire was started, or looming, but it could have come quite quick.

Somewhere around 4PM as I was taking the pup out for his buisness, and smelt what smelt like a campfire.  A quick look around the skyline and there was a noticable plume of smoke.  By 7PM it was big enough, and pumping out enough smoke, that it was making the news.; but moreso on the Burbank side of the mountain.  The flames were visible there, and creating quite a Friday Night light show.  At that point, it was a novelty.

Saturday morning, we woke up to find out how bad it was.  By then, the fire had already spread to 5000 acres.  The winds were hard to the north, but swirling, causing the fight to be unpredictable.  It was mostly in unpopulated areas, and locations that needed a good burn, but a fire like this can spread, spread quickly, and be trouble if it goes where it shouldn’t.

The battle was fought by the LAFD and the US Forest Service – and they brought out some pretty big guns.  Most of the fire was off the roads, so ground units would have trouble.  So the fliers were flying.  There were two ‘super soakers’ in play; converted float planes that would fly to a lake or reservoir, and while ‘landing’ scoop up a few thousand gallons of water … the two would fly in tandem and hit the same location within seconds before heading back for more water.  Their path had them coming through every 20 minutes or so.  There were water drop helicopters too, but they seemed set up for very specific drops … almost like they had fire hoses sticking out of the bottom.  The real cool stuff happened when the ‘slurry soakers’ came through.  These are modified big jets — DC-9s, DC-10s, even a 747.  They were filled with a red slurry used as a fire deterrent.  In these conditions, they are used much like a fire line, putting down a place where the fighter intend to stand their ground … and they were clearly effective throughout the fight.

Probably the point I saw it at it’s most effective was the only point I was really nervous.  Throughout the fire, it was always on the ‘other side of the ridge’.  I could see smoke, the glow of flames, but no actual fire.  Sometimes something would spring up at the top of a ridge, but it seemed isolated.  Saturday night around 7PM I was sitting out with the pup, and saw how the flames were getting brighter around one edge.  Right before my eyes, the fire lept over the ridge, and started quickly to move down.  Within a minute or two, an acre around that ridgetop was aflame.  All I could think was that if much more of that fire crested the ridge, this whole side of the mountain could go up … and then the whole valley was at risk.  As I sat there and dreaded it, the lights of the super soakers crossed in front of the flames, and slowly the orange grew to black.  From that point on, the rest of the fire was fought on the other side of the ridge.

Still, that threat was enough to evacuate people on our side of ridge.  I freaked out a little when I saw that the evacuation zone ended just 4 blocks from my house; but a scout of that area this morning kinda cooled me off a bit.  The houses over there were much more surrounded by brush, much more on the up slope of the fire, and if the fire did come down it would have had to jump a drainage ditch … so I was pretty safe.  In fact, I was super safe through this whole adventure.  Most people were.

These battles were apparent throughout the day on Saturday, and continued relentlessly overnight.  Sunday’s winds changed to send it southerly; which bothered most of LA with the bad air quality.  However, the wind was now blowing the fire back towards where it already had burned .. and everywhere else was far from homes.

At 4PM Sunday, it was announced that the weather has turned ‘favorable’, and evacuations were lifted everywhere.  By 6PM, we could see what he meant … as the first rains in months started to move in over the mountains.  We awoke this morning to see our cars not covered in ash, but covered in water — rain had fallen, and fallen hard.  Smoke still rises from the mountain, but not in the great mushroom cloud plumes.  The air is still rough, my throat is scratchy, my nose is clogged, my eyes are crusty, but my house is still standing and my dog is itching for a walk.

So I am going to say we survived this fire … even if the brunch plans didn’t.


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