En route to Ventura: the Skirball fire residue

We started out for Ventura on Tuesday morning, December 19, 2017. We live in West Los Angeles, and the Skirball Fire in the Santa Monica Mountains was a couple of miles away from where we live. In fact, I saw the fire start on, I think, Wednesday morning, December 6. On the Rapid 12 Santa Monica Bus bound for downtown at 5:45 am, we saw fires racing up the west side of the 405 toward the Getty Center and an even bigger blaze to the east of the 405 burning rapidly up the hillside on the east. All the riders of the bus (we all know each other; one of the odd things about LA is that it truly is just a bunch of villages joined together, whether the village is where you live or is made up of the people you ride the bus with at a pre-determined time of day) knew that we had Santa Ana winds that morning and none of us were surprised to see a major fire in our area.

The fire we saw that morning was burning below the Getty Center on the west side of the 405 (San Diego) freeway. That fire was small compared to a major blaze to the east of the 405. It was the one to the east that became the Skirball fire; apparently firefighters were able to extinguish the

The footage of the fires is dramatic. The intro picture was one taken the first evening of the fire. Needless to say–my motto is that it’s better to be a live coward than a dead her0–we didn’t come within miles of the fire, though we sure inhaled some of the smoke and ashes.

When we left for Ventura, we had to go north on the 405, whether we were going the direct way (Highway 101) or our preferred way, via State Route 126 through the Santa Clara River valley. We soon got to see the aftermath of the Skirball fire that I witnessed starting a couple of weeks before.

At places it had burned all the way down to the roadway:

The purple-ish/pink area on the map below shows the boundaries of the Skirball firewhich wasentirely confined to the east side of the 405:

I guess the firefighters were able to suppress it quickly, even though it broke out sometime after 5 am. I know because two fire engines raced up Bundy Drive while I was waiting for my bus. From the northbound 405, there’s no evidence of any fire damage.

Compare that with the hills on the east side directly across from where I took the above photo:

This is an area I used to hike quite a bit. It’s across from the entrance to the Getty Center. The trail was removed when they did bigger and fancier retaining walls along the 405, and they wiped up the park and parking area for a staging area. Looks like the oak on top of the hill survived, however.

Chaparral burns quickly and extremely hot. Compare the following hillside to what you saw to the west of the 405. This side looked the same, pretty much like any other chaparral; now it’s burned down to the ground.

This type of burning is why southern Californians always worry about rain following fires. Not only is there little protection, but the fire will often burn so hot that it effectively seals off the soil and doesn’t permit even the slightest penetration by rains. If you get a large storm dumping a lot of water at once, the fire-burned slopes will erode really fast as the water runs off in great quantities.

Not sure that we have much to worry about. The average, as of Christmas Day, 2017, of rain in Los Angeles is about three-and-one-third inches (3.34, IIRC). The season thus far:  0.12 inches. This is the driest December I can remember. There’s been no significant rain since February, and no sign of it this winter. The reasons I’ll discuss later, but it’s basically that the so-called Ridiculously Resilient High Pressure Ridge has parked itself off the California coast and is diverting all Pacific storms to the north, some going as far as Alaska before they can get around the ridge and resume their west-to-east slope. We, of course, don’t get the benefit of any of the moisture the storms bring. So we may have a much longer fire season than usual.

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