Brush Fire in Clairemont

Great angst in the 'hood


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SDFD fire response chopper drops water on center of brush fire near our home.

The Experience

Southern California is a beautiful place. But, contrary to popular beliefs, it is a desert. In San Diego, where we live, we cannot recall the last time we had measurable rain. Typically, we only get something like 8"/year, but we are in a drought. So, when fall comes, most folks think "fire season". And, there is nothing so motivating as the smell of smoke, particularly when you live on a canyon rim as we do. Kathleen came running into the house and said that the neighbor witnessed a car accident on Highway 52 at the bottom of the canyon and that the car went into the brush and the gas tank caught on fire. So, I grabbed my camera and headed out the front door. The smell of smoke was strong and it was the smell of a brush fire. The dry brush and trees in San Clemente canyon that parallels 52 went up in a poof. Recalling an incident in 2003 (see story here) where we were preparing to evacuate the house and over 1100 homes burned, we were all on edge. The neighbors were rightly concerned since we all live on the canyon rim. If we were going to replay that movie, we all wanted as much notice as possible, so we gathered on the rim and watched carefully. We found out later that what happened was a Honda was cut off at 1239pm and was likely going too fast, over-corrected and went over the side of the road, overturned and crashed into a tree. There were 4 injuries, one requiring hospitalization. The fire spread to 1.5 acres and took over 1.5 hours to fully contain. A lot of equipment was mustered for this event.

The photos below are what we saw.

Houston, we have a problem. The fire was bigger, and much closer than I had thought based on Kathleen's comments.

Yep, we have a big problem. Note the brown grass in the freeway median and the large number of trees on the canyon floor as well as dense underbrush. The canyon is a San Diego city park called Marion Bair Park. I-805 is visible in the distance.

The CHP has all traffic on east bound 52 stopped. This would shortly become an issue as it will impact the ability of additional equipment to get to the scene. Note the assholes on the west bound side who pulled in the median over to observe and thus further impeding traffic flow. In the full frame image, you can see them taking photos.

The smoke is getting denser and due to the traffic stoppage, the fire engines have now gone around via surface streets and are approaching against traffic on the east bound side.

As SDFD is mustering more ground equipment, they sent in this fire supression chopper which is based in Montgomery Field, a few miles from the event. Note the refilling snorkel that is dangling below. It is not supposed to be swinging in the breeze as we will see in later photos.

This shot shows the chopper at the end of the first water drop. The chopper is barely visible through the dense smoke and the water plume is the white area.

The ground units are fighting their way through the parked traffic. The entire entrance ramp is blocked by cars.

One ambulance was already on the scene and another is fighting the traffic to get there too.

The fire continues to spread. Note the congestion on the west bound side of 52 now.

The people who are trapped in traffic are starting to freak. Rightfully so, because the wind is blowing from the east - a dry, hot, Santa Ana wind that fans the worst fires. If the blaze burns out of control, they may have to abandon their cars and literally run for cover.

The CHP has now turned the traffic around and sent it the wrong way down the exit ramp to clear the lanes for more equipment.

Full traffic blockage in both directions. Note the arrival of the brush response unit that is facing against traffic on the east bound side (the lower lane). He arrived at the scene by going against traffic.

Two more ambulances are brought in. Note that the traffic is now turned around and proceeding down the entrance ramp.

The boys in the 'hood are anxious. Me too. If the fire comes up the hillside, all our houses will be toast.

The chopper went back to base for a refill. Here, he lines up for the second water drop.

The start of the second drop.

Early mid-stream, second drop.

Mid-stream, second drop.

Near the end of the second drop.

Done. He is off to refill for another run.

The third drop. Notice the traffic on the west-bound side.

SDFD continues to muster additional equipment. Notice the engine is going up the onramp to oncoming traffic!!

Another unit enroute. He will be greatly delayed by the dense traffic.

And another brush rig comes up the entrance ramp to oncoming traffic.

My neighbor, Tom, also has a canyon house. But, his house is on the side of the street closest to the fire and therefore more exposed. He is on the deck with his son discussing what to do.

Fourth water drop.

Fourth drop. The water is nearly on the ground.

Fourth drop. Impact and he is out of there to go refill for another run.

A parting shot of the star in this drama. What I did not expect was to see sponsorship signage on the chopper not unlike a NASCAR vehicle. Look carefully and you can see the Sycuan Indian Casino and Sunroad Automotive logos. What is next? Police cars with Pizza Hut signage?

There was at least one more water drop before they declared the fire under control. I was very impressed by the City's response to this, throwing massive amounts of equipment at the problem. That is good, because if the fire had spread to the south face of the canyon, there would be no way to prevent it from burning many homes, including mine. Hopefully, that is an experience that we will never have to suffer.

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