Saturday, September 2, 2017

Children of Fire

So if you've read my right hand sidebar, you might have seen the little line that goes 'Summers here are hot with a chance of we're literally on fire...'

Yes, I was trying to be funny. But I was also being serious.

Photo © LA Times
Yesterday afternoon, La Tuna Canyon started smoldering. By this morning we have a 5,000 acre, 10% contained blaze heading in four different directions, with daily temperatures expected in the 110-115° range. Sections of the 210 freeway are shut down until further notice and some neighborhoods in the Burbank hills are being evacuated.

Here is the 'official fire map' provided by the Burbank Fire department via twitter (which I 'borrowed' from the LAPost-Examiner):

No masterpiece, but they're kinda busy fighting fires here.

They say that when the world ends, only people and cockroaches will be left.
I'd like to add Microsoft Paint to that list.

The above map, while very specific in the "what's currently on fire" category, doesn't help anyone who's not familiar with the LA area. LA County is extremely confusing to non-locals, so I took the liberty of hacking apart a google earth screenshot and labeling it as I saw fit. Hopefully this gives you an idea of how the La Tuna Fire fits into the greater LA area.

Click to enlarge. Also, "AIRPORT" should be right above "Noho Arts District," not humping it.
For the record, this is not all of LA, just a good chunk of it. To give you a sense of scale, the Shandy Dandy (far left, beige) is approximately 18 miles from the La Tuna Canyon Fire as the crow flies. If I were to drive the same way (surface streets, as straight as possible) my commute time on this saturday late morning would be about 55 minutes. Using freeways would bring that down to about 35 minutes.

Keeping that distance in mind -- here's how my morning went:

When I got out into the garden today most of the plants were sprinkled with ash, flakes about the size of pencil shavings, if you crushed a handful in your fist. I figured the neighbors used their fire pit last night, maybe had a labor day BBQ. So I shrugged it off and I went about my morning garden chores. 

It was 8:30am and already in the 90°s, but thankfully it was also partially overcast. That took the edge off the heat while I did the morning watering. Awesome. While watering the peppers, I let my eyes wander. 

Even with the heat, it was actually a pretty gorgeous out. Despite it being the height of our summer, it smelled like autumn, that warm and comforting smell of fallen leaves and fireplaces. The sun was mild, hazed by clouds. And the sky was a beautiful shade of...  


No matter how many years I live in the LA area, it always sneaks up on me. Ash. Smell. Dim sky. Warm glow. You think I'd know by now that 1+1+1+1=fire.

My garden and I are in no immediate danger, apart from poor air quality and a minor ash-induced boost in soil pH. The flames would have to battle across nearly twenty miles of densely populated city to reach my doorstep. And while I'm skeptical of many things in life, the determination and skill of the LA, Burbank and adjoining Fire Departments is not one of them. These men and woman are absolutely the toughest, most badass people out there, as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps that's a bias of living so many years in LA (where cops are despised like dogs {unfairly} and firefighters revered like gods). 

Side story:

One summer years ago, when I was in high school, I nearly watched my own house burn down. The short version of the story is that I sneaked back into the evacuation zone to try to locate a missing pet. And I will never forget the feeling of standing with my toes at the edge of my driveway, house behind me, and staring into the face of red flames licking the hillside in front of me. 

Going face to face with the flames is not something from an action movie. The fire does not see you; it is blind. It cannot be reasoned with or persuaded. It is emotionless. Not alive. And you are flammable. Not a person, just a burnable thing. Like your house, your pets, your photo albums. The fire is neither evil nor smart. In an odd way, it is nothing. The maker of nothing. The thing that turns things into ash, and can only exist while it destroys. You can run, but it can run too. It's legs do not get tired. And it can run at you from all sides. It's truly amazing, terrifying, beautiful and horrific all at the same time.

A little melodramatic, perhaps, but I hope it highlights my feelings on the matter and consequently my feelings about the men and woman willing to step between me and fire, don 75 lbs of gear on a 115° day, and do battle against the flames with hose and shovel for 24hrs or more without rest.

So far, we've had no burned homes and no injuries, firefighters included. I very much hope it remains that way.

From the time I started I writing this post to now the wind has changed. I went outside to snap a picture of the 'golden overcast' I keep talking about, but instead got an eyeful of glaring sun and grey-blue skies. It still smells like a fireplace, but no ash is drifting down. The east horizon is undeniably greyer than normal, but otherwise it's business as usual.

Admittedly, this wasn't a typical Gardening post. But some things in life demand attention, regardless of their nature. Should there be any major updates, I'll post again. For now, it's off to check the blogs of others in the LA area. Hopefully they're faring as well as I am here at the Shandy Dandy.  

Happy Planting ~

EDIT - in the time it took me to type this post, one home was lost do to the La Tuna fire. No injuries.


  1. Excellent report. Beats the traditional and social media by miles. And it's part of what we live with, the foothills are gardened, maintained by fires. This not the first one there and won't be the last. And yes, the emergency services deserve respect. Can you imagine being so active, wearing all those clothes in 100 degree heat?

  2. I wanted to ad this to Day's excellent report because many blog readers may not be as familiar with fires as we are the California coastal writers.

    Containment means encircling the perimeter of the fire, not control.

    Update Brush Fire; 11:49AM; 10850 W La Tuna Canyon Rd; Sun Valley; Fire at over 5,000 acres with 10% containment. 1 home lost at (Verdugo) Crestline x Alene (near water tank). The home was at the end of a road with a draw on either side that allowed the fire to run right up. No injuries. This is a slow burning, 'backing' fire (meaning it burns down hill) and we have resources at the base of the hills to defend homes. When the fire encounters a canyon, it can accelerate and burn uphill. Yesterday the wind was erratic and we are watching closely to see what weather develops today. Erratic wind/weather is the greatest threat to containing and extinguishing this fire.

    More at:

    1. Thanks Jane! That's where I've been getting most of my info as well -- bypass all the hyped up, advertised to the teeth news websites and go straight to the ones on the ground - LA fire. They're the only ones who actually know what's going on, since they're the only ones within the burn zone.

      P.S. I hope I didn't offend you by putting *shrug* on your neighborhood! It's nothing personal, I swear. ;)

  3. I can't imagine having to deal with the wildfires. I saw a controlled burn that got out of hand one time when visiting Bryce Canyon NP and that was scary enough. The folks battling the fire have my upmost respect for sure.


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