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The Santa Ana winds are blowing again. Strong winds - gusting here between roughly 20 to 40 miles per hour - carrying warm, dry air. In addition this is a dry part of a fairly dry year. Most of the undeveloped hills in coastal southern California are covered by Chaparral - and highly combustible this time of year.

Today we have fires. There is a fire burning perhaps a mile from my home. I can see clouds of orange-brown smoke out the window. Not a big concern, as this community was built with fire in mind. Houses were built with concrete tile roofs, and stucco sides. Talked to a firefighter last time (years ago) when fire came near. He noted that the risk to houses of this sort was usually from add-on wooden structures built nearby - patio covers and gazebos. The neighbourhood is surrounded by a buffer zone - cleared, landscaped, and lightly irrigated - and is at the bottom of a slope. Fire burns more slowly downhill. Last time we had a fire out here, it took all night for fire to burn from the top to the bottom of the hill - then died when it reached the buffer.

On the other side of Los Angeles there is a big fire in the Malibu area. Drove around the Malibu area a couple years back. Saw expensive homes nestled amid thick stands of fragrant chaparral. Saw houses with rustic wood-shake roofs and even wood-shake siding. All very nice and very likely to be lost the next time fire passes through the area. My feelings are decidedly mixed about the homes lost in the Malibu fire. When homeowners choose to build homes in such insane fashion, should firefighters be asked to risk their lives defending those homes from fire? Should the government step in and offer aid when those houses eventually burn?

The wildfires are burning. Last night went out and took pictures. Will take more pictures during the day. Closed up the windows, to keep out the worst of the smoke (not bad here in any case). Fire vehicles occasionally roll through - looking for problems most likely - then leave. Otherwise, the whole thing is mildly diverting.


Update - 10am: Winds have died down - gusts are maybe 20 mph, with a quite modest breeze between. Lots of folk cruising through, to look as the fire started creeping down the hill visible from the street. Lots of worried looking folks coming back from work to check on their homes. Emergency vehicles cruising through looking for something to do. Over-protective parents picking up their kids from school, enough so the teacher cannot do lessons. Happy-chirpy daughter voice on the phone: "Daddieee, can you pick me up??" (No school today!!) Later, she ran around outside with the happy dog, while I took pictures and chatted with the neighbours.

We should have more fires, maybe.

Update - 6pm: Winds still occasionally gusting, but mostly just a gentle 5-10mph breeze (if that). During the day the fire burned clockwise around the community, from west in the morning, through north, and now east in the evening. Lots of folk out looking. Lots of fire crews cruising around and keeping an eye on things (just exactly as they should). Despite the attempts to create sensationalism on the TV news, the fact is - everything worked! The buffer zones around the community kept the fire at a safe distance. So far as I know, not one single house caught on fire.

Towards evening the fire burnt down the small thickly-grown canyon kept for the hiking trail into the local "wilderness area". For a period of time the fire was quite dramatic. The local school - Foothill Ranch Elementary - is along one side of the canyon (kids get to see the occasional deer, coyote, etc.). The TV news reported "firefighters are trying to save the school!!". The firefighters caught on camera were looking pretty relaxed, just keeping a close watch on the fire. In fact outside the school there is a buffer zone - cleared, landscaped, and maintained. Also inside the school fence there was another buffer zone. Looks like the buffer zones worked exactly as designed.

Given how little real trouble we had - given how well the proper zoning, construction, landscaping and maintainence worked - you have to wonder about the areas where houses burned, and where firefighters had to risk injury to protect property. Somehow it seems loss and risk of that sort should be largely unnecessary.