Micro-news for CT 4601, Altadena, CA

Selected Station Fire Time Lapse Videos

posted by Jeremiah 9/11/2009 06:40:00 PM

These are both worth watching full screen (they are embedded as HD already)

View from Mt Wilson Sept 4th - 7th

View from across town, Aug 29

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At 9/24/2009 12:24 PM, Blogger Above the City said...

Amazing Mt. Wilson timelapse!! Thanks.


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Dodging the Station Fire

posted by Jeremiah 9/06/2009 06:04:00 PM

Our family's two-week summer vacation started the weekend before the Station Fire. We came home for two nights (Thursday 8/27 and Friday 8/28) before it was seriously threatening our neighborhood in northeast Altadena. The breeze delivered two days of clear skies and two nights of choking smoke.

Thank goodness the wind never presented the seasonal Santa Ana pattern that can happen at this time of year, with the characteristic hot gusting winds out of the north that fanned the local fires of 1993. The Station Fire has only been fanned by the gentle Foothills breathing rhythm that residents rely on to draw the day's hot air out to sea every night. The Stonehill anemometer chronicles this pattern of gentle south breeze all day and gentle north breeze all night. A look at the current 5-day readings illustrates the breath-like regularity of this pattern.

With our windows closed all night, we contemplated our vacation plans and decided that they were in some ways a blessing. So we voluntarily evacuated to escape the smoke and enjoy the second half of our vacation on Saturday 8/29, and monitored the email lists, web cams and blogs from afar all week. The steady flow of information made it possible for us to enjoy our vacation with one eye on how things were progressing online. At one point early in the week, we contemplated flying me back home to help defend the neighborhood should it come to that, but decided against it. Amidst the bounty of near-real-time information, these photos were among some of the most reassuring to me personally. They were emailed by Dan Gollnick, showing professional Hot Shot crews fortifying the perimeter defenses along the Altadena Crest Trail.

After having seen literally dozens of ominous photos like the brief selection posted below, the photos of the hotshot crews fortifying our defenses was a welcome sight.

Station Fire flaring up above JPL on 8/28/09 at about 8pm
Photo by Dan Finnerty

Station Fire as seen from the top of Lake on 8/29/09 at about 6am
Photo by Bill Westphal

DC-10 water bomber on 8/29/09 at about 5:30pm
Photo by Bill Westphal

P-3C Orion water bomber over Mount Wilson Observatory on 8/30/09 at about 6:00pm
Photo by Greg Garner

Martin Mars water bomber over Mount Wilson Observatory on 9/1/09 at about 4:00pm
Photo by Greg Garner

Martin Mars water bomber flying over on 9/1/09 at about 4:00pm
Photo by Greg Garner

In the local lore about the 1993 Santa-Ana-whipped blazes that destroyed many homes in our neighborhood, one of the biggest aspects of the stories is the near complete lack of professional support in the defense. Seeing these pictures, I imagined that the Gollnicks, who are the beachhead of Stonehill, must have found some level of satisfaction seeing professionals digging literally miles of "scratch lines" with 1.5 inch feeder hose laid the entire length.

We returned from vacation late last night. I took a hike this morning along part of the "scratch-line" that the Hot Shots had built. Not to over-dramatize things, but I couldn't help looking at the coils of 1 inch hose as unmanned foxholes in hastily-build fortifications somewhere in the Ardennes, facing an anticipated German onslaught, which by some stroke of fate passed over and raged to the east. A staged Forest Service bulldozer at the ready and sky cranes ferrying supplies from the rear to the eastern front filled out the sense of walking a fortification prepared for a battle that never came.

Living in a land without war or knights-of-old, wild-land hot shots are the knights-of-new, defending our kingdom against the flames of hell.

A "knight-of-new" Grayback Forestry Hot Shots of Grants Pass, OR on 9/4/09
SGVN/Staff photo by Eric Reed

For posterity, here is a list of the best wildfire links collected during the week:
Non-government sites:
  • Mashup map of MODIS satellite thermal data and the GeoMAC perimeter data
  • Industry-watch blog
  • Time-Life-quality photos of the Station Fire
National wildfire aggregate information:

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Santa Anita Fire

posted by Jeremiah 4/28/2008 09:12:00 AM

After not having a record of the Santa Anita fire during the first day or so of the burn, InciWeb finally got it in their system. http://inciweb.org/incident/1233/

Here is their Fire Progression map

Here is a Google Map on which I marked the fire origin [Updated 4/28 8PM]:

View Larger Map

From the InciWeb about page:
InciWeb is an interagency wildland fire incident information management system. The system was developed with two primary missions: The first was to provide a standardized reporting tool for the Public Affairs community during the course of wildland fire incidents. The second was to provide the public a single source of information related to active wildland fire information.

A number of supporting systems automate the delivery of incident information to remote sources. This ensures that the information on active wildland fire is consistent, and the delivery is timely.

Also, take a look at the nice Flickr photo set from KiethJ

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At 5/19/2008 4:30 PM, Anonymous AP said...



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Re-greening of burn area at top of Lake

posted by Jeremiah 3/24/2008 02:46:00 PM

Local photo blogger, Petrea Burchard captured a nice comparison of the burn area at the top of Lake, just after it burned and after a winter of rain:


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At 3/24/2008 6:57 PM, Blogger Petrea said...

Hi Jeremiah,
Thanks for mentioning my blog! Just to clarify: I don't have any photos taken right after the fire.

The first photo I posted was taken in February, 2008, and the second only a month later (making the growth spurt seem even more prolific). The fire occurred in August, 2007.

I've bookmarked you. Thanks again.

At 4/04/2008 11:45 AM, Anonymous AP said...

Miss you man.

- AP


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Old Wamu on Lake Burns: Time to Renovate Ralphs?

posted by Jeremiah 2/28/2008 11:15:00 AM

Please click on the links under each question to cast your vote, then click View the results to see what others are saying.

Would you be in favor of Ralphs renovating their Altadena branch?



Not Sure

View the results

Would you support Ralphs if they wanted to expand onto the old Washington Mutual property which burned down on 2/28/2008?



Not Sure

View the results

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At 7/06/2008 4:41 PM, OpenID snoddoggy said...

I recall prior to The Strike that "Ghetto Ralphs" had planned to renovate. Hope they can finally make that a reality as I'd prefer to patronize them at sometime more convenient than just 6:30am ... but until they shoo-away the evening pan-handlers I continue to trudge to Chez Ralphs in La Canada, even with $4 gas

At 10/22/2008 9:39 PM, Anonymous Lisa said...

Please, not another big corporate chain store. Why not a Trader Joes or smaller chain market?


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Altadena August 2007 Fire (Video and Links)

posted by Isaac Garcia 8/26/2007 11:07:00 PM

Media Coverage: CBS News Report, ABC7 News Coverage, Story from KTLA, Pasadena Now
Pasadena Star News

Yes, they made it look easy today, but lest anyone doubt how serious things were before the fire was extinguished, take a look at this photo of about 20 fire fighters (lower left) on the ridge just south of the fire. Look how intense the flames are just beyond the ridge. According to the Pasadena Star News, the people in the photos are 20 specialized fire fighters known as the "The Bear Divide Hot Shot Crew."

After analyzing the photos, Isaac and Jeremiah's best estimate is that today's fire burned approximately in the area of this Google Map marked in red.

Here is a montage of the tankers reloading in the Rubio Catch Basin:

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At 8/28/2007 3:44 PM, Anonymous Aaron Proctor said...

Really good pictures.


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Bad fire season predicted for region

posted by Jeremiah 6/15/2007 08:48:00 AM


Bad fire season predicted for region
Firefighters warn residents to prepare
By Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer
Article Launched: 06/14/2007 10:54:03 PM PDT

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE - Faced with the driest weather in history, Southern California fire chiefs warned Thursday that firefighters and residents need to brace for an especially dangerous fire season.

Fire chiefs from Ventura to San Bernardino counties stressed the need for fire training - and brush clearance.

"The most important thing the public can do is to clear their brush ... to give firefighters a fighting chance to defend their property," said Chief Doug Barry of the Los Angeles Fire Department, who met with area chiefs at a county fire station at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Fire prevention plans are being drawn from Sacramento to Southern California at the close of the driest weather season in history. Since July, Los Angeles has received a scant 3.21 inches of rain.

Wildfires, including the nearly 1,000-acre blaze that burned a quarter of Griffith Park last month, have increased from 296 from January to June last year to 2,100 in 2007.

Brush moisture levels are dropping toward critical levels throughout the region.

On Friday, a firefighting DC-10 jumbo jet will be deployed in Victorville under contract to the state to battle future blazes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has also signed an executive order to add resources to firefighters across the state.

"We're preplanning what could happen this year in order to be ahead of the game," said Chief Bob Roper of the Ventura County Fire Department. "Our firefighters are doing training, training and more training."

Residents should not only cut back brush and flammable ornamental plants, the chiefs said, but also make evacuation plans that would include more than one route, what items to bring and where to take family pets.


(818) 713-3730

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The Pine Fire

posted by Jeremiah 9/20/2006 07:33:00 AM

Yesterday the huge column of smoke rising to the North West, just beyond the ridges had us curious and concerned, but we weren't able to find any reports about a local incident. As of this morning, InciWeb still has no listing of what the Pasadena Star News is calling the Pine Fire. The Star News has a slide show and video of the fire.


At 9/20/2006 10:30 AM, Anonymous Isaac Garcia said...

Around 9pm the smell of forest fire was very strong in the air. I got a little nervous and tried to see if there was a "glow" coming from the mountain but gladly didn't see any.

I then got in my car and drove around the neighborhood, specifically up Zane Grey to get a 'birdseye' view and was satisfied when I didn't see a "glow."

Thanks for the news on the Pine Fire...I hadn't heard anything about it on the news last night.


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First Hand Report from the Topanga Fire

posted by Jeremiah 10/01/2005 08:15:00 AM

My friend Russel Kohn wrote a fantastic essay about his experience in the Topanga fire area. It includes lots of excellent background information about wildfire. With his permission, I am republishing his essay which he posted to a newsgroup we are both on.

On 9/30/05 10:12 AM, "Russell Kohn" wrote:

Some background:

Fire is a normal part of the ecosystem here.

The Chaparral plant biome consists of a wide range of drought-tolerant shrubs and bushes and grasses. The plants contain oily chemicals that make them endure the heat, resist insects, and avoid being salads to birds and mammals. When the plants die, they do not decompose very quickly due to these same chemicals. Therefore, a fire is required every 7-15 years to burn out the old dead-wood and allow a new generation to thrive.

The fire season is in late Sept through the first real rains, usually in November. It is worst when the winds are blowing. Our usual prevailing wind is a gentle breeze generally from the Pacific ocean going inland. When a high pressure moves to our East over the Great Basin desert of Nevada, and there is a Low in the gulf of Alaska or off the West coast, then the pressure differential causes a large wind event that starts from the North, progresses to the East, and then bounces all over the place until the normal flow prevails. These "Santa Ana" winds can cause any fires that start to spread a dozen miles or more in a 24 hour period. The wind can be blowing from different directions in different parts of a large fire due to different micro-climates that arise, as well as to the focusing effects of valleys.

The best way I've found to think about these fires is that they are indeed "brush fires" or "grass fires". They will consume all the fuel they can, until it is gone. The "fire" is not in a single place; there are often multiple fronts at the leading edges. In a mature fire the fronts can be substantially disconnected so that it appears as though there are several separate fires, even though they started from the same place. Everything is smoldering.

The complex mountainous topography makes for interesting fire shapes as the fire lines crest ridges, go around knolls, and otherwise "flow" through the combustible material. If the wind is strong, you can general predict the rough direction of the fire because it will be "pushed" in that direction. In the most dangerous circumstances, large burning embers (or entire burning bushes!) will be blown up to 1/2 mile ahead of the main fire line and start spot fires ahead. This is called "spotting". When a large spotting fire is on the move, it can cover over 10 miles overnight. When the wind is not blowing, then the fire spreads only based on the available fuel.

All homes in fire areas here now have fire-resistant roofs, and must maintain adequate clearances around their homes ("defensible space"). In this way, when a front of the fire approaches the residences, the firefighters can simply make sure that the fire does not progress any closer to the homes than the defensible space. The fire will then "turn" and move laterally along the line, and work its way back against the wind using the fuel that is left and try to seek another path.

Firefighters generally don't try to "stop" the fire; they simply try to control the direction when it gets near homes and expect it will do whatever a force of nature tends to do. This works quite well.

Here's what happened on Wednesday:

Around 2:15pm I went to pick up my sons from school and as soon as I parked the car I could smell the distinctive smell of a brushfire. The weather was perfect for a fire - hot, dry, Santa Ana winds - but I could not yet see the smoke. About 15 minutes later I saw the smoke coming from the Chatsworth area, about 10 miles from my home. Since the smoke cloud was small at that point, and I could already smell it, that was a good indication that the wind was blowing in our general direction.

As the afternoon progressed, and the fire grew, I knew that there would be a fight to prevent it from moving into Box canyon, because once it got into there, there was really nothing to stop it in the Cheseboro state park. If you go to maps.google.com and enter 91301, then zoom out one level and grab move the map slightly so that Agoura Hills is closer to the bottom of the screen, and the 118 is near the top, you can see that the fire started at the upper right corner on the 118 near the train tracks.

I live near the 101 in Agoura hills. Once the fire moved into Box canyon in the mid afternoon, I felt it was probably only a matter of time before the fire works its way to the Oak Park area, which is about 3 miles north of me. I also felt it would inevitably work its way down Cheseboro and Palo Camado canyons to my East, and then approach Calabasas and Hidden Hills.

My main concern was if the fire would cross Kanan to my north and progress down the large ridge in the middle of Agoura because that gets rather close to my house.

As an aside, I've learned over the years that the media much prefers tight shots of flames and lots of blah-blah but rarely delivers solid or useful facts that residents can rely upon. Sensationalistic news rather than informative. "Wow, Bob, did you see that flame! Guess those bushes sure are flamable". And NEVER a wide shot that would allow any real locational references. Couple that with the fact that for nearly the whole night they kept referring to everything as "near Chatsforth" and bluring the names between the different small cities and residential communities near where I live and it was a complete mess trying to figure out where the fire really way.

So, around 10:30 at night I took a drive around my area to some high points to see what I could. I spoke with the firefighters at the station on Deer Hill, which I estimated would be first area in Oak Park impacted and we agreed things were on track for a "big show" but not a lot to worry about. There were no planned evacuations at that time for Oak Park, so I figured I had some time.

I then drove home and planned to sleep for a few hours, then take another drive, and then decide what to do as we had many hours before the fire would be close, and chances were remote that my house would be directly impacted. I was inclined to have my wife take my kids to her Mom's for the day just so they could get out of the worst of the smoke and stress, but thought I'd see what the morning would bring.

I woke up around 4:00am and got dressed and was just getting in my car to take another drive, when "WHOOOP WHOOOP WHOOP ... THIS IS THE COUNTY SHERIFF.....THIS AREA IS NOW ORDERED FOR IMMEDIATE MANDATORY EVACUATION ....WHOOP WHOOP". And sure enough, there were several squad cars going through the area, with personnel on foot pounding on doors.

I'm thinking to myself, what the F**? There is no way the fire got this close that fast. But I don't have time to check it out for myself and have to rely on the authorities. The officers going through our area were from far away: Bellflower, Garden Grove, Lynwood etc. as part of a large inter-agency "incident task force".

So, I happened to have my computer on (because I had been trying to find an updated fire map before leaving), so dashed off a quick message to some friends, proceeded to wake the family, get the photos, kids, dogs etc. in the car and got out of there. The whole time I was stressed because of the lack of useful information about where the fire really was and why were were being evacuated (not knowing). We had no trouble getting to my in-laws in Camarillo, about 20 miles away.

After my family was settled, I decided to come back to check things out. I had talked with a friend who stayed and all seemed quiet. While the main road into our area was closed, all the side routes were open and I had no trouble getting back. Very weird having so few people in our neighborhood, and absolutely no police presence. Total over-reaction on the part o the authorities.

I did a little more prep-work around the house (moved some flammable stuff as far away from the house as possible), cleared the yard to make it easier for Firefighters should they need to come in, set up a ladder to my roof and some long hoses. My thought was if the wind picked up and embers flew, I'd want to at least try to slow them down until the cavalry arrived.

The rest of the day I spent watching the fire from different vantage points, visiting with neighbors, etc. We were very lucky that the wind become much calmer. As predicted, by mid-morning the very mild wind was beginning to shift from the east to the west. The wind was very conflicted for most of the day but by around 4:30pm became distinctly moister and from the west. This was exactly what the weather and fire people had been saying all day. It meant that the fire would tend to move back on itself in some cases, and zig/zag further to the South (closer to the 101) near Calabasas...which is why some of those areas were voluntarily evacuated the day before. All very much as predicted. The news of course reported this all as being surprising and unexpected and extra worrisome.

Last night I retrieved my family from my in-laws, and this morning have been unpacking the car and trying to get organized.


Watching television the feeling is that everything is on fire everywhere. That is not generally the case. There can be areas of intense burning, and the smoke gets everywhere, but in general the fire is localized to specific fronts that move/change evolve in complex patters. The word "fractal" comes to mind.

There is no up to date fire map that people can refer to, so we are left to use our judgement about what is going on based on what we see and estimate. The television news is nearly worthless. When you are close to the fire, the smoke can be too thick to know what is really going on; it is hard to know what is happening behind ridges. I understand LA County Fire is updating their website to try to include updated fire maps and projections. That would be very helpful.

In the absence of solid information, the mind plays terrible tricks and builds up images of the worst possible scenarios. I found this great vantage point where I could see exactly what was happening nearby, and only then did I relax from the extra-induced stress of our early morning evacuation. The only people I saw near this spot were some neighborhood boys who rode their bikes and had the sense to move high to see what was going on.

The air is still very smoky here, and all over S. Cal for that matter. There was this satellite picture showing the smoke cloud going dozens of miles out over the ocean when the wind was blowing that way. Now all that smoke is blowing back over the city and other parts of S. Cal.

The exercise of having to grab what you can in 20 minutes and leave is interesting. I am not nearly as prepared as I should be in this regard.

Once again, thanks for your kind wishes.

- Russ

Russell Kohn , Chaparral Software & Consulting Services Inc.
FileMaker XML/XSLT Experts - Products, Consultation, Training
FileMaker 7 Certified Developer


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Stonehill Fire Fighters

posted by Jeremiah 5/09/2004 04:48:00 PM

More pictures here

Stonehill Drive is at high risk of fire. Our proximity to the National Forest puts us in the path of seasonal wildfires. 1993 was the last major fire in the area. It claimed many houses in the immediate vicinity. There were no houses lost on Stonehill Drive, due to the coordinated efforts of the residents. Dr. Dan Gollnick, who lives at the very top of the street has installed a fully equipped fire house on his property. Dr. Gollnick played a major roll in the fire fighting effort of 1993, but he did not do it alone. If you have not had a tour of the fire house, please contact him to arrange one. When the next fire comes, you will be glad you did.

How To Protect Your Home

There are basic measures that you should take on your property. The following was written by Bruce Keene of the National Parks Service

Though people can never fully protect their homes and adjacent wildlands against wildfires, you can take steps to reduce the risk.

For example:

* Remove combustible vegetation from the vicinity of any structure. Thin out continuous tree and brush cover and remove dead limbs, fallen trees, leaves, twigs and evergreen tree cones within 30 feet of the structure to create a " safety zone of low fuel density all around the home" (NFPA). Likewise, prune trees branches to 10 feet above the ground and remove leaves and twigs from beneath trees, in the yard, on roofs, patios and landscaped shrubs.

* Limit the number and density of landscaped vegetation and do not use highly flammable landscaping near structures. Maintain a greenbelt or noncombustible zone around the home; avoid using bark or wood chip mulch in the safety zone.

* Stack firewood uphill at least 15 feet from a house. Fire risks increase when wooden decks, patios and woodpiles are placed close to structures or when flammable materials are stored near structures.

* Be aware that roofs and walls made of untreated flammable materials such as wood shanks and shingles pose a significant fire threat. Wind­carried embers or the intense heat from a nearby fire can ignite such fuel sources. Fire does not need to "burn over" a structure for it to catch fire.

* Clean roof and gutters. Remove pine needles and leaves to eliminate fuel sources.

* Prepare for water shortages. Lack of piped water to protect against fire is a major problem in wildland/urban interface settings. To protect a structure, develop an external water supply, such as a small pond, well or pool, for fighting fires. Publications such as Planning for Water Supply and Distribution in the Wildland/Urban Interface (see references in this section) provide valuable information for preparation of homes and protection systems in the event of wildland fire.

* Choose home location wisely. Building structures in canyons and on slopes increases the chances that those homes will be destroyed by wildfire. Canyons and slopes serve to channel fires up in elevation, similar to the way chimneys channel fireplace emissions. When upland slopes and canyons are selected for home sites, downhill or lower elevation areas should be clear of excess fuel, to add an additional element of protection. If a home is on the crest of a steep hill, thin the fuel sources at least 100 feet below the crest.

* Mow tall grass and keep it to a maximum height of two inches within the home safety zone. Avoid tall grass around driveways, areas susceptible to ignition by automobile exhaust systems.

* Inspect and clean chimneys regularly. Equip chimneys for woodburning heating units with spark arresters.

* Avoid all outdoor burning to decrease the likelihood of fire ignition near a home structure.

* Prevent mishaps with outdoor cooking grills by carefully maintaining the grill and using caution during grill use.

* Have the right tools. Equip home with smoke detectors. Keep these tools in good working order and store hi an easily accessible area of the house.

Source: National Parks Service

Other Links:
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

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