I have been hearing for a couple of weeks now about this fire—the Zaca Fire, they are calling it–burning somewhere on the backside of the mountains that I can see right out my window. A day or so ago it was 80% contained, and one of Carol’s clients—who has a brother back there—was pretty sure the thing was in hand. But something happened and now they are ordering an evacuation of that area. And with a shift in the wind, soot and ash began to rain this afternoon on our cars and to push a shroud of ugly brown smoke over the sky.
Who knows if it will get to our side of the mountains or not. But it brings back fire memories. About 15 years ago I guess, a fire came tearing down the mountain pushed by dry winds up to 40 miles an hour. That fire flew through crackling oil dry underbrush and got up enough momentum to jump six lanes of freeway and to head into an exclusive, really rich people part of this excessively affluent little berg. We didn’t live that far away from where the fire jumped the freeway, and because it was so damn sweltering and we didn’t have air conditioning we left the windows open and went around for a week later hacking up stuff from our lungs.
And the first fall we were in our little condo by the golf course, a big fire broke out down south and they used the Santa Barbara airport to refuel the planes and load them up with fire retardant. I am not sure but these planes looked like left overs from WWII; they had propellers, one on each wing, and they took off at a low angle from the airport and for some reason, they flew—six, seven, eight, one right after the other–wobbling this way and that right over our little 9 hole golf course. They were so low I could make out the heads of the guys flying those things. For the whole week it seemed like we were living in the middle of the London Blitz. But the fire itself was pretty far away.
I was surprised to learn at one point that the area we live in is not desert exactly, but something called savannah. If you have ever watched the Discovery channel, you are sure to see the yearly migrations of the wildebeests as they seek out water and arre pursued wherever they go by lions. These beasts are wandering through African savannah. Low brush, weeds, an occasional small tree and very little water. Indeed were it not for the little rain we get, this would be desert, and not too many miles inland, it is desert. The part where condors used to fly gets about the same amount of rain per year as the Sahara desert.
The bushes, mesquite, and other plants that live on the mountains side have evolved, over the centuries an interesting survival pattern. They deposit seeds that can remain in the ground for 20 years or more. These seeds do not come to life when it rains; no, they are activated into development by fires. When the fires come, they burn the brush and that means they have cleared the earth so there is room now for the plants to grow.
The sky this morning is a yucky, unwholesome grey, but I don’t see any signs that the fire has jumped the mountains.