California WIldfires AGain August 19, 2020 8:28 PM   Subscribe

California MeFites, please be safe and let us know you're okay if you can. My heart is breaking for all of us.
posted by Alensin to MetaFilter-Related at 8:28 PM (40 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I am safe, but the air is like standing by a trash fire, in front of an open furnace. We are in a heat wave that will go on for the next 10 days, but so is everyone east of us too. Utah is also hot, my friends there are out in it. But evidence of the fires is plain. I am not even up north, I have friends up there, and I didn't hear back from them today. I think it is east of them.
posted by Oyéah at 8:31 PM on August 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Safe so far, but the nearest fire is moving closer and it's possible an evacuation may be needed at some point. Not totally sure where to go in that case, since this scale of evacuation would put a strain on public gathering places even without covid. There's a lot of raining ash in the yellow skies, though.
posted by one for the books at 10:44 PM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

OK here in a NorCal urban zone, but I woke up to a light dusting of ash outside, visibly swirling through the air. Most folks don't have A/C -- usually just open up the windows at night -- so the smoke plus heat wave plus COVID means broiling inside for the next several days. Outside is dangerous, and inside is dangerous (public places at least). Disaster compounding upon disaster. The woods are burning, all around...
posted by cosmologinaut at 11:22 PM on August 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm hitting F5 a lot tonight lol; get me out of this cursèd state.
posted by fleacircus at 12:05 AM on August 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

We were supposed to move into our new home in Felton today. It’s now under mandatory evacuation. All of our savings went into this house. I spent the last three weeks ripping out carpet, replacing drywall, painting, upgrading the electrical system and so much more. It was our chance to get out of the East Bay and into a place in the redwoods that our children could grow up in. Today was surreal. I’m sitting in an apartment full of boxes with two little kids who are going nuts from being stuck inside because of the smoke, refreshing Twitter and Cal Fire and hoping for updates. I’m drenched in sweat from the heat and the stress. I’m numb.
posted by not_the_water at 1:08 AM on August 20, 2020 [61 favorites]

Thank you for posting this, Alensin! I no longer live in Northern California but many of the people I love are still there (and in the Central Valley and in the South, too). I’ve been so worried for all of you and all of them (particularly those with asthma and other health conditions affected by the fires).

not_the_water, how could you be anything else but numb? I hope you and your family will be able to move soon and safely into your new home in Felton.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:39 AM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Physically ok, mentally in tatters. Wildfire doesn't usually threaten us so I've never followed updates this closely. Wildfire reporting is shockingly, miserably responsible -- I guess they don't have to make up anything exciting when there's a roving inferno on the near horizon -- and absolutely no one is out there "predicting" where/when this thing will be under control. I kind of wish someone would!
posted by grandiloquiet at 10:23 AM on August 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

This has been really taking a toll on us as well. We're safe in San Mateo county for now, but my partner had booked her first trip to big basin next week to camp and is gutted. I'm so thankful she didn't have to evacuate while she was there, but this week has been terrible for her generally and it's been now even tougher not having that to look forward to.

On top of that it's been so hot and our apartment has just been a sweatbox. She has asthma though and the extra particulates in the air have been messing with that. So it's either sweat and be miserable or risk her getting asthma attacks and being miserable. We've been keeping the windows closed but it's not great.
posted by Carillon at 10:42 AM on August 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

At least the threat of ongoing power outages has subsided. That would be the breaking point for a lot of people.
posted by meowzilla at 11:46 AM on August 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm in SoCal, about a mile from the Azusa fire, and it's been over 100 degrees every day since it started last Thursday. It's not as smoky as it was over the weekend but it's noticeable. The fire is only 33% contained, but it's burning between ranges of our mountains and away from inhabited spaces.
NorCal folks, hang in there and let us know if we can do anything.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:23 PM on August 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Here in Oakland, where we're not directly threatened but it's very smoky. I've been refreshing the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's Air Quality Index page once an hour.
posted by Lexica at 2:36 PM on August 20, 2020 [7 favorites]

I've been in Colorado for about a month, visiting with family. I was just about to leave for the Bay Area this weekend, and ... nah. I'm staying for another couple of weeks. I have no A/C in Oakland and have no desire to to get stuck on I-80 with fires on both sides.

Happily, my brother & SIL (and nephews) are fine with this.
posted by suelac at 2:36 PM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm gutted by big basin as well, and really everything in the Santa Cruz mountains that has gone up.

I'm in Minneapolis most of the time, but out here currently for work. I live in downtown San Jose when here, and even I'm starting to get nervous, not that there is much risk to the core of the valley.
posted by MillMan at 3:49 PM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I-80 was closed both ways yesterday, for about 5 hours in the Vacaville/Fairfield area because the fire in Solano county had jumped the freeway. So scary.
posted by gt2 at 5:12 PM on August 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

I’m traveling this week, supposed to come home on Sunday, and I don’t know if I’m going to have a place to return to. The SCU lightning complex fire is just over the mountain ridge from my place in East San Jose (like, the evacuation line, right now, is about a mile away). My girlfriend and roommate are still in the house, but who knows what the next few days are going to bring.

I don’t know what to tell my girlfriend to pack, for her or for me. And she just got more bad health news, and I’m a couple thousand miles away, and I fucking hate this.
posted by hanov3r at 7:13 PM on August 20, 2020 [11 favorites]

At least the threat of ongoing power outages has subsided. That would be the breaking point for a lot of people.

Yeah I just got a notice from PG&E about something and my whole body did a 'not now!'

Also just heard kids outside by the tracks setting off fireworks, and I know fireworks discourse was bad but come on! The city is surrounded by fire evacuation zones and you're setting off fireworks?? omfg, I have such an old person anger.
posted by fleacircus at 9:40 PM on August 20, 2020 [9 favorites]

Thanks for starting this, I wasn't up for it but needed a thread.

I am fine--apparently my area is protected from wildfires pretty well, it's just that the air is so hazardous we're not supposed to go out and everything's covered in ash--but towns about a half hour/45 minutes from me got the fires and several friends were evacuated. I think the friends in Fairfield's house is okay but they didn't say if they got to go back or not when I asked, but it sounds like Fairfield is now okay to return to on the news anyway. Most of my coworkers in the area sound like they are fine, I guess one of them is living in a motorhome right now somewhere. Unsure what's going on there since that one was on medical leave anyway.

An elderly friend of mine in Santa Cruz has taken in three fire evacuees. I hate that I have to be concerned about virus on top of that shit. (But seriously, the only thing that has sometimes driven virus out of my head is fires now. I guess we know what's worse.) She said they are cleaning/wearing masks/trying to social distance, but it's a small house, how could you do that last one?

My crush (yeah, that again....) lived in a hugely dangerous fire area and that's where the fire started and they confirmed last night that they lost the house. The entire neighborhood is gone except for the family barn, which I guess was far back enough to miss the flames somehow. I'm devastated for him and really wish I could do something or be there or go hug him, except, y'know, fucking pandemic. If anyone has suggestions as to what to do for people who lost their homes (from a distance), please let me know. I feel so inadequate over text, but that's what we got here.

Though....well, he did save the Christmas gift I got him from the fire :)
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 AM on August 21, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm OK in Grass Valley. My house was in an evacuation zone for a few days for the Jones Fire (just a few miles away) but that's mostly under control now and the evacuation has been lifted.

Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the fires, the smoke from the fires, the heatwave, and the rolling blackout it's been a shitty month.
posted by Nelson at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

hugs jenfullmoon this is so awful. I am safe in Oakland and the air hasn't been too bad but we have friends in Winters and Santa Cruz. its just so horrible :(
posted by supermedusa at 3:57 PM on August 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

In Sacramento on Wednesday the sun was a peculiar pink color until late in the morning; all day long the light had an orange tint to it and a fine ash has been precipitating out of the sky ever since. The air smelled smokey bad yesterday but it's better today, albeit hazey.

That's heart-breaking news about Big Basin.
posted by Rash at 9:20 PM on August 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Engulfed in smoke here, dusting of ash outside. Fire seven miles away threatens the canal bringing water to my property but not the house itself.

My advice based on when I did have to evacuate would be to decide where you're going, then pack like you're going car camping or visiting a relative or whatever you decided. I had a checklist for overnight trips to start from. Then add legal documents (to go along with the digital copies on the backup drive you're bringing and the encrypted copies in the cloud) and extra socks and underwear. Then take pictures of everything for insurance and pack the things which are priceless. Wildfire isn't like hurricane with damage spread unevenly over hundreds of miles; there's a crisp edge where the devastation ceases, civilization carries on as normal, and goods can be purchased with Additional Living Expenses deposits and donated gift cards.

Having now run into hundreds of people whose homes were on the wrong side of that demarcation, there's no single answer for how to respond. Everyone processes loss in their own way. Some will want to turn their backs forever; some will want to erase the loss by rebuilding. A family barn implies a deeper tie to the land.

In the listening sessions following our fire, people from town and the nearby subdivisions talked about the amenities that brought them there. In outlying areas, people talked about the creeks and the wildlife and the quiet. To lose a home and become unmoored is one thing; to lose a house and remain anchored is another. I helped one former neighbor find a new place to stay. And many present and future neighbors by advocating at all levels of government for aid to survivors and helping them navigate the process.

I hope this week's fires don't reach the level of major national disaster. I weep for China Grade and fret for the San Lorenzo Valley. But redwoods abide; Paradise's have resprouted. We refuse to be defeated by the misfortunes that befall us.

For the displaced and dispossessed, immediate needs will be clean air, food, clothing, and shelter. And throughout the recovery, information. I can't drop off groceries for survivors in Solano or Santa Cruz, but I can try to show them the path ahead.

Sympathies to all evacuees everywhere and best of luck getting home.
posted by backwoods at 11:04 PM on August 21, 2020 [15 favorites]

We were set to go on a bike-camping trip near Pescadero/Big Basin, and were set to leave on Thursday when we learned that the evacuations had been called, right up to the Pescadero city line. So, another vacation in 2020 becomes another staycation...

We live in Oakland, but have mostly been watching the maps near Big Basin. Last night the scale of the SCU Complex hit home for me, which,according to the news reports, is now the 2nd largest fire in California history, trailing the LNU complex currently burning in the north bay. It's starting to feel like we're surrounded...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:34 PM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

We're in Santa Rosa. We lost our home in the Tubbs Fire in 2017. We will not be burned again. Or, if we are, we will be ready for it.

Our cars are packed and we are ready to evacuate if need be. Hoping that that need does not arise, but we do have a safe place to go (the home of the people who are the only other members of our mostly-notional-at-this-point COVID pod).

Right now (nearly 3pm on Sun., Aug 23), everyone is just WAITING to see what the fire will do, what the winds will do, what the "dry lightning" will do. It's very stressful.
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:47 PM on August 23, 2020 [12 favorites]

My thoughts are with you there in California, who have lost your homes, and those who are packed and ready to evacuate--surely this is the acme of heartbreak and frustration.

Props to those on firelines risking their lives to protect you and your homes.
posted by mule98J at 8:19 AM on August 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m in central Santa Monica so while I find fire season stressful I recognize that I am unlikely to ever be in immediate danger of losing my home to wildfire.

My mother is in Morgan Hill and lives close enough to the fire (and in an area particularly susceptible to dry lightning strikes) that she decided to evacuate to stay with friends in Gilroy. If things get bad enough that she needs to fall back further she has friends in San Jose and family in San Francisco who can put her up for a while.

I’m worried about how people needing to evacuate is going to play out during this time of pandemic, but of course I understand that fire is a much more immediate and certain threat. Hoping everyone here manages to stay safe.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:55 AM on August 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here in the heart of Silicon Valley we're not likely to be close to any actual fire, but we have people who have evacuated their homes in the hills staying with family members down the street. The air is terrible, we go outside for maybe 30 min a day in N95 masks to walk the dog and have the windows all shut tight... which is tough since we don't have air conditioning and it's still pretty damn hot. It's weird since we're objectively fine and everything is pretty normal like stores and groceries but it's a pretty big end-of-days vibe. It's double weird seeing photos of people outside the area being outside all weekend on normal weather and, like, breathing air and stuff. It's depressing.
posted by GuyZero at 10:32 AM on August 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

My parents are in Lake County. They evacuated their neighborhood early because there's so little egress and the last 2! fires people were stuck in traffic with the hills burning on both sides of the road. The fire looks to be about 3mi from their house, stopped at a ridge, but if the wind shifts.. Firefighters are stretched so thin, that they're basically trying to prevent loss of life, let alone structures or containment. Folks in my parents are community are complaining incessantly that they can't go up and water their gardens. Fire & security personnel l are begging people to stay away or if they stayed please just stay inside and don't run around to water people's gardens because they're trying to patrol for looters; the evac orders are getting progressively more strident. The early evac orders, DURING THE DAY, made it much less scary for my elderly parents (and for us, because frankly they probably wouldn't have left without it despite tons of family in the Bay Area.

My coworker is evac'd from the Santa Cruz hills with 3 kids and his wife in a hotel room that they managed to beg their way into at 3:30am. Some of his neighbors stayed and kept their houses, including his, safe. He's incredibly grateful, but I think he just wishes that they had left too. The fire was almost completely ringing them at one point.

My parents need to move; instead they got a generator.
posted by DarthDuckie at 12:09 PM on August 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Physically fine here too, but my anxiety has once again reached early-COVID lockdown heights as I pace around the house because Inside BAD (virus), Outside BAD (smoke). Before, I was at least fortunate to be able to hole up and feel relatively safe in my own home; now I absolutely know my house is porous and leaky AF and there's not much I can do to stop nasty stuff seeping in through the cracks. And yes, no AC so everything is still hot and stuffy. A few coworkers have been evacuated so the rest of us are trying to pick up the slack but everyone is, as you can imagine, quite frazzled. Glad that the lightning storms last night seem to have spared us; hoping it stays that way.
posted by btfreek at 2:15 PM on August 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

I emailed my supervisor a few hours ago to say "piercing headache, taking the rest of the day as sick time." It's actually less the headache (although that's a thing) and more the way that having constricted breathing is making me feel like I'm on the edge of an anxiety attack. The depression is loving the toehold this gives, as well.

Very thankful we have a good air filter in the apartment, although it hasn't dropped below the red range all day.
posted by Lexica at 3:55 PM on August 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

Embarrassingly fine here in SJ to be honest: have AC, a Coway filter running intermittently in the hallway when I open exterior doors and recent quality windows so no smoke impact. Still drinking every day, but that's really more the news in general and not so much the local environment. Neighbors next door have an old place in the hills that was gonna burn, but now apparently is not, so that's nice for them.

A coworker had his place in Scotts Valley burn down, which is mega-suck for him -- 5 kids, four adults living there (that's why he had to buy out in Scotts Valley) so I dunno wtf they're gonna do while insurance gets all sorted out. They're all fine, but maaaan that's bad news; nobody we know has room for that many people and they don't wanna split up (can't blame), so they're basically stuck in hotels forever now.
posted by aramaic at 4:44 PM on August 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Honestly the worst part here has been that the news covered it in a way that suggested that everyone in California might be evacuated so I got a nervous text from my folks and had to call them and say "it's like last year. The air is bad. Unlike last year, I didn't come out to a car covered in ash. It's mostly happening hours from here." (Some exaggeration in the interest of not having to manage my parents' anxiety.)

As someone who has only lived here seven years it feels like what summers here are like. It's kind of confirmation biasy for me as someone who doesn't see the appeal of living here.
posted by less of course at 5:25 PM on August 24, 2020

Update: Favorable weather conditions last night contributed to firefighters turning a bit of a corner in battling two of the three major fires in or near Sonoma County: the Walbridge (which seems to have been turned back about a mile from the home of some friends) and another (Myers?) near Jenner. The air quality is Santa Rosa has improved significantly, but is likely to deteriorate as winds change.

We seem to be out of the woods ... for now, though of course the fires are still burning. But the cars will remain packed. We have two more months of Fire Season. I'll breathe easier, literally and figuratively, once the first rains hit sometime around Halloween.

Now, please excuse me while I go back to tearing my hair out over the pandemic.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:45 PM on August 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

A quick note from Australia that we're thinking of you. We haven't forgotten your support or your sacrifice. I can't imagine what it's like having this on top know, everything else.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 8:51 PM on August 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

Lexica: "I've been refreshing the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's Air Quality Index page once an hour."

That one's new to me! I've been looking at:
* AirNow - updated hourly. There's a deprecation notice at the top, but it's still getting new info.
* the Chronicle's air quality map - it's updating every 10 minutes. It's adjacent to their fire tracking.

I'm in San Francisco. I feel safe from fire, and indoors, we have air filters running.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:35 AM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm about 20 miles from the Fairfield/Vacaville fire and literally drove home through a corridor of flames coming back from UC Davis. To drop off my dog, who has been struggling to recover from a failed CBLO surgery. He ended up getting pneumonia from the intubation during his 4th surgery and wasnt responding to antibiotics and I had to put him down yesterday after a full year of trying to nurse him back to health. I am gutted, he was my emotional support animal and best friend and I am beyond devastated. So now I'm choking on smoke and grief and I hate everything.
posted by ananci at 10:58 AM on August 25, 2020 [13 favorites]

So now I'm choking on smoke and grief and I hate everything.

I am so sorry, ananci

posted by M. at 11:00 AM on August 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

In the first few days after the lightning storms, the onshore and delta breezes from the west met some surprise downslope breezes from the east in Sacramento, and all the air stopped dead, allowing all the ash and heavy particulates to fall out of it. So we got an ash fall here last week, and the AQI has mostly stayed in the "unhealthy" range since mid last week. This is following on about 8 straight days of 100+ degree weather (actually the smoke cooled us down like a shitty, toxic, cloud cover). Because of the blasting heat and now toxic air, we have hardly been outside at all in weeks now. We have a 6-month old puppy, who was previously accustomed to getting walks/runs/dog park visits twice daily, but we don't want to risk permanent damage to her developing lungs. We're pretty introverted in my family and had been handling the COVID quarantine relatively well. Now we can't go outside, can't really exercise (our lungs hurt even indoors with the A/C running), can't visit friends and family, can't do anything but sit here and refresh the fire maps and the COVID case counts. My partner, the dog, the cat and I are all going totally nuts. But we are safe from the actual fire, and nobody in my family has COVID, so, uh, could be worse?

I really feel for the people who are going to be dealing with simultaneous smoke-inhalation and COVID-related lung damage. Also the evacuees getting shoved into shelters together. It's gonna be a bad fire season, y'all.
posted by agentofselection at 5:56 PM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have one piece of happy news here: the crush's family and the large animal menagerie found a super nice, large, free place to live rent-free for the time being--a family trying to sell their house is letting them live in it until it gets sold.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:44 AM on August 26, 2020 [4 favorites]

It was amazing how quickly things shifted from rapid fire growth to significantly rapid containment. You could tell just from the color of the light coming through the window, no need to look outside. We were supposed to go on a camping trip in July, spent that week dealing with a cat in the hospital. Last week was the replacement camping trip, and we drove the length of several counties in northern California past some pretty nasty looking fires. By some miracle the smoke stopped just west of us, and we were able to enjoy our trip with moderate air quality. Swam in the lake a couple times, enjoyed a campfire (unironically), it was much better than staying at home in the smoke and heat.

Came back, the fires got worse, an evacuation watch was set outside city limits. The weather cooled off enough to make opening windows tempting if not for the smoke. The lightning was really unbelievable for this area. As someone who comes from a place where thunderstorms are normal, it was no big deal, but I've never seen anything like it here. The Marin emergency response had to post on Twitter asking people not to call about lightning anymore. Not lightning setting things on fires, please don't call about lightning!

If the wind is strong and dry, there is no such thing as a contained fire. No firebreak or defensible space is going to stop a fire that can sling burning embers over a mile. But instead of getting worse, over two days we went from apocalyptic smokescape to cool, fresh air. The big fires aren't nearly contained, but they're burning in areas that aren't a threat to life or property, and I think almost everyone is breathing a big sigh of relief.
posted by wnissen at 5:39 PM on August 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

My friend described watching a five hour long lightning storm. They got out witb the most important. came back once more to wet every thing down, and way up above Felton, their place was completely destroyed. They have a house below, their old place. He worked two, three years clearing brush.
posted by Oyéah at 9:23 PM on August 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

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