Monday, May 26, 2008

Update on the fire as of Memorial Day: Still going, but some good containment

Cal Fire is indicating that minimal fire growth is expected today. Here's a summary of stats on the fire:

Acres Burned: 3,970
Containment 70% contained - 3,970 acres
Structures Destroyed: 36 residences; 18 outbuildings
Threatened: 100 residential
Injuries: 5
Cause: Under investigation
Total Fire Personnel: 2,953
Fire crews: 97
Engines: 278
Airtankers: 3
Helicopters: 7
Dozers: 35
Water tenders: 47

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fire update

The latest update on number of firefighters and equipment, courtesy of the local news blog:

Total Fire Personnel: 3,089 firefighters
Fire crews: 100
Engines: 293
Airtankers: 2
Helicopters: 13
Dozers: 36
Water tenders: 47

The fire is 35% contained as of tonight.

Updated fire map with pictures

Here's a more current map with a great deal of embedded photos and details on the blaze.

View Larger Map

Pictures of life in fire country

A few photos here--a picture of a helicopter hauling water that Giselle took yesterday on Rt 17 (we could see several of these at the house, but didn't have the camera on hand). (Yes, she was driving at the time.) A picture of the smoke shrouding our neighbors' orchard that's just off our deck (normally you can see the rest of the canyon beyond those trees, but it's all obscured). And a picture of some of the news coverage. None of them great shots, but they show a little of how the fire enters our awareness without actually being physically right in front of us.

Fire today, fire tomorrow

The fire continues today, with 3400 acres burned, 28 structures destroyed and 570 threatened. Winds are out of the south and west a bit, so I believe the fire is pushing a bit to the north. 2683 firemen are working on the blaze, and evacuations are in place for a bunch of the mountains east of us. There's heavy fog up there, which is good and bad--it dampens the trees, homes, etc, but also makes it impossible to do drops of water and retardant from the air.

Here at the house, it's quiet. We were wrapped in smoke yesterday, as was most of the valley. Today's a grey day, but I think it's clouds and fog and not smoke like it was yesterday. The fire's about 7 miles away, smoke heading north and east, and the winds will have to turn around to come back at us, so I'm less concerned for us personally at the moment and more concerned for the people who are farther out there that we are.

Some links that I have open on the computer this morning:

A google map of the fire as of yesterday.

View Larger Map

A shortwave radio monitoring link for evesdropping on the guys who are fighting the fire. (As I type this, they're ordering more hose.) (Click on 'Listen'.)

Friday, May 23, 2008


The house is wrapped in smoke this morning, and so is all of Summit Road, and all down the hill into the valley. Down here at work, the mountains aren't even visible. Netflix is working on the HVAC to minimize the external air brought in from outside to keep the smoke out.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I can see helicopters

From my deck, I can see helicopters hauling water. Will get a picture when Giselle gets back with the camera.

3000 Acres burned

3000 acres burned as of now, according to Channel 4. Forecasting for 10,000 before it's all over. Winds are blowing at 40 mph, and the fire is heading south, toward Corralitos, which is away from us (at the moment). Evacuations are underway.

Fire picture

A picture of the fires in the distance, from the San Jose Mercury News. About 1,000-1,200 acres have now burned.

Mountains on Fire

We're moved, and now the mountains are on fire. A wildfire is spreading south now from Summit Road and Loma Prieta Road, just a few miles north and east of us, and as I type it's covered 500-700 acres. It's heading south, so we're watching it REALLY closely. People are evacuating to CT English Middle school, just a few minutes up the road.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The selfish and ungrateful love of water

Water's on my mind for several reasons these past few days. Today I was lucky enough to get out on Loch Lomond in the kayak, and that's a good reason. We're housebreaking a new puppy who's apparently house breaking herself all over the downstairs, which is not an ideal thing to be thinking of but with a long term view it's not entirely bad. (After all, we did postpone refinishing the floors.) And I've been on the water theme since we have our own water tank now, here on the property, and it's not very full.

You may not know this about the Santa Cruz Mountains, but we regularly pump our water up out of the ground here all by ourselves, and stick it in plastic tanks so we can drink it later. Some places have a lot of water, some don't, and the new house in the canyon is in a low water area. You couldn't actually build our house now--new permits require a water flow of something along the lines of 4 gallons per minute, and our well produces about 8 gallons an hour. Big difference, and we knew it going into the house purchase, but there's an intellectual knowing and a physical knowing--now, that shower might just quit out without warning.

It works like this: The pump (it's a pumphouse, not an outhouse) brings the water up out of the well and dumps it into our 5,000 tank. (There's an old redwood tank here that was hooked to the house by a garden hose, but we've switched over to a more modern big green plastic thing.) There's a line running from the tank to the house that's pressurized in order to give us the regular flow of water you'd expect. So if the well has water in it and the pump is working, if the tank isn't leaking or somehow contaminated and the pressurizer is pressurizing then boom, you've got water.

Water quality varies greatly--ours was free of rust and free enough of other minerals and contaminants to be considered really good. (It's not orange or brown. It doesn't taste like brimstone.) There's just not very much of it. The average american household uses about 400 gallons of water per day, according to some sources. Our well produces less than half of that, and so we're looking aggressively into conservation, which we should be doing anyway, right? You can call a guy with a truck who will bring you water: there are ads in the local Mountain Network News. Yet I think it's a challenge to see how little you need to do that.

Rainwater Catchment is an idea I find really fascinating, mostly because it's entirely simple. You take all that water that falls on your roof and stick it in a tank, and then you use that water for irrigation or other non-drinking purposes. The challenge here in these mountains is that it rains in the winter, and then it stops. So either you build a really huge and expensive storage capacity, or you fill up once and when you're empty, you're back to square one. Low-flow showerheads, low-flow toilets to replace the big, old, mustard-yellow ones we have now. The house is also equipped with a greywater system, which really just means the showers drain out to the orchard. It's just lacking a hose (and some biodegradable soap) to keep the pear, plum, and orange trees hooked up with a regular supply.

Sending the kids over to bathe in the neighbor's pool is another approach. In fact, we're doing tonight.

The post title? For years I was dying to use it as the title of a short story, but never did pull it off. Special thanks to Tom's Well Service for helping us get our water tank up and running.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Mountain Kitchen

After the fumigation, (and central heat, which Mountain Services in Felton was happy to hook us up with), the kitchen has been our primary target. While completely functional, we recognized that having a really up-to-date space in the heart of the house would not only facilitate marital harmony, it would feel like a place we could hide out in while the rest of the house fell down around us. Not that we worry about that sort of thing. Not us.

Here's a series of pictures, starting with the original kitchen, the gutted kitchen, and finally two views of it nearly finished. After getting a number of bids, we wound up going with Ivy Building Supplies, in San Jose. While I would have liked to have used a mountain company or contractor, a co-worker had just finished up a project with Ivy and had good things to say about their ability to meet a deadline. Their prices were competitive, and they had all skills (plumbing, cabinets, electrical) on staff instead of subcontracting work out. We had a high level of confidence that they could complete the work by our move-in date and, in the event it didn't go well, at least we wouldn't keep running into them at the Summit Store.

While not quite finished, the kitchen is looking great, and we've got a week yet before moving.

Fireball in the morning