South California makes the national news on a regular basis, but Santa Clarita Valley is rarely the location that receives the media’s spotlight. On the few occasions it does happen, you always hope it’s going to be for positive reasons. Sadly, hoping doesn’t often make things happen. Santa Clarita has been seeing a lot of the national press recently, and not for reasons we welcome.
The debate and blame game regarding the fall of Katie Hill was only just beginning to die down when the Tick Fire began to burn. We’d all become accustomed to seeing news trucks in town as the world’s media attempted to find people who knew the fallen Congresswoman when she was growing up, or could provide any further salacious detail about her past. They were about to start packing up to go home when the Tick Fire changed its path and began to head straight for Santa Clarita. Perhaps because of that, there have been more of them around than there would normally be to tell our tale.
As popular online magazine Vice reports, one couple from the area had already fled to a friend’s house for safety when they turned on the news to see what was happening. To their unfolding horror, they were then forced to sit and watch as their own house appeared on the screen, engulfed in flame. David and Amy Lamon returned to what remained of their property once the fire had been put out, but found almost nothing had survived. Miraculously Amy’s wedding ring was poking out of the rubble and undamaged by the inferno, but precious little else could be salvaged after the fire took hold. Before it did, some brave and conscientious firefighters were able to salvage irreplaceable family photos by pulling them from the walls and taking them outside, for which the Lamon family are grateful.
The Tick Fire has now been burning for a full week, and firefighters are keen for the public to know that they currently have it almost completely under control. ‘Almost’ isn’t ‘totally’ however, and the fact is that the fire is still burning. With high winds expected to sweep through California across the course of the next few days, the Tick Fire and the other nine wildfires currently burning in California may yet get a second dose of fuel, driving them out of control once more. If it does, the current total of 25 homes destroyed and 40 severely damaged may continue to grow.
The issue faced by firefighters and other authorities is that they have no means of controlling the fire in these circumstances; the strength and direction of the wind take the matter out of their hands. All they can do is gamble on strategy and hope that they’re correct. Gambling is the right way to look at it – just as a gambler has no control over what comes up when the reels of a casino slots are spun, firefighters have no control over where the fire may head next. Similarly, mobile slots pay out when the correct combination of elements appear on the reels. Fires like this get out of control when the correct combination of fuel and wind becomes available. Mobile slots players have the option of walking away when they don’t like what they see, though. Firefighters don’t have that luxury.
Given the circumstances and the difficulties that authorities are facing, it seems unfair to criticize the official response to the incident so far – however, not everyone is happy with some of the decisions that have been made. Specifically, PG&Es decision to shut down power in the areas threatened by the fire has been derided by the people affected – including David and Amy Lamon. They feel that if the power had been maintained in the area, citizens would have had access to water, and may have been able to defend their properties themselves. Their desire to do so is, of course, understandable, but it’s doubtful that civilians with hosepipes would have been able to hold back a fire that professionals have taken days to tame.
At present, government authorities are working on the understanding that the current round of fires was started accidentally by a homeless encampment just north of San Diego. The first reports of the fire came in from that area last Tuesday, but by the time firefighters arrived at the scene, it had already begun to climb up a ridge near Oceanside and approach residential homes. Getting firefighting equipment up the hillside proved to be a difficult task for the emergency services workers who were first on the scene, and the longer they struggled, the more severe the blaze became. The fire in that specific location was eventually dealt with without any evacuation becoming necessary and without any loss of life. Not every area has been so lucky.
Over 90,000 residents have been evacuated from out of the path of the Kincade Fire in Northern California at the time of writing, and if the reports of approaching high winds prove to be correct, that number may yet rise even higher. The Kincade Fire is the worst of all the fires currently burning, with over 75,000 acres of land destroyed, 120 buildings razed to the ground, and several thousand at risk of catching flame. With less than 20% of the fire under control by Wednesday morning, it remains a clear and present threat to human life. There have been reports that the smoke from the fire can be seen from as far away as San Francisco.
For the Lamon family who spoke to Vice, it’s already too late to do anything about the fire. Their home is gone, along with almost everything they’ve ever owned. It’s to be hoped that nobody else in our battered area will suffer the same way and that the Tick Fire remains as controlled as it appears to be this morning. If it is, the news trucks will eventually drive away, and we can all begin the difficult task of returning our lives to normal.