Living in the Smoke from a Southern California Wildfire
The current Bobcat fire has created the thickest smoke I’ve ever breathed in
Smoke from the Bobcat fire was so heavy that I woke around 2 a.m. Every breath was simply inhaling more smoke. It was like sleeping near a campfire.
I went out on the front porch of my home in Altadena, about 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, and looked east along the San Gabriel Mountains. No sign of flames. There wasn’t even a slight red glow over the ridges that’s common with fires that are close.
On Labor Day, thick ash coated our cars and the roofs of our garage and house, but the smoke wasn’t nearly as dense.
The skies were cloudy on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the fire burst further out of control in the local mountains and nearly doubled in size in one day, to 19,000 acres. But the smoke early on Thursday morning was downright awful as the fire spread to char 23,000 acres. Smoke from fires burning out of control is usually at its worst around dawn as it settles in the cool air.
When temperatures top out over 100 degrees like they did this past weekend the smoke and ash feels oppressive. Otherwise, it’s annoying and stings the eyes and throat.
What’s unusual about the smoke today is that it’s filtering from the northeast and flowing west. Ocean breezes from off the Pacific flow east, causing pollution to settle far inland like San Bernardino and Redlands.
The last significant fire where the smoke was this thick happened during the Station Fire in 2009, the largest fire in the history of Los Angeles County and one that threatened the communication towers on Mount Wilson.
It started north and west of Altadena off the Angeles Crest Highway and quickly spread, covering hundreds of square miles and layering heavy smoke over our house for days. Sadly, two firefighters were killed in the blaze that started due to arson.
Something unusual happened at that time. We heard from a friend of a friend that we should file a claim for smoke damage and we might get a settlement from our homeowner’s insurance. We checked around, heard that someone got a settlement and decided to try.
Our dog who was 12 years old came down with a terrible rash.
We called our insurance company and they sent an adjustor who was rude as he checked the inside of our home, running equipment along the edges of our walls and ceiling and grilling us about our air conditioning use and other factors.
His attitude made us feel guilty and we figured the settlement wasn’t going to happen, which was fine by us. But then weeks later, without us doing anything, we got notice of a settlement that was around $20,000.
The smoke from that fire that also occurred in September and burned for a month wasn’t nearly as thick as the smoke from the Bobcat fire. The smoke hangs heavy and thick, settling below the ridges like a blanket over the entire San Gabriel Valley and the Los Angeles basin.
It’s times like these that threaten the idea of Southern California as a vibrant, healthy place. Wildfires hit, especially in the Angeles National Forest, perhaps the largest urban forest in the world.
Forest land stretches in an east-west length from the eastern San Fernando Valley, through the foothill cities of Pasadena, Monrovia, Azusa and on to San Bernardino County where firefighters have been battling the El Dorado fire.
When places like the northeast are welcoming cooler temperatures in the fall and leaves turning colors, Southern California counties are either bracing for fire season or battling it hard.
This year, it’s been hard. I can tell. The smoke is thick and won’t clear for at least a few more days. So much for the carefree and healthy Southern California lifestyle.