If 8,144 men and women, 1,004 engines and 27 helicopters can’t control the massive fire just north of Los Angeles after a dozen days, we best cowboy up and learn a few things.
First and foremost, there’s a revolutionary new tool that predicts fire threat levels well before the arrival of Santa Ana winds. More on that in a minute.
Some 27 million trees died in California in the last 12 months, according to a new study by U.S. Forest Service officials. That brings the state’s total to 129 million dead trees — what firefighters call fuel for wildfire.
December and January — not October and November, as many believe — are peak months for powerful Santa Ana winds, the phenomenon some call “devil winds.”
Above normal fall temperatures, below normal precipitation and multiple days of devil winds throughout Southern California have created perfect conditions this month and next for hellfires.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows — Santa Ana winds blow northeast to southwest. But you do need to prepare if you want to live.
“It’s basically uncontrollable” if a fire occurs during a major Santa Ana, warns Tom Rolinski, senior meteorologist with the U.S. Forest Service and a plain-speaking man. “It’s basically getting people out of the way.
“Get your cellphones charged, be sure your car has plenty of gas and have an escape plan,” he advises. “We’re at the height of the Santa Ana winds season.”
Fortunately, there’s a slew of things you can do to vastly increase your chances of survival.
Rolinski points to the relatively new government website that forecasts fire danger in several zones including Los Angeles-Ventura and Orange-Inland Empire.
Called the Santa Ana Wildfire Threat Index, the free website, sawti.fs.fed.us, uses a comprehensive state-of-the-art program that gathers weather data as well as information on dead and live fuel moisture and the greenness of grasses to create a six-day wildfire forecast.
On an interactive color-coded chart and map, yellow is marginal (fires may grow rapidly), orange means moderate (fires difficult to control). But when the chart shows red (fires very difficult to control) or — yikes — purple (uncontrollable fires) it’s time to consider evacuation…