Firefighter veteran Joe Kerr remembers the first time he battled flames where Canyon Fire 2 now rages and shakes off a shudder.
That particular wildfire was back in the 1980s, Kerr recalls, and everything — except training, equipment and courage — is worse now.
More homes don’t mean less fire fuel, the former Orange County Fire Authority captain explains. Instead, more development means more urban-wildland interface to defend.
It’s not just the front line of a wildfire that firefighters face, experts explain. Because of terrain and changing winds, firefighters also have to flank a fire on both sides. But first, they must ensure residents are safe.
“It’s very difficult to deploy resources,” says Kerr, a 34-year veteran. He offers that city departments must be maintained and that there were two unrelated home fires on Monday, one in Laguna Woods, the other in Placentia.
“The big goal is evacuate people and save lives,” agrees Garden Grove Fire Department Capt. Thanh Nguyen, deployed this week with the local Interagency Incident Management Team. “The next goal is to save homes.”
Making matters worse, the drought severity is higher in the 21st century, experts say. Temperatures, too, are higher. Combined with Santa Ana winds, the result is faster moving and more intense fires.
“Once you get a Santa Ana wind all bets are off,” Kerr says. “Fuel temperatures are higher, fuel moisture drops and you have a volatile condition.”
One need only look to the brown sky above to witness the local impact. In Northern California the scene is even more devastating, with more than 100,000 of acres of land scorched and at least 15 people dead.
While the series of fires rage out of control in Northern California, Nguyen acknowledges teams are stretched thin. “You drain resources in one region,” he says, “and pool in another region.”
Decades ago, big wildfires propelled by Santa Ana winds might consume as much as 1,000 acres an hour, Kerr…