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coastal Zaca fire plaguing Sierra air clarity

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coastal Zaca fire plaguing Sierra air clarity

Postby SSSdave » Thu Aug 16, 2007 9:29 am

The Zaca wildfire that started in the Santa Barbara remote mountains 40 days ago is expected to continue into mid September. This summer of rather cool monotonous weather has seen a rather constant situation of winds coming across central California from the southwest and north. The fire is due south of both the San Joaquin Valley and the Southern Sierra so during the usual long periods of stagnant inversion air conditions, air quality just gets worse every day due to the addition of the smoke. And that includes the Owens Valley. As I've been expecting to backpack over Bishop Pass in the coming week, this fire is making me reconsider if that effort will be productive. Although there have been a few dry cold fronts coming out of the rather stubborn pattern in the Gulf of Alaska this summer that have pushed across the Sierra, few have been strong enough to clear the out air out across the San Joaquin Valley or Sierra. We have also had some small bouts of monsoonal flow from the southeast that clear the air also though it seems fewer than average. On the High Sierra Weather forum dmatt is regularly commenting on the smoke in the Eastern Sierra.

...David

http://www.fresnobee.com/local/sv/story/112673.html

http://www.inyoregister.com/index.php?o ... ew&id=1256

"Fire Investigators from Santa Barbara County Fire Department and CAL FIRE have determined the cause of the Zaca Fire. The fire was caused by sparks from grinding equipment. Those responsible for starting the fire have been interviewed by investigators. They were repairing a water pipe on private property off of Bell Canyon Road. While making the repair a grinder was utilized. During the grinding operation sparks ignited dry vegetation. An attempt to extinguish the fire was unsuccessful and the fire rapidly spread out of control. The individuals who unintentionally caused the fire have been very cooperative."



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Postby Ranboze » Thu Aug 16, 2007 8:05 pm

Ive been in Mammoth all week. Sunday was clear. Monday, I was planning on hiking up Mt. Dana, but as I drove north, I couldn't believe the layer of smoke. I did a couple miscellaneous hikes for 3K ft instead and rescheduled Dana for Tuesday. Tuesday turned out to be even worse, but I really wanted to do the hike so I did. It was smokey all day, clearing somewhat as the day went on. Im not sure if the smoke affected me or not; I was pretty out of breath climbing out of the Tioga Pass up to the Dana plateau... but then again, that's just a plain ol' steep climb. Returning to the Owen's valley in the afternoon... it was just awful... it made LA on a bad smog day look good. Yesterday and today seemed even worse in the Owen's valley. You can barely see the mountains from 395. It smells of smoke, but I don't think I had any respiratory consequences due to it, and Im pretty sensitive to air quality. The valley has been worse than the higher elevations, so Bishop Pass may not be too bad. The local weather reports are suggesting that the wind patterns are supposed to change, clearing out the smoke this weekend.
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Postby Ranboze » Thu Aug 16, 2007 9:16 pm

Tuesday 0845 - Mt. Dana somewhere in the smoke. Taken from Mt. Dana TH.
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Wed 1730 - Southbound 395, south of 120
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Postby rightstar76 » Thu Aug 16, 2007 9:22 pm

Glad you brought this up Ranboze and SSSdave. My wife and I have been thinking about going backpacking the next couple of weeks or three but now I'm thinking about putting it off into the middle of September because of this problem. I'm assuming going out of the west slope of the Sierra i.e. Lake Edison, etc. won't help much or would it? So the weather pattern will change enough by mid September that the smoke won't be a problem? Maybe dmatt could comment on this.
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Postby CSF » Thu Aug 16, 2007 9:29 pm

Tell me about it!! Feels like I'm living in Fresno instead of Bishop!! The news around here is saying it could be like this "'til the end of summer depending on the wind patterns" I sure hope it goes away soon.

For current conditions you check out my Bishop Webcam.
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Postby SSSdave » Thu Aug 16, 2007 9:36 pm

Thanks loads Ranboze for your on the spot report and pics. There is a dry front pushing through this weekend with a small chance it might be strong enough to clear out the smoke. If the smoke remains as I expect, I won't be wasting the $80 worth of gas it would cost me to drive over nor all the effort lugging my heavy gear into that basin.

rightstar if you must backpack, can't accept smoke, and can deal with the drive, the Sierra north of Ebbetts Pass ought to be unaffected. To get some feel for what's going on each day, monitor the 1km NWS satellite loop midday noting how the air flows. One can usually make out some smoke rising from that fire then flowing north.

http://sat.wrh.noaa.gov/satellite/satlo ... vis&size=1

...David
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Ran out by smoke and ash

Postby Trail Bud » Fri Aug 17, 2007 4:03 pm

We were at Coyote Lake (west of Bishop) and was ran out at 3am due to smoke and ash. We broke down camp in less then 30 min. and ran out. By the look of the ash and smoke we thought there was a local fire and didn't want to get caught. I couldn't believe it's traveled that far and is still that thick with ash too. Thanks for the info.

A pic of where we where, it's 11,000 ft evl
[img][img]http://inlinethumb42.webshots.com/8873/2072141980091405605S600x600Q85.jpg[/img][/img]
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Postby dave54 » Fri Aug 17, 2007 9:47 pm

The 'other' forum has a thread on the same topic.

As pointed out there, smoky skies from fires was a common event in the historical context. Fires would start, burn and make smoke all summer long, and finally go out when it rained in the Fall. Diaries and journals from the earliest settlers, and later newspapers, recorded smoky skies lasting for weeks. Reviews of public health data from western mountain valley communities show a spike in infant mortality rates and deaths from cardiac/pulmonary causes during smoky periods. In 2003 the CDC confirmed a similar trend during current major fire events.

Armchair environmentalists and eco-pundits all advocate letting fires burn and do more control burning. The present situation would be the season-long norm if we did. Letting 'nature have her way' sometimes sounds better in theory than in practice. Also, watch the news next Winter and Spring. Will there be newspaper articles on floods and mudslides in the fire area? Will there be property damage to homes and infrastructure miles downstream from the fire area? If we want natural processes returned to the backcountry, we must also accept the downside risk that goes with it.



The fire has proven so difficult to control for several reasons. First, it is an extreme drought in southern CA, and the vegetation moistures are at off-the-chart record lows. Secondly, it is extremely rugged country with difficult and slow access. and third, it is largely burning in a Wilderness Area where there are legal restrictions on firefighting operations.
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Postby SSSdave » Sat Aug 18, 2007 10:04 am

dave54, the historical fires in the 1800s you are referring to were mainly due to the usual practices of immigrating US settlers and Europeans clearing lands by use of fires. Native Americans had always used slash and burn fires of course for similar purpose but that was likely in late fall and after living in California for centuries, the amount of such buring was probably minimal versus when US settlers were swarming new lands in the state all over. Natural fires due to lightning of course have always been few west of the Sierra high country. Especially so in the Coast Range due to their low elevations. Speculation is that before settlers came there was considerable more areas of forest in the southern Coast Range mountains that tended to occasionally burn catastrophically every several decades when rare summer lightning events did occur. Generally the extensive chaparral areas we see now are a result of a lot of abuse during the 1800s.

As for large summer fires smoking up skies during our Sierra summers, as a photographer I hate it. Disliked many of the controlled burns that were done last decade during summer too instead of waiting for the fall. My memory is of the clarity of air during the 1970s and 80s. More common of course are all the usually small lightning caused high country fires that tend to have limited possible acreage to burn and burn out more readily. However most of the big fires in the Southern Sierra have been caused by people as well as most of the Southern California fires that plague us.

Latest weather scenario for the next few days is looking a bit more promising with winds likely to blow the Zaca smoke more towards Kern County instead of Fresno County so I am expecting to hit the road tomorrow. ...David
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Postby mountaineer » Sat Aug 18, 2007 10:22 pm

rightstar76 wrote:Glad you brought this up Ranboze and SSSdave. My wife and I have been thinking about going backpacking the next couple of weeks or three but now I'm thinking about putting it off into the middle of September because of this problem. I'm assuming going out of the west slope of the Sierra i.e. Lake Edison, etc. won't help much or would it? So the weather pattern will change enough by mid September that the smoke won't be a problem? Maybe dmatt could comment on this.


Rightstar...I just talked to the folks at Vermillion Resort at Edison today. They said it was crystal clear yesterday and nearly as nice today.
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Postby rightstar76 » Sun Aug 19, 2007 11:50 pm

Thanks mountaineer. It's not fun going to the Sierra when you can't see anything. Hopefully the winds will change and the smoke will go elsewhere.
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Postby mountaineer » Mon Aug 20, 2007 10:29 am

I am leaving to go up right now to Edison. Will give a smoke report when I return this weekend. Going to do Graveyard Peak hopefully(for the third time).
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