My wife, Dottie, grew up on the gulf coast of Texas. In 1961, Hurricane Carla destroyed her family home. She, her brother and parents got out with a few suitcases of clothes. The contents of their home were destroyed.
Hurricanes still plague our fellow Americans who live in the areas where they are most likely to strike. Even with the advantage of long-range forecasting and constant tracking of storms, evacuations in front of the storm’s path are rarely orderly or without tragedy.
But the warning systems currently in place save many lives and allow people to take some steps to protect their homes and personal belongings.
Many Californians, including those of us fortunate enough to call Sonoma Valley our home, live in two extreme danger zones – earthquake and wildfire.
Earthquake warnings may be a few years in our future, but there is certainly enough technology now to upgrade the wildfire alert system and give people more time to save themselves and their belongings.
Those who study the history of California wildfires and look at Sonoma Valley, would see that the terrible fires that did so much damage here this month followed paths very close to, if not exactly the same, as the 1923 and 1964 fires that devastated our community.
These three fires, and dozens of others that might be classified as close calls that we narrowly averted, share several things in common:
• They were spread rapidly by high winds coming out of the northeast, usually after dark.
• They happened in the fall after a long dry summer.
• They started in the hills northeast of Sonoma Valley (sometimes as far as away as Napa County) and spread rapidly with little warning.
The hills northeast of Santa Rosa have seen similar patterns in their history.
Armed with the historical knowledge of how fires move when certain conditions are present, and aided by the technological/weather monitoring systems that were not available in either 1923 or 1964, it is possible to predict with some certainty if and when certain areas of our Valley should be put on high alert, above and beyond the usual “red flag warning” notices that are posted.
Such a system exists in California. The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system makes it possible for authorities to send out a screech on your cellphone like they use on the Amber Alerts for kidnapped children. The same system could also interrupt television broadcasts and push alerts into your TV and your radios.
Up to now, however, it doesn’t appear to have been coordinated and connected with the fire and police services and those who closely monitor weather conditions during fire season.
If anything, our weather seems to be getting hotter and drier for longer.
The monster fires born on the devil winds from the northeast will visit us again. It is in our best interest to learn from history and do what we can to be prepared.