This has been an open question for our family over the past week. Our house is about 6 miles (as the crow flies) from the eastern edge of the CZU wildfire burning along the southern Bay Area coast. The fires were sparked by an unusual August lightning storm a week ago last Saturday night. By Tuesday, fires had taken hold all over California.
That Tuesday night, my phone and my daughter’s phone received an urgent evacuation notice. Strangely, my wife’s phone did not get that same notice. Anyway, we packed up within 5 minutes, piled into my wife’s car, and started driving down our mountain road toward civilization.
I guessed that the reason that only two of our phones got the notice was that those two phones were connected to cell towers deeper in the forest, whereas my wife’s phone was connected to a tower closer to Silicon Valley. We stopped at the bottom of our mountain road and my wife called 911. They confirmed that our area was not under an evacuation order, so we went back home. An hour later, another evacuation notice hit my phone explaining the specific areas that were under the order (which areas did not include our house). Looks like I had guessed right.
By Wednesday night, my mother-in-law (who lives in Hollister) was desperately calling my wife and myself urging us to evacuate to her house. We demurred. This was my second time guessing right.
But by Friday, my wife decided to take our daughter down to Hollister, and they’ve been down there since. I’m glad they left for two reasons.
First, the air quality at our place plummeted dramatically yesterday afternoon when the wind shifted, blowing smoke from the CZU fire region over our skies. I have a hand PM2.5 meter for measuring the quality of the air. Yesterday afternoon, the meter showed “999.9” outside. That meter has space for only 3 digits plus the decimal. So who knows what the actual reading was. Maybe 2000?
Realize that the normal reading at our place is 10-20. Up to 35 is considered “good” quality.
So since yesterday, I’ve confined myself to our guest bedroom. It’s just cozy enough that our small air purifier (shown in the middle) can manage to clean up the air. Notice the towel shoved against the bathroom door on the right, and the pillows pressing against the french doors on the left. I also have a towel shoved against the main door of the bedroom.
Despite all that effort, when the air is reading 999.9 outside, and 800 inside the rest of the home, our little air purifier can get my meter reading only “moderate” at best. It’s at 41.2 as I’m writing this. Note to self: “When this is over, buy a stronger air purifier”.
But back to the question of this post: Are we safe? First, are we safe from the smoke? Yes, if we hide out in rooms with our air purifiers running all day, and wear an N95 mask whenever we leave the room — opening and closing the door quickly to minimize the crappy air creeping in. And also, if we can manage to sleep in 80 degree temperatures in a stifling room without air circulation.
But what about the CZU fire? Are we safe from fire danger, being so close to the fire? Well, this is where my wife and I differ. I can ponder satellite maps showing the location of hot spots and wind patterns, and showing that data over time, and settle myself in for a good night sleep, confident that we won’t be consumed by fire overnight.
My wife, being far more sensitive than me — in almost every way — couldn’t settle herself to sleep well at our place. So that’s the other reason I’m glad she evacuated with our daughter.
Today, I made my first ever GIF using data from NASA FIRMS. It’s the image of this post. It’s a snap shot of the extent of the CZU fire every day since last Saturday. One image per day. Last Saturday, there was no fire. By Wednesday, the CZU fire had grown to be a continuous ball of flames covering the entire area. But as Thursday came, the fire started waning, and continued to dissipate as of Friday.
As my wife was leaving for Hollister that Friday, I showed her a similar GIF that someone had made and posted on Twitter. I just wanted her to sleep well in Hollister. That GIF ended with the third-to-last image in my GIF above. Clearly, there still is a fire; but just as clearly, the fire has been waning since Wednesday. As of today, the fire looks to be close to ending.
Or at least, it’s of low danger to us.
But like I said, the air quality is horrible and likely to stay that way until some blessed change in the wind graces us. And lightning is foretasted for tonight and tomorrow.
So everything I just said about being safe? Qualify that bold statement with “for now”.