Thursday, January 31, 2013

Remembering the 2003 Cedar Fire While Taking my Swedish Driver's License Test

I recently took a Driver's Road Test over here in Sweden and had an experience which brought the Fire & Health news headline into focus. The News headline was on a study of a possible health issue maybe many don't normally consider if they are some distance and seemingly un-effected by immediate fire danger and it's aftermath consequences.  In other words they probably consider themselves as a mere spectator more than anything else when such a catastrophic event takes place locally. Yet that smoke and other resulting toxic fumes can have a huge impact on health as I have personally experienced. The Cedar Fire personally touched my health almost a year afterwards.
Wiki Photo

October 2003 Cedar Fire crosses the I-15 freeway
onto Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar
The Cedar Fire was a human-caused wildfire which burned out of control through a large area of Southern California in October 2003. The blaze was driven by Santa Ana Winds and burned 280,278 acres, 2,820 buildings, and killed 15 people including one firefighter. It was the largest recorded fire in California history. The Cedar Fire was one of 15 fires throughout Southern California in October 2003 burning at once. The collection of fires burned 721,791 acres of land. The Cedar Fire forced the evacuation of the main air traffic control facility for San Diego and Los Angeles, shutting down all commercial air traffic in the area and disrupting air traffic across the United States. It was started by Sergio Martinez of West Covina, California, who claimed he was hunting in the area and had become lost. At first he stated that the fire was started accidentally by a gunshot, but later said he started the fire to signal rescuers. He was convicted of lying to a Federal Officer and sentenced to six months in jail. The total cost of damages from the 15 fires in October 2003 was around 2 billion dollars.

The article in PhysOrg and other journals brought home the very personal reminder of how deadly to one's health these mega-fires can be even when a long way off. Here is the link and forward:
http://phys.org/news/2013-01-consequence-forest-health.html 


Abstract:

"Pollution from forest fires is impacting the health of people with asthma and other chronic obstructive lung diseases, finds a study in Biomed Central's open access journal Environmental Health. This study uses data from pharmacies and dispensaries to measure the increase in drugs needed to alleviate symptoms associated with pollution."
AirNow.gov
Indeed, I remember the morning I found out about the fire. My sister called around 5:00 in the morning saying she was told by authorities to evacuate her Lakeside place and move the horses out. She parked all her vehicles across the street from us and we stayed glued to the televisions set most of that day. That was Sunday and Monday was a work day. They were advising everyone to stay at home for health reasons, but I went to work. The company gave everyone the day off, but I wanted to work. Smoke and ash was thick everywhere, but I felt I was alright because I had one of those temporary paper dust masks you see body shop guys wearing when they're sanding the the Bondo with a power sander. I know it was dumb. It did keep the heavy dust out, but you could definitely feel the effect of the gases in the air. I went home before lunch. It was to much. There was no immediate effect, but from that time on through next summer there was a continual haze which hung in the air back then. The main reason was because the Rainy season of 2003/2004 was lousy as far as rainfall totals. Nothing really washed away all that piled up ash from Octobers fires down the flood channels to the Pacific Ocean. So every time the winds or even just a slight breeze kicked up, there was this constant grey haze in the air that you could get away from and it had a cough effect on many people.

Smoking-Induced Acute Eosinophilic Pneumonia
It was interesting that the article referenced in the link mentioned problems with people who already had health issues. But I think more work should be done on how it can create health problems with folks who previously had no health issues. For me it was miserable all that year long at work. I hated it when the dust kicked up. Even my eyes would get irritated. Then in the Hot Summer of 2004 around the 1st of August it happened. I got pneumonia and the temps had been in the high 90s Fahrenheit, or close to 40 Celsius. Who would have believed it. I had never had it before and thought this was something only caught in wintertime. I was out from work for almost 5 weeks. Even when I could come back, it really took another three months to get over the ailment. Interestingly you can Google cigarette smoke induced pneumonia and find all kinds of references, but I have found nothing on Forest Fire smoke effects. After that experience, my lungs were never the same. When I moved over here to Sweden after getting married, that summer I got what I thought was pneumonia again, but was in reality a form of bronchitis brought on by my wife's two cats. I have always had an allergy to cats all my life, but not with this type of response. I was laid up for a couple months. 

Now suddenly last week while taking my ridiculously expensive Swedish Driver's License driving test, I was required to take an alcohol breath test before we started off down the road and had to blow into a device that would click when the blowing test was finished, but it wouldn't click. I tried several times and no click. The instructor went ahead and did it for me so that the car would run. I also suddenly realized that I no longer have the deeper lung capacity I always had. I ran out of breath before the device would click and I could sense & feel this. Clearly there is more to damaging brush fire smoke fumes on all people than those who would commonly fall under a government at risk list. Hopefully one day they test this out. Watching the News of all the air pollution over in China, I can only imagine what's going on with the average person's lungs there in Beijing. 

Image: Living in a Toxic World
Well, if you are old enough here, remember what it was like in Southern California in the 1960s and driving in L.A. smog congestion ? True, often times today, this smog backs up all the way to the San Bernardino Mountains where it becomes an Inland Empire problem. Still the smog persists, but not as bad as the old days. In some ways it is equal, but only because the population is greater. Can you imagine how bad it would be with 1960s emissions technologies still running the show ? That's where China and India are now, among other third world countries. An interesting point on that smog level in the mountains in the Los Angeles photograph. Notice the smog elevation level against the mountains ? Mountain of the pine forests in Southern California no longer extend lower as they once did. True, these mega-fires have taken a toll on forest cover, but smog was always a continual problem. San Bernardino Mountains have lost numerous Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine to smog damage. They simply need clean air, most living things do. A former Wildlife Biologist, Tom Roberts, up in Idyllwild in the early 1980s predicted that Idyllwild would loose most of it's pines and his recommendation would be the Giant Sierra Sequoia Redwood as a replacement. Fortunately this hasn't happened YET!

Now getting back to Mega-Fire emergency warnings and heading these. It's also important that you definitely head these warnings even IF you think or feel you know better. I understand the people who want to protect property, but that was a decision you made and knew the consequences of when you first chose to live in these areas. Don't risk either your life or some rescuers life for your stubbornness. You can buy new things, but you can't replace yourself, family and/or your health.

Other Reference Reading:
Science Daily, July 2012: Gas from Pollutants, Forest Fires at Potentially Toxic Levels


12 comments:

  1. The latest? China having to shut down airports because of the air pollution. I think they might have a problem:) These events are warnings that we should(or not) take to heart. Just how people have to die first before we start looking at it seriously?

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  2. Yeah, their pollution issues are horrific and all because they want to make a quick buck at any and all costs. The big problem is that their irresponsible conduct hurts the rest of the planet, same with India and Brazil. It's no longer a localized blame game anymore.

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  3. Timeless, YES, you CAN get pneumonia in the summer! One school year, I had it 3x!!! Once in December, Once in March, and again in June. And, yes, your lungs are NEVER the same after pneumonia!!! Now I get bronchitis every time I get a cold. Actually, now I have CHRONIC bronchitis, or COPD. And, yes, I couldn't blow out a birthday cake full of candles...no way! Right now I just had a chopped up onion on my chest for an hour, trying to break up the conjestion. I must say, it DID work and I've stopped coughing...yes, my COPD is acting up again. I've had sick kids at school coughing on me all week! :-(
    Cheryl Ann~~ I grew up in the Los Angeles basin. We used to have PE cancelled on smoggy days because NOBODY could breathe!

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    1. The Inland Empire is the worst. I remember driving towards Perris California from Hemet or up from Temecula in the early days and a black/brown wall of death was just south of the city being channeled all the way through the Gorgornio Pass on I-10.

      Now with Temecula & Murrieta so built up, there doesn't appear to be a clearly defined demarcation line anymore.

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  4. Yes, I remember that fire. My aunt and uncle were in Rancho Bernardo and they had hot embers and ash land on their property. Their house was spared, but it was scary.

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  5. I so remember the Cedar Fire and the resulting devastation - at the time we were still living in LA County, but the magnitude of that disastrous fire was more than sobering. We visited Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in May of '04. It had been temporarily closed after the Cedar Fire, and it was upsetting to see the large expanses of burned trees & vegetation. But the carpets of meadow wildflowers & fire followers made up for that sad visage.

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    1. I know what you mean. I went up to a wedding reception up there on North Peak and drove through the Park. EVERYTHING was gone and destroyed so thoroughly. I always thought of the Cuyamacas as the Yosemite of Southern California.


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  6. Wow - replacing dead pines there with sequoias? I guess that's like replacing screwbean mesquites with russian olives...

    Smog - I really notice the effects of lower elevation trees each time I drive out of the LA Basin.

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  7. Yeah, it was unbelievable when he told it to me back in 1982 or 83. All those years of living up in the cleaner air of the higher elevations, it was often tough driving through smoggy days, especially in the Inland Empire of Riverside - San Bernardino. My eyes would instantly turn red and water.


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    1. Timeless, that photo identified as the Cedar Fire taken at night with the flames in the mountains is actually not the Cedar Fire, but of the 2003 Old Fire in San Bernardino. I don't know who started the misidentification, but it is an extremely common one. Chris Doolittle took the photo from his backyard.

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    2. Thanks for pointing that out about Bryan Johnson's photograph. Of course I remember there were three major fires going on back then, another being Otay Mountain.

      I remember the same confusion back in the 1970s, when referring to the Laguna Fire. Sometimes pictures and discussion got misplaced when what they were actually speaking about was the Boulder Creek Fire which occurred during the same event. That was my first taste of a Mega-Fire.

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