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The October '03 Fire

What a thing to wake up to!  Sunday morning 26 October '03 us folk here in San Diego awoke to one major fire burning fairly close in to the city's center.  For me the fires were about seven or eight miles north of where I live and that was close enough (too close, actually) to actually see some of the flames.  This being the modern age, it was also close enough for me to grab my digital camera and run out that morning to take some pictures. 

This one here below is to give you a sense of just what sort of pall such a major blaze can put out.  It is a composite of a whole bunch of pictures that I've Paintshopped into one really, really wide image.  Just click on this thumbnail below to bring up the full size image and then keep scrolling over to the right as that's where the fire area was most visible.

Click on this to see a really, really wide image of the sky on that day!

When I first saw the fire in the morning it was much clearer and more vivid, even if it was further away.  Here's a perspective shot on the flames.  This is looking north up the I-15 highway through Murphy canyon.  I'm on the south lip of the Mission Valley mesa as I took this.  The Qualcomm Stadium would be visible just below and to the left of the photo here.  You can see it in the panorama above.

If I had a better zoom lens on my digital then perhaps this would be clearer as well but to the naked eye these flames were pretty damn vivid as it is!  That and far too close for this cadet!

Even the sun looked angry!  With the smoke being so thick overhead, it not only made the sun appear a very red orb, it also diminished its brightness such that I could see two sunspot's on its surface!  If you look closely you can barely make them out in this image as about the 1 O'Clock and 6 O'Clock positions.
The smell of burnt wood is thick in the air and the Santa Ana winds are very dry and strong today.  There's ash all over the place and the sky is an odd shade of gray here.  All in all it's a very odd and almost surreal way to start this day here in San Diego
Just as a bit of perspective, I thought I'd throw in these two images taken via satellites in orbit.  This first one is, I believe, an infrared image with a 1KM resolution and has an overlay of map boundaries to better help locate things.  Sunny San Diego (officially America's Finest City - as trademarked by the city of San Diego) is about in the center of this particular image.  So too are the major fires and their smoke plumes.  If you look closely at the outline of the coast you should be able to see the distinct shape of San Diego Bay.  I live toward the northern end of that and inland by about seven or so miles.  The fires themselves range from about seven or so miles north of me to about thirty or so miles north of that.  Not one single big fire but a bunch of big fires burning in their own areas.

This image below is a bit more dramatic and is in "real color."  There's no map boundary overlay so it's a tad more difficult to locate things.

Here's the description that came with this image as I cut and pasted it from the news site:

In this satellite image, plumes of smoke caused by wildfires are seen moving off the coast through Southern California on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2003. The fires have grown to more than 208,000 acres, destroying 500 homes in densely populated suburbs and have caused at least 11 deaths. Fires burning are, at from the left, Simi Valley and Moorpark; center, the combined Grand Prix and Old Fire, north of San Bernadino and Rancho Cucamonga/Ontario; bottom right, the Scripps Ranch fire in the San Diego area. AP Photo/US Forest Service via NASA


A new day and this one dawned just a gray as the last one ended. 

Ash still covers just about everything and still obscures your view somewhat.  The immediate threat of the fire seems to have receeded.  At least for me.  The fires still burn and the damage is far from done.  Today I had the day off from work as SAIC heeded the Mayor's call for companies to keep their workers home if at all possible.  So, I took some of that time and drove up north a bit.  Not terribly far but far enough to check some things out.  The flames I saw yesterday were about seven or eight miles north of me.  The damage I saw today was no more than four miles north. 

Highway 15 runs mostly north / south through a canyon between the Kearny Villa mesa and Tierrasanta.  I'd heard that the fires were in the Tierrasanta area and had even crossed the 15 near Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and around the Miramar Air Station.  That is about as far north as I drove today.  It was an odd scene.  The highway runs along what is called Murphy Canyon and then through the area taken up by Miramar  MCAS.  To the right, the east side of the highway, was where the fire had burned.  To the left, the west side, things remained mostly untouched.  There were a few spots on the west side where some small fires had burned.  Most likely though they'd just been a result of embers wafting over from the other side.  The part of Miramar MCAS to the east of I-15 has been pretty much left untouched.  It is undeveloped and in its natural state.  There are few roads running through it and its expanse has always been pretty empty.  Still though, it made for a impressive sight now that it was burnt through.  I pulled off onto Miramar Way and parked it where that road simply ends.  That is where I set up my tripod and snapped this panorama.

Folks out to take it all in.
And it is also where I found a number of other folks out there to take it all in as well.

Some folks were out there wearing breathing masks, like those here on the left.  Others had their digitals, like me, and others had their full-on video cameras to take it all in.  Even the Marines were there!  Well, one of them was.
Even the Marines were there!
The visuals even here at this road's end were interesting ones.  This bush, seen here on the left, was one of them.

The flames had rolled in from the east and came up the road's embakment.  The curb served as something of a shield for the rest of the road but since this bush had grown over the curb that didn't save the part of the bush on that side. 

Yet, the flames didn't consume the entire bush.  I'll bet there was a fire crew there and that they used the roadway as defining their line as well.  I wonder if the damage done this bush was enough to kill it.  At first glance you would think so but plants like this have a way of coming back.  Especially if there's some greenery left.
Here's an interesting view.  This is looking south from the end of Miramar Way.  On the left is what has burnt.  On the right is what didn't burn.  In the middle is the highway.
Burnt to the left, unburnt to the right, 15 in the middle

I'll continue to update this page with more photos as I find them or as I take them myself.


If you would like to know more about me, then ask me directly.  Just click on my email address here: 
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In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!


This page was last updated on: 27 October 2003  

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and images on this page are copyright protected property of Madoc Pope.  If you would like to use any of my images you must contact me first before you do so.



In the meantime, I hope you have enjoyed your "stay" at this site.  Check back again to see what new images I have added.  Until then, stay well, play hard, play safe, and have fun!