Good morning and welcome to the central coast, where we’ve experienced two major forest fires in the last month. The first, the Summit Fire in the Santa Cruz mountains, burned 4,270 acres and destroyed 35 homes. The second began last Wednesday. I was cruising the westside at around 3:30 when all of a sudden white smoke appeared in the sky (photo #1) coming from the Bonny Doon area. As the fire spread it looked like a bomb had gone off (photo #2.) I was shooting at Natural Bridges as the smoke spread across the sky in a rather eerie fashion. Soon everything was changing color due to the smoke and the ocean (photo #5) turned into a coppertone sea. As the smoke got thicker the sun (photo #6) displayed shades of colors that signaled something is very wrong here today.
Fortunately, as of today the Martin Fire is pretty much contained. We have some friends living in Bonny Doon who refused to evacuate their home so things were kind of dicey for a while. Overall, 520 acres burned and the cause of the fire is under investigation. Investigators are speculating that hikers, trespassers or magic squirrels in the Moon Rocks area of the Bonny Dune Ecological Reserve might have accidentally ignited the blaze. Rumor has it that this area, which is closed off to the public, is a favorite spot for people who like to practice preventive glaucoma.
So I got to wondering, what’s the story with wildfires, these raging blazes that rapidly spread out of control, much like the Bush administration did after 9/11? Like vacations, they occur most frequently in the summer, when lightning and morons are roaming the sky and woods. We haven’t had any rain in months and the brush was dry and the flames moved unchecked through the woods like Ray Allen did through the lane at the end of the game 4 on Thursday night. Like the Bonny Doon blaze, fires often begins unnoticed and spread quickly with the wind carrying the flames from tree to tree. As you can see in photo #3, dense smoke is the first indication of either a fire or a Grateful Dead concert.
These intense displays by Mother Nature got me to wondering about other big-time fires. Here’s number one on the disaster hit list. On the evening of October 8, 1871 the worst recorded forest fire in North American history raged through northeastern Wisconsin and upper Michigan with hurricane force winds. By the time it was over, 1,875 square miles of forest had burned, an area twice the size of the state of Rhode Island and Donny Rumsfeld’s ego.
An accurate death toll has never been determined since local population records were destroyed in the fire. An estimate of between 1,200 and 2,500 people were thought to have lost their lives. Peshtigo, Wisconson, the town hardest hit, had an estimated 1,700 residents before the fire. The city was gone in an hour. In Peshtigo alone, 800 lives were lost. More than 350 bodies were buried in a mass grave, primarily because so many had died that no one remained alive who could identify many of them.
The fire was so intense it jumped several miles over the waters of Green Bay as well as jumping the Peshtigo River itself to burn on both sides of the inlet town. Surviving witnesses said that the firestorm generated a fire tornado which threw rail cars and houses into the air. The smoke blocked the sun, the rising moon turned red and witnesses thought it was a sure sign of the apocalypse.
This Peshtigo fire represents the greatest tragedy of its kind in North America. Yet amazingly, most people have never heard of it because it occurred at the same exact time as America’s most famous fire-the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed 17,450 structures, caused about $200 million in damage and left one-third of the city homeless. This makes the suffering of present day Cubs fans look like a romp in the park. As you can imagine, this fire grabbed all of the national headlines. But citizens of Wisconsin are well aware of this painful tragedy as well as the Packers losing to the Giants in this year’s NFL playoffs
So that’s our look at the Hall of Flames. If you follow the national news, you know the torrential floods in Iowa and killer tornadoes throughout the midwest have been dominating the headlines. Hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, reality television, we are living through some wild times. So get on board and enjoy the ride here at Sunrise Santa Cruz and we’ll catch you for some Larry bird action on Wednesday. And speaking of which, get ready for game 6 between the Lakers and the Celtics Tuesday night. With any luck, it will be a classic. Later, sports fans.