Hot August nights

When Robin Goldsworthy first mentioned the possibility of launching a new newspaper to serve the Foothills, I knew her idea would catch fire. Little did I know that today’s first edition of the Crescenta Valley Weekly would land in local driveways that are already covered with ash. When you’re hot, you’re hot, I guess.

The heat has definitely been on these past few weeks. Big time. Having enjoyed a relatively mild late July and early August, it was only a matter of time before our traditional blast furnace temperatures made their annual appearance. What accompanied the heat this time around was something completely unexpected – wildfires. Normally, our fire season doesn’t begin in earnest until late October or November. The details of this fire are now being investigated and tallied for the records, I’m sure. One thing is certain: We dodged a deadly bullet not having to deal with our infamous Santa Ana winds, too.

Having lived in the Crescenta Valley most of my life, I’ve experienced more wildfires than I care to count. Our conflagrations are almost always made worse by the accompanying hellacious, moisture-sucking winds that can lift huge sheets of flame over one, two, or even three or more entire blocks of homes and onto structures far from the fire lines themselves.

Several times in my youth, I remember climbing up a ladder to the roof of my parent’s home near Two-Strike Park, a damp bandana over my mouth and nose and a wholly inadequate half-inch garden hose in my hand. There may have been several blocks of homes between my parents’ and the hungry flames consuming the tinder dry chaparral brush in the hills, but the winds were always so strong, they created a roiling ceiling of dark gray smoke and flaming embers that would roar overhead. Aiming the puny stream of hose water onto embers landing on the roof was mostly futile. The lethally dry winds would bend the stream of water from my hose far away from where I pointed it, then blow it into a fine mist that simply evaporated in the heat.

As heavy water-dropping helicopters roared on and off makeshift landing zones on the baseball diamond at Two Strike, convoys of pumper trucks and hot shot crews would rumble up and down Rosemont Avenue. I remember yelling at my dad, trying to be heard above the hellish blast furnace winds overhead asking if he was sure it was okay for us to be up there. Over and over he’d wave off the sheriffs driving slowly up our street, warning us to evacuate immediately. Whether by dumb luck, or divine protection, both our home and our lives were spared during those foolhardy rooftop stands years ago.

I thought about those times often this past week as time and again, emergency vehicles drove through our La Crescenta neighborhood, their public address systems blaring announcements of mandatory evacuation after mandatory evacuation. We were also rousted from restless sleep several nights in a row by the shrill ringing of a reverse 911 phone call – an eerily calm recorded voice ordering us out of our home and into the black, smoke-choked night.

Yet as I write this, not one house has been lost across the entire Crescenta Valley. I’m thankful, of course, and in no way can I criticize the superhuman jobs our emergency workers and fire crews have performed. I only wonder why so many evacuations have been called, then called off, then called again. Often seemingly with no visible flames within miles of an evacuated neighborhood. In fact, I’m writing this from a location which has been under mandatory evacuation for almost 24 hours. And yet, no flames are visible. There’s no wind. No wailing sirens. I’m not surprised that some residents are starting to ask whether these evacuations are just crying wolf.

Perhaps, but now that I’ve met my column deadline, I may just go ahead and evacuate after all. I’ll see you ‘round town.

Jim Chase is a freelance writer and longtime CV resident. He can be reached at