Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Smells Like Burning

We're surrounded by fire.

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The sky was pale orange yesterday morning and heavy with carcinogens by the time I got out of class last night. The air smelled like ground beef roasted on a tire fire.

As I drove home with watering eyes and the occasional hacking cough, I wondered, how are these wildfires affecting my health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoke from wildfires contains gases and fine particles that can "hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases."


Once I got home, I visited the SignOnSanDiego fire blog to check the fate of Rancho Bernardo, a small community northeast of San Diego where my aunt and uncle live. They had to evacuate on Monday, when the Witch Fire tore through the area. Last night, city officials released a list of the homes destroyed in Rancho Bernardo.

Can you imagine finding your address on this list?

Luckily, none of the homes on Pacato Circle South were mentioned.

But the fire did raze an entire neighborhood about a mile north of where she lives, and about 200,000 acres of adjacent land.

As an arborphile, I have to admit that what bothers me most about wildfires is not the loss of homes, but the loss of vegetation. Earlier this year, 800 acres of Griffith Park went up in flames. I hoped that my favorite spot in the park (and one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles), a grove of tall squirrel-filled evergreens, had been spared. But, when I returned to the park to visit the Griffith Observatory last month, I learned that, indeed, it hadn't.

Now that large swaths of San Diego county have been destroyed, I wonder, how long will it take to grow back?

So far, I haven't found a conclusive answer.

But I did learn that fire can help foster biodiversity in some ecosystems, and that fire actually assists in the reproduction in certain plants, such as the lodgepole pine, whose cones "are sealed with resin until fire melts it away and releases the seeds."


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