Three words “It’s November, right?” Have been thrown around quite a bit by some firefighter friends of mine, people on the street, one lady in Safeway and a guy pumping gas in a faded Jeep Wagoneer, Friday afternoon.

It feels more like winter in Florida here (even though it’s not officially winter yet), tossing aside the paltry rainstorm last week, California is on pace to have the driest calendar year in recorded history. By now, Sonoma County’s hills should well in to green-up and the Laguna de Santa Rosa most likely be shoulder deep in water; the morning routine would include scraping ice from car windshields.

Saturday, the Russian River was anything but rushing and lakes Pillsbury and Mendocino look more like dust collection bowls.  The coastal range, folks, is dry.

One needs only to look at the recent wind event to realize that the 2013 fire season, while waning, is still around.

After leaving work Thursday night, the wind started to howl in earnest.  Doing what anyone would do (!), I flipped on the police scanner and listened as one call after another broadcast downed and arcing power lines or trees blocking roadways, not atypical for a winter storm but in most instances accompanied by three or four inches of rain.  Around 11pm, the wind hit the fan.  Brush fires started to break out, the largest blaze (at that time) roared across Soda Canyon above the Napa Valley. It took around 45 minutes to reach the fire, dodging tree limbs and a few tumbleweeds. Really.  On the top of Soda Canyon Road, the stars were bright overhead.  A gust would sneak up and nearly knock you over; the past full moon bathed the landscape in an eerie glow.

A wind driven fire in the hills of Soda Canyon in Napa Valley, Friday Nov. 23, 2013, grew to over 300 acres by daybreak, fanned by high winds. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Firefighters from Schell Vista and Santa Clara Cal Fire prepare to put out hotspots on a fire in the hills of Soda Canyon in Napa Valley, Friday Nov. 23, 2013. The fire grew to over 300 acres by daybreak, fanned by high winds. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

The moon picture is pretty, but I needed to wait around for people.  The moon helped to light the firefighters… for any photo nerds out there like me, the exposure was ISO 8,000 at 1.3 seconds, wide open at 2.8, handheld.

Rolling off the mountain, satisfied that I’d made one decent image, it didn’t take long for the Geysers geothermal field to ignite.  CalFire promptly called for a full wildland dispatch.  Listening, the first units went on scene and reported 25 acres with a moderate to rapid rate of spread.  I’ve covered fires in the Geysers since 1987 and that was enough for me to realize that the “McCabe” incident was going to go big pretty quickly.  Getting there wasn’t easy, Highway 128 was strewn with trees, branches a flying debris.

After making my way up the Healdsburg side of Geysers Road, I dropped down in to the geothermal canyon, rounded a corner and the fire was visible, running laterally along the mountainside pushed by 60mph winds.  The fire, wind and terrain driven was helped along by humidity  which had dropped to a parched 6 percent. After that, it was pretty simple to make pictures.

Fire rages along the slopes of the Geysers geothermal field, Friday Nov. 22, 2013 just off Geyser Road east of Geyserville. High winds fanned the blaze to an estimated 900 acres, with power lines reportedly down in the area. Several county strike teams as well as Cal Fire were on hand to fight the fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Fire rages along the slopes of the Geysers geothermal field, Friday Nov. 22, 2013 just off Geyser Road east of Geyserville. High winds fanned the blaze to an estimated 900 acres, with power lines reportedly down in the area. Several county strike teams as well as Cal Fire were on hand to fight the fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

A CalFire truck heads to the Geysers geothermal field, Friday Nov. 22, 2013 just off Geyser Road east of Geyserville. High winds fanned a blaze to an estimated 900 acres, with power lines reportedly down in the area. Several county strike teams as well as CalFire were on hand to fight the fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

A Cal Fire firefighter watches as flames lick the edge of Mercuryville on top of Geysers Road, Friday evening Nov. 22, 2013 on the McCabe fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Debris burns along a fire road above Mercuryville near Geysers Road, Friday evening Nov. 22, 2013 on the McCabe fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Chemise burns near Geyser Peak, Friday Nov. 22, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Anybody see the fire bunny, above?

The sun sets above Mercuryville on top of Geysers Road, Friday evening Nov. 22, 2013 on the McCabe fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

It may seem strange that a fire would burn in November, it was also weird that fire season started much the same way on Mayday this year, with a wind event that started the Yellow Jacket fire in Knights Valley.  The weather this year has been anything but normal.

-Kent Porter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing is normal weather wise about this year.