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Creek Fire: High rains and dry summer 'reloaded fuel' for flames




SUNLAND, CA - DECEMBER 05: A resident holds a leaking hose on his burning property during the Creek Fire on December 5, 2017 in Sunland, California. Strong Santa Ana winds are rapidly pushing multiple wildfires across the region, expanding across tens of thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of homes and structures.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
SUNLAND, CA - DECEMBER 05: A resident holds a leaking hose on his burning property during the Creek Fire on December 5, 2017 in Sunland, California. Strong Santa Ana winds are rapidly pushing multiple wildfires across the region, expanding across tens of thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of homes and structures. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images

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Just over nine years after the devastating Sayre Fire ripped through Sylmar, the Creek Fire is once again threatening structures and forcing residents near burn zones to evacuate. 

Residents like Jennifer Knopp, who began preparing to leave before official orders were given.

"I grabbed some clothes and I grabbed my computer," Knopp told Take Two. 

By Tuesday evening, Knopp was told she had to go. In her rush to leave, she was unable to take her two cats. 

Knopp is now with staying with a friend in Simi Valley. She hopes she'll be allowed back home soon to gather her cats. 

As of Wednesday morning, the Creek Fire had scorched more than 11,000 acres.

Geography and environmental studies professor Amalie Orme said a combination of factors, including last year's wet winter, the chaparral landscape, and Santa Ana winds, may have caused the fire to spread faster.

"The terrain above Sylmar and where the fire began in Kagel Canyon and near Lopez Canyon is fairly rugged," Orme explained. "The combined high typography, with winds accelerating over the San Gabriel Mountains, this picture was very ripe for a very rapid spread of the flames."

This Creek Fire is currently bigger than the Sayre Fire in 2008. What's caused it to grow as fast as it has?

Yes. This fire has moved much more rapidly, and that has much to do with the sustained winds that we were experiencing over the last day and a half, as well as the very high-velocity gusts. You have gusts into the range of 45-55 miles per hour. 

The wind was moving from the northeast and then from the east to the west. With that, there was very little that could be done in terms of containing the fire immediately because the wind velocities were so great this time. 

Wind velocity and shifting winds?

Yes, one of the unique things about this fire, as well as the fire in Ventura, is the fact that with typical Santa Ana winds you have northeast to southwest flowing air, compressing as it passes over the mountains. 

In this case, the ridge of high pressure to the east of us is strong, and there's a secondary flow moving from east to west. If you move east to west, you're automatically moving flames into areas that are populated with Southern California sage, Chapparal and so on.

One thing that stands out is the timing of the fire. It's December. It sounds unusual. Is it unusual?

It is unusual. 

It is not unusual to have Santa Ana winds in December. We can have Santa Ana winds almost year-round here. 

What is different is the duration of these winds, the speed of these winds and the fact that they are occurring at a time when we have exceptionally low humidity. 

Humidity in the Sylmar area was three to seven percent. And there has been virtually no rain, which we may expect this time of year. So December is unique in terms of the size of the Santa Ana conditions as well as the very low humidity. 

We just came off a time that seemed like we had a lot of rain. I think a lot of people thought we might be OK for a while. 

We were an intense drought and then it was populated with this very large rainfall event last year. What that did is promoted a lot of vegetation growth. Then that was followed by a very warm and very dry summer. In fact, we basically just renewed the fuel load in the areas that are burning now. 

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