Monday, November 17, 2008

Triangle Complex Fire - View from the 57

Although State Route 57 was closed Sunday afternoon, it was open (save a few off-ramps) in time for the Monday morning commute, so I got my first close look at some of the devastation from this weekend's fires.

For those unfamiliar with the geography, imagine a line of hills extended from northwest to southeast. The city of Diamond Bar is located at the northwest end of the hills, then the hills divide Chino Hills (northeast of the hills) from Brea, Placentia, Yorba Linda, and Anaheim Hills (southwest of the hills). Eventually you end up in the Corona area, and then the hills continue toward San Clemente.

For commuting purposes, there are three ways to cross the hills - the 57 freeway at the northwest end, Carbon Canyon Road (SR 142) through the middle, and the 91 freeway at the southeast end.

On my Monday morning commute, I took the 57 freeway into Orange County, which was right on the edge of the fire. The freeway heads south from the 60 freeway, going through the low-lying areas of Diamond Bar, then heads into a sparsely populated area called Brea Canyon. The southbound freeway (normally) provides access to Brea Canyon Rd., and if you go a bit further south, the northbound freeway (normally) provides access to Tonner Canyon Rd. You then go through one final pass, and then you land smack dab into Orange County (in this case Brea) via the Lambert Rd. exit.

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Everything was fine until after I passed the Brea Canyon exit, then the east (left) side of the freeway turned black, showing the burn areas. However, I didn't run into any smoke until we got to Tonner Canyon; then you could see a thick blanket of smoke to the east. I had heard that the fires jumped the freeway, but I saw no evidence of this until I got to the pass between Tonner Canyon and Lambert; there you could clearly see the burns on both sides of the freeway.

What's next? Clearly, a ton of reseeding. Because of the loss of vegetation on hillsides, hillside fires in the fall often result in mudslides in the spring, and that stretch of the 57 freeway is filled with charred hillsides. Presumably they'll get the green spray out and spray the hills to get the vegetation growing before the spring.

At some point I'll be going through Carbon Canyon on State Route 142, but that may not be any time soon. The CalTrans Highway Information Network (+1 800 427 7623) is still reporting that route 142 is closed, and presumably will be until the fire is fully contained and the ground is no longer hot.

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