"This photo, shot during last fall's California wildfires, shows the Old Fire jumping Highway 18 in Southern California. It was the first place the fire crossed north of the Highway as it headed toward the communities surrounding Lake Arrowhead. As a fire management officer for the electric utilities, I make sure power lines are clear of the fire. If they aren't, I try to provide a reasonable amount of safety to firefighters in line-down situations. In the ten years I've done this job, I'd never seen anything like this.
"The fire was moving about 200 yards (183 meters) a minute with 200-foot-tall (61-meter-tall) flame lengths. When I saw it coming up the valley and heading for the highway, the fire safety officer and I took off to beat it before it closed off the road. We were one of three vehicles to make it out. When we looked back, shortly before this shot was taken, the fire was still only burning on the south side of the road—the left side of the picture. Then, suddenly, all of the trees on the right side of the road exploded into flames—even though there was no fire contacting them. That's when I grabbed the camera. There are about 100 fire engines on the other side of that flame. An ABC News van was completely demolished. The fire melted all of their equipment. Molten aluminum was running down the road. Remarkably, no one was injured.
"There are two areas of particular interest in this photo. One, the fire was moving so fast that I was just trying to maintain an escape route and get out of its way. It was big and growing, feeding on dead and dying trees—the result of bark beetle infestation. I kept my car running and the door open as I pulled back. In the foreground you'll see where the road looks wet. If you look closely there's a square space that doesn't look so wet. That's where my car was when a full load of red fire retardant was dropped out of an airplane. Two, right alongside of the road, opposite the car, you'll see that the grass is on fire. That's just from radiant heat—what helped the fire jump the road. The dead grass was just fuel along the roadside. It has a much lower ignition temperature than a tree does and the radiant heat caused it to burst into flame. Those guys in the foreground were taking on 300 degrees (149° Celsius), a tremendous amount of heat."
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