by Terry Lamb
I heard quiet rustling somewhere in the corner of my awareness. Somehow I discerned that it was not a part of my dream. Reluctantly, I opened my eyes and peered nearsightedly into the darkness. I saw my oldest son Uriah peaking through the blinds, a reddish glow lighting the slat behind his fingers. He said, “I think it’s time to get ready to leave.”
My heart leapt and began racing as I swung my legs out of bed. Peaking out of the same opening, what I saw made me stop breathing. I saw a ring of fire completely encircling the mountain (Mt. San Miguel) just outside our suburb. (The picture at right was taken out my window at this time.) Less than two miles away, it looked like it was much closer in the clear air. The Harris Fire was on our doorstep.
We’d been watching cautiously for two days. The Cedar and Paradise Fires passed us up in 2003, the former passing to the north, the latter to the south of us in Spring Valley. We were shocked when the Cedar Fire made it nearly to the coast, to suburbs we thought were safe. Taking my son back to college after that October weekend, we had seen brush burning randomly beside an on-ramp unheeded. Reality was charred beyond recognition.
I had felt relatively safe then and ever so grateful that we lived protected by Sweetwater Lake to the southeast, from whence most fires had ever come. The fires even tended to skirt the mountain, favoring the valleys running down to the ocean through Bonita and Chula Vista, where the fuel was.
This time was different. I was mind-numbingly tired when I succumbed to sleep late on Monday night. In classic denial, I kept telling myself and reassuring my family that the orange glow we saw on the other side of the mountain looked closer than it was. We were not under any orders to evacuate nor even given the nod to voluntarily leave.
It took us 90 heart-pounding minutes to pack. Photos, trust deeds, money belt, passports, one-of-a-kind training program notes and CDs, my life on a computer. Digital photos of what we were leaving behind, then out the door wondering what we would return to and when. We left at 4:30 for Pam’s house in La Jolla, in deep gratitude for her prescient invitation earlier on Monday.
The Astrology of the Fires
As an astrologer, I have always relied on the charting of the planets to give me deeper insight into my experiences. But what was going on this week? Looking at the charts of the two major fires (shown below), there are no simple astrological reasons for this to occur, although there are more complex ones. We have to know something about how to use astrology to understand weather before we can see what’s going on.
The simple factor to associate with this phenomenon is Mercury retrograde. Mercury is not a big player in creating the substance of the overall scheme of things. It is, at most, a messenger. In weather forecasting, it represents the wind. Mercury has been retrograde since the 11th, and it even rained a couple of times, atypical for recent global-warming years in southern California. This was both welcome and not unpredictable, since Mercury was in the water sign of Scorpio.
This week, however, its windiness took on a more ominous tone. How could its mild-mannered moistness change to this dry, gusty, searing storm?
Storm is the key word. Several planets are associated with storms:
• Uranus is unpredictable, windy, and dry, tending toward sudden gusts and squalls.
• Neptune produces freak weather, possible violent storms; also associated with fog, haze, and smoky conditions.
• Mercury is the chief ruler of the wind, tends to be dry.
What about the Heat?
• We only need look at the sky to recognize that the Sun is by far the strongest influence on our experience. In weather, it suggests dryness and — you guessed it — heat and sunshine!
• Mars is the hottest planet and tends toward dryness.
• Jupiter is hot and magnifies the effects of any other planet it contacts. Although often associated with pleasant conditions, I have not always found that to be the case.
• Pluto is probably an influence to consider, since it intensifies effects and produces long-term damage and violent effects.
• The Moon is the timer. It tends toward moisture, but it cannot bring water where none exists.
• Signs: Gemini, Virgo, Libra, and Aquarius are the windiest signs in descending order.
The Stage Is Set.
The forecast Santa Ana winds set in on Sunday morning, October 21st due to a very strong high pressure cell over the Great Basin, whose winds are forced between the Sierras and the Rockies into Southern California. As they follow this great channel, compression intensifies heat, dryness, and speed. What was unusual about this Santa Ana was the exceptionally intense dryness and high wind speed. Meteorologists were cautioning that if fires occurred, air support could be impossible. Without that, fires whipped by gusty, unpredictable winds would have to run their course, with firefighters only able to redirect the fire to a limited degree.
Looking at the charts, one main pattern is suggestive of this phenomenon:
• Planets tied to Moon in Aquarius. All the action was in late (26+) degrees. Moon in Aquarius at 26-28̊, Pluto at 26̊, Sun at 28̊. While in perfect harmony, forming a minor grand trine, they set the stage for the “perfect (windy, dry) storm”.
• Mercury is heading backward into this pattern and will connect with it on the 23rd. The Sun and Mercury are heading toward each other, called a mutual application. This is a very powerful aspect and a potent time that occurs for about three days in the middle of each Mercury retrograde.
• If we use the sesquiquadrate aspect (135̊), frequently overlooked but powerful, it all makes sense. The forming Sun-Mercury conjunction is connecting by sesqui to windy, unpredictable Uranus. The great magnifier Jupiter also connects directly and exactly to Mercury by a related aspect, the semi-square (45̊) and by square (90̊) to Uranus. This is the critical contact. The Sun is headed into and will perfect this connection over the next two days (the 22nd-23rd).
The Sun-Mercury connection (called combust by astrologers of the classical period) is not enough by itself to be the sole “source” of the firestorm. It takes the involvement of the other, slower movers (such as those involved here) to give it the traction to leave deep tread marks in our lives.
After the start of the fires, authorities moved quickly and with the assuredness that comes from experience. They ordered early evacuations, starting in late afternoon, as the semi-square between Mercury and Jupiter became exact. Winds flowed easily all day, but changed direction as the Moon entered Pisces at 8:22 PM, stubbornly refusing to die down after nightfall.
If my assessment of the involved planets is correct, something should have happened around 6 PM on Monday. This is about the time when the Witch Creek Fire jumped I-15, imperiling vast populations and causing hurried calls for mandatory evacuations from the interstate to the coast 15 miles away.
The Sun was entering Scorpio when the squeeze was on in Spring Valley where I live, while the Moon was squaring Pluto. Efforts intensified to prevent the Harris Fire from entering the populated areas of Spring Valley. Media reports were confused. They said another fire started, was set by arsonists. It was called the Mt. San Miguel Fire. It turned out to be a backfire set by firefighters to prevent two developments from being burned out. The backfire was successful.
At about the time that the Moon squared powerful Pluto and while Mercury was tightening its contact with explosive Uranus, a propane tank exploded in Spring Valley, sending a fireball into the air. One of the metal shards from the explosion pierced the face mask of a local female firefighter, cutting her cheek just below the eye. She is at least temporarily blinded in that eye due to nerve damage.
Mercury entered Libra at 8:37 AM Tuesday morning. As this occurred, TV meteorologists were reporting the winds still moving in a westerly or southerly direction. However, people on the scene — mostly civilians at first — were reporting an unexpected shift of the wind to the north, and the speed was cut in half (from 60 to 30 mph). The winds never returned to their previous levels. All day, the battle of the winds moved them closer and closer to a standstill: The natural, moist on-shore flow wanted to re-establish itself, pushing against the dry, off-shore Santa Ana winds. The air became still, all the ash and smoke suspended in the air.
This effect became more pronounced overnight and into Wednesday morning, as the Moon reached Saturn, whose weather effect tends toward stillness.
A Note About Names
Interestingly, the Witch (Creek) Fire was named for a certain spooky caricature (which we know is not truly representative of real witches) suggested by Scorpio on the MC (the fire's "reputation"). The Harris Fire was named for the Harris Ranch, where a variety of organic meats are produced, suggested by Virgo (foodstuffs) on the MC.
A Note About Times
There is a dispute about the time of the Witch Creek Fire. LA papers are reporting it at 11 AM. All other sources give a time closer to the one I am using, which is listed on the sites which seem to have the most detailed and accurate information.
When Will It Be Over?
This will not be over until mid-November, if then. Containment and final mop-up takes time. While the planetary contacts associated with this event are one-of-a-kind, there could be more trouble ahead. Milder Santa Anas are sure to come in the first half of November, and to a lesser extent after that, when rain will become more likely.
Once Mars begins its 3-month retrograde transit in watery Cancer, mudslides on barren hillsides are the greatest danger. However, there are ways to prepare for this, and our ever-ready emergency services in California will continue their high level of performance in handling this as well.
Around noon on Tuesday, I drove back home to see if I could and what it was like in my area. Many people were “business as usual.” The neighborhood was never evacuated. We moved back in the mid afternoon, but we remained packed for a quick withdrawal if needed, thankful that our lives remained intact.
There were a number of harmonious trines in the charts for the fires, and these I associate with the wonderful job local fire, law, and governmental employees did to coordinate with each other and manage the disaster. Much was learned in the wildfires of 2003. The community pulled together in a fashion that is delightfully typical of San Diego. We are, after all, the little town that grew up.