Fri. Dec. 22 - Today I was invited to go and see the burning seep fields for myself, my account and photos of that is below. Here is a map created by Vickie Peters, GIS, Pura Vida Community Media, using data of mapped seeps from the United State Geological Service (USGS). The seeps have been flowing for eons, and have burned before, but today more people live in the area around them and we have the ability to understand the health impacts from exposure to the vapor.
CFROG has been advocating for thorough and complete air sampling, appropriate public advisories and protection, and efforts to get the seep fires put out by communicating with our local agencies and officials as everyone is tackling this unique issue.
The seeps continue to burn in the Upper Ojai Valley and CFROG has received public reports of smoke on the Casitas Springs side of the Sulphur Mountain Road, where known seeps exist, and we have visually confirmed those reports and confirmed with the Ventura County Fire Department that they are aware those seeps are also smoldering.
I met Trevor Quirk and Justin Homze, and Trevor's mother-in-law, Lou at 8:00 a.m. today at Trevor's home in Upper Ojai. Trevor and Justin are part of the core crew that is the driving force behind the amazing community response in Upper Ojai for the nearly 80+ families whose homes burnt down, and others impacted by the Thomas Fire. Trevor invited me to come and see the "seep fields" that continue to smoke.
Photo: CFROG, Dec. 22 7:30 a.m. 1) morning mist in Upper Ojai. 2) Seep
Public officials and Fire department officials recommend the public stay away, and Trevor also asked that I do not provide details to the public about the specific location of the smoking seeps and I'm honoring that request.
The terrain approaching the seeps is steep with loose footing, surrounded by burnt trees and the ground is coated with white ash. We saw two main areas with clusters of seeps.
On my drive up Dennison Grade from the lower valley the odor in the air changes at around Black Mountain Ranch. Even in my car, with air on recirculate, I can smell an odor that I didn't notice in the downtown Ojai area. It is an acrid smell, similar to both something electric and burning plastic.
I put on my mask (P100 with vapor cartridge) as soon as we neared the seep areas. We saw a group of deer leaving the canyon as we descended. A hose was left, laid out along the new trail. It was quiet and cool in the early morning. I pulled my mask down once or twice to comment on something and the smell - even though I was upwind and well out of the visible smoke - was strong. Trevor commented that he didn't smell it anymore - I would venture that he is used to it.
Standing there, in the cool and visibly clear air watching the white mist rise from the seeps it's easy to think that you only need to avoid the visible plume. But without a mask, the air smells wrong. When you smell it, you know. APCD air advisory for Upper Ojai.
The seeps have now been burning for 18 days. At the low levels of heat, enough to cause a smolder but not enough for large hot flames, it is unknown what toxic components exist in the vapor - hotter flames would burn off more compounds. HERE is our recent report with the first air sample results performed by our local air pollution district.
Photo: A deer is visible through the burned limbs at the seep field.
Data is scarce about what is contained in the seep vapor and further testing is needed to fully understand the air impacts throughout the Upper Valley, and over the period of time the people there have been exposed to it. The prevalence of oil seeps is what helped draw those seeking oil to the area in the late 1860's, and over the decades more research has been conducted. USGS data on seeps.
New seeps do appear, as in 1994 during the Northridge quake, it is reported that a seep in upper ojai appeared. "This same quake also resulted in the appearance of an oil seep at nearby Ojai field where no seep had existed before." (Citation Link)
Burning seeps visible from highway 150 in Upper Ojai.