A dry winter was likely to lead to an explosive fire season that starts early and lasts longer. Lots of rain the winter before that one means there’s a heavy fuel load.
The pandemic, we’ve seen over and over again, has made people who were already vulnerable even more so. Firefighting ranks — usually filled out with prisoners — have been stretched thin, and evacuation protocols complicated by the possible transmission of the coronavirus.
Experts have warned of these risks repeatedly.
And yet, every order to evacuate, every video of a lurid orange fire line, every image of a smoldering house, of cars leaving a packed cul-de-sac, of smoke drifting over hundreds of miles of the Bay Area, feels at once like a flashback and another sucker punch to the gut.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed a beleaguered, weary state. He sounded not a little weary himself as he rattled off alarming statistics about the number of lightning strikes over the past three days (almost 11,000) — any one of which could have ignited a catastrophic blaze, particularly during a record-setting heat wave.
They’ve sparked at least 367 active fires across the state, 23 of which are considered major, he said.
He highlighted several complexes of lightning-sparked fires that have sent residents fleeing from Northern California communities that have been hammered by wildfires and power outages in recent years, including the CZU August Lightning Complex, the LNU Lightning Complex and the Carmel fire — none of which were at all contained as of his news conference.
Still, Mr. Newsom emphasized that California is painfully familiar with the challenges of a busy wildfire season, and officials have been bracing for months. “This is what the state does,” he said. Mr. Newsom added that he expected a flex alert on Monday to be the last in the immediate future.
It all sounds so scary, doesn’t it? Major cities and most suburbs aren’t in any danger, and yet the smoke and ash in the air, the brazen, alien quality of the sunlight make it seem as though we’re on one of the levels of Dante’s Inferno. The Jones fire, the one closest to me, is 10% contained at 705 acres, which isn’t a whole lot of progress. Full containment isn’t expected until August 28th. I imagine such slow progress is due to the terrain, which is hilly and dense with trees and scrub — high fuel load & difficult conditions to work in. Low humidity doesn’t help either.
On a personal note (notice: selfish whinge ahead), this is so frustrating! High for today predicted to be 100°, and it was only 76° when I got up this morning. What a difference! Cool enough to walk, but the amount of smoke and ash in the air made me decide discretion was the better part of valor and stay inside. Housemate came in yesterday afternoon and reported that his car was covered in ash, with burnt particles scattered throughout. This whole week is going to be cooler, mostly 98°s & 99°s, with a couple of 100°s thrown in. After the high triple digits of this last week, that’s going to seem positively balmy. But … can’t hang laundry out to dry — it will smell like smoke & be covered in ash. And can’t get out in it to walk which is really frustrating. I can march around my living room I guess, but since this house is only 960 ft2, it’s going to be a pretty tight circle. And the cats are complaining — they’re really tired of being cooped up in the house. I’m complaining too, come to that.
So although I can hope that this cooling trend is the start of a slow slide towards fall and its sweet, cool temperatures … I’m still stuck in the house. Pfooey!
The good news is that yesterday I finally got the kitchen table completely cleared off so it actually looks like a table again. You can even see all 4 place mats. The trouble is: I have a desk but it’s completely taken up by the computer & related stuff. So the mail tends to get dumped on the kitchen table. Where it piles up in drifts like snow over the days until I get a chance to deal with it. Now it’s clear, I’m going to make a real effort to keep it that way.