Readers often ask me, when they hear of raging wild fires in California, if they are near my neighborhood. Most of the time, they are so far away that, if we notice them at all, we see only the smokey haze that creeps up our valley at the end of the day. Occasionally, one erupts closer to home which makes ash rain down and subdues the fierce summer sun. And rarely, hell descends upon us.
Yesterday, with temperatures nudging 120 degrees and a light wind wafting oven-baked air from the low desert, a spark ignited brush in a newly minted park a scant 5 – 10 miles away. A pillar of smoke quickly shrouded the cheery, decorative clouds that punctuated the flawless blue sky.
By the time I came home from visiting with Sally (we have been unable to ride together because of the excessive heat), the entire ridge was in flames, clearly visible from the freeway twenty miles away.
This morning, we are bracing for another day of 120 degrees AND Santa Ana winds! (just in case the fire fighters were thinking they might make some headway towards containment)
Mike, always the pessimist, predicts our forests will be entirely gone within ten years. There’s no doubt that the warming climate is taking its toll on vegetation, making it more vulnerable to fire. Rain, when it does come, is more inclined to come in brief downpours that wash the denuded soil down into the canyons, burying steams and riparian ecosystems in ashy mud.
We invited John, a cycling friend who lives in the evacuated area, to hunker down in my mom’s granny flat. Initially, he gratefully accepted; but later decided to stay in his mountain home to monitor the water system in their village. He is the chairman of the water company board.
The Village, as it’s called, is at the bottom of the ridge where the fire rages, and on the opposite side of Mill Creek. The creek is only a trickle but it has a wide swath of relatively clear wash-bottom that provides a good defensible space between the fire and the houses. That said, Santa Ana winds could easily carry embers into the wooded village. The highway to their home is closed to outside traffic but I assume, should it come to that, he would be able to drive down the hill.