Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Wildfires raging in Northern California. Incredible devastation. I remember that scenario very well.

My parents moved to Southern California when I was five and I lived there for thirty years. There were raging wildfires every year that I can remember. Every current wildfire was reported to be "the worst ever", and every year they seemed to get worse. It was (and is) a tragic consistency.

The worst one I remember happened when I was seventeen. At that time we were living in a small rural town nestled in the hills between the city of Riverside and Orange County. That autumn the Santa Ana winds raged. Fires engulfed the hills and surrounded our town. There was seemingly no way out. All we could do is wait, pray, and watch the increasing flames and smouldering sky.

The sunlight was obliterated, the smoke was so thick and suffocating that we couldn't go out of the house. Gray ashes fell heavily and covered everything like snow. Our world was enshrouded in a thick, smokey fog that swirled in eerie shades of red and amber like a surrealistic dream.

We miraculously survived without any damage after two weeks of hell.

Fast Forward five years later

I'm in my early twenties, living with a "friend" in a massive 1920's Spanish style house in the Hollywood Hills. That autumn the dry desert winds surged again and the nearby hills caught fire. The fires quickly came dangerously close and we were urged to evacuate.

Young, brash, and foolishly defiant, we chose to stay. As the wildfires raged we passed the smokey days and smouldering nights immersed in music (there were two pianos in the living room), drinking Sangria, and making love.
The fires eventually subsided. We survived. 

 Paradise Lake

A few days ago (I think November 8th) the Northern California town of Paradise was completely destroyed by the latest California wildfire. This disaster awakened more memories.

When I was eighteen or  nineteen, my parents had some friends who bought a home in Paradise, California. They loved it there and urged my parents to come up and look at some available property.

The current population of Paradise is (or was) about 26,000. When my parents had friends there it was only a fledgling town and much less populated.

Anyway, my parents flew up north to check it out (I didn't go with them). They found a house there that they were interested in buying, but - after careful consideration - decided against it.

Paradise is in a beautiful area, nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but there were many negative aspects about residing there permanently.

When my parents came back to Southern California I asked them
"Well, how did you like Paradise?"

"It's a nice place," my Mom said, "But there are things that really concern me about living there. I'd especially be worried about the potential dangers of wildfires."

Today her long-ago words haunt me.

Paradise, CA a few days ago


  1. Paradise has it's dark side, that's for sure. Having been a victim of fire in my youth I can understand the fear that goes with pretty flames. I wonder how your fires start? Some of ours - thankfully not many - are/were caused by gangs who think it's fun to strike matches and throw then into the bush. After many months in the burns unit I told everyone that all youths should be allowed in to witness some of the horrors.

    1. I'm so sorry that you were a victim of fire. That certainly must have left as many emotional scars as it did physical ones. Some of the California fires are started through carelessness - from such things as unattended campfires or cigarettes - but I think many more are the result of arson. And unfortunately, many of the perpetrators are never caught.

  2. Jon,
    You were very lucky you weren't caught in one of those wildfires when you lived in California. A couple of years ago Pat and I drove up to Malibu during out annual winter California visit. We noticed those dry tinder box hills. So sad all the homes and lives lost in these wildfires. I just can't imagine being caught in my car trying to get away from the encroaching flames. I heard one woman who escaped say she saw deer on fire. All those beautiful homes lost and lives, people and wildlife and pets. Literally Dante's Inferno on earth. I'm rethinking retiring to California. If I do it will be Palm Springs, not in those beautiful wooded hills.

    1. The lack of rain and frequent Santa Ana winds always provide a perfect environment for fires in California - most especially in the summer and autumn months. The loss of lives and property is tragic, and so is the destruction of those wooded hills and the wildlife that resides in them. Much of California's rural terrain should never have been populated, but unfortunately people are building everywhere. Palm Springs would probably be a better option...

  3. Your Mom's words would be haunting you right now. Wow!
    I never could figure out why people wanted to live in California with the threat of earthquakes and wild fires. I feel so badly for all the people and animals! And so many lost everything in the fires.

    1. California used to truly be a paradise - it was a different world when I was a child. Unfortunately it has changed so drastically in many ways that I'd never even considering returning for a visit. I'd prefer to remember it as it used to be.

      I suppose I got used to the earthquakes - and I was in a few big ones (the Sylmar earthquake in 1971 literally knocked me out of bed onto the floor).
      The Santa Ana winds and dry climate provide a perfect setting for fires in Southern CA. A huge on-going problem is that homes have always been constructed in places where they should never be - such as on perilous hillsides and rural areas. The greed of the builders and ignorance of the buyers show a complete disregard for Mother Nature.

  4. Oh Jon, I can't even! The reports of people burning to death in their cars is almost too much to bear … but in all honesty, I wonder why they waited so long to leave? Maybe it's not so nice, but my true sympathies lay with the horses and domestic animals left to fend for themselves. Go glad YOU'RE out of there!

    1. The fires ignite so quickly and move so rapidly in the wind that there's little time to think. I suppose many people (especially those innocently ignorant of the fire's fury) think they can ride it out safely in the homestead. Others simply want to protect their property (which is very often an impossibility).
      Somehow I find myself worrying about the helpless animals even more than the people...

  5. Hi Jon,

    These current fires in California are absolutely horrific ! The images where people are literally driving through flames to escape is pure hell on earth. I am deeply saddened for the lives lost, both human and those in the animal kingdom.

    I still have nightmares about our last two summers of terrible wildfires. We also experienced carnage and destruction first hand - it leaves a mark on us, doesn't it ?

    Hopefully, all those weary firefighters get the upper hand ... or they get blessed with sudden torrential rainfall.

    1. Helga, you've certainly had firsthand experience with the horror of fires. Words can't adequately describe the carnage. Lives and property can be gone in a few minutes. I especially feel sorry for the helpless animals. And the forests that are destroyed will take generations (if ever) to regrow.

  6. I've been closely following these fires. Did you see the article about the woman who received an email from PG&E about wanting access to her property because a transformer was throwing off sparks? Oddly enough, that is the area where the Paradise fire originated.

    Here is a news release from CalFire stating that the listed 12 fires were all caused by PG&E.

    “If you look at the 20 biggest fires in the state, 15 of those have happened since 2000,” he pointed out. “There are now bigger fires, and more and more record breakers coming in. Fire season is getting longer. We are also seeing record-breaking temperatures. It is getting hotter and hotter. Spring starts earlier. Our fire season now goes into the winter.”

    This was a quote from a UCLA climate scientist that I read in an article in The Daily Beast.

    1. It's really scary to think that fires were caused by transformers throwing off sparks - I hadn't heard anything about that. I haven't been following the fires very carefully - but when I heard about the town of Paradise being destroyed it really caught my attention.
      Thanks for the link to the press release.

  7. Impenetrable pall of smoke over the Bay Area reported by my SF kids. One has to keep his daughter indoors with an air purifier. It's hell from Chico to the southern border, Jon. Rain dance, anyone?

    1. I was worried about you when I heard the news of the fires - I'm glad you're okay. I also have friends in Santa Rosa, who were in danger from the fires last year (at least I THINK it was last year - my memory is as hazy as the smoke).

      There's plenty of rain here in TN - I'll do my best dance to send some your way.


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