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.
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