Friday, August 17, 2007

The Fire This Time II

Well, another California wildfire that is probably getting attention on the news around the world (again). This one, called the Zaca (ironically for Zaca Lake), started on July 4th in the backcountry of the Santa Barbara County wilderness, and has since burned 116,700 acres (and counting). The West in general is in an extreme state of drought, Lake Powell in Arizona is drying up and the beautiful canyons sunk to create it are again emerging like Debussy’s Cathedrale Engloutie. (I love that).

Of course the drought and triple digit temperatures have done nothing to stop the rampant development around desert communities such as Lancaster, Palmdale, Palm Springs, and of course that hugest, most surreal of desert sponges, Las Vegas itself. Everyone is of course confident that water will materialize from somewhere even as water-rationing announcements are heard - and probably ignored - on the radio, and the Colorado and other rivers are being relentlessly siphoned away. We’ve got to keep those Palm Desert golf courses GREEN somehow!

Anyway, as of Thurs., August 16 (2007) the Zaca fire was moving towards the Ventura County line in” a remote area far northwest of Ojai,” as the Ventura paper assures us. (Well, at least nobody will have to stop surfing).

I remember when I had just moved to California and drove back from Los Angeles to find the hills behind Ventura ablaze with a moderate wildfire. A few years later things got more serious as another larger fire crept over the midtown hills, one that this time I could watch from my music room window on Santa Cruz Street. This fire had a sort of communal feel and everyone was out on the street watching. It was one of the few times I really got to see and speak with so many of my neighbors. That fire was eventually contained but driving up into the hills afterwards you could see that it came within several hundred feet of the posh homes on the rim of the hill (like the moon growing dim).

The Sunday morning of that fire one woke to an eerie Martian cityscape. Streets were lit with an unearthly pink glow, the sun was a garish red-orange. It was like waking up in TOTAL RECALL.

Some of the same efx are visible again with the Zaca fire though not yet so extreme. They show up mostly at sunrise and sunset when the sun becomes a perfect iodine-colored disc in a pinkish beige sky. Ash accumulates on your car and there are pink reflections on streets and anything reflective

The title The Last Days of Pompeii often comes to mind during such times, especially when we were passing through Santa Barbara on the 101 last week and a huge cloud of smoke appeared over the mountains that (fortunately and so far) separate the town from the inferno on the other side. As the smoke advanced it looked like a volcanic eruption, - Etna, Vesuvius, our own dear Mount St. Helens came to mind. And what an odd contrast to see both the blue clarity over the Pacific on one side and the hellish smoky miasma over the distant mountains on the other.

And odd how quickly you get used to such things Out Here.

Sort of……


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