Ah, the oncoming of fall in Southern California.
Flakes of ash fall thick, soft, and white as snow. Clouds of smoke bigger than mountains fill the sky. Orange-y sunlight and hazy gray skies last for weeks on end. Thousands of firefighters struggle to contain blazes with flames 20 and 30 feet high. Bulldozers cut firelines. Planes and helicopters water-bomb all through the day. Evacuation orders typically arrive in the dead of night, when the skies are glowing and the traffic is wild.
If you haven’t lived through this sort of wildland blaze, it’s hard to believe how fully apocalyptic they can be. They really do look and feel like the end of the world, as Joan Didion described brilliantly in her classic essay on dread in the Santa Ana season.
The good news about the Day Fire, a fairly typical fuel-fed fire driven by mild Santa Ana winds — now over two weeks old, with 84,000 acres consumed — is that no lives or structures have been lost.
And of course huge, wind-driven fires are nothing new in Southern California, and are not likely to be greatly worsened by climate change, according to the experts I consulted.
Also good news is that most of the wild creatures know when to flee these blazes, according to a wildlife biologist quoted by the LA Times. It’s even possible a “hatchling” from the endangered condor may survive, although that won’t be known until researchers can return to the Sespe Wilderness.