Back Essay Fire

The Thomas Fire first broke out in the hills above Ventura, about an hour north of LA, but within a week had spread 26 miles, until the air was thick enough to chew.

Santa Barbara County, where I live, instructed us to stay inside as much as possible and to wear N95 particulate respirator masks to protect us from the hazardous air if we ventured out.

Then, a little over a week ago, we drove away from our home, and away from the flames that licked up the sides of the mountains nearby.

Forest fires shape the response of native Californians into something like stoicism.

It took exactly a week after the fire started for us to evacuate, and by then we’d waited so long it felt like a source of pride.

We watched the news as the fire crept up the spine of California, ash falling in flurries from a smoky sky.Outside, the day turned yellow, then orange, then gray.Winds are capricious in California, and often hot, even at night.He named several people we knew who lived close by the fire, people I loved.That night, all of them were evacuated in the middle of the night.The next morning I woke up to texts and social media updates from displaced people in Ventura and Ojai looking for refuge in Santa Barbara.I wrote a quick post myself, offering up our spare room to anyone looking for shelter. The power had gone out during the night, and helicopters agitated overhead, bringing bucket after bucket of water to the front lines.In her essay “Los Angeles Notebook,” Joan Didion described LA weather as “the weather of catastrophe.The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”The evening the fire began, my husband, Justin, first read about it as we were getting ready for bed.I sat inside for days with Justin and our pacing dog, refreshing Twitter, escaping into books to distract myself.Schools were closed first, including the university, then restaurants and small businesses.


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