Just like the Augustana song,
California’s burning, burning, burning to the ground
And I’m here, wondering where the sun has gone
Even here in Pasadena, where we have had only the slightest breath of wind in the past week, the air smells a little smokey, the light is so orange that it feels like it’s been twilight all day, and the sun is just a fuzzy reddish spot amid the haze above. My internal solar biological clock is reeling with the confusion.
It’s pretty crazy how cyclical and predictable fires like these are. We had a record low rainfall this past summer, plus super hot, dry weather (several weeks of 100+ degrees here in Pasadena) – everything is just waiting for that tiny little spark. And even though the couple days of rain a few weeks ago might have lulled us into a false sense of security, the plants can’t absorb the water if they’re already dead (as my Global Climate professor told us in class the other day, it’s like dumping water on a dead bush and then blow-drying it with those warm Santa Ana’s – the bush is still going to be primed for burning). And what’s remarkable is how often fires like these occur. This is the first really big fire season for me in 3 fall seasons living in SoCal, but 2003 was apparently also a big fire year, along with 1994, when fires came through Altadena and the north parts of Pasadena.
The thing is, the fires are pretty much unavoidable. The climate here is hot and dry, the Santa Ana winds are a function of the geography – they’re not going to stop any time soon, and in our modern day society, there’s always going to be that accidental spark source – cigarettes, electricity, etc. And its not quite the same as with flooding (which is also pretty cyclical and unavoidable) because where a fire goes (and where it starts) can be random. Pasadena was burning 13 years ago, but it’s perfectly safe now (*knock on wood*). The house I’m living in right now is over 100 years old. That’s 100 fire seasons.
Anyways, what this all comes down to is that I am a little jealous. My family up in the Pacific NW were just dealing with windstorms and power outages (and I’m still young enough to remember that those can be fun), while down here it was raining (lightly, but still raining) ash this afternoon while I was trying to run my team’s ultimate frisbee practice. My throat felt scratchy after only an hour and a half outside. And meanwhile, my sister got to snuggle inside the house while the wind blows the cedars and the raindrops, and I’m sure when she finally went outside after the storm abated, it smelled like freshly cut evergreen branches, not like burning.