Life During and After the California Fires

An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on November 15, 2018 in Paradise, California / Getty

Folks in Northern California now wear air filter masks everywhere. Waking up, it’s difficult to breathe and hard to open your eyes.

The trailheads are empty. No one wants to walk, hike or run in this mire, though we need so badly to relieve the stress.

I was in the thick of it only a year ago. I was just barely in the process of rebuilding and coming to terms with the knowledge that much of what was lost might never come back.

But with the smoke seeping into my clothes, my hair and my house, all it takes to cause the bile of panic to rise is the sound of a siren. Any siren.

I’m looking at my phone non-stop and dreading the next alert or updated number of fatalities. As I write, the media is reporting 88 people dead, 85 deaths from the Camp Fire in the North and three fatalities from the Woolsey Fire in Southern California. There are still hundreds of people missing.

I’m about 150 miles south of the Camp Fire in Butte County, but I still can’t breathe. At times the air is worse than what can be found in parts of India or industrial China. Officials estimate it’s like smoking 14 cigarettes a day.

Last October it would have been unimaginable to think this could happen again, so soon, so close and so much deadlier.

The punishing smoke forces everyone indoors and affects everything—from how the interior of your car and home smell, to the aroma of the foods you eat and whatever you drink.

Schools have been canceled, forcing those of us with kids to scramble last minute and/or give up income. Sporting events have been nixed or held indoors.

Even the big game between Stanford and University of California, Berkeley last Saturday had to be rescheduled because of the bad air—the first time in its 121-year history.

For those of us that were enveloped in fire and smoke last year, these billows, be they gray or white, trigger a Pavlovian panic and deep embrace of melancholy.

This isn’t just smoke. It’s our lives.

Published on November 26, 2018
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