The counties to the north–Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino–are still on fire as I write this. Some people, unable to go back to check, still don’t know for sure if they have homes anymore. All those affected by these raging fires have been on my mind over the past few days. Living in the Bay Area, we cannot escape the smell of smoke in the air, the ghostly skies, the blood red sunsets. We are far from the fires geographically, but in all other ways, we are right there with the displaced, the newly homeless, the exhausted firefighters.
Yesterday I took a short drive into Berkeley. I took the back roads, not the freeway, and went up into the hills: the narrow streets winding through neighborhoods full of tall trees and grand old houses. As I admired the landscape and property, I couldn’t help noticing the stark contrast to the scenes of destruction I’d been seeing all week in the news. And it brought back memories of similar scenes in Berkeley and Oakland after the fire here in 1991.
The trees. The fire spread from crown to crown. It happened so fast, you cannot even comprehend how fast. Pushed by the wind, the fire was unstoppable.
And the question arises: could it happen again here? The trees grow close to the houses. Branches touch the roofs of these grand old houses in the hills on roads that are so narrow only one car can safely go down the middle; cars coming from the other direction must pull over. Drivers give each other the courtesy wave as they pass by. But the trees touch the houses and you wonder how a fire truck could possibly get through, never mind several other emergency vehicles.
The place where I live is beautiful. We have glorious sunsets and sweeping views. But the place where I live is also what is called a wildland–urban interface. Where we live is a place where wildfires are part of our history.
I see the beauty, but I worry about the trees and defensible space and escape routes. I can’t help it. I live in a beautiful place that has burned and will probably, inevitably, burn again some day. I can’t do anything about how other people manage their property and their trees, but I do worry. Not just now, but all the time. It’s the one lesson seared into my memory.
I wish I could do more than worry. I wish I could stop worrying. As of now, though, while the fires continue to burn and flare up, I’m stuck with this love/worry thing.