Stab Magazine | California Is On Fire...Again

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California Is On Fire…Again

From north to south, the Golden State is a raging inferno. 

news // Oct 31, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

California’s cooking. Literally. Today, the National Weather Service reports that there are 21 million people in “extreme fire danger” in California.

Right now 50 mph hour gusts are whipping through the southland. This morning, the ironically named Easy Fire flared up in Simi Valley. As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,300 acres have burned, threatening thousands of homes, as well as the Reagan Library. Evacuation orders are in effect with red flag wind warnings expected through the rest of the day. 

Earlier this week, the Getty Museum almost went up when a portion of the 405 freeway caught fire and raged through the L.A. western hills. As of Wednesday morning, the blaze had destroyed 12 homes with 7,000 homes still evacuated. Crews have the fire at nearly 30 percent containment.

And in Northern California, where my family lost everything during the 2017 fires, the exact same area in Sonoma County is being ravaged by fire again. Wind gusts topped out over 75 mph, fueling the Kincade Fire. The wildfire has burned over 75,000 acres and was at 30 percent containment on Wednesday. More than 4,000 firefighters have been deployed. In total, more than 185,000 people received evacuation orders that stretched from the heart of the area’s renowned wine country to the rough-and-tumble coast. 

The fall in California has always been fire season. By the end of summer, the grasses and trees are dry and prime fuel for wildfires. The Santa Ana wind conditions that blow stiffly out of the east are the catalyst that usually sets off fire disasters. The humidity drops to practically zero, making things even worse.

When I was in high school—I graduated in 1994—I remember an “Extra” photo in Surfer Magazine of pumping surf with blissful offshore conditions at Malibu, while the hills in the background burned. Fifteen years ago punk band Bad Religion released the track, “Los Angeles Is Burning.” So, yes, we shouldn’t be surprised when fires rage in California, because it’s been happening.

But these fires today, they’re different. They’re more intense, more ferocious. Look at what happened to Malibu and Point Dume in 2017. Much like my home in Sonoma County around that time, the fires simply couldn’t be stopped. Hurricane-force winds drove them through the hills, valleys, and arroyos, leveling everything in its path. 

Climate change is inescapably part of the problem. It’s hotter, drier and windier than I can ever remember in my 43 years living in California. My old man said the same thing when we were discussing the fires this week, and he’s been in the state for over 70 years. And none of his Boomer friends can remember anything like this.

But utility companies like PG&E are also partially to blame. Power lines were found to be at fault in the 2017 Sonoma County fire. So now, rather than fix the problem, every time the winds come up they’re cutting power to hundreds of thousands of people for extended periods of time. Yes, it would be expensive and a lot of work, but PG&E needs to start migrating those power lines below ground.

Overdevelopment is another issue. Too many houses living in fire-prone areas is a recipe for disaster. It’s like building homes in a flood plain, there are just some places that should be left undeveloped.

And while this isn’t part of the problem, I can’t help but take a dig in at the orange tyrant currently occupying the White House. You see, California is a liberal haven that didn’t vote for him. So, he doesn’t give two fucks about what happens to the people here. He’s probably enjoying it. President Trump hardly made mention of the fires in 2017, other than to suggest we weren’t “raking” our forests adequately. What does that even mean? And as far as I know, he hasn’t recognized the current firestorms that are swirling. Of course, it’d just be better if he stayed away anyway.

There really is no solution. This is going to be the new normal in California. Neighborhoods will continue to cook. Thousands will continue to be evacuated. Homes and lives will be lost. We saw it in 2017, and we’re seeing it again in 2019. 

But because, as surfers, we tend to fiddle when Rome burns, the offshore winds and beach conditions have been idyllic. A steady flow of combo swells have kept the surf entertaining. At this point, what else is there to do but go surf?

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