I took the photo at the top of this post a few years ago, while standing in my front yard. The smoke was only about three miles away and my first thought was, this is finally it. Fortunately, it was on the other side of a lake that lies in the valley between my house and its location. We drove to a vantage point and spent an hour watching a scoop-equipped helicopter dropping down to the lake for loads of water, and dropping them on the fire. It took several days to put it out, so for a week we could not open any windows because of the smell of burning.
There have been weeks in late summer almost every year recently, when the smell of burning kept us indoors. You could blame our long-running drought, but that isn’t it. When there is little winter rain, things become unnaturally dry, and there is fire. When there is abundant winter rain, the grass and weeds grow tall and lush, and there is more fuel for the fires that still come.
Arthur Clarke wrote a story called Report on Planet Three, in which Martians, observing Earth through telescopes, concluded that life could not survive here because the atmosphere was so rich in oxygen that Earth might have open fires as a natural phenomenon! When I first read the story as a youth in Oklahoma, I found it humorous. Now that I live in the foothills of California, I say, “Yep, Arthur, you got another one dead right.”
A few years ago, a target shooter started a fire that burned into Yosemite. Three years ago, north of here, an illegal campfire was the spark. Two years ago, east of a foothill town I visit frequently, it was untrimmed trees rubbing against a power line. This year, someone pulled off the road into dry grass and his hot muffler started a thousand acre burn just a few miles from my home. That was the fire that caused me to write this post.
In the coverage of the fire this year, a newscast showed a reporter standing on a black top road. One side was untouched; the other was fire blackened. It was the point at which the fire had started, and I recognized it as the place I park when I go to the pond. I couldn’t tell whether the reporter was facing north or south, so I don’t know if my favorite place was saved, or destroyed. I haven’t yet had the heart to drive up and find out.
In my writing, I have brought nuclear war to Earth in two different fictional universes. It’s easy. I don’t see many movies, but everyone sees their trailers on TV. Massive, ubiquitous destruction prevails. A kid with his own camera and computer could illegally produce his own apocalyptic vision, using FX stolen from Blue-ray. Washington and New York have each gone up a dozen times in the last few years. He would have an abundance of destruction to call upon.
Bringing massive destruction over there is easy and cathartic. Dealing with even small destructions right here is another matter. I had no problem blowing up the Earth, twice, but I dread driving up to see if my favorite pond is still there.