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The California Apocalypse



That’s how a Napa Valley friend describes the situation. Record-breaking heat, well above 100 for days on end…plus the remnants of a tropical hurricane bringing weird, Florida-like humidity…hundreds of lightning strikes, setting off wildfires almost everywhere…widespread power outages as PG&E turns off the juice…and, let’s not forget, there’s the little matter of the pandemic and the economic destruction it has wrought.

Oi. And it’s not just Napa. Far from it. Eight of the nine Bay Area counties have major wildfires burning out of control, or with very little containment. (The sole exception is San Francisco itself.) Hundreds of others burning up and down the state. The air quality, reports this morning’s paper, is “the worst in the world.” Everything smells like an ash heap; cars are dusted with white flakes that drift down from the sky. As I write (Thursday morning), Healdsburg is being evacuated…the Hennessey fire is threatening Pritchard Hill’s vineyards…Route 116 in Sonoma County is shut down between Guerneville and the sea…parts of Middletown, in Lake County, have been evacuated…and the large cities of Fairfield and Vacaville, east of San Francisco, are directly in the fire’s path, which led to a total shutdown of the I-80 Freeway last night. If you’re familiar with these areas, you get a sense of how widespread this event is.

The good news, if it can be called that, is that so far only a hundred or so homes have been burned and no deaths have been reported. The weather, after the most amazingly long heat spell in anyone’s memory, has turned cooler, although “cooler” is a relative term; instead of 108 degrees inland, the temperature will be only close to 100 today. No further heat waves are being forecast for the next week, and the winds are light.

Still, firefighters profess amazement: there are even major wildfires down in the Santa Cruz area, not from from the beaches. I heard one fireman say this morning they’ve never seen such massive wildfires so near the coast. As for residents, we’re dazed, puzzled, frustrated, angry, scared. As if the pandemic hadn’t been enough, we’re now coping with this.

It makes me wonder what’s next. Earthquake?

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