Kage Baker loved fire. Anything that blazed or leaped or exploded – especially in colours! – she adored. We usually kept a brazier in the back yard, and we would light fires just to sit beside them and talk and watch the stars and flames.
Being as well a California native, though, she had a deep respect and wariness of wild fires. In California, we are acutely aware of the difference between wild and domestic fires. Anyone who has lived in the hills or on the edges of the empty lands – and we did both, Kage and I – knows that under the golden skin of the land fire runs free as a river. Tempt it too much with a fire on the surface, and the subterranean fires will leap up to the air and beckoning freedom, and consume whatever they can. Dragons sleep under our hills.
Technically, fire season is not quite here; Memorial Day is the usual marker. But we’re having triple-digit heat right now, as well as uncanny winds – just the sort of weather when broken bits of glass or maniacs do their work in the hills. And the hills are dryer than usual this year, because we had so little rain. Only yestreday I was noting that the hillsides had already gone quite golden – and the news of the fire in Camarillo was being announced as I came indoors with the thought.
That’s a major fire – 10,000 plus acres burning just North of the end of the San Fernando Valley, in a swath from the 101 Freeway to the Pacific Ocean. It’s a pretty settled area, too, but the fire crews have so far prevented houses and offices and at least one college from burning. It’s a few miles from Malibu – and that’s a town so expensive that if the fire gets to it, one can expect the fires to burn in colours like a peacock’s tail.
Already there’s toxic air, from burning fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals – it’s on the edge of major farming areas, too. Fire fighters from all over the Southern half of the state are out there, trying to prevent the fire that began in brushfire from becoming an urban firestorm.
And now Glendale is burning, too, in a similar area: rich homes, schools, a college, lots of churches … the posh end of Glendale. This one is a mere bagatelle compared to Camarillo; a mere 100 acres or so right now, and it’s looking as if it might be contained tonight. If the winds cooperate … it was windstorms that fanned Camarillo to its present inferno, and while we have only breezes here near Glendale so far, in California that can change much too quickly. Evacuations are already being ordered, just in case.
I live on the border of Glendale. My sky to the south-east is a wall of smoke right now, and helicopters are roaring overhead regularly, scooping water out of Silverlake Reservoir. We’re watching the fires on the television, all doors and windows shuttered close and our fans on in every room. No danger to my house – unless Griffith Park decides to get in on the act – but we’re sure not going to drive out for bagels tomorrow morning: our favourite bagel shop in on the far side of the Sea of Fire in Glendale.
This is where we natives just sort of shelter in place and pray for the fire fighters. California is usually burning somewhere every day between May and December; the huge Camarillo fire is unusual but not unknown, for this season. Three days past May Day, and it’s 95 degrees and we’re on fire – that’s California for you.
But tonight, fog is forecast to creep in from the Pacific, if it doesn’t evaporate to steam where the Camarillo fire is dancing on the shore. And tomorrow, the temperatures are supposed to drop 20 degrees. And by Sunday, we are expecting rain; actual wet rain, falling down over all the blackened acres and sending up sweet smoke to the welcome clouds … and that is California for you, too.
The weather here is science fiction and special effects. The hills are full of dragons; the sea is held by sea kings, pearls in their beards and tridents in their hands. Storm gods are rising now from the dark depths, to debate the coast line with the rampaging fire drakes from the golden hills. Somewhere out West and North, rain is coming to dance madly over the embers and make the earth drunk.
Wildfires are frightening, destructive things. But, as Kage always observed, when smoke would rise about of the hills and turn the sunlight red, it’s all so huge and insanely glorious that you have to love it. The hand of God lies heavily on us here on the edge of the continent. Miracles catch fire in all the bushes. We were a furnace of dreams long before the movies began.
It’s always dream season here.