22 October 2007


We are currently under a red flag warning and are experiencing hurricane force winds. I've already lost power 4 times. Fires--at last count there were 13 major ones--are burning everywhere, including down the road a piece. We were under voluntary evacuation orders very early this morning; those have since been lifted for the moment.

Wind is a California disaster, as much of a problem as earthquakes, floods and landslides. Every year in the autumn, we endure a weather condition variously known as Santa Ana winds, devil winds or in our house, "bendy tree," so named after the doubled over palm tree usually shown on the local weather forecast to symbolize wind.

Wind out of the south or west is usually because a rainstorm is coming in off the ocean, and we get a nice seabreeze most afternoons from the south or southwest. I am fine with those, generally. It is the wicked sustained gale that blows out of the north or northeast that I simply cannot endure. Some people posit that negative ions come along on the Santa Anas, but I can assure you that I am the only negative ion to worry about around here when the wind blows.

I don't like the dust and dirt, that's for sure. I don't like the allergens that blow in from the north. I don't like watching the power lines arc and spark as they dance in the wind. But what I really don't like is the local news stations' implicit invitation to all arsonists when they trumpet insistently--it's BONE DRY! FIRE WEATHER! GUSTING WINDS!--that a red flag warning has been posted.

They announced this morning that the fire burning nearest us is arson.

Like wind and earthquakes and drought and floods and landslides, brush fires are a fact of life in this region. The fire cycle is actually a beneficial part of the natural ecology here, but given the lack of natural ecology in Southern California these days, fire is now a much more implicit threat.

We came a little too close to losing our previous house to a brush fire. Certain things are required if one is to live responsibly in a wildfire area, and while we'd done all those things and created a defensible zone, the wind, the heat and the general aridity were all against us. I remember a sense of bizarre calm as I placed the photo albums, important papers and the cat carrier next to the door to the garage. We were fortunate that night, and the evacuation call never came, the fire never reached the ridge above us. But it's not something you easily forget.

Last night, the daughter sat in a state of nervous anticipation as the orange glow to the east deepened and spread; the son cracked bad jokes; and the spouse grumped that the Soaring Rodents playoff game had been called for smoke. I had the kids put clothes next to their beds, "just in case!" I told the daughter. "If we're prepared, then everything will be ok."

Magical thinking, but even I needed it at that point.

I finally dozed sometime between 1:30 and 2 this morning, waking again when the quivering cat parked himself behind my knees, and waking repeatedly as the deep booming gusts of wind rattled the windows.

The winds have kicked back into high gear this morning; we knew they would. It's one of the things I loathe most about the Santa Ana winds: you simply have to wait them out.

So far, we've been lucky; others unfortunately have been less so. As always, gratitude to the men and women of the fire agencies who are out on the front lines protecting life and limb.

Go listen to some music: "Windy" from the album The Association: Greatest Hits! by The Association.

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