Wednesday, July 2, 2008

California Burning

I’m sure you’ve all been hearing about the wildfires blazing in California – some 1400 of them, last I heard.

Here’s what I didn’t realize until I arrived: The smoke is unruly. It wafts all over the state. You can be hundreds of miles from the actual fires but if the wind blows the wrong way, you’ll still be smoked out.

Last week, the air was miserable even where I’m vacationing in the Sierra Foothills east of Sacramento, though nary a fire burned nearby. The mountains apparently trapped the smoke. It was so thick that my nephew’s day camp had to keep the kids inside. You can imagine how much they loved that. But particulate levels were two or three times the maximum compatible with health, so the kids stayed locked up.

Here’s what the smoke looked like, hanging over the hills as we drove west from Sacramento yesterday on I-80. My sister snapped these photos through the windshield:

That’s not a second line of hills behind the first. That’s the smoke.

Today the whole family is blinking and tearing a lot, having spent yesterday inside that brown cloud during our trip to Discovery Kingdom. It seems that unless your lungs are seriously impaired, your eyes serve as a warning system.

I know there’s not really a political solution to this. Our Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has dispatched the National Guard to help fight the fires. There's not much more to be done (though arguably the Guard should have been deployed sooner). The fires result from a combo of dry conditions and hundreds of lightning strikes. For once, this is a problem that has little to do with human stupidity.

And yet, I can’t help thinking of the Governator’s immortal words: “Vere zere’s smoke, zere’s fire.” Oh, wait – Ahnold was talking about the sexual harassment allegations leveled at him during his gubernatorial campaign back in 2003. In fact, even though he then ‘fessed up to groping numerous women, that particular smokestorm blew over. Maybe he could repeat the trick?

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