Fired up, thanks.

You may have heard that we have a fire going on here in Santa Cruz.

Flames coming at us…

Fires are, unfortunately, not unusual in California—generally in October, when the dry season is dragging on.  But fires are now an annual, close, pressing presence, all over the state. For a quarter of the year, every year, our lives have become dominated by fear.  Fear and smoke.

This year, nothing is usual. Why should fires be?  Or rather, fire fighting.

Because this one, they’re not actually fighting.  Thousands of homes are in the line of the fire, and yes, so far most of the people have gotten out, but a fire that would normally have 3000 or more firefighters on it, has had 600.

Normally, within twenty minutes of the first whiff of smoke, you hear the spotter planes.  Then the water-bearing helicopters and the retardant-spraying planes arrive, to crush the fire before it could build and take off—

Over my house, two years ago. No messing around.

But for two days, our skies have been empty.

In part, it’s a problem with the terrain, and the difficulty of dumping water on the tops of redwood trees, attempting to get it to the ground.  And in part, it’s the way the wind is riding the front of the fire line, obscuring the target ground.

Charred leaf, drifted down onto my deck.

And the bigger problem?  Our inability to get the Covid response under control.

Summer fires in California depend on the inmates of prisons and youth facilities, who train, get paid, and have a highly employable skill when they get out.  But in 2020, the prisons have either locked their inmates down or given them early release.

This morning, I wrote a note on Facebook with a picture of the air we’re trying to breathe—

No filters on the photograph, though an N95 on the photographer.

—and a comment that decisions made in DC have rippled across the country.

Now, I did not mean that DC has anything to do with where our Conservation Corps prisoners are sent.  I meant that the incredible catastrophe that is this government’s Covid response has now resulted in a situation where my neighbors’ houses are burning, their livestock and the wild creatures that live here are dying, and a quarter of my county has loaded up their cars and fled to safety.

Other countries have problems, absolutely.  No argument there.  And yes, global heating means that the hills are tinder dry and the sun is hotter than ever and you can’t blame the people in DC for all of that, since much was inherited.  But once the fire is burning?  Locking down our firefighters has thrown kerosene on the flames.

The camera couldn’t deal with the intense glowing red eye of the sun. Use your imagination…

The countries that acknowledged the problem early, that frankly ordered people to retreat until the numbers were down, that required their people to wear masks and keep apart and be both responsible and sensible—those countries might be watching their hills burn, but it isn’t because firefighters who want to work are kept from the fire lines.

This is a stupid way to live. What can be more basic than wearing a bloody mask and not going to large gatherings?  Why is this country not only unable to bring the response under control, but unable to even agree that there are things that can be done, now? Why can we not just grow up?

My fire has nothing to do with your life, I know.  Of course, if my house burns down, it means that you won’t have a book or two from me while I’m trying to put my life back together. And if you insist on not wearing a mask when you go out, and pretending that hanging out in a crowded bar or venue doesn’t matter, and yes, if you vote for people who treat it like a joke, then thanks, but I’m not sure that we’re ever going to crawl out from under this thing. Which would be too bad, to never be able to hang out and chat about the new one.

Ripples spread.  And the Covid-denier one is currently crashing on my coastline.


  1. Terry Odell on August 21, 2020 at 10:27 am

    I grew up in Los Angeles, in the canyons outside of Beverly Hills. I remember well the annual brush fires–and then the mudslides after the rains. My mother, now 94, still lives in that same house. I agree with everything you’re saying here, and right now, we’re fighting fires all over Colorado, where I live.

  2. Andra Legge on August 21, 2020 at 10:37 am

    We are seeing those same ripples here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with the incredible lack of aid that showed up after a massive storm swept the state Aug 10. We’ve ended up taking things into our own hands, with those of us who can, helping those who absolutely cannot manage. But it’s hard when you’re trying to locate your own roof to find time and resources to help find someone else’s refrigerator (and God knows I really wish that were a metaphor).
    I hope your fire can be controlled, and people can finally get their heads out of their asses so no one else has to have these worries and fears.

  3. Chris on August 21, 2020 at 11:47 am

    Sending best wishes to you and yours in these less than pleasant times and in this particularly challenging set of circumstances. We think things are challenging here, with 4 Nations unable to agree, so can only imagine what you have to face.

  4. Jody Frease on August 21, 2020 at 11:50 am

    Greetings from Napa, on the doorstep of LNULightning Complex. I feel every drop of your rage. It’s going to be a long, terrible fall.

  5. Li Ann on August 21, 2020 at 3:31 pm

    What a terrible, frustrating situation. If I could figure out a practical way to help, I certainly would. Just praying for you & offer future respite in my little Hawaii townhouse–oops don’t trip over my clutter, please. : )

    • Laurie King on August 21, 2020 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks, Li Ann, it’s a bit far for an evacuation but very kind of you. Enjoy the clean air!

  6. Herb White on August 22, 2020 at 6:57 pm

    We currently live in Nevada with family in Southern California. Our mountains have vanished in the smoke and we can smell the fires. We struggle with people around us who deny both COVID-19 and global warning, people who believe your problems come from not raking the forest floor. Insanity prevails, and all we can do is pray for all of you, and wait hopefully for the next Mary Russell installment One question, about Mary Russell’s War: if Mary is 92, wouldn’t Sherlock be over 150 years old.?

    • Laurie King on August 23, 2020 at 9:17 am

      My chronology is that he was born in 1861, yes. Amazing stuff, that royal jelly…
      Keep safe,

  7. Tiffany on August 26, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    I’m so sorry about the fires. I lived in CO and WA for some years- and the fires there were a constant source of stress and concern. I now live on the east coast- where fires are less of a concern. But my life is not stress-free, not with COVID out there getting worse- though our state of VA is doing better than most (thanks to our awesome governor). I agree, this will be a frustrating fall. Do us a favor Laurie, have your next Mary Russell book take place in England (stay home!) and have the weather be cool and damp (no fires!). That would hit the spot right about now….

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