Back Essay Fire

The Thomas Fire first broke out in the hills above Ventura, about an hour north of LA, but within a week had spread 26 miles, until the air was thick enough to chew.

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In her essay “Los Angeles Notebook,” Joan Didion described LA weather as “the weather of catastrophe.

The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”The evening the fire began, my husband, Justin, first read about it as we were getting ready for bed.

Then, a little over a week ago, we drove away from our home, and away from the flames that licked up the sides of the mountains nearby.

Forest fires shape the response of native Californians into something like stoicism.

Fall is Santa Ana season, where the dense, cold air of the Great Basin winds blow downhill toward the warmer coastal air.

According to the National Weather Service, Santa Anas "are warm and dry and can severely exacerbate brush or forest fires, especially under drought conditions."When people imagine a forest fire, they might imagine a wall of flames rushing forward all at once.

But because the forest fires in California are wind-driven, they’re more like fire raining down through the wind’s fingers, which is why one house in a neighborhood might be spared while another is scorched.

On the worst nights, the Thomas Fire was driven by gusts traveling 85 miles per hour.

In one class, a guest speaker stood in front of the students to talk about opportunities for on-campus journalism under flickering lights, like the final standoff in a horror film.

We all made a good show of caring about anything other than the fires.


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