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The Camp Fire From 200 Miles Away, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:42am

This morning we’ve had a blueish sort of sky. I think it’s turning taupe but that might just be me projecting. In any case, the air quality is Unhealthy but that’s better than yesterday when it was Very Unhealthy.

I live 200+ miles from Paradise, California–the most populated town affected by the Camp wildfire. I should say, formerly most populated because it has entirely burned down. The fire has destroyed close to 10,000 houses, over 70 people confirmed dead, hundreds more are missing. Their air is Hazardous.

From one perspective, the bad air in the SF Bay Area is just a side note to a true and terrible tragedy. I cannot imagine how the dead and their families have suffered. I am so sorry, and if any of you have lost someone I send you all sympathies.

I am holding a moment of silence on my sofa. It’s really hard to take in.

Our brown sky is its own story as a sign to do something. Sky-writing. I am the first to admit that I don’t volunteer out of a sweet well of virtue. I do it to be able to survive the hours between 2:15 and 4:43 pm, when I’m troubled by anxiety and the desire to drink more than I should. This way, when I look out the window, listen to the whirring of our air filter, wonder whether it’s less healthy to sit inside or to take a brisk walk wearing an N-95 mask, I can say to myself, “I volunteered to elect someone who will work to find solutions.”

It’s party-politics neutral, see. I have my ideas about what is causing these out-of-control fires, other people believe otherwise, but the action is correct independent of particular beliefs.

Ironically, volunteering also makes me worry more. I worry about the kids I teach, living in apartments with old windows, no air filter, old cars without air conditioning maybe. Asthma plagues poor children. But in the end I’d rather worry about someone else than about myself.

These fires also make me think – there are so many ways to help. You can donate money, if you’ve more of that than time. You can volunteer directly, help organize food drives, set up bake sales. You can support a candidate with good ideas, or, hey, you can become said candidate. I am guessing the group here knows even more than I do what is possible and useful.

I don’t know how to sit in sorrow and helplessness. Not in my genetics. All I know how to do is pick something to do, do it, and then turn around to see what you know now.

Have a good weekend.

36 Responses

  1. Lisa, I feel the same exactly. We are trapped at home, cannot go out and yet what can we do? We have donated money and also helped donate and fill a truck to send there. As terrible as it feels here, I just cannot imagine all that is going to come to those who are dealing with this. Rains are coming, winter and where will they all go? The animals break my heart. I guess like you said we can all help in our small way. I also wonder what the long-term consequences will be for those who breathe this in. This summer the air was also bad, worse than I can ever remember. Take care and let’s hope things get a little better this weekend for the fire victims and with the air. Kim

    1. @kim, I do not doubt that you and your family are doing all you generously can. I hadn’t even thought ahead beyond the idea that rain would be good for the air. But of course it will cause more problems for many. Let’s hope. And keep doing stuff. xoxox.

  2. The tragedy in your state is overwhelming. Like you, I cannot even imagine the grief, fear, anxiety and sadness that so many are suffering. I commend you for volunteering for candidates that may be able to do some things to help. And, I want to know, why is the mid afternoon always such a difficult time! I think it can be for many.

    1. @Susan D., It is so hard to even open my mind to let myself envision what they are going through.

      And I don’t know why mid afternoon is so tricky. It has always been my lull time, why it’s now also anxious I do not know. Probably because not being at work means my schedule isn’t set in stone, so, choice? I wonder. Would be interesting to study.

  3. The whole thing is so tragic. We have friends who live in Paradise. They were only able to escape with the clothes on their backs. Everything burned down. They are safe and well. My in-laws live in San Jose and were given masks by the fire department. We are so sorry for this horrible tragedy. Prayers are good, but practical help is urgent. We will be offering both.

    Stay inside, dear Lisa. I will hoist a glass of wine tonight in your direction.


    1. @MaryAnne, Oh I am so glad your friends got out, but how unimaginable to lose everything you owned. I hope your in-laws are safe and relatively happy inside. xoxox.

  4. Dear Lisa,
    I have thought of you much of the week and am wondering how people are coping with the magnitude of this loss. Anxiety is like a wild fire that catches us and spreads unconstrained. I don’t always know how to stop it without other consequences.
    To the extent that these fires are unprecedented we should all be very anxious. Like Kim I worry about the animals because they lack both shelter and choice. Each of us must do what we can. Most of all I send love and strength your way.


    1. @luci, Thank you very much. Your thoughts help. And I hadn’t thought about anxiety and its resemblance to wildfires but you are right. All the other consequences.

  5. I share your grief and worry. We are experiencing the same air. I cancelled an SF appointment yesterday, their air quality was so bad and I’m getting over a cold and cough. My parent’s retirement home was one ridge over from Paradise, where their best friends had a house and an orchard until 2000. In my part of California, all my politicians agree with me. In the midterms, I chose candidates to support in other parts of the country, especially those who make our Congress more representative of our diversity, and who alter Electoral College numbers. Chico gets very cold and damp at this time of year. I am hoping for rain, but worried for now homeless people and animals in a Walmart parking lot. We are alll grieving the unimaginable losses and the ripple effect of those losses. According to the latest data we have even less time than previously predicted to do the right things to avoid more of these catastrophes and keep a habitable world. Thank you for each thing you do. (It’s disturbing to know what an N-95 mask is, and more disturbing to go out wearing one and see so many others doing the same.) xoxoxo.

    1. @Katherine C. James, It does feel really weird to see people walking around my little suburban in this masks. I hope you recover from the cold and cough soon, and that your recovery is shared by our whole community.

  6. I agree that our sorrow and anxiety about this tragedy and so many more can overwhelm us unless we take action by volunteering, donating, electoral activity and/or lobbyinh our elected officials.

    I could not sleep for thinking of the migrant children separated from families and held in cages and tents in thr desert. Donating to organizations helping those famikies legally and directly helped me more than them, and the advocacy of millions of outraged citizens made a big difference.

    I hope that shock and outrage over the California fires will galvanize millions.

    1. @Sharon Daly, The more we all learn to act on our shock and outrage, in productive ways, absolutely and completely for the better. Thank you for helping the separated migrant families. So much pain.

  7. The magnitude of this tragedy is staggering, the losses unfathomable. Le Monsieur and I are setting up some donations this weekend. It feels like such a miniscule response.

    Our Woolsey fire also caused much destruction, but fortunately a smaller loss of life. Several people we know well were impacted, either having to evacuate themselves or move livestock. These fires are getting worse, and the season longer.

    1. @Susan B., Thank you for setting up donations! Any one of us might do small things but so many people acting in generosity and good conscience has to make a difference.

  8. I think it’s awesome that you prioritize the world – and helping those who need it – over drinking and being entrenchedly overwhelmed. I don’t know how to help you with this because I think, whatever fixes the issue, I need it too. But I’m trying to figure this shit out and if I come up with any genius ideas, I will share them with you stat! (Small suggestion: surround yourself with lavender and other essential oils. I use this cedar incense and it is groundedness itself – I’ve been burning it constantly for support from the plant life of our universe: (it’s sold out on this site but you can find it quite readily online). Happy to send you some – just email your address.

    1. @K-Line, So interesting that you say that about lavender and cedar – my daughter gave me some lavender oil last Christmas and I have found myself reaching to rub it on my wrists this last week.

      It’s extremely kind of you to offer to send me the incense that works for you – of course since it’s smoke that’s causing our issues I have to stick with the oil but the idea has been as good for my spirits as the actual stuff I think. <3

    2. @K-Line, Of course – I should have considered the ridiculousness of recommending something that releases smoke! My apologies. It’s so much a part of my landscape right now (incense, I mean) that it’s utterly reflexive. You can also use cedar essential oil.

  9. I read that 13-15 house plants for a 2000 square foot home can help purify indoor air from smoke and household pollutants. That, and a non-ozone producing air purifier. My nephew was visiting SF on business and was coughing up blood, leading me to think the health consequences of this fire are more serious than people realize..

    1. @Alice Wissing, So scary. I hope your nephew is feeling better. And it’s so ironic – we so often open our doors that I never thought we needed houseplants before. I have one and only one:(.

  10. This is very tragic. The losses are extreme. I, too, worry about air quality. A friend owns property in Malibu and they evacuated with great difficulty as traffic was jammed. They are okay in Santa Barbara now. 200 yards from their Malibu home, homes were destroyed in fire. They have no idea when they can return to Malibu. Shockingly, their home is okay.

    1. @Susan, The losses are extreme, exactly. Shocking. And I’m glad your friends’s house is OK, sounds like they came very close to great losses.

  11. My husband’s niece and her family lost their home. Had it not been for a neighbor who called and told them to get out immediately, they may have lost their lives, also. Currently, they are staying with family and just trying to take in what has happened. Also, I think about all the beloved family pet members who lost their lives…all the creatures, big and little, of the woods who lost their homes and lives…just way, way, way too much sorrow.

    1. @Saeh, I am so, so sorry. Grateful for the neighbor who called them, and yet very sorry for what they are going through. For their losses and the sorrow.

  12. I’m so sorry,reading and watching about fires in California-it is devastating,such a loss-people,animals,houses……gone in a second.
    I really symphatize with all affected and with all of you who have to deal with smoke polluted air,firemen who are fighting the fire….
    We have some fires every year on the coast,luckily with less severe consequences-our houses there are mostly stone or brick and concrete,but remembering the fear,being near one of them… stays forever

    1. @dottoressa, Thank you. We don’t build with brick here, because of earthquake risk. Stone would be better maybe? I am sorry you too have fires, they are so cruel.

  13. The tragedy is overwhelming, and neither my brain nor my heart can begin to understand. I do think that being so close, close enough that the skies are filled with the constant reminder must be even harder to bear.

    I love this post, the strength and the fragility of humanity in it — the need to do something, and each small thing we do does make the world a better place, and the heartbreak and pain, to battle the urge to wallow in the emotions and let them consume you. You articulate it all so well. I agree about the lavender.

    1. @Mardel, Thank you. Lavender is so comforting – somewhere recently I read they’re studying it scientifically. You have a big brain and a big heart, so, if you can’t begin to understand it we see the immensity.

  14. I’m still feeling very overwhelmed and devastated. I’ve made donations, and hope that they get to the right places/people.
    And for the Woolsey fire area – we need rain, but worried about huge mudslides, like the kind that happened in Santa Barbara last season.
    I just don’t know what to think anymore. “Get a forest rake” (he makes everyday a trial)

    1. @KSL, I cross my fingers that the soil stays where it is. And the raking is just goofy – although our relationship to forests certainly warrants discussion. Twitter is having a field day.

  15. I did some research on Charity Navigator before choosing where to donate. It’s a great resource when you want to find charities that spend the least on administrative costs, with the most money going directly to wherever you choose.
    To echo KSL’s comment, I feel overwhelmed and devastated. Throw in the stupidity of the orange one, and it’s almost too much to comprehend.

    1. @audrie, Thank you so much for the recommendation to Charity Navigator. I imagine people here will find it very useful. The only way out of overwhelm and devastation I know is through community – at least when nature is the thing that’s threatened.

  16. I worry too about the tragic circumstances all around us and the people affected. It is all quite overwhelming. These fires are certainly a wake-up call. I’ve never experienced anything like the soupy thick air we are breathing this past week.

  17. So much love to all those caught up in this tragedy.

    Bush fires have always been part of our summers here in southern Australia, but incomprehensibly, horrifyingly, they are now a year-round phenomenon.

    We had to add a new fire danger warning level of “catastrophic” fire conditions, following the fire that claimed nearly 200 human lives (and innumerable animal ones) on Black Saturday in 2009. We are in a bushfire-prone area, our friends lost everything in a fire two years ago, and it feels like it’s just a matter of time until it’s our turn.

    Meanwhile I look outside at the dam, at its lowest water level to date, and my parched garden, still shining under that beautiful blue sky. In the sunniest continent on earth, how are we still not using all that magnificent sunshine to solve this problem that we have created? Just how dramatic do conditions have to get for people to act?

    What new word will we come up with for our fire danger level? How do yoy find he words, once a situation that is already catastrophic gets even worse?

    1. 200 people. And all the animals. We are going to have to all find our generous hearts and pitch in, and tell our leaders that it’s their job to lead the effort.

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