Gov. Jerry Brown recently had an interesting perspective on California’s future, saying raging wildfires are the “new normal,” and we’d best get used to it.
Or better yet, be prepared, because it is anything but normal that officials closed down North County schools earlier this week due to unhealthy smoke conditions from the Thomas fire.
That blaze has grown into one of California’s worst wildfires, ever. And it happens in a season when we used to get some rain, not fires.
Still, this is a joyous time of year, or at least it is for some of us. Before we get too gleeful about the holiday fun we’re having, perhaps we should pause for a moment and consider what kind of holiday season our neighbors down south are having.
We are referring to the thousands of people forced out of their homes by that series of wildfires stretching along the coast of Southern California.
The worst of the bunch — so far — has been the Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, whipped into a frenzy by Santa Ana winds and moving through residential areas so quickly that people barely have time to grab the car keys and escape. Photographs and video of the devastation make one think of a war zone, or the wake of a category-5 hurricane.
The terrible truth we must consider is that these fires affect all Californians in one way or another, because we live in a potential powder keg. And we’ve had our share of these fire monsters here on the Central Coast.
Long-time residents of the South Coast will remember, in vivid detail, the Painted Cave Fire that swept down from San Marcos Pass, destroying hundreds of homes and killing a woman trapped by the wall of flames consuming brush and structures at the rate of an acre a minute.
Mid-county residents will recall the more-recent Zaca Fire, started on Independence Day by workmen using a metal grinder spewing sparks into dry weeds. That one burned until almost October, scorching more than a quarter-million acres, mostly in the back-country wilderness.
This likely will turn out to be one of the worst fire years in California history, with the current blazes and the October conflagration that killed 42 people in Norther California’s wine country. And it’s obviously not over yet.
What the Thomas fire and those monsters from the past tell us is that we’re only one arcing power line, lightning strike or carelessly-discarded cigarette butt from a full-on catastrophe.
Another clue is that such fires are raging in December, a month in which wildfires have traditionally not happened.
Maybe this is what Californians will have to come to expect. A changing climate brought us the hottest summer on record, and despite last winter’s rainfall, we still are on the cusp of severe drought conditions.
The weather has a habit of changing people’s plans, and that’s what we all need to prepare for. We are engaged in a new climate paradigm, and while skeptics may question the existence of global warming, you can not question what’s happening in California and much of the rest of the west recently.
Just as we warn motorists about the increased risk factors of holiday driving, we now feel compelled by current events to advise readers to be extra-careful doing anything that could send out the spark that ignites the next major wildfire. We also encourage everyone to have an emergency plan, fully discussed with friends and family, with emphasis on acting quickly.