If you ventured outside for a breath of fresh air earlier this week, unfortunately, there was none. If this is what Gov. Jerry Brown refers to as the “new normal” we definitely don’t like it.
In fact, what one encountered on their little stroll seemed more like a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” than a typical day in our paradise.
If you are unfamiliar with McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic epic, it is a trek through desolation and despair. Come to think of it, it you haven’t read the novel or seen the motion picture, just skip it, for the sake of your own mental and emotional well-being.
Raging wildfires down the coast from us have spread such visual and breathing despair throughout the Central Coast, so much so that education officials have shut down schools, which were close to holiday break anyway.
North County health officials have been handing out breathing masks like faux pirates at a Mardi Gras parade. The paper masks help filter out the toxic cloud billowing from the Thomas fire, which began in the hills outside Ventura and has since burned its way through more than a quarter-million acres, hundreds of homes, and countless man-hours of fire-fighting efforts.
At mid-week, the smoke from the Thomas fire officially became hazardous, and the worst for the South Coast in more than eight years of monitoring.
Smoke inhalation is clogging more than lungs. Local clinics and emergency rooms are seeing a flood of people complaining of breathing problems. The situation is especially dire for the elderly, folks with asthma, COPD or a heart condition.
Another unfortunate aspect of this kind of disaster is that it has legs. Experts say the smoke and ash from the Thomas fire will be with us for a while, perhaps for days after the fire is controlled.
That could take a while, too. Remember that the Zaca Fire, which started outside Los Olivos on July 4, 2007, was still burning as of Sept. 1, scorching more than 240,000 acres.
There is another problem from fires that burn into residential and commercial areas — toxic fallout from burned chemicals and materials used in homes and business structures. Experts advise those with heart or lung conditions to stay clear of any ash cleanup chores, and avoid allowing skin contact with the ash.
Gov. Brown made the comments about the “new normal” situation with wildfires after viewing some of the devastation in Ventura last weekend — and the Thomas fire was only about halfway through its march of destruction.
Brown also used the occasion to take some digs at climate-change skeptics, saying Californians can expect bigger and more-destructive wildfires because a warming planet is changing weather patterns.
Not much of a surprise in those assertions. Long-time California residents are aware that big wildfires just don’t happen in December, which is the nominal beginning of the state’s winter rainy season.
And yet, here we are, watching as the Thomas fire scorches the ground deep into December, with no relief in sight.
Central Coast residents live in a unique and naturally beautiful place. But it’s a place with limited escape routes, with most of our communities being tucked between the Pacific Ocean and mountain ranges. In many towns, there are only two viable ways to get out. That’s something you need to keep in mind as you prepare your emergency plan. And it’s best to make provisions for our two most threatening disasters — wildfires and earthquakes.
There’s not much to like about the “new normal.”