Wildfires rage, Covid spreads: in California, life as we knew it has disappeared | Dana Frank


The devastating blazes began just as I began a two-week quarantine. We desperately need leadership

At 10am on 16 August, I drove east from Santa Cruz to Oakland to my mom’s nursing home, where I was being allowed in, in full PPE, to kiss her a last goodbye. As I curved north through San Jose, I could see a billowing steel-gray fire cloud among the hills to the east. Lightning flashed past Berkeley as I pulled into the parking lot. On the way home, I took the long route across the San Mateo Bridge, then over the top of the San Francisco Peninsula and south from Half Moon Bay. Halfway down the coast I saw a helicopter dropping bright red pillows of retardant on to a fire streaming its smoke in a flat horizontal panel out to the ocean. Ten minutes later I passed white smoke pouring down another canyon on my left. Before I pulled into my driveway at the edge of Santa Cruz, I could see a fourth, giant fire spewing far to the south beyond Salinas.

By afternoon it was clear that the fires I’d seen were just a few of the hundreds sparked all over northern California by freak thunderstorms that weekend, in which 10,800 lightning strikes ignited 367 fires. Soon, hundreds of the small fires converged into bigger and bigger ones, so fast and so vast that Cal Fire didn’t even give names to the largest ones as it usually does, resorting to acronyms like the SCU Lightning Complex, the LNU Lightning Complex, and my own fire to the north and east of Santa Cruz, the CZU Lightning Complex.

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