City on Fire


Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times. Flames send up clouds of smoke around San Marcos (located in San Diego’s North County). Click on this photo to see more photos taken by the LA Times photographers.

As someone who grew up in New York, I am not accustomed to wildfires. On the other hand, as someone who’s lived in Southern California for over 20 years, I don’t ever want to get so used to wildfires that I become complacent about them. Face it, wildfires are scary stuff. Mix it with intensely hot temperatures and ferocious wind gusts and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster, my friend.



View of the fires from the flower fields of Carlsbad.

Wildfires jump back and forth willy-nilly, over fences and roads, burning down one house and leaving the next one intact. They move as fast as jack rabbits and they have only one mission: to burn down everything in its path and suck all the life out of anything, large or small. Be afraid, be very afraid.


When I lived in New York, I once saw a house in my neighborhood burn to the ground, and that was such a rare occurrence that the entire neighborhood came out that day to watch. It was on a Sunday morning, and most of us were still in pajamas and bathrobes, watching the two-story house go down in flames. When it was done, all that was left standing was the frame of a baby grand piano, and for some reason that I can’t recall the firefighters just couldn’t rescue that place from the fire’s grip. One thing the firefighters were able to do, though, was keep that fire from spreading.


Not so in California. Our climate is ideal for fire–extreme, bone dry heat with gusty winds blowing from the dessert in the east. Under these conditions, just about anything can start a fire, even something as innocent as playing a round of golf.


Which is why I’m proposing that California Governor Jerry Brown issue an edict, that when fire season is upon us, nobody move an inch. Nobody turn on the lights, start a car,  rob a bank and fire a gun to get the teller’s attention. No lighting the fireplace or cooking S’mores over a campfire. No barbecuing anything! No jumping for joy because of some job promotion. Heck, no working at all!


Nothing! Nada. Capiche?



My neighborhood was not in any danger during last week’s fires, but we could still see the smoke-filled skies which seemed to intensify with the setting sun.

And don’t even think about lighting a cigarette or a candle. We should just go into hibernation until fire season is over or until the first rain, whichever comes first. Consider this excerpt from the National Geographic Daily News and you’ll understand why I want people to stay motionless during fire season:


“Unlike remote parts of the world where natural events like lightning strikes are prime sources of wildfires, in southern California, such fires are almost always started by people. Ninety-five percent have a human cause, according to Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency.”


During fire season, which keeps getting longer and longer, we need to conserve water, too. Because you know, no matter what, someone is going to do something stupid that will lead to a fire. Like the hiker responsible for the 2003 San Diego Cedar Fire. He was lost in the woods, so what did he do? He started a small bush fire in the hopes that someone would find him. Well, it worked because that little burning bush turned into a 273,000 acre fire, with over 2,000 homes lost. So the police did find him alright, and promptly arrested him, too.


This year, the fires came super early–last week–and that’s crazy. In the past, wildfires season was at its worst in the fall, after a long dry, hot spell, which we here refer to as “summer.” But this year our winter was negligible, with barely a trace of rain. Ergo, the lack of rain fooled Mother Nature into thinking the time for fire season was upon us, which can only mean we’re in for a long fire season. Yowza.


At one point, we had nine different fires going in San Diego, most of them in San Diego’s North County, including the Cocos fire, the Tomahawk Fire and the Poinsettia Fire, which changed its name in midstream, hereafter known as the San Diego Complex Fire. Thousands of acres burned, homes destroyed and wild animals either died or were misplaced from their homes. One person was found dead. A homeless man living in the hillside. The search is on for how these fires were started, and arson is at the top of the list. Make no mistake: the culprit or culprits will be found.



Firefighters, who during wildfires work 24-hour shifts, grab a few minutes rest in Oceanside, California. Photo courtesy of Chuck Lowery, who says, “These firefighters are seriously protecting homes and humans along the riverbed. I was just informed that all Oceanside fire stations are happy to receive food gifts and especially enjoy homemade baked goodies. I hope you’ll share the photo and your generosity.”

A special, heartfelt thank you and undying gratitude to all the firefighters, including those who came here from all over the state to work steadfastly to put out the fires. They are our heroes. While some of the fires are still burning, most have been contained, thanks to their dedication.



37 thoughts on “City on Fire

    • Well, who would you believe, scientists who’ve done extensive research on the topic or those to the right who refuse to believe what’s in front of their noses? I guess 55% believe the latter. It’s an easier path because then it means, if it doesn’t exist, you ain’t got to fix it!

  1. You know exactly why the “fire season” is upon us so early, I bet. Global warming. So much is being done to, and in, our environment. Those firefighters work so hard. Wish I was closer to bring them some home-baked goods. Glad you’re out of the fray of these fires, but feel horribly about those who are.

  2. In Miami we have different kinds of wildfires. They are drive-by shootings by the drug thugs. Another kind of wildfire is the street execution by cops of black males without the least credible probable cause.

  3. Mother Nature is a force to contend with . . . .though that’s a very interesting point re: the human factor in California wildfires. I left SoCal just before the wildfires flared up, but I did have the misfortune of driving through a sandstorm. Extreme weather is something we live with now, isn’t it?

    • Sandstorm? How awful. The fires seem to be over for now. Turns out the authorities found a woman who happened to be taking a succession of photographs at the very moment one of the bigger fires was being started, so it seems she may have inadvertently captured the arsonist in action. The chase is on!

  4. It’s very hard to watch from so far away and not be able to do anything! I worry about those firemen breathing that smoke. They risk their lives short term and long term for everybody. It’s amazing really!

    • I know what you mean, Jodi. But that is exactly what makes them true heroes. They did a stellar job. So few houses lost this time and one life. But where fire is concerned, it could’ve been much worse. In the 2003 fire what came out of it was that the various first responder agencies weren’t communicating with each other. This time around, the coordination and planning was top notch.

  5. Such noble work firefighters perform. I can’t imagine I’d ever get used to the fires either. I always used to think somebody set those fires. I mean, it gets all manner of hot in other places and no fires. Keep safe out yonder. And cool.

  6. When I heard about the fires over there, I started worrying for you, Monica. Do be safe, my friend. It’s just so heart-breaking that this happens every single year. We’ve had a LOT of rain lately, and there are parts of the country that are flooded. Too bad somebody hasn’t figured out a way to spread it around so the parched areas wouldn’t burn to bits.

    • Aw, Debbie. You’re sweet to worry about me. I will holler like a madwoman if I’m affected, don’t you worry. But thank you. The worst has passed for now. It is crazy: floods in some parts and drought in others. We do need to find a way to spread the wealth. You know this is also going to do a number on the crops. You’ll feel it at the grocery store. And did you know that San Diego is the poinsettia capital of the world? Let’s hope we have plenty come December.

  7. It’ terrible these fires heart breaks for all those who Loose there homes and families to that Have loved ones caught in it , I remember south Africa and our massive mountain fire taking on lots of houses …my cousin was a fire fighter then and they incredibly courageous my heart goes out to u guys !

    • I know what you mean. Today on the news they were reporting that folks have started returning to what was once their homes. Now, they’re picking through the ashes looking for mementos of their lives. One found a burned photo album with only half of a photo left intact. So sad.

  8. You take care over there Monica, they have similar fires in France and they can be very devastating.

    Some people can be very selfish and thoughtless when it comes to safety, as long as they can do their thing then to hell with everybody else.

    We have wall to wall sunshine here today so can’t send you any rain from England.

    • Some people are idiots when it comes to fire safety. They must think they’re immune and won’t get caught. But so far, I’ve never seen that happen. They always get caught. Which just goes to show you: we have the best arson detectives hands down!

  9. This is sobering. We name hurricanes and you all name fires. That’s too many. When our daughter was in OC she kept a box of masks so they could breathe as smoke free as possible. Prayers to all living, breathing and working those fires. Your photo at the top so close to residential areas is scary, very scary.

    • For hurricanes you folks keep a list of names and go in alphabetical order. Here we name them by wherever the fire started and then sometimes change the name as it to other locales. It makes it hard to keep track. No one ever says there are five hurricanes going on all at once. It’s just one big one and it has one name which stays with it the entire time! Here, we just aim to confuse. Sigh.

  10. I’m thinking extra good thoughts for you and everyone in San Diego. It’s so scary. Any time the Ssnta Ana winds kick in up here, I hold my breath, which is often. It’s going to be a long summer/fall.

    • Who ever thought the words, Santa Ana, would be enough to strike fear in our hearts. I so dread when Santa Ana winds are in the forecast. They’re the same winds that cause me allergy misery! You stay safe, too, Becky!

  11. Here in Colorado we have also experienced massive, deadly wildfires, also usually caused by human stupidity. Stay safe Monica, and everyone remember to say a heartfelt prayer for those amazingly brave and selfless firefighters who tirelessly battle these blazes.

    • Adele, can you imagine our entire childhood neighborhood catching fire like that? But here, it’s par for the course. Yes, I agree. Those firefighters are extraordinary individuals. We can’t thank them enough and today on the news at a press conference, they were thanking the residents that had to evacuate for doing it in such an expedited way and making their jobs easier for them. They were able to save so many homes as a result.

  12. Monica, this is terrible for you all and terrible for all of us. The destruction is awful and more awful knowing it is nearly always caused by human stupidity. Keeping you in mind as these rage.

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