I wore my mask outside this week for two reasons. One was because of the ongoing global pandemic that has killed more than 905,000 people worldwide. The other was for the billowing smoke from the nearby wildfires in California that killed at least 12. The mask I wore was a coral color that nearly matched the hue of the midday sun sitting high behind the smoggy film of a dingy orange sky. I took my mask off when I got in my car and placed it next to my hiking bag that would never leave the passenger seat. As I drove past my usual hiking spots with closed signs and warnings of mountain lion sightings, I couldn’t stop staring at the apocalyptic landscape.
I couldn’t drive anywhere that day to find a safe place to hike nearby and realized that I would have to drive more than an hour to find a trail that hadn’t been closed off to the public. I continued to drive while occasionally glancing up at the strange blood-soaked sun and decided hiking wasn’t in the cards for me that day. However, I did see a handful of people creating their own hiking trails just outside of the closed ones and briefly thought about doing the same. I confess that I even pulled over once to consider it before I thought about all of the displaced mountain lions in search of land that wasn’t scorched by raging untamed flames.
Six of the top 20 wildfires have already happened this year, with many making history because of their size. I even got a message not too long ago from friends back in the Central Valley who had heard of campers nearby that were trapped in a ring of fire while camping near Shaver Lake. The campers thought they were going to die until they were rescued at the last minute by firefighters. The video from the scene looked as though they were sitting in the middle of hell.
The last time I wrote about a fire that I was near was when I went camping in San Bernardino National Forest. That fire, in 2015, broke out near Mill Creek Canyon near Highway 38 and Bryant Street just north of Yucaipa. As I climbed past the black burnt trees just outside of the campsite, I could still smell death’s stench. I didn’t have a mask to block out the smell back then.
Every year California has a season designated for wildfires. Santa Ana winds and late summer gusts fuel the fire along with invasive grasses that act as kindling. Flammable native shrubs and trees, frequent drought just before spurts of downpours that cause mudslides, and residents moving closer to the wild into homes that burn easily help fan the flames. Arsonists and gender-revealing parties, and climate change all contribute to the increase in the number of wildfires as well. When the rest of the country worries about back to school supplies, the west coast readies itself for weeks of constant fire, and it’s only going to get worse.
Being mindful of campfires, cigarettes, fireworks, and other wildfire attractors are key to reducing some of those major fires. The other big way people can help save my home from burning everything else that’s left is by addressing climate change in every way that we can. Significant change does need to happen on a massive scale, but if enough people started out small at the local level, we would see significant change globally.
Creek Fire Help and Donations
As of yesterday, the Creek Fire has grown to 175,893 acres with 6% containment. Fresno Acura is accepting donations of bottled water, Gatorade/Powerade, packaged snacks, hand sanitizer, and hand wipes and coordinating with the Sheriff’s Department to put these items in the hands of firefighters. If you are in the area and can help move livestock, you can visit Creek Fire Facebook Crisis Response page. You can also make donations to the Red Cross by clicking this link.