I moved into a funky 600-sqft cabin in the wilderness of the Santa Cruz mountains 30 years and 5 months ago, just a small rudimentary cabin bolted to huge wooden poles set into the steep slopes of a deeply forested hill.
It was surrounded by groves of huge redwoods, many oak and madrone trees, and all kinds of wild critters from mountain lions and deer to coyotes, raccoons, and adorable little deermice. With large windows, few neighbors, and no need for curtains, it was like camping out in a tree house.
It was a difficult place to live: 30 steps of stairs up to the cars, 10 miles of tiny crinkly roads to the nearest town and 20 steep curving miles “over the hill” to jobs (and medical,care) in Silicon Valley. The only heat was from a woodstove and we cooked on a miniature stove fueled by a propane tank in the kitchen.
Power outages were common and winter storms often closed roads for days due to downed trees and mudslides. But we could walk miles of the neighborhood driveway/road system through deeply forested hills with spectacular views to the coast, rarely encountering anybody else, and our dogs never needed leashes.
We were woken at 3am last Sunday by booming thunder and innumerable dry lightning flashes that went on for hours. The storm marched across the whole San Francisco Bay Area, from south to north, with 11,000 lightning strikes igniting over 250 fires. One started less than 10 miles away from us out in the wilderness but it was small and there was no wind.
There were just too many fires all at once, many much nearer populated areas, and fire-fighting resources were quickly overwhelmed. They had to leave the remote fires unattended and our thinly populated area was rightfully not a high priority.
The fires near us initially stayed small, but a couple of days later a lovely cooling coastal breeze arose and fanned them together into a monstrous conflagration just over the ridge from us.
We didn’t see or smell it, but suddenly a helicopter was hovering low over the neighborhood with sirens and a loudspeaker telling us “you have to evacuate NOW!”. So we consulted the “to go” list we had created in previous fire seasons, grabbed what we could, and drove away in two packed cars.
Three days after leaving, we got final confirmation that our cabin, along with almost all the neighborhood, had burned to the ground. Our two cars and what we had stuffed into them are now our only worldly possessions.
However, we’re blessed with an incredibly generous friend who lives down in Silicon Valley who happens to have a spare furnished guest room, and a fenced yard with a dog door, and next to a huge park. We could not have landed more fortuitously.
As of this morning (8/23), there are 71,000 acres burned, 24,000 structures threatened, and 77,000 people evacuated just from this single fire. There are currently 4 massive fires burning in the area, ours to the west, and others to the south, east, and north, so the Bay Area is encircled by fire & smoke. On its 5th day, our fire is only 8% contained and still burning south into Santa Cruz, east into more populated areas, and north toward San Francisco.
Even worse, they’re expecting another dry lightning storm to ignite more fires tonight.
If you’re curious:
– Twitter hashtag is #CZULightningComplex
– Local news story https://www.ksbw.com/article/fire-breaks-created-around-santa-cruz-ucsc-to-protect-the-city/33674876
– New York Times article about the devastation of Big Basin Redwoods State Park which is/was literally in our back yard: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/21/us/big-basin-redwoods-ca-fires.html