LA Burns

Los Angeles Fire
Originally uploaded by Chucks Chicken.

When I was a kid, the mountain behind my Southern California home burned. We could see the fire coming many miles and hours away, creeping west across the front face of the San Gabriels. By midday, they sent us home from school, and I vividly remember (I must have been 10) the smell and that impossible red light of sun filtered through smoke. We spent that evening up on our wood shake roof, watering it down and watching the mountain burn. At some point, they lit a backfire, and the hillside exploded from bottom to top. We lived a couple of miles from the fire, and you could feel the heat.

It was the coolest, scariest thing I had ever seen.

This picture from Chucks Chicken, palm trees and flame as Griffith Park burns, gives me shivers. (Hat tip Kit Stolz.)


  1. Your description brings up an important point. These fires are scary, and can be devastating, but they’re also enthralling. We need to prepare for them seriously, but perhaps there is a time and place for appreciating their power, too. (Certainly John Muir thought so, and once rapturously described a fire in Yosemite.)

    In his new book, Gary Snyder admits frankly that he underestimated the danger of fire in the Sierra Nevada forest where he lives, and has since worked hard cutting firebreaks, installing a pond, a pump, etc.

    “In California everyone has some natural disaster to prepare for,” he writes. “These things are beyond left or right, good or evil.” He sees preparation for the next natural disaster as part of “following the Dao.”

    This past weekend I walked through a wilderness landscape in Ventura County burned by last year’s three-week Day Fire. The Sespe riverbed and cottonwood trees were untouched. Some slopes were left with nothing but blackened stumps; on others, the chaparral was untouched. It’s eerie…but it’s not dead, and still beautiful, in a desert-y way.

  2. Kit –

    That’s a great point. I’ve always felt a little sheepish about my mixed feelings about wildfires – fear, but awe and fascination and beauty. When I worked in Southern California, I used to jump at the chance to cover brushfires. I loved ’em. As I said, sheepish….

  3. My family lived in the very north part of the San Fernando Valley 1960-1980. We watched several fires come closer and closer to our house from our back yard. You would se fire top a mountain then a closer mountain then one a few streets away.Animals would pass through our yard because we had a pool. Huge bullfrogs would get caught in the filter and many animals stopped by just to drink. WE never had to evacuate for fire but we could see wave after wave of flames just 1/3 of a mile away.
    The first and most scary fire I remember was the BelAir fire in 1961. I was 9 and we lived in the Hollywood Hills. We had a huge picture window that must have faced west. WE watched the flames as they burned the homes of the stars. It was beautiful, big and close. You could see the flames take up the whole sky behind the hills of houses. That was a very destructive fire but I don’t remember the aftermath.
    Ah California what a lovely place! WE had earthquakes too!

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