Paradise Burning

Monday was the day I’d promised myself the beach; last Thursday had brought the season’s first snow to Boston. But San Diego was still burning with fury. I stayed in for much of the morning, watching news of destruction in place names that I did not recognize. I imagined millions watching the same news, but hoping to hear that their aunt in Pomay was all right and that the Cedar fire wasn’t going to turn north into Ramona or south into San Diego itself.

If it had turned south, it would have aimed itself right at us, but there was too much city and not enough brush between me and it to make it a real danger. All the same, the fire had already leapt across two highways. More than 300,000 acres ended up burned by the triple fire. Around 1,200 homes were lost, about 20 lives.

I talked to people back home and mentioned The Fire. None of them had any idea. Our age is colored by the CNN effect — instant news! But instant communication isn’t all technology. Governor Davis here was calling in the military; Arizona and Nevada were sending firefighters flying down to us. However, New York had not yet noticed, and so no one else knew. My mother didn’t even call me in worry.

The Fire was palpable here, touched everything we did. The hotel handed out breathing masks. I grabbed one intending to use it as a souvenir. I stuffed it into my bag and remembered it only later when I had to walk to a store to pick up a replacement part for my computer, and labored breath and felt the burning. The mask didn’t do much good after I slipped it on, but it let me think I was doing something.

I felt like a voyeur, playing the audience at Natural Disaster. I only saw the thing on TV and maps and choking sky. I have no one in San Diego closer than friends of friends. I can only watch and not let myself be annoyed too much at the inconveniences, because I know whole towns are burning.

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