During the night last night, I got too warm. I decided to get up and turn the whole house fan on. It’s a mighty fan which lives in the attic, and it sucks cool night air from outside into the house through the open windows and up into the attic, where it dissipates back out through the attic vents along with any warm air that may be lingering. It’s wonderful. Running the fan is inexpensive, too, compared with central air conditioning, which we have never been able to afford and certainly won’t ever now, with oil prices going up and up and up while the rest of our economy crashes.
So, whole house fan on, I went back to bed. The cool air from outside flowed over me like soft, cool water as I laid down. It felt wonderful. I closed my eyes.
And then I smelled it, a horrific and noxious mix of wildfire smoke and automobile exhaust, replacing the relatively clean air in the house. Each breath made my nosehairs curl. A week of dense smog, thick enough to see floating in front of your eyes, and I’d turned the WH fan on? Doofus!
I leapt up and ran for the hall, turned the fan off.
So, as of this morning , there were 33 large fires burning across the state. Hundreds, still, smaller ones as well. And possibly more to come with the dry thunderstorms this weekend.
I wait out through each hot Northern California summer fearing wildfires. As a reporter and editor for 13 years in these mountains and foothills, I’ve covered too many wildfires to count for the newspapers I worked for. I’ve seen fires tearing up mountainsides, watched as trees went up in seconds like gigantic roman candles, and seen the charred, smoking chaparral they leave behind them. I’ve heard, up close, the terrible, voracious roar of the flames as they consume everything in their path.
And I am aware, all the time, that all around me are thick, overgrown evergreen forests, mountainside meadows and vast field-lands, all of them crispy and tinder-dry from several years of drought. This last winter I hoped that the good snow we had – nearly a month of “bad” weather that put the California snowpack up to about 130 percent of normal – meant the end of the dry years. But it was not to be. In mid-February, the snow stopped except for a few more brief storms at the highest elevations. And everywhere else, no rain. The clouds came and it was gray, but nothing fell from them. Month after month passed, winter into spring, and there was almost no rain. That wonderful snowpack surplus melted away and turned into a deficit. Again.
And now, with summer only barely started, the fires are here.
The weather bimbo on TV this morning was showing live-cam shots from all over the region. She was oohing and ahhing over how much “better” the air over Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, San Francisco, and Lake Tahoe looked. Um, I didn’t see it. The predicted breezes are blowing, though, and perhaps as the day progresses the air will improve.
Update: The air has gotten a quite a lot better. The wind is blowing hard enough to ring the larger windchimes out on the patio in the back garden, and it doesn’t smell so bad out there now. So far, no thunderclouds have moved in. My fingers are crossed.