From Bea Wray

The New York Times reports that California has so many wildfires for many reasons including climate change, dense population, fire suppression, Santa Ana winds, and downed power lines. This last one makes me think not about casting blame or jumping to conclusions, but about me personally and my own demands when it comes to taking for granted the access I have to electricity.

I have been to Paradise, California and I can hardly believe it is gone.

But it is… at least 95 percent gone reports confirm. As of this writing 31 people have lost their lives, more than 100 are still missing, 6,700 structures and 105,000 acres are destroyed. My dear friend Tami grew up in Paradise and although I am relieved to know her parents escaped safely, my heart aches for all that is lost. Her elementary school is gone. Her high school is gone. The hospital where she was born is gone. Friend after friend reports that their homes are gone. Tami doesn’t even know about her parents’ home where she spent her own childhood.

Paradise is not the only town to suffer. Paradise is more than a three hour drive covering 171 miles from San Francisco. Yet the air quality is so poor in San Francisco that millions of people are being impacted. Many of my friends are reporting sore throats and headaches. School football and soccer games and outdoor activities have been cancelled since Friday.

California wildfire at night

How did California’s most devastating fire in nearly 30 years gets started? How did it move so fast? Who is to blame? These are questions that Cal Fire is investigating and upon which they will eventually report.

What I found most fascinating was the Sacramento Bee’s report, “The utility (PG&E) had initially indicated earlier in the week that it might preemptively cut off electricity to parts of several Northern California counties, including Butte, as a safety measure because of fire danger. But company officials said they decided not to, saying weather conditions did not warrant it.” It is fascinating to me because of my personal attitude towards electricity. I expect it. I demand it. I don’t like it when the electricity goes out or I am inconvenienced.

Here in the Carolinas we are less threatened by wildfires but similarly recognize that expanded development, too much pavement, and dense population increase the devastation of hurricanes and flood. We want our cars, our roads, our lights. Yet, do we blame ourselves when we lose homes and communities?

Ever since Thursday’s news about Paradise, ringing in my head is the Counting Crows singing “They paved paradise, put in a parking lot.” The heartbreaking line is “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone…”