The fires in the San Gabriel Mountains this week have been bigger than anyone I know in Los Angeles can ever remember, which is saying a lot, since one part of another of the city seems to catch fire at least once or twice a year. At night, the girls and I go out on the deck and look at the neon orange line framing the mountaintops in the distance. If you watch it long enough, you can see bright flareups that look so alarming from 20 miles away it's nearly impossible to imagine how apocalyptic they must be up close.
It feels strange, to put it mildly, to be gearing up for a book release--only 15 days away--and going through the manic motions of last-minute marketing and publicity while such a disaster is unfolding just across town. I remember two years ago, in October 2007, when power lines came down overnight in Malibu, sparking a fire that nearly burned Eden's elementary school, took dozens of houses in its race to the ocean, and had us evacuated for four nights. As I drove the girls and the cat and whatever we deemed irreplaceable that could fit in the car down the mountain, I was struck by how normal everything was once we reached the San Fernando Valley. It felt as if we'd been sprinting toward safety as we drove out of Topanga, only to reach Mulholland Highway and find no sign of abnormality at all. Until we turned around, and saw the enormous cloud of smoke rising from the mountains behind us.
That's just one of the surreal elements of a wildfire, how localized it can be. And so while residents of Glendale and La Canada and Acton pack up and drive away with their children and pets, not knowing if they'll have a house to return to, at least this time over in Topanga Canyon it's business as usual. Optimizing the web site. Planning the book tour. Designing promotional postcards to mail out. Writing this week's blog entry for Shewrites.com. And hoping that one more story about a family's search for safety and security will be of interest to others.