“God gave Noah the rainbow sign/No more water but fire next time.”
— “Mary Don’t You Weep” (A pre-Civil War slave spiritual)

 

There has been no more water for a very long time, not a drop. Just the sunshine, wind and fire.

Watching the television, I can smell the smoke. My eyes burn as though I’m on the scene. As I write this column, my television screen is aglow with its third day, sixth hour and 15 minutes of what looks like a movie of the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, or downtown Tokyo in World War II.

It’s not. It’s here.

California, the dream destination for the very young — my lovely, old state that was home to my family for 25 years — is on fire again. My oldest girl’s two boxers sit on the deck of her home and growl at the dark red skies to the south and west. She sends me Mayor Garcetti’s orders to those in the fire zones, “Get out when we say get out, the only thing you cannot replace is you and your family.”

Today, she is safe. But Los Angeles is the city of change.

The billion-dollar Getty Center with its museum that houses the work of van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt sits waiting. I have a niece who was a docent there. I hope she’s evacuated.

It’s Los Angeles that’s getting the most attention, but the fires have no walls, no gates. They rage up the entire coast.

The flames are the dark children of the wind, what the Mexicans have always called “Diablo” in the north and “Santa Ana” to the south.

About 400 miles north of LA, the Kincade fire in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, is still exploding, and is now, as I write, consuming an area the size of San Francisco.

I have friends in San Rafael across from San Francisco where once I lived. I’ve heard nothing from them yet.

J.P. Devine is seen around 1974 in Big Sur, just south of San Francisco, Calif., with its view of the Pacific. Recent wildfires have burned about 300 acres of the area as of late Wednesday morning.

Big Sur, to the south of the city, with its view of the Pacific, has had about 300 acres burn as of late Wednesday morning.

The months of Trump hunting have faded away, as we sit here watching in our living room in sweet old pine smelling Maine, surrounded by wet leaves and dark, moist woods, while we wait for replies from old friends who don’t answer our texts. My son-in-law says the forced blackouts have knocked out cellphone service for hundreds of families. So we wait.

My two daughters, Dawn and Jillana, two of the Beach Boys’ fabled California Girls, call four or five times a day. Sometimes they point to the red skies still far from them, and we hear in the distance the sirens. They are safe. Today.

For the past week, the great Los Angeles Times that gave me my first writing job is sending dispatches every 10 minutes, its reporters and camera men with Hannah Fry, Rong-Gong Lin II and Matt Ormseth, whose work I’ve drawn on for this report, are at work interviewing the workers, evacuees and the new homeless.

Personal? You bet. Mount Saint Mary’s University, where my wife, a Maine native, Kay Joly Devine, got her teaching degree, and where my oldest daughter, Dawn, is getting her master’s, is surrounded by flames. Students and faculty are packing their “apocalypse bags” and running down the hills.

Students, we’re told, have so far been evacuated by ambulances and buses to the Doheny campus near downtown.
Just now as I write this, Jillana calls to tell me that her childhood school friends, Kim and Natalie, are housing six evacuated students from Mount Saint Mary’s. Such care and attention is going on throughout the western half of the city.

She calls again, 20 minutes later, to tell us that her cousin, our niece Ann Joly who lives in Santa Rosa and who narrowly survived the 2017 Tubman fire there, is packing her apocalypse bag, just in case.

Yesterday, Oct. 27, viewed from one daughter’s iPad, the beautiful blue skies, made even bluer by the harsh dry Santa Ana winds, soon grew pink and then near sunset, a vivid blood red. On some streets in the west of the city, the flames keep growing.

The latest call tells me that the fire is threatening the million-dollar Spanish tiled homes of Brentwood, and that there is now an evacuation center in Westwood, the home of UCLA. Westwood is a bustling village, a wired college town of movie theaters and cafes, only a 15-minute drive from our old house. Today, it’s become a refugee center, a “back of the lines” medical port.

The circle of danger grows wider now, even up to the top of Mulholland Drive where the late Marlon Brando’s house sits dark and silent, and down the street to Jack Nicholson’s.

Those are the famous names, but high in the hills, from the streets of LA to the higher areas, there are working people who struggled all their lives, saved each dollar to leave the crime and grit of the city. Some were burned out before and came back.

West Hollywood, where we began our California voyage, is writer Raymond Chandler country, from Malibu to Laurel Canyon to Sunset Boulevard. Now the fire roars north through the heartbreaking, burning vineyards of the wine country to Steinbeck country and beyond. Stronger, drier winds are promised today, Oct 29. The numbers are staggering.

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign/No more water but fire next time.”

The next time has arrived. Pray for water. Oren por nosotro.

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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