Smith: Combustible mixby Jeff Smith on Oct. 26, 2007, under Opinion
Some key conditions that led to wildfires in California present in southern Arizona
Thank you for not smoking. Because where there’s smoke . . . you know the rest.
This needlepoint sampler had southern California in mind, seemingly.
The place consumes so much of the nation’s and world’s attention, this should come as no surprise – but I doubt our next-door neighbor wanted attention so much they’d willingly go through this week for a second take.
I might as well apologize now for any and all clichés that jump off the page here: The California wildfires were, in truth, of biblical proportion, scope and dramatic timing. Yes, Mother Nature, William Mulholland and Arnold Schwarzenegger conspired to generate The Perfect Storm – of the combustible genus. And so on. Knock yourself out.
But damn, huge wildfires north of Malibu, up at Lake Arrowhead and strung south through every county to San Diego and the border – how could this all happen, on cue, except by some director like Spielberg, Truffaut, Kurosawa and Bergman, all wrapped up in Ridley Scott?
Well, this phenomenon known as the Santa Ana Winds, whistling off the torrid California deserts toward the beach, is so relentless and strong that the brush and small trees grow sideways along the passes that carry the eastern ends of the legendary SoCal freeway system.
Flick a cigarette butt out the window during the wrong time anywhere there and you have the commencement of one hellacious brush fire.
Brush: another of our leading actors. (Notice how slickly I end one graf with an intro, and begin the next with exposition? That’s what we in the game call a segue. It’s French.)
Why did California steal most of our Colorado River water? Because the place is dry.
When it gets a little rain, brush, scrub oak and weedy grasses grow. Then they dry out and create fuel for wildfires. (Are any of you detecting the hint of another story line emerging here? If so, you might call it a leitmotif. Many of your better screen- writers and directors thread these things through their films. Leitmotif is German, by the way.)
All righty then (homage to Jim Carrey, more French, in a term your movie crowd throws around sotto voce – Latin – so the audience will think he talks that way even to his dad), we’ve got winds, we’ve got grasslands dotted with scrub oak (like those wonderful “dot trees” you see in Barbara Smith landscapes), we’ve got cigarette smokers who scoff at the samplers I alluded to in the lede, and if that fails, we have the good Lord’s summer lightning.
Wall-to-wall people in wall-to-wall houses on the kind of zoning you get when rapacious developers and stiff-necked tree-huggers finally reach a compromise nobody is happy with, especially us civilians. Yup.
One-acre zoning: enough room to fill with non-native trees and shrubbery, yet close enough to your neighbor to virtually guarantee that if your house catches fire, it will set his ablaze with the next gust of wind.
We’ve got lots (no pun intended) of this zoning in the Catalina foothills, and it’s a sure-enough fire hazard, but nothing like it would be if greater Tucson – irony, irony, irony – grew around the Catalinas and engulfed Oracle.
Oracle is almost grassy/shrub oaky enough to mirror the fire fields of southern California. Sonoita, Prescott north to the Mogollon Rim, these fertile fields of our youthful dreams, the place Dad drove us to for picnics, the places we are now that we’re retiring boomers, buying into, settling down, and . . .
. . . pack your mother’s china in the motorhome, Yvette, this place has turned into southern California, and it’s about to catch fire.
Jeffyboy is covetously eyeing an old lodge hall in downtown Raton. He may be reached at 520-455-5667 or firstname.lastname@example.org.