News from the Malibu Frontlines

Good Morning from Malibu:

I imagine most of you are aware of the Southern California fires. As of mid-day yesterday, all’s quiet on the western front, though last night around 10:30, my husband looked online to discover there were fires in an agricultural area named Somis, where the lion share of Sunkist lemons and Haas avocados are grown, twenty-some-odd minutes from where I live. Somis is a gorgeous area, and one we go to every so often because of the bountiful, road-side produce stands that defy description and the multitude of serene walking areas. To think of it now in flames breaks my heart.

To a greater or lesser degree, the Santa Ana winds are predictable. They come from the desert and blow to the ocean every year around this time, in hot, erratic gusts like the demonic breath of the hounds of hell. Typically, the Santa Ana winds go on for two days or so, maybe cease for a week or two before they rise up again. Those of us in Malibu are used to the cyclical occurrence, but this go-round was different—it was a stressful 5 days of living in the center of the great unknown. I can best liken the feeling to severe airplane turbulence: one never knows when or how it will end. It’s been the nerve-wracking unpredictability that kept me white-knuckled and gripping onto my own brand of blind faith. And because we live in a glass house on a 60-foot rise facing the ocean, we’re smack in the middle of the Santa Ana wind’s course. It being just after the summer drought and the terrain so tinder-brittle, all I’ve been thinking for the past few days is conditions are the right fodder for a serious fire.

But we’re ones that take brush-clearance seriously. There’s nary a tree close to our house save for two we’re well aware shouldn’t be where they are, but the need for shade in certain areas overrode logic. The trees are a mature nineteen years old now, and the simple truth is I haven’t the heart to remove them. Our scrupulous brush clearance worked in our favor this time last year. We share a property line with a wooded State Park that housed 320 acres of indigenous trees and shrubbery and who knew what all—we were never quite sure because the acreage was so dense. You might have noticed I used the past tense, there. Last November, the Malibu fires burned down the entire state park, raged to our yard’s lower slope, took out 12 pine trees along with our front gate’s electrical system then literally stopped in its path because the summer drought rendered the ground so barren. This explains why the fire never touched our house. Many Malibu friends were not as lucky. The 2018 Woolsey fire started in an area separated from our property by the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains. The area is called Thousand Oaks, and between Thousand Oaks and Malibu is a canyon area called Calabasas, resplendent with houses, for all its hilly, wooded area boasting serpentine vineyards and ocean views. When I heard on the news that the fires were in Thousand Oaks, I knew in my bones that the mountain passes of Kannan Dume Road and Malibu Canyon would go up like a torch, and they did. When my premonition manifest, it was on the ridge behind our house, as we evacuated for what turned out to be 24 days, in an adrenalin fueled flight of terror.

You can probably imagine why the past 5 days have been nerve-wracking. For me, it hasn’t been so much about the unknown as it has been the known. I’d fancied myself above PTSD. I was wrong. I’ve rattled around my glasshouse watching the news and looking for where I just put my hat. It’s been like living in the middle of the very definition of the word disorienting.

It’s 7:21 AM, as I write. I’m now going to get it together and join “the girls” at Westward Beach for an 8:00 AM walk, as is our habit. We’re regrouping at the beach for the first time in days. My guess is we’ll be like blinking moles coming out of our mole-holes to greet the light of day.

The Santa Ana winds have ceased, for now. Please keep your fingers crossed that the worst is behind us!