On Saturday afternoon, I saw Southern California burn.
I drove on the I-15, the interstate highway that runs from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Along the route lived thousands of people, and many more forest animals, who were rendered homeless by fires spread by Mother Nature’s Santa Ana winds.
As my friend drove, I could see bright-red flames that seemed to leap up the mountains on both sides of the highway. Passing through San Bernadino, I saw people leaving their homes and driving away to safety, in turn jamming up the highways. The sky was darkened by heavy smoke, as the sun seemed to turn bright red through the haze.
Because some highways were closed, we had to drive about 45 minutes out of our way, to Riverside, east of Los Angeles. Radio announcers were on the air every few minutes, telling people what streets and highways were closed and where to find evacuation shelters; they also told which high school homecoming games had to be canceled. We passed dozens of vehicles crammed full of people and their boxes and suitcases.
When we got to the home of my friend’s grandparents in Riverside, we waited to see if the fires might slow down and free up the traffic. Instead, we found that several fires had started nearer to Los Angeles, and that houses were being destroyed as we ate dinner. We questioned each other about what prized possessions we would take if we had to leave home in five minutes, like the horror stories we heard via TV news and through cell-phone conversations.
By the time we got to our hotel near LAX, most cars were covered with a fine ash. I wondered how airplanes were taking off and landing. It wasn’t until I arrived in Hawai‘i on Sunday afternoon that I found out flights were being delayed and canceled.