North of the San Francisco Bay Area, Lake County is going up in flames, a conflagration that thousands of firefighters have been battling for more than a week. At 106 square miles, the largest of two dozen wildfires now burning up California in this fourth year of drought, it has sent hundreds of people out of their homes. I also grieve for the wild animals running for their lives and losing their habitat. It hurts, and there is nothing I can do for them.

On a day beginning a memorable week in October 1991, fire swept toward our home in the Oakland Hills. Neighbors leaving their homes stopped to wish Renato and me good luck as we loaded our cars. We did not leave, ourselves, but listened closely to radio bulletins on the progress of the flames. Renato climbed onto the roof and hosed it down as ash fell on him.

Years before, I’d prepared a list of things to pack in emergency and I used it now. Two days later we were still at home; the fire had been quelled one hill distant from us. Renato complimented me on the manner in which I had managed the packing list, though he asked why I had included 16 rolls of bathroom tissue. I was baffled myself, since we planned to go to a hotel.

The subconscious never dies. I must have traveled back to the refugee relief camp in Catania, Sicily, where the toilets were holes in the ground and one had to use newspaper.

The toll of the hills fire: 3500 homes burned, 25 persons killed.


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