Wildfires in Northern California

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Scenes from Arson Instigated Fire in Lake County

Valley Fire, September 2015

Intending to begin my fourth novel at Calistoga’s famed dirt racing oval I was instead shocked to find the fairgrounds transformed into a shelter for the evacuees of the deadly and destructive Valley Fire of Lake County. The famed racetrack where the motorcycle championship riders would have been competing was their next to last stop on their way to the season ending Las Vegas finale. Arson and climate change induced drought forever cancelled those races and altered the trajectory of my plotting of Women of the Oak Savannahs. Now the destructive and deadly fires of 2017, in part the result of the same out of control development, chronic water shortages  and drought stricken arid landscape I have been writing about have vaulted my fictitious characters from the page and have been brought to life as gut-wrenching  non-fiction fact. I didn’t want to write about climate change. I didn’t want to write about overdevelopment. I had the story handed to me by stubborn politics, rapacious real estate developers and a handful of committed environmental activists standing up trying to sound the alarm. Here is the opening to my all but complete still in editing fourth novel…

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Valley Fire, Lake County

September 19, 2015

High aloft the aerialist gripped the climbing rope. Beyond a brownish orange sun went lost in a smoke filled sky. Helicopters, Super-Huey’s thump-thump-thumped eastward to the front. In the tumult of the still out of control wildfire the aerialist startled the audience with a swift descent back to the ground. The rhinestone bejeweled woman slipped one foot then the other into her glittering silver clogs. Each knee-high-stride was accent, twirling her palms face up, she tickled the ovation with her fingertips. The incessant droning of the Grumman Air-tankers crisscrossing the sky mixed with the audience’s anxious murmurs. Within the respite of the struggle to survive a showgirl’s smile simmered across her lips. The heavy oppression of the air reeking of acrid smoke pressed a sorrowful reality down upon the fairground. Jo assumed a dancer’s first position, her concentration slipping away, mind wandering, locking eyes with the motorcycle racer for one part of one instant, then in the next breath the performing artist vanished out of the light away into the night.

“You want to unfasten me?” Jo was standing backstage on the other side of a pickup truck. She was peeling her full figure out of her costume. By design the garment fit skintight. Piper tugging the flesh colored fabric together unlatched the hooks to the eyes along the seam running down her back.

“I thought the Deputy Sheriff was going to poke us with his night stick.” Jo said.

“He’s just gawking. It’s always something, our mascara, false eyelashes, our derrières.” Piper wiggled hers.

“Have you noticed how it is that white girls’ lives matter?”

“All lives matter.”

“The fair manager notified the Sheriff’s Department. She told them we were setting up for a show.” Jo rolled her eyes.

“They haven’t started shooting showgirls as far as I know.”

“Give the deputies a chance. We haven’t resisted arrest yet.”

“This is the wine country, we’re in Calistoga. Nothing but mud baths and chardonnay as far as an eye can see…”

“How about all those stretch limos full of binge drinkers? That’s what I want to wake up to, a five hundred dollar hangover.” Jo laughed. “That’s a headache and a pain in the ass wrapped up into one fan-fucking-tastic butt-ugly credit card bill.”

Children on tenterhooks, eight of them, old enough to play together so long as they didn’t stray too far from their parents’ watchful eyes, had come around from where they sat at the front of the audience to peek.

“They are such perfect pests.” Jo smiling at her admirers.

“They just want to grow up and be like you and me,” Piper said.

Jo wrapped her fingers around one wrist and then the other pumping her hand. She grimaced, “I’m glad we came out.” She scanned the dusk sky, “This has to be the hardest thing, performing for a fairground filled to the brim with heartbreak.”

Piper her understudy was elvish, shorter, blanketed with a pearl white skin, blue eyed, blonde hair said, “The audience had a chance to forget their problems, even if it was only for tonight. Nothing’s wrong with that. Life has to go on.”

Jo scrunched her nose and tilted her head grinning at her new fans. She wagged her finger like she was tickling the overcurious kids. They scattered giggling.

 

 

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