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malibu burns

Photo: Lance Simmens

It is just past the bewitching hour of midnight and magically power has returned to my Malibu home. I left home earlier today when mandatory evacuation was the order of the day but realizing that I had no where to go I made my return to the far eastern edges of Malibu by mid-afternoon. This trek back into the belly of the beast of what is a raging inferno by some accounts, although without power all day and no cell, internet or television service it is difficult to tell, was like surreptitiously entering an occupied country. It would require a rented electric bike and a two plus mile walk along Pacific Coast Highway and the beach.

In darkness I fell asleep early and now am wide awake wondering what lies in the darkness and whether or not I will be forced to use my one and only escape plan, a kayak and the ocean.

In darkness I fell asleep early and now am wide awake wondering what lies in the darkness and whether or not I will be forced to use my one and only escape plan, a kayak and the ocean. While I feel confident that the danger is minimal, the constant sound of sirens and the passing fire vehicles and police cars with flashing lights are the only reminders that there is a highway that passes fifteen feet from my front door that regularly is filled with speeding automobiles on a Friday night.

As I retire to my back deck to the sound of the ocean delicately lapping against the bulkhead that protects my apartment from the power of the sea and a gentle breeze that still remains from the gusting winds earlier in the day I gaze out over at the rim of lights that define Los Angeles’ South Bay, ringing all the way to the point at Palos Verdes. The steady flying of departing aircraft at LAX head westward over the ocean before either proceeding to Asia, Hawaii, or points west or turning back to seek out a destination to the East of the continent or South to South America or beyond.

From my southwest facing beach the sky is clear and the stars are bright, yet to the west it is darker than usual, with clouds of smoke blocking out the rest of the universe. I have little idea what I will awaken to find, assuming I ever do sleep this surreal evening. While absent from contact with the outside world for the better part of the last 24 hours the flood of well wishing emails that appear on my cell phone tell me that this must be a big news story. Within the eye of the storm, however, all seems quite peaceful but the realization that that could change on a minute’s notice keeps me from dozing off for more than an hour or so at a time.

malibu burns
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Either because of or despite its population of billionaires and a collection of A List notables, Malibu is a throwback to an earlier time. Its sheer beauty, accented by anywhere between 21 and 26 miles of ocean vistas depending upon which signs you believe, and the imposing Santa Monica Mountains immediately adjacent to the single highway that runs the length of the province from east to west affectionately known as PCH (short for Pacific Coast Highway) beckons the hardy who value privacy and a respite from the hustle and bustle of Tinseltown.

malibu burns

malibu burns

Indeed you will find as many pick-up trucks and Range Rovers here as you will Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Porches. You will also find a community awash in gated communities and walled compounds and a stretch of beachfront residences and apartments that seemingly defy accessible entrances.

There is little rain here and ample sunshine, yet the temperatures rarely reach 90 degrees at the beach due to the cool breezes off the Pacific Ocean. Droughts are a constant reminder of the imbalance in the climate and fire seasons accelerated by strong Santa Ana winds that blow down through the canyons pose the ever imminent danger of catastrophe. Most residents remember the ’93 fire that jumped the highway and burned down large swaths of beachfront communities like Broad Beach.

But try as hard as they might residents of Malibu cannot escape the inevitability of fire danger that is now seemingly a year-round concern. Climate change has affected average temperatures and changed the nature of what used to be a fire season to a year round obsession. Droughts have become more commonplace and deeper. Yes the 21st century has imposed its will upon even the most treasured and valuable property wealth can afford. There is no refuge from the incredibly destructive forces Mother Nature can impose as a result of thoughtless and careless abuse of her abundant resources. The planet will prevail, the people however may not.

So as you witness what could be the unleashing of an unhealthy dose of revenge upon this paradise keep in mind that no one is spared the wrath of nature when the limits of ignorance, abuse, and political convenience conspire to breach their limits. Time is running out for the human species unless we face the inevitable facts that are directly in front of us. This is the new normal.

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Lance Simmens