Burn, Hollywood burn…
Ever seen a fire out of control?
This is the brush fire season in California, and true to form, a big chunk of LA is on fire right now as I write this. Fire has always fascinated and scared the shit out of me.
The first time I was aware of how incredibly powerful it is was when I accidentally started a brushfire when I was 13.
Some friends and I were lighting fire crackers off in a field when some dry grass caught fire and started to spread. We stomped on the flames, but there was a lot of grass and a lot of wind, and within moments we realized we had fucked up big time and the fire had gotten out of control.
I ran to a nearby street, and as luck would have it, some cops were driving by. I flagged them down and told them what was happening, they got pissed and called the fire department, and that was the end of it. We got off very lucky. No one got hurt, the fire was put out quickly and there was no property damage. But it was just luck that it turned out that way, and I knew it very well.
I can still remember that sick, panicky feeling when the fire was spreading, and I knew we couldn’t put it out. That feeling of “oh fuck!” It was something I never thought was going to happen.
There was this realization that this thing that I had taken for granted, this common element called “fire” was so much more amazing than I had ever thought before. I never really gave it much thought at all until it got away from me that day. It was just this thing, “fire,” that’s always been around.
After it happened though, I thought about fire a lot. I thought about how amazing it was that anyone could just walk into a store and buy a lighter and go start a fire.
Then I thought about how fucking stupid most people were, and how incredible it was that this shit isn’t happening everywhere, all day long.
The California wildfires of 2 years ago went on for over a week, and for the first few days it was something I sort of casually paid attention to on the news.
“Top stories at five, there’s a wild fire burning out of control, and people are being forced to evacuate their homes…”
Nothing new here. Another fire, another accident on the highway, another celebrity got busted for driving drunk, blah blah blah…
You get numb to it. That shit happens in California every year.
The weather here is great.
It’s always warm and hardly ever rains, but the downside is that the hills are covered with dry brush, and all it takes is one douche bag tossing a cigarette out the window to fuck things up for everyone. You get used to it. You expect it.
But unless you physically experience it first hand you have no idea what it’s really like, and the one I saw first hand was one of the biggest ones ever.
This fire was fucking insane. Within 2 days it had gone from some thing that’s happening out in the middle of nowhere to something I could see from the highway when I was driving home. It was nighttime, and as I was headed down the 101 freeway you could see the raging flames in the distance, burning everything in front of them, completely unchecked.
There wasn’t much the firemen could do at night besides watch and evacuate people if it got too close. They couldn’t send up their planes and helicopters to drop water on it, because it was hard enough to see during the day with all the smoke, but at night it was almost impossible, and far too dangerous to risk. All they could do is wait until the morning light to begin their work again.
That was freaky.
The next day I woke up and the sky was dense with smoke. You could smell it everywhere.
I drove to the set of Fear Factor up north on the 5 freeway, and for at least the first 20 minutes you could see smoke and flames all over the west side of the highway in the distance. You could just tell it was way too fucking big for the firefighters to be in control of it.
It was starting to scare the shit out of me, but I still wasn’t convinced it was going to fuck my life up.
About 3 hours later I got a call from one of my buddies who lives down the street from me telling me they were evacuating my neighborhood. Him being the macho dumb ass he is informed me that he wasn’t leaving, and that he was going to fight the fire.
I told him that sounded like a REAL good idea.
“I mean, why not fight it on your own? There’s only 40 foot high walls of flames, hundreds of miles wide eating through everything in front of them, dotted with fucking tornadoes of fire that were well over 100 feet tall. And you’ve got… a hose? That should do the trick.
You should be fine. But hey, if you die, can I have all your money?”
He informed me that he wasn’t going to fight it alone. “I have my green beret friends coming down here to help me.”
“Oh, well that clears it up. Everyone knows that green berets are way better at fighting fire than those faggy professional firemen with their fancy water dumping planes and high pressure hoses.
Maybe you could have them parachute down into the fire and stab it with a knife.“
“Seriously, I’m not losing my house. Fuck that. I’ll have them save your house too, don’t worry about it.”
“Ohhhhh Kaaaay. But really… if you die, can I have all your money?”
I got off the phone with him and called my best friend Eddie. I asked him to go down to my house and pick up some “important shit,” and get my dogs to the kennel. He called me about an hour later to tell me everything was cool and the dogs were taken care of. Everything else, I just figured fuck it. I was just gonna let it go.
I could always buy new clothes, and if my house burned to the ground it was insured, and I could always move to somewhere else.
I have lived a charmed life, and I’m not about to complain now. This was going to be an interesting life experience, and that was the way I had decided to look at it. It was going to be an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on things. I decided if the house did burn down, I was going to have a “Fire Gods” party the next week and hire a band to play on the burned out patch of dirt that used to be my home.
I actually was embracing the idea of letting go of my possessions and starting fresh. Once I accepted that, I could look at the whole situation from a different place.
I wasn’t a helpless victim. I had my health, and none of my friends were in danger.
This was a unique opportunity to see unchecked energy running amok. The very energy that powers the fucking stars running out of control right before my eyes.
It was an unusual day, and the lessons that I could learn from seeing this would dwarf the hassle I would have to go through replacing shit. The way I looked at it I had no right to feel sorry or depressed. If I was dying in the middle of the inferno, and I was given the option to live, but I would have to live broke and homeless, starting over from scratch, I would jump at it in a fucking heartbeat. No complaining here.
Let’s enjoy this crazy shit.
We finished the day on the set, and as we were wrapping up you could see the smoke making it’s way over the hills near us. In the 5 or 6 hours that I was there the fire had traveled at least another 30 or 40 miles.
It was that fucking crazy.
I got on the highway and as soon as I made it over the first hill you could see the flames on the side of the road. I drove for over an hour and a half home, and the entire time, for over 70 miles you could see fire to the right of me. Not some fire, some places… but massive amounts of fire everywhere, constantly blazing to the west of the highway.
Every now and then you would see a helicopter or a plane dropping water on it, but fuck if it didn’t look like an a small band of ants trying to take down an elephant.
The sky was thick and grey with smoke, and ashes were falling like it was snowing.
It really looked like a scene from Lord Of the Rings or something. I was half expecting to see a hoard of Demons riding black stallions with glowing eyes come charging over the hills towards the highway.
I was looking over at the expressions of the drivers in the other cars, and fear was everywhere. You could see people looking to the fire and then back to the road, slack jawed and panicked. Everyone looked nervous.
There was traffic, but there was no road rage. Everyone stayed in their lane, and blinker use was at an all time high.
Everyone on the highway that day was humbled by the temper tantrum Mother Nature was throwing. It really felt like that. Like she was on the rag and she was sick of all our bullshit.
“You wanna litter? You wanna pollute my water and my air? Well I’m gonna show you goofy apes who’s running shit around here!!”
I talked to one firefighter that I know, and he said that the big worry was that the wind would shift and the fire would head towards LA and burn all the way through to the ocean.
“Is that really possible?”
“Fuck yeah. It’s really just a matter of time before something like that happens. When a fire gets this far out of control we do our best to contain it, but the bottom line is that one streak of bad luck, one mean shift of the wind that lasts a few days, and everything burns.”
I think most of the time we live our lives in this weird state of delusion, where we view everything we see around us as solid or permanent. It’s always been there, and it always will.
Change is slow; a new building gets put up where there used to be nothing, urban sprawl expands, but whatever it is, it usually happens slowly enough for us to process the change.
But really, we’re like the oblivious ants in an anthill. That’s how I always look at it.
If you see an anthill sitting in a field, to the ants living and working there, that’s always existed. For the few weeks or months that an ant has been alive, that hill has always been there and I’m sure they assume it’s always going to be there. Then, one day a little boy is walking through that field, and for a goof he decides to stomp on it. Then to those ants, nothing is ever the same again.
We’re all aware somehow that catastrophic change is possible, and that it’s happened to past civilizations like the Volcano that killed everyone in Pompeii, or the Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands a couple years ago, or even the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs, but until you’ve caught a glimpse of something like that it sort of just bounces around your brain like an abstract concept.
Live it up, bitches. This shit ain’t gonna last.