(City Journal) -- California has been clouded under a blanket of smoke for weeks. Stanford University, where I work, sent students and faculty home early for Thanksgiving. The campus is more than 200 miles southwest of the 150,000-acre Camp Fire that just incinerated the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Paradise, and yet the entire Bay Area has been buried under collateral haze for days. I am a fifth-generation native Californian and remember many horrific Sierra Nevada fires, but never anything remotely comparable to the blazes of 2018.
Here in Fresno County, in the San Joaquin Valley, positioned between the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada mountains, the stagnant air for weeks has remained as polluted as China’s. When the normal northerlies blew, we were smoked in from the Camp Fire, 250 miles to the north. When the rarer southerlies took over, some of the smoke from the 100,000-acre Woolsey fire in the canyons of Malibu arrived from 230 miles distant.
July and August were nearly as incendiary as November. The huge, 450,000-acre Mendocino County conflagrations, the horrific Shasta-area Carr fire (nearly a half-million acres), and the nearby Ferguson fire in the Madera foothills all combined to make the air nearly unbreathable for two months throughout the Central Valley. Yet Californians in the irrigated center of the state were the lucky ones, breathing smoke rather than seeing fires overwhelm their homes and communities.
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