Monday, November 12, 2018

Paradise Lost

I decided to bring the fifth graders in from the playground early. In the middle of their recess, it became apparent that some of them were feeling the effects. Not from the nominal rigors of exercise, but the challenge of breathing in air that was increasingly laden with smoke. One hundred seventy miles north, a fire was burning, and in Oakland, we were feeling the effects. We went inside and played Heads-up/Seven-up. Much to the dismay of many of the fifth graders who felt there was no imminent threat to their health.
On this Thursday afternoon, air quality in the Bay Area was measured at 199, some thirty points worse than that of Beijing at the same time. Those with breathing challenges and other concerns were advised to remain indoors. Meanwhile, one hundred seventy miles north, things were much worse. In Paradise, California the air was on fire.
Thirty thousand people were evacuated in advance of the wind-driven blaze, and the quixotically named town burned to the ground. Homes, businesses, restaurants, a retirement home, all destroyed. Paradise was gone, but not forgotten.
These kind of wildfires are now becoming more prevalent, especially in high density areas that were once farmland and open space. Providing fuel for fires makes them burn longer, faster. They also occur more often in a world where the climate has shifted enough to make conditions tinder dry at a time when rain used to dominate the forecast for months at a time.
The year before I moved to Oakland, there was a similar firestorm in the hills above the city. Neighborhoods were wiped out. Hillsides were left barren. But it didn't take long before lots of people and their insurance money returned to the area and built new homes. Because of some twisted pioneer spirit. And that will probably happen in Paradise too. And these folks will live there as a constant reminder of what can happen, and whenever the wind blows in that certain direction...
I don't think this is the last time we will be having PE inside.

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