It was 90 degrees that afternoon, but at a rest stop along Interstate 5 in the mountains of Northern California, it snowed flakes of ash on my pickup. The wildfire raging nearby was about as bad as anyone could imagine, but our imaginations hadn’t reached November yet.
This was August, long before we lost Paradise and much of Malibu, before the fiery hellscapes at opposite ends of a state under siege lit up screens around the world. This was before the long-fading myth of California as Eden was scorched into some sort of Mad Max dystopia, before teams of forensic examiners were sent to sift through the ashes to find the dozens, maybe hundreds, of missing dead.
It was when there was still hope that the latest big fire would be the last one to worry about for a while.
The hot, smoky summer air smelled like campfire. A worried asthmatic woman headed to San Diego asked me when it would end.