The air is thick with grey-black smoke. The air tastes of charred hardwood, smoking oil, and man-made objects that were never meant to be burned…My clothes smell like an old man’s pipe. Allergies are inflamed.
Just a few mountain ranges north of Los Angeles, thousands of acres burn. As the blaze destroys homes and fire erases every trace of hundreds of families’ histories, life continues in the buzzing metropolitan valley of industry.
Though a state of emergency has been declared in LA County, you would never know it, looking at the faces of LA residents. The coffee shops are packed with latte-drinking gabbers. Breakfast diners crowd the outdoor restaurants. Hollywood farmers’ market regulars happily scan the organic produce stalls. In a city of disdain and relative unconsciousness, I feel like Chicken Little. Doesn’t anyone else notice how bad the air tastes?
I decide to skip my usual hike up Runyan Canyon and take an abridged shopping trip to the farmers’ market. With a head of cauliflower and a bunch of red-orange carrots in my shopping bags, I spot a couple walking past: they are wearing environmental masks made of soft, synthetic cloth that covers their mouth and nose. Reactionary, I think, as they pass by. But then, as the reality of the health hazards tally up in my mind, I find myself taking shallow, sips of air rather than deep breaths. Moments later, I begin to see waves of farmers’ market customers holding tee shirts, scarves, and coffee shop napkins over their mouths–makeshift masks from the compromised air– in hopes of filtering out some of the unseen contaminants.
I hasten my shopping and wheel my hook-and-go cart to the car. It’s time to go home to the relative safety of my home.
Since the fire began on Thursday, more than 34 square miles of Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange and Santa Barbara County have been burned. More than 800 homes and apartments had been destroyed.