Arnold G. York
Paradise found, paradise almost lost
Late Sunday afternoon I stood on my deck, in the hills overlooking Pacific Coast Highway, and watched a sailboat regatta. The sun was shining and reflecting off the water, a breeze was blowing, and the brightly colored spinnaker sails were ballooning out. It was paradise. I thought to myself, what an incredible place to live.
Monday I stood in the same place, on the same deck in the late afternoon, and watched the black smoke rising up from Malibu Road, and I wondered if my optimism of the previous day had somehow insulted the gods and retribution was coming.
Life in Malibu is a combination of opposites.
The yin and the yang, the best and the worst, a paradise found and a paradise almost lost. We were fortunate this time because, despite a dry wind that had been blowing for days and an abundance of fuel in the park above Malibu Road, only four homes were lost and as many more damaged. Fortunate, that is, unless you happen to be one of those caught by this sudden fire and watched your house burn.
One of the things you learn living in Malibu is that fire is totally unpredictable and capricious. One house burns and the one next door survives untouched, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it was this one and not that one.
Luck, a last second shift in the wind, a stray ember dying, a fire engine nearby, a neighbor on the spot and it’s a tragedy avoided.
Once you’ve been through a fire, you’re never quite the same again. That irrational belief that you’re untouchable, that this only happens to other people, is gone, and you know that you’re mortal. In a fire, I always have a feeling the animals out on the Serengeti must feel when the lions are hunting. They just don’t know where the lions will strike, and when they do and bring down some unfortunate, all the others must breathe a sigh of relief because it’s someone else and not them. Gazelle or human, I suspect it’s no different.
Last night I walked down Malibu Road, filled with fire trucks and Sheriff’s deputies, camera in hand, and saw the hillside burning, flaring up and dying down. The rumor was that houses were burning, but from the ground it was impossible to tell. Later that night I watched through the lens of a helicopter camera and saw what the world saw-Malibu burning again. One of the houses looked very familiar, but I wasn’t sure. Malibu is a small town, and many people know each other. Karen and I walk Malibu Road frequently, and have many friends there.
Later that night we found that it was our friend’s house. A wonderful, eclectic, very unique home, filled with a lifetime of treasures, gone in a few moments.
This morning I once again walked down Malibu Road, now filled with tired firemen, deputies and TV crews hanging around and sipping their Diedrich cappuccinos. Most had been up all night and it was mostly over except for the mopping up.
I stared at what had once been my friend’s house, his burned out cars still parked in front, and thought about how fragile life can be. Just about the time you begin to believe you have it under control, something happens, a fire comes, someone close to you dies, and you realize how transitory it all is.
The answer is no one knows how long they have and life is capricious, so enjoy it while you have the health and the time to do it.
P.S. Kudos to the Fire Department, the Sheriff’s deputies and all the emergency crews on this one. They were on the spot and managed to contain what could have been a massive disaster within a couple of hours.
P.P.S The state has got to cut back the brush in urbanized areas. It’s crazy to allow these kinds of risks to exist.