Already Burned Out

The Dixie Fire reaches the million-acre mark as we continue to limp along

At some point this weekend, when you’re out propping up your 12-foot skeleton, slicing up orange slices for soccer, or trying to coordinate with friends an outdoor spot where you can meet up with masks on and shoot side-eyes over to strangers who have a “medical condition” that prohibits their use, the Dixie fire will burn its one-millionth acre.

The fire that has chewed up a big swath of Northern California steady for the past two-plus months, laying waste to old-growth forests, forcing thousands of residents from their homes, engulfing tiny Gold Rush-era towns, taking with it more than 1,100 structures and costing more than a half a billion dollars (so far) to try to contain—isn’t even front-page news in the home state anymore.

The second biggest fire in California history and the largest to burn in the state this summer, burning an area larger than Manhattan, Chicago, LA, and Dallas ...combined and yet... nothing.

No emergency actions to mitigate climate catastrophe on the state or federal level. No deep dive into the logging or fossil fuels-based economy that started all this. No mention of how we’re even going to start to try to carry on in a different, more meaningful manner enacting policies that were slam dunks thirty years ago.

Instead the stories to come will be about lawsuits filed against and federal investigations for PG&E, which confirmed on the day the Caldor fire started, there was a service station near its Cresta Dam that lost power. A “troubleman” was dispatched at 9 a.m. but couldn’t reach the distressed power line because his passage was being blocked by a Butte County road maintenance crew.

He got into his cherrypicker and discovered a ring of flames spanning 600 square feet and a Douglas fir leaning against a power line. He tried to thwart the blaze with his truck’s fire extinguisher and by digging a firebreak, but it was no use.

“There’s a tree on a line that started a fire,” the troubleman said.

“Oh, my goodness,” the dispatcher responded.

A supervisor called 911, but CALfire crews didn’t arrive around 5:30 p.m., more than 10 hours after PG&E was first alerted to the outage. And the rest is still ...history in the making.

Or is it? As I write this, hundreds of residents have recently returned home to South Lake Tahoe after the Caldor Fire—its footprint less than one hundred miles southeast of Dixie.

Caldor is seen, for now at least, as a small win. The blaze, which is nearing the 250k acre-mark, is close to 71% contained and, with a little luck, could be contained by month’s end, and Tahoe will live to see another day/

The Dixie Fire is 75% contained as it reaches its million-acre milestone. As with Caldera, an unexpected lightning storm or shifting winds notwithstanding, CALfire feels they’ve got a handle on the blaze as we head into the driest months of the early fall season and fires predicted to spark into December.

Which is to say, it’s all too difficult to process. The size, the scope, the pending danger—as the skies clear above the Sierra and the hellscape smoke can no longer be seen from space telescopes; we will try to return to “normal” and put out other fires. Fires of misinformation. Fires of creeping fascism. Fires of a pandemic that continues to morph and contort itself to infest the lungs of millions even though it all could’ve been snuffed out this spring with a vaccine. Fires of injustice, inequality, and socioeconomic and wealth gaps are so strikingly severe that so many of us just don’t have a chance anymore but to get up just to give up.

We’ve said it so many times, over the last half-decade especially, that outrage is met with a shrug. You bring up any topic to even a pair of friendly ears and they say, “I know, I live here too.” And then we look at pictures of cats. Because sometimes, all you can do is look at pictures of cats.

I was standing at a lunch spot yesterday waiting for food. I’d forgotten my phone in the car so I got to observe. Everyone in the place stood a safe(ish) distance apart. Everyone had masks on. Everyone was on their devices. What were they reading about? What were they seeing? One by one, their names were called, and they politely stepped up, took their to-go meal, and nodded thank you to, or ignored, the workers. One by one, they exited as someone else walked in. It was orderly, mechanical, and the most depressing lunch scene I’ve ever seen. Nobody talked to anybody. Everyone went away.

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USC vs. Washington State

Saturday in Pullman, it’ll be the USC Trojans (1-1), who fired head coach Clay Helton after a sluggish conference home opener vs. Stanford last week, against Washington State Cougars (1-1), who should’ve fired alleged racist/confirmed anti-vaxxer and full-time nuisance head coach Nick Rolovich before the season began.

Interim SC head coach Donte Williams, who was promoted from defensive backs coach, will lead the Trojans Saturday, as USC, which opened as 10-point favorites, slid down to -8.5 as Helton’s dismissal was made official by Sunday evening. In truth, a head coach doesn’t matter as much more than a figurehead in this case.

Coordinators, position coaches, and the guy who sells programs knew that Helton was hanging by the thinnest of threads (and had been for the past three seasons) as Trojan boosters are still grappling with the fact the school hasn’t been in the conversation in 15 seasons since they let one slip to Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns.

Players have seemingly already rallied around Williams, as they did around Helton in 2015 when he took over for the fired Steve Sarkisian and led USC to a 5-4 record. That was followed by 10-3 and 11-3 campaigns, but USC has gone 19-14 since 2017. Helton finished his tenure at USC at 46-23.

Rolovich, whose squad took lost to Utah State in week one, cruised against Portland State last week to even up their record at 1-1.

Saturday, it’ll be the battle of the QBs as Wazzu’s Jayden de Laura, who was recovering from COVID-19 last year vs. SC in December and said he was “off” after being sidelined for 22 days because of coronavirus-related cancellations.

“It was just mental mistakes during the game, stuff I know this year now,” de Laura said earlier this week. “The preparation is way easier this year.”

Against Portland State last weekend, de Laura completed 72% of his passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns but is still technically no. 2 on the Cougs’ depth chart taking snaps behind grad transfer Jarrett Guarantano, who went down with an injury early in the Cougars’ Week 1 loss to Utah State.

In spite of a slow start vs. Stanford USC Junior Kendon Slovis is a legitimate Heisman contender with comfortable ease under center that should enable Williams to use his expertise to make tweaks on defense and keep the Trojans at or near the top of their conference division through the shakeup.

Remember, it was Slovis who led the Trojans to a 5-1 record and a Pac-12 South Division title last season while orchestrating several come-from-behind wins last year as a 19-year-old. He should shine this year, especially when his squad is favored—giving his old coach a little vindication from afar.

Take USC -8.5 vs. Washington State 12:30 p.m. PST Saturday, Sept. 18 on FOX

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