by Julian Spector
October 13, 2017

The apocalyptic ash blotting out the sun here in Northern California reminds me how helpless even the most technologically advanced regions can be in the face of broader climatic forces.

In this case, an exceptionally wet winter prompted a growth spurt of underbrush, which by October lay parched and crackling across the inland landscape. We don't know what exactly caused it to ignite, but once it did, heavy gusts carried the embers, and a few hundred acres of burn soon gobbled up more than 200,000.

A few of the individual blazes have...