Like many in Northern California, the Baileys, who defied evacuation orders to protect their home and their animals, faced the double threat of fires and a power company that turned off their electricity, disabling their water pumps. Mr. Bailey, a retired pharmacist who has metastatic prostate cancer, missed five days of radiation treatment.
“I’ve reached my limit,” he said on Thursday, as the fire was being brought under control. “This is the climate change that scientists have been telling us about for years and we’ve buried our heads like ostriches.”
The most destructive, the deadliest and the largest wildfires in California history have all occurred in the past two years. The Camp fire, which incinerated the town of Paradise in the Sierra foothills, killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes. A year earlier, the wine country fires killed more than 40 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes. The Mendocino Complex fire last year, which burned 460,000 acres, was the largest ever recorded in the state.
The trauma of these fires has kept Californians in a heightened state of vigilance, sniffing the air for smoke, scanning hilltops for any signs of ignition.
Amid widespread anxiety there are some reasons to be hopeful so far this year. Although the state’s fire agency has recorded about 5,000 fires this year in the area it oversees — about the same as during the same period last year — far fewer acres have burned: less than 100,000 compared with about 600,000 at this point last year.
But the number of people affected this year swelled into the millions because of the large-scale power outages that Pacific Gas and Electric, the state’s largest utility, carried out to prevent downed lines and other equipment from sparking fires.
“In the back of your mind there’s that constant fear that the power could go out again,” said Amanda Baston, who lives in a camping trailer because her home was damaged in the Camp fire and is still being rebuilt. Her power has been shut off four times so far this year.