About 3:30 this afternoon, I smelled smoke coming from somewhere. I walked all around the yard, scanning the horizon in every direction, but I couldn't tell where the smell was coming from. A half hour later the smell was stronger, and this time it was obvious. I could barely see the hills west of here through the haze. It looked as if all of Sebastopol were on fire, and I could hear several sirens in the distance.
My first instinct was to check on the Internet, but I quickly realized how dumb an idea that was. The local press doesn't exactly react to breaking stories with New York-style competence and efficiency. Local radio offered nothing on the subject either, and although we do have a TV station in Santa Rosa, its news budget is about $1.07, give or take a penny.
As the smoke got thicker and my eyes got redder, I could barely see beyond the yard, but by now I could hear not only sirens but planes heading in that direction. The wind coming in from the coast was strong enough to be blowing the smoke back in my direction, and before long the haze had settled in over this whole side of town.
I should have just closed all the doors and windows and stayed inside, but I couldn't help wandering out frequently to see if any progress was being made. After a while, it was obvious the source was localized somewhere west of Sebastopol, in the farmlands. I couldn't imagine anyone trying to manage a controlled burn in the high winds we were having, but it did look like a small fire that had blazed out of control.
Something must have worked, because in less than an hour the smoke had dissipated and the strong odor had wafted away on the Pacific breeze. I could still feel it in my nose and lungs, though, for a long time afterward.
After another hour, I'd almost forgotten that it ever happened, and by the time the sun went down, it looked no hazier in the west than it ever does on a late afternoon in early autumn.