Inside the Vast, Weird World of Guerrilla Wildfire Fighters squib

Cuyler Ruskin /

On Aug. 19, before wildfires destroyed entire communities in Oregon and cast a pall of smoke over wide swaths of the country, California ordered the residents of Bonny Doon, a mountain community north of Santa Cruz, to evacuate. 

The CZU Lightning Complex Fires, today the state’s second most destructive wildfire on record, were spreading rapidly through their region. But Bonny Doon local and tech ethics researcher Jacob Metcalf doubted authorities would end up sending enough people to save his and his neighbors’ homes. 

He wasn’t completely off base. Thanks to the pandemic, California was undermanned heading into what’s turned out to be its worst fire year on record, and officials have been faced with difficult choices about how and when to deploy limited property- and life-saving resources. Locals say the official presence in their area was minimal through the worst of the fires. 

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