It's Labor Day.
We woke this morning with the smell of fire in North Austin. During the night 300 houses were consumed by wildfire, west of the town of Bastrop. We decided to visit the flames: we put our boots on and hit the road with an iPhone, iPad, and an iMac. Thank you Jobs.
Witnessing the places of disaster is the best way of coping with fear and anxiety. After months of severe drought in Texas, and record temperatures almost every day and up to 112 F, massive wildfire was only to be expected. Climate change activists are angry with the denial of history and science, fossil politics, fossil corporations.
As we approach the growing disaster area, we see the cars of refugees, trucks, tractors fleeing a wall of smoke. An old black settler tells us: never seen a drought like this in my life, born here raised here… Reminds me of numerous refugees flows I saw in war zone areas: same blank frightened faces, and a stubborn will not to depart from the scene of crime.
An agitated girl approaches the police car that blocks off a back road: I must go in there, I have a dog…after a pause she says in a lower voice, and a house…
Everybody around here has a house. They are drinking beer in a local roadside bar under the smoke volcano. Everyone has a mobile phone. There is air conditioning and sports on TV.
The local radio is reporting on needs of fire refugees, electricity repairs and the merciless weather. Nobody knows if this outbreak of fire is going to last a day, a week… We gaze around the horizon and count the columns of smoke rising, east, west, south.
My American friend looks at the ranches around us, remembering his dad's land and how Texas ranchers always fret over the skies for their crops. But this new war with unnatural nature looks like Kuwait aflame during the Gulf War. Federal airplanes and helicopters are like gnats against the smoke plumes.
Don't trespass, warns a sign on the barbed wire: my American friend risks the thousand dollar fine to get a good shot of the sixteen-mile smoke panorama. High tech surveillance choppers supervise the endangered territory. They dump huge buckets of water on long swaying cables. I carefully study the pane of glass in my palm and learn how to tweet an Instagram.
As 9/11 approaches its 10th anniversary I think how much the world has changed. Disaster scenes are the new normality: with blurry but efficient technologies that witness the death of progress, the denial of science.
PHOTOS: Bruce Sterling.