John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A mushroom cloud of gray smoke on the San Francisco horizon is coming from a blaze on, appropriately, Mount Diablo.
You can't blame a promontory called "Mount Diablo" for rocking a wicked 'fro of flame, and that's exactly what this unhallowed peak 30 miles east of San Francisco started doing Sunday. Thick plumes of smoke puffed off the mountain's new Morgan Fire, collecting in a roiling gray cloud that was visible from many parts of the city, including Candlestick Park for the San Francisco 49ers' opening game.
By Sunday night, the sky was luminescent with hell-glow from the dying vegetation, as shown in the above snap from Mount Diablo State Park's webcam. The fire had eaten up to 1,000 acres and residents of Contra Costa County were facing mandatory evacuations, with several dozen homes and other structures at risk. Here was the view from Castro Street in San Francisco earlier in the afternoon:
While it may be intimidating to have the skyline dominated by a humongous wall of smoke, it is the peak of the wildfire season in California, a time of great conflagrations and ecological rebirth. The Morgan outbreak throws a burning branch onto a rowdy bonfire of blazes, including the American fire in Tahoe, the Orleans Complex in Humboldt, and nearly contained Rim Fire in Yosemite. This is California's driest year on record, and it's really showing in the number of fierce fires tearing through the land.
For a reference, here's where the Morgan fire is relative to the larger and older Rim Fire:
This is what it looked like from a safe distance on the Bay Bridge:
People were comparing this scene to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings:
A volcanic time-lapse photo from somewhere in the vicinity:
And Greg Lato put together this other time lapse showing how quickly a wildfire can engulf a dried-out mountain: