The ‘Devil Winds’ have always had a way of putting Californians on edge.
Hot and dry, enough to “curl your hair, make your nerves jump and your skin itch. Anything can happen,” wrote Raymond Chandler in the 1930s.
Every year the Santa Ana winds come, every year millions hold their breath and dread the potential for devastation.
This year they have suddenly fired into life.
In the north, in wine country, they have roared through tens of thousands of acres and forced whole communities to seek shelter.
In the south, residents of Los Angeles were treated to an apocalyptic vision in the early hours of Monday, as fires pushed into wealthy hillside neighbourhoods.
The nightmare scenario Californians dread has arrived: a small flare-up suddenly racing out-of-control, fuelled by the those dry, gusty winds from the deserts.
If such natural disasters are part of the trade-off they accept for living here, the terror, disorientation and devastation is still hard to take.
We can easily lose track of the number of homes and neighbourhoods we have seen reduced to piles of ashes by wildfires in recent years.
This time, in wealthy Brentwood, the charred bones of a $2m home revealed scorched children’s books and toys. Next door, the Halloween decorations were pretty much all that survived.
The emergency services have been aggressive in ordering evacuations during this “historic wind event” and it has undoubtedly saved lives, for all inconvenience.
Not that everyone got the message. In the neighbourhoods of the super-rich LA, domestic staff were still turning up for work at deserted mansions, unsure whether the evacuation orders applied to them.
That those houses are still standing at all is testament to the work of the thousands of fire crews – drawn from across the western United States and even including teams of trained prison inmates. It is exhausting and nothing short of heroic.
Remarkably, this year has actually seen a below average amount of fire activity in California. Compared to the horrors of last year and the dozens of lives lost in places like Paradise, Californians know they have been relatively lucky.
But with a dozen or more burning now, many point to the changing climate for increasing the risk of huge fires: 14 of the 20 most destructive in the state’s history have occurred since 2007.
This year’s Devil Winds have arrived and the forecasts suggest they have more havoc to wreak before they are finished.