Is San Francisco’s nightmarish echo of Sydney’s summer now a template for fire seasons to come? | Kirsten Tranter
Just as in Australia, landscape along the US west coast has evolved to withstand fire. But precedents are collapsing all around us
People love to say that Sydney is like San Francisco: a city built around the water with a temperate climate and a pretty bridge. At certain moments the slant of light on the water of San Francisco Bay looks uncannily like Sydney. Australian foliage thrives here — eucalypts, flowering gums, bottle brush, colourful lantana. Over the seven years that I have spent here in the Bay, after growing up in Sydney and living on the US east coast for a long stretch, those echoes usually bring a nostalgic frisson, a bittersweet longing for home.
Now, in September 2020, the reminders of Sydney are frankly alarming. I returned to Australia exactly one year ago with my family for a long sabbatical, just in time for the unprecedented horrors of the bushfire season when smoke choked the cities, ash rained down, and an estimated three billion animals perished. We came back to Berkeley a few weeks before the coronavirus lockdown in March. Over the past several weeks, the fires raging along the west coast have delivered sharp parallels with our Sydney summer.