The Tower by the Bay

The Tower by the Bay, 1976

The Tower by the Bay, 1976

I completed the painting above during 1976, but not at school. I apologize for the poor quality; not only has the poster paint I used decayed over time, but the painting was also folded into four at some point!

The scene depicted is completely imaginary, and doesn’t attempt to represent any real place. I’m not sure why I chose to do this particular work at home; perhaps I just felt that my schoolteachers would demand to know what it was supposed to represent, and I wouldn’t be able to explain!

Today (October 25th) is International Artist Day, so I thought it appropriate to feature some of my artwork in this post, even if it’s not of “professional” standard on this occasion.

If my painting above represents anything, then I suppose that it was intended to show my “ideal location”, from my viewpoint as a teenager. Looking closely, the “tower block” in the image has a sign on the side saying “Europa”, so presumably it was supposed to be a hotel somewhere in Europe. At that age, I had no experience of independent living, so it probably seemed to me that the only alternative to living with my parents was to stay in a hotel!

The city on the horizon, with its illuminated seaside promenade, is of course loosely based on views of my home town of Scarborough (as shown below in my 1977 photo). However, at that time, there were no modern “tower blocks” such as the one in my painting near the sea in Scarborough (although there was such a building—Ebor House—in the nearby resort of Bridlington, which was in the news just recently for the wrong reasons).

Scarborough South Bay at Night, 1977

Scarborough South Bay at Night, 1977

I seem to have spent a lot of time detailing the interiors of the rooms in the hotel, which I could have avoided simply by painting the curtains closed!

Slightly more than ten years after I painted the image above, I unexpectedly found myself in a seaside location that reminded me of that imaginary scene, although it was not anywhere in Europe.

Realizing the Dream

The photo below, which I took during my first visit to California in October 1987, shows the Metro Tower in Foster City, as seen from one of the lagoon bridges. At that time, the Metro Tower, which had only just been completed, had the distinction of being the tallest building between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Foster City, California, in 1987

Foster City, California, in 1987

During the first evening that I arrived in California, I found myself very disoriented, because I thought that the tower and lagoon in front of it were facing westwards towards the Pacific Ocean. In fact, Foster City faces San Francisco Bay, and thus eastwards. I had to consult maps to figure out why the sea seemed to be on both sides!

I’m afraid that once again the picture quality is very poor, but I could not in fact go back and take the same photograph today, because other large buildings now surround the Metro Tower, as shown in the nearest-available Google Street View today.

As I mentioned in a previous post, after emigrating to California later in 1987, I did rent an apartment in Foster City, and lived there for about 18 months. It was a pleasant place to live, and the sheer modernity of the surroundings was a refreshing change from everywhere that I’d previously lived.

Not a Premonition

I realize that, in view of what happened to me later on, it’s possible to interpret my teenage painting as some kind of “premonition” regarding the place where I would find myself living as an adult (and someone did in fact suggest that).

However, in general I see no evidence that premonitions, in the sense of someone being able to know what will happen in the future, are possible (if only because the future of the universe is inherently not knowable). You may be able to make a very good guess as to what will happen in the future, based on the current circumstances, but it’s only ever a prediction. (This is, of course, exactly what weather forecasters do every day.)

In the case of my painting, I think the reality is just the opposite. Having unexpectedly found myself in California, Foster City particularly appealed to me because it was so reminiscent of the scene in my earlier painting. Thus, I took action to fulfill aspects of the fantasy that I’d had as a teenager, and made it real.

In fact, seeing it that way seems better than believing in some kind of premonition, because I was able to take action to change my life in the way that I wanted it to be, rather than accepting whatever situation I found myself born into.

The Tower by the Bay, 1976

The Tower by the Bay, 1976

London’s Post Office Tower: My First & Only Visit

Cover of my School Study, 1971

Cover of my School Study, 1971

At the age of eleven, I produced the illustration above for the cover of a “London Study” that we were required to write and illustrate at school. The study was created in connection with our school visit to the capital city, which had taken place in May 1971, just before I drew the cover.

As you may expect (given my interests), my cover drawing emphasized modes of transport. Additionally, I chose as the centerpiece a striking modern building to which we had paid a surprise visit during the trip, and which had substantially impressed me. Little did I know at that time that it would probably be my only opportunity ever to visit that iconic building.

The building in my drawing was the recently-built Post Office Tower (now known as the BT Tower). Even before that first visit to London, I was well aware of the existence of that structure, which was feted as a prime example of Britain’s dedication to the anticipated “White Heat of Technology”. In addition to its role as an elevated mount for microwave antennas, the Tower offered public viewing galleries providing spectacular views over Central London. There was also the famous revolving restaurant, leased to Butlin’s, the famous operator of down-market holiday camps.

The Tower and its restaurant began to feature prominently in the pop culture of the time. An early “starring” role was in the comedy movie Smashing Time, where, during a party in the revolving restaurant, the rotation mechanism supposedly goes out of control, resulting in a power blackout all over London.

In the more mundane reality of 1971, our school class arrived in London and settled into a rather seedy hotel in Russell Square. One evening, our teacher surprised us by announcing an addition to our itinerary. We would be visiting the public viewing galleries of the Post Office Tower, to watch the sun go down over London, and the lights come on! Needless to say, we were thrilled, even though we had no inkling that that would be our only-ever chance to do that.

There were actually several public viewing gallery floors, some of which featured glazing, while others were exposed to the elements, except for metal safety grilles. Fortunately, the weather during the evening that we visited was not exceptionally windy!

Concretopia

I’m currently reading the book Concretopia, by John Grindrod, which provides a fascinating history of Britain’s postwar architectural projects, both public and private.

Cover of Concretopia Book

One chapter of the book is dedicated to what was originally called the Museum Radio Tower (referring to the nearby British Museum). It provides detailed descriptions of the decisions that led to the construction of the tower, and reveals that at least one floor is still filled with the original 1960s-era communications technology.

Due to subsequent changes both in communications technology and British government policies regarding state involvement in such industries, much of the original function for which the Tower was built has now been rendered obsolete or moved elsewhere, leaving the building as something of a huge museum piece (ironically, in view of its original name).

The Once-and-Only Visit

In October 1971, a few months after my school class visit, a bomb exploded in the roof of the men’s toilets at the Top of the Tower Restaurant. Initially it was assumed that the IRA was responsible, but in fact the attack was accomplished by an anarchist group.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the incident, but it drew attention to the security vulnerabilities created by allowing public access to the Tower. The result was that the public viewing galleries were immediately closed down, never to be reopened, and Butlins’ Top of the Tower restaurant was informed that its lease would not be renewed after that expired in 1980.

Nonetheless, the Tower continued to appear in the media as an instantly recognizable icon. At around the same time, it was supposedly attacked by a particularly unlikely monster—Kitten Kong [link plays video]—in the British TV comedy series The Goodies.

My younger brother took the same school trip to London two years after me, but it was already too late; the Tower’s public viewing galleries were closed, so he never got to see the London twilight from that unique vantage point.

The Unexpected Technologist

On that first visit to London in 1971, I had no notion that I personally would ever be a participant in the kind of exciting technological innovation signified by the Tower. In my family’s view, such advances were just something that “people like us” observed and marveled at, from a remote state of consumer ignorance.

I never anticipated, therefore, that I would return to London as an adult only ten years later, to begin my Electronics degree studies at Imperial College, University of London. I had to visit the University’s administration buildings in Bloomsbury to obtain my ID and other information, and there was that familiar building again, still looming over the area. (The University Senate House is also famous for its architectural style, but I’ll discuss that in a future post!)

My 1982 photo below, taken during my undergraduate days, offers an ancient-and-modern architectural contrast, showing the top of the Tower from a point near the Church of Christ the King, Bloomsbury.

Post Office Tower & Bloomsbury, 1982

Post Office Tower & Bloomsbury, 1982

The Museum Tower

The photo below shows the Tower again, during a visit in 2010, now with its “BT” logo prominently on display. Externally, the tower looks little different from its appearance as built, and, given that it’s now a “listed building”, that is unlikely to change much in future.

BT Tower, 2010

BT Tower, 2010

For me, the Post Office Tower stands as a memorial to the optimistic aspirations of Britain’s forays into the “White Heat of Technology”. It seems that, unfortunately, the country’s “Natural Luddites” (which C P Snow claimed were dominant in the social and political elite) won the day after all.

Cover of my School Study, 1971

Cover of my School Study, 1971

Ruins of Yorkshire

 

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

The photo above, which I took during a visit in 2010, shows the still-impressive ruin of the West Front of Byland Abbey, in Yorkshire. Prior to its destruction, the most impressive feature of this facade would have been a huge rose window, the lower outline of which is still visible here. Apparently, that was the inspiration for a similar rose window in York Minster, which remains intact (although it narrowly escaped destruction in the 1984 fire, and required substantial renovation, as described here).

For my Yorkshire Day post this year, I wanted to draw attention once again to the remarkable assemblage of monastic ruins that exist in that county. There are, of course, also many military ruins, such as Scarborough Castle, but the religious buildings are perhaps less well-known.

Just to avoid any confusion regarding my intentions, I should make it clear again that I have no interest at all in religion. My interest in these buildings is and always has been architectural and historical.

I’ve mentioned my early experiences with these ruins in previous posts, and I must admit that I tended to take them for granted when growing up. I just assumed that there must be huge ruined churches lying around everywhere, and it was only later that I realized that this was a rare environment.

Illustrating the degree of integration of these ruins into the landscape, the photo below shows the modern remains of Byland Abbey’s gatehouse, the surviving arch of which stands over a public road.

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

A Long-Forgotten Social Disaster

The process by which all these huge religious institutions came to be abandoned and ruined is fairly well known, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which took place between 1536-40. The event occurred because King Henry VIII picked a fight with the Pope, over his desire to divorce one of his wives. The key to success, as he saw it, was to crush the power of the Catholic church in England. All the monasteries owed allegiance to the established church, so it seemed to him that abolishing them would not only be a way to reduce the church’s power, but also to grab the land and valuables owned by those institutions, and the income streams created by them.

As the extent of the remaining ruins suggest, the monasteries in Yorkshire formed a major part of the local economy and social organization, so their abolition and deliberate destruction must have been catastrophic. Although the King was able to seize the land and the monasteries’ treasures, his hoped-for income streams never materialized, because he had destroyed the organizations that were generating them! Henry sold off most of the seized land to his favored nobles, and then squandered the proceeds on his wars.

Rievaulx Abbey, also in Yorkshire, built one of the world’s first blast furnaces for iron, and it has been suggested that, if it had not been for the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Industrial Revolution would have begun in Britain a century before it actually did.

In State Care

Following the Dissolution, the institutions’ land and buildings passed into private hands, and stayed that way for centuries.

Many abandoned religious buildings that were close to settlements gradually disappeared, as they were stripped for building stone. It was probably the relative isolation of the Yorkshire abbeys that permitted the survival of significant portions of the structures.

At the start of the Twentieth Century, the British Government began to take an interest in preserving what was left of the ruins, and eventually took most of them into state ownership, by purchasing them from the private owners.

Fountains Abbey: a Spectacular Setting

While the ruins of Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys are impressive, perhaps the Yorkshire ruin with the most ideal landscape setting is Fountains Abbey.

The photo below shows the ruin of the church at Fountains, in its breathtaking setting in Studley Royal Park. This was taken during a visit in 1977, and the individuals in the foreground are my mother and her friend.

Fountains Abbey, 1977

Fountains Abbey, 1977

In those days, the visitors’ car park was at the Studley Tea Rooms, which necessitated quite a long (but pleasant) walk alongside the River Skell to the actual ruins. The modern car park is closer to the ruin.

Fountains was somewhat unusual in that it was not purchased by the Ministry of Works at the same time as most of the other sites. It remained in private hands until 1966, when it was bought by the County Council. In 1982, the estate was transferred to the National Trust, and is now maintained by English Heritage.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire, and if the weather is reasonable, then all these ruins are well worth a visit!

Becoming American (in Oakland)

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Last Thursday, I officially became a citizen of the United States of America, after living here for about 27 years as a legal Permanent Resident. The photo above shows the stage of the Paramount Theatre, in Oakland, which was where the swearing-in ceremony took place.

(I mentioned in a previous post that I had passed the US Citizenship test at the CIS offices in San Francisco, and was waiting to be called for this event.)

Given the number of new citizens being admitted, there was a large crowd at the event. There were 1,018 people being sworn in at that ceremony, and everyone had been invited to bring family and friends, so there were several thousand people in the theater.

Prior to the actual oath-taking, there were several speeches, videos, and even a choir! The photo below shows California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, speaking to the audience. Padilla himself is an immigrant from Mexico.

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

At the end of the ceremony, everyone takes the Oath of Allegiance as a group, and then Certificates of Naturalization are distributed to each individual. After exiting the auditorium, we were invited to register to vote and to apply for a US passport. This turned out to be quite chaotic, so instead of trying to get a photograph of me in the theatre, we went to the coffee shop next door, where Mary took the photo below. The flag in my hand was given to me at the ceremony, but I’ve owned the tie for many years!

A New American!

A New American!

An Art Deco Masterpiece

The Paramount Theatre was built in 1931, by an affiliate of Paramount Pictures, and was constructed in an opulent Art Deco style. Thankfully, after decades of neglect, the building was saved and restored to its current condition.

The photo below shows the theater’s lobby, with soon-to-be citizens entering from the street in the background.

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

The exterior of the theater is equally impressive, as shown below.

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Next door to the theater is another spectacular Art Deco survivor, the former I Magnin store, clad in beautiful green terracotta (and also built in 1931), now converted into offices and a coffee shop. This coffee shop was the one in which Mary took the photo of me, above.

In the photo below, the queue around the building is formed by people waiting to get into the theater for the next swearing-in ceremony, which began almost as soon as mine was over!

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

It’s a great credit to the City of Oakland that at least some of its architectural gems have been saved in this way, and their presence comes as quite a surprise in the midst of so much “urban blight”.

Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow

The ceremony started quite early in the morning, so, to avoid the rush hour traffic, we decided to stay over in Oakland the night before. We stayed at the Z Hotel, Jack London Square. The photo below shows the hotel and its parking lot after dark.

The Z Hotel, Oakland

The Z Hotel, Oakland

As the song “Walk Like An Egyptian” goes; “If you want to find all the cops, They’re hanging out…” at this hotel, apparently. The Buttercup coffee shop at the hotel is open late, and the location is close to the Oakland Police Station, so it seems that this has become a regular meeting place. The “police presence” certainly made us feel safer while staying at the hotel!

The impressive floodlit building below is situated on the opposite side of 3rd Street from the hotel, but it took some time before I worked out what it actually is. It is the former depot of the Western Pacific railroad, whose trains stopped on street tracks in front of the depot until 1970.

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

This photo on Flickr shows a WP California Zephyr train waiting at the depot. You can see the depot building on the right, and on the left is the motel that is now the Z Hotel.

Although there are no longer any railroad tracks down 3rd Street, they are very much still in place on Embarcadero West, only about 2 blocks away from the hotel. This line is still heavily used by both passenger and freight trains. The photo below shows the tail end of a freight that had just passed the crossing on Broadway.

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

We could hear the train horns quite clearly from the hotel, although fortunately they do not sound in the middle of the night.

The Heron at the Pool

As mentioned above, the Z Hotel itself is a former motel, and still features a swimming pool. The following morning, while we were getting ready to take a shuttle bus up Broadway to the theater, the pool’s sole user was a Black-Crowned Night Heron, which was hoping in vain to catch its breakfast there! The photo below shows the pool area and a closeup of the bird.

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

When I open my wallet now, it seems strange not to see the Permanent Resident Card that I was required to carry for 27 years! This is due to a legal oddity; non-citizens are required to carry proof of their residency status, but citizens are not.

Return to Croydon Airport

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

Croydon Airport on a Rainy Day, 2001

The photo above, which I took in 2001, shows a unique building that still survives today, and was, at one time, perhaps among the most familiar structures in the world.

It is the terminal building and control tower of London Airport; the famous Croydon Airport that was the location of so much newsreel footage prior to the Second World War.

The Control Tower at Croydon, built in 1928, was the first at any airport in the world, and Air Traffic Control systems were pioneered there.

The photo below shows a model of Croydon Airport in its pre-WWII heyday, complete with passengers boarding an iconic H.P.42 Heracles class airliner.

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Model of Croydon Airport during the 1930s

Almost inevitably, the area around Croydon Airport, which had been open fields when the airfield was first opened in 1915, soon became covered with urban development. As a result, postwar expansion of the airport became impossible, so the decision was made to move operations to Heathrow instead. Heathrow replaced Croydon as London Airport in 1946, and then Croydon was gradually run down, finally closing in 1959. The runways at Croydon were all built over, and, in my ignorance, I thought that nothing was left.

Oblivious to the History around Me

During the mid-1980s, I worked for a while as a Technical Sales Engineer for an electronics distributor. An important aspect of my job was to liaise with the company’s Sales Representative for Surrey, and in order to do that, I would arrange to meet with her at a place called the “The Aerodrome” on Purley Way. The building containing the café is shown below, as it appeared during my 2001 revisit.

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

The Aerodrome Hotel in 2001

As I recall, my colleague’s primary reason for choosing that café was her enthusiasm for their garlic mushroom appetizer!

It wasn’t until decades later that I realized that this had been the Aerodrome Hotel, purpose-built in 1928 as prestige accommodation for London Airport. In my photo of the model above, you can see the hotel building at the top left.

As the hotel’s own web site shows, since 2001 the building has been renovated, and now proudly shows off the aviation heritage that seemed largely forgotten during the 1980s.

I Should have Looked Round the Back

Next to the building containing the café, there was what appeared to be a nondescript office block, and it never even occurred to me to take the opportunity to look around the back of that structure. Had I done so, I would have immediately recognized the famous apron of the airport.

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

Control Tower and Former Apron of Croydon Airport

(Since I took the photo above, replicas of the control tower’s masts have been added.)

By 2001, the terminal building had been renovated as the Airport House International Business Centre, so I was able to go inside and eat lunch at the Rayon d’Or Brasserie.

The lobby of the renovated building displayed fascinating relics of its history, as shown below. Several of the items that are visible are original features, such as the “Winged World” sculpture.

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

Lobby of Airport Terminal, in 2001

The display above included the model of the airport in its heyday, as shown in my photo. The Rayon d’Or Brasserie is in the background on the right.

At that time, the aviation memorabilia display was still under construction, as shown by the view below of the rudder of a Swissair DC-3, a model of an SE5a hanging from the ceiling, a Sabena logo, and some period luggage (without wheels, of course).

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Aviation Memorabilia in 2001

Unfortunately, my visit didn’t occur on the first Sunday of the month, so I wasn’t able to avail myself of the tour of the old Control Tower. If you’re in the vicinity on the appropriate day, you may be interested in taking that tour. Full details can be found here, and this is the latest Google Streetview of the location.

A Modern Museum

It’s great to see that efforts are being made to preserve what is left of Croydon Airport. I hope to be able to visit the site again, next time I’m in the area.

A Short Stay in San Francisco

Embarcadero Wharves, San Francisco

Embarcadero Wharves, San Francisco

The photo above shows part of San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero, which was once a busy docklands area (with rows of wharves on the right), and was a major embarkation port during World War II, but is now mainly a tourist attraction. My wife took the photo yesterday, while we were staying for a short time in the City. When I first visited this location, about 30 years ago, there was a railroad yard on the left (which had been part of the State Belt Railroad), but all that is now gone, and the only tracks are those for Muni streetcars.

Mary and I had gone to San Francisco so that I could attend my US Naturalization interview. I’ve been a US Permanent Resident (always legally, of course) since 1991, and, following many years’ procrastination, I decided that, instead of renewing my “Green Card” again, I’d apply to become a US citizen. Part of this process involves an interview with a CIS officer, who tests you on your English language skills and your knowledge of US history and government. In addition to passing an FBI background check, you have to undergo these tests to have your citizenship application accepted.

Given that my interview was scheduled for early morning, we decided that, rather than try to rush through the morning traffic, we’d stay overnight nearby the night before. We chose the Galleria Park Hotel, partly because it was close, but also because it’s pet-friendly, and we wanted to bring our cats with us! The photo below shows the hotel building, on the corner of Sutter and Kearny streets.

Galleria Park Hotel, San Francisco

Galleria Park Hotel, San Francisco

Whenever Mary and I arrive at a hotel, we try to remember to take a “selfie” on the bed in our room. The photo below shows us just settling in at the Galleria Park.

Arrival at Galleria Park Hotel

Arrival at Galleria Park Hotel

The hotel building dates back to 1911, but has recently been renovated, while retaining many of its Art Nouveau features. All of us (Mary, the cats, and I) had a very enjoyable stay there, and can recommend that hotel if you need to stay in San Francisco’s financial district.

The photo below shows a twilight view from the window of our room. The skyscraper in the center background is the former Bank of America building at 555 California Street.

View of the Bank of America Building at Twilight

View of the Bank of America Building at Twilight

Ginger in the City

The photo below, taken by Mary, shows one of our cats, Ginger Tom, arriving in style on his first visit to San Francisco.

He was riding along Van Ness Avenue in our car, and was intensely curious about everything around him.

Ginger in the City

Ginger in the City

Return to an Old Haunt

During our stay, we took the opportunity to revisit a very long-established restaurant that we last ate together at about 30 years ago, while we were dating.

Sam's Grill, San Francisco

Sam’s Grill, San Francisco

The restaurant in question is Sam’s Grill, which has what is, by California standards, a truly ancient history, all the way back to 1867. We had a very enjoyable meal there, sitting in one of the private booths. Many of the other eateries that we frequented when dating are long gone, so it’s nice to find one that is still going strong.

Status: Approved

Fortunately, I passed my citizenship test, and my application has been recommended for approval. I anticipate that the next step in the process will be that I’ll be called to a swearing-in ceremony, where I expect to receive my Certificate of Naturalization. I’ll write about that experience when it happens.

Santa Rosa’s Surviving Round Barn

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

De Turk Round Barn, Santa Rosa

Amid all the tragic news from Wine Country during the past few days, I’m happy to report that the De Turk Round Barn in Santa Rosa, shown above, was not affected by the Tubbs Fire this week.

The Round Barn that did burn down this week was the Fountaingrove Round Barn. However, that barn was actually polygonal or multangular, rather than truly round. As you can see in my photo above, the De Turk barn is clad with curved planking, whereas the Fountaingrove barn had walls of flat planking.

The De Turk barn was built in 1891 by Isaac De Turk, as a stable for his racehorses (hence the horse weather vane visible in the photo above). It was recently restored by the City of Santa Rosa, and can be rented by the public for special events.

The red brick building visible in the distance on the right in my photo was the De Turk Winery, which is currently awaiting refurbishment as an apartment complex.

Here’s a link to the location of the De Turk Barn on Google Streetview, and here’s a link to the location of the destroyed Fountaingrove Barn.

Interactive Fire Damage Map

In my previous post, I mentioned that fire had consumed Cricklewood restaurant, close to the house that we lived in from 2011-13, but I didn’t know whether the house itself had survived. According to the latest interactive map of the Santa Rosa fire damage, the house does appear to have survived, although it was right on the edge of the burned area.

This was the house when we lived there, during the Fall of 2012:

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Fall in Larkfield, 2012

Wildfires Will Always Happen

There have already been some claims in the media that the fires were caused by Pacific Gas & Electric company’s (PG&E’s) power lines coming into contact with trees during Sunday night’s high winds.

Whether or not those claims turn out to have any foundation at all, playing this “blame game” will never solve the problem of wildfires. In a dry climate like that of the California Wine Country, there have always been wildfires and there always will be. Such fires can be started naturally by lightning strikes, or by somebody dropping a cigarette, or by a vehicle driving along with something scraping the road surface, creating sparks. There are many ways that such fires can start, and it will never be possible to eliminate all the possible causes.

What is needed instead are better building techniques, so that buildings are more effectively fireproofed. (For example, in the latest fires, flat-roofed buildings seem to have been particularly prone to burning. This is probably because flammable material can accumulate on the roofs for many years, just waiting for a falling ember to set it off.)

I can only hope that this disaster will lead to new ideas and laws for better building practices in future.