Sophia’s Climate Story


Sophia Schwartz


Los Angeles, United States

How are you sensing climate change?

It was my last class of a seemingly normal day in my Senior year of high school (2019) when the air outside started to smell more like summer camp than the usual crisp Southern Californian air. My nostrils burned a little more with each inhale as I realized that there must be a wildfire somewhere close by. Autumn’s combination of Santa Ana winds and dry and hot temperatures made these catastrophic events a weekly occurrence, and as long as I couldn’t actually see the flames, activities resumed as scheduled.
I went over to the locker room to change for cross country practice, and in the 15 minutes I was sheltered inside, it was like the world outside had been flipped into a fiery hellscape. At only 3:30 PM, the sky had turned a burnt orange hue, and large bits of ash were floating through the air. I immediately started to cough uncontrollably as my coach ushered the rest of my team back inside. Breathing normally outside in that type of air quality was already toxic enough, but the idea of having a cardio-intensive practice outside was unimaginable. It took only a moment on social media to see that there was a wildfire stretching across the only freeway I could use to get home, and I settled in my fate that I’d be trapped at school for a while.
Throughout the next few weeks, small fires continued to break out throughout Los Angeles County. The most memorable occurred mid-day… in my backyard. I live near the coast in a state park known for numerous hiking trails. As you can imagine, the scene consists of dry and highly flammable shrubbery. I remember it vividly; sitting in my Biology class one moment, and being shown a live news report from a helicopter circling my house the next. I could see an entire squad of firemen standing on my porch, spraying the violent flames below with fire retardant and a hose connected to the chief truck parked in my driveway.
I ran out of class to frantically call my mom, who remained concerningly calm on the other end of the phone. “We evacuated with the dogs,” she said. Hyperventilating, I asked, “Why are you not scared? Did you grab any of my stuff?” Thankfully, she had received a report from the firemen on the scene that the winds had shifted to push the flames down the hillside. Looking back on it now, her inaction to take any of my belongings with her is comical. However, it shows that in a situation this dire and stressful, the only things we need to protect are the lives of ourselves and our loved ones. I am extremely grateful and appreciative of the Pacific Palisades fire station #69 for protecting my home; they spent the night in my backyard for the following few days and refused all supportive supplies, food, and water, despite our efforts.

How do these changes make you feel?

These situations made me feel anxious, scared, frustrated that I was stuck at my high school 50 minutes away from home, and worried for how these wildfire trends will become worse with climate change.

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