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Eye of the Firestorm.

This afternoon, I took a few minutes to watch ESPN's "pre-game analysis" of the Breeders Cup. After that, it was back to the live coverage of the fires, where I've been glued. It was eerie to see the lurid red sunlight moving across on my media-room wall. Here in central Los Angeles, in that cloudless afternoon sky so hued in ash and smoke, the sun is bright red. It isn't quite the brown-red haze of 1992, during the L.A. Riots, but it's getting close. This is the eye of the firestorm here -- things seeming "normal," hardly a breath of wind stirring, the traffic possibly worse than usual, owing to refugees driving into town in vehicles loaded with kids, pets, business records and family photos, to camp with friends or family.

Yet the city is almost literally surrounded by a broad zone where the santa anas are still blowing and wildfires raging, from Santa Barbara down to the Mexican border, and from Malibu west almost to the high desert. In some areas, the winds were up to 100 mph at one point, but now the santa ana condition is reversing, and onshore winds are kicking in, to make the confused air swirl -- an equally dangerous situation. With almost a million people evacuated, thousands of homes and businesses burned, and hundreds of miles of blackened landscape -- it's a war zone, different from Katrina, but possibly just as devastating as a major hurricane when it's all over.

I imagine that viewer ratings are down on a lot of programs, even sports, with a lot of us either mesmerized by the live coverage or trying to call friends and family on the phone who are at risk out there beyond the "eye." -- Patricia Nell Warren