The terrible wildfires that are currently sweeping through California have brought back some vivid memories for Johnny Lonely author Pete Tanton. In October 1992, Pete lived in Mission Viejo, Orange County, as a series of wildfires erupted around the area.
'It was terrifying,' says Pete. 'What started as plumes of smoke in the distance grew to become massive columns on every horizon. We'd stand at the top of our street and see lines of flame along the ridges. We were trapped, and to my eyes there was no way out. I spent three or four days watching the helicopters and firefighting planes dropping water on this wall of fire in what appeared to be a futile effort.'
'The television news did a fine job of sensationalising the emergency with alarmist headlines, while at the same time urging viewers not to panic.'
After several days Pete managed to escape to Laguna Canyon, which had remained relatively unaffected by the fires.
'I expected to see the city of Laguna Beach in charred ruins, and was surprised to see all the shops still open. It was the houses up in the hills that had burned. Locals told me that the area was prone to brush fires. Why, I wondered, did people build expensive houses in such a volatile place, and why did everyone seem so surprised that they burned so easily?'
'Many of the things in Johnny Lonely come from this experience: people desperately watering down their roofs with garden hoses, news reporters standing a few feet from trailer homes as they went up in flames, their kerosene tanks exploding for the cameras. I hope I went some way towards capturing the experience.'
Johnny Lonely follows wannabe musician Hughie Youngkin on an ill-fated quest to become a rock star, during which he finds himself trapped in wildfires.
Why I wrote Disraeli Avenue for charity
3 years ago