California’s catastrophic wildfires – 25,000 homes destroyed over the last 18 months – have exposed and in some cases reinforced the socioeconomic inequalities that rend this state-nation of 40 million people.
If Malibu, where some residents were rescued by yacht, defines one side of the class fault line, Paradise, where many tried unsuccessfully to flee on foot, clearly represented the other.
The median value of the homes destroyed in Malibu was $3,470,000; in Paradise, $200,000. One location is universally enviable; the other was affordable. Although both communities were relatively geriatric, with double the California average of over-65s, the Sierra Nevada foothill city of 27,000 also housed an extraordinary number of people with officially recognized disabilities, almost one-fifth of the under-65 population.