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A Climate Reckoning in Wildfire-Stricken California

“I feel as though I’m somewhere I’ve never been before,” Ms. Szasz said. “There were wildfires occasionally throughout my life here, which would be quickly fought and contained. Never do I remember 23 straight days of orange, oppressive, smoky skies, leaving my house in fear that I’d never return to it, or knowing someone whose home burned down in the mountains near my house.”

Several years ago, as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, a professor explained that California and the West were likely to experience the effects of climate change sooner than the rest of the country, Ms. Szasz said. The words now resonate with her.

“There is no greater proof, nor should we require it, that climate change is here and is changing our lives,” Ms. Szasz said of the wildfires. “I am only 25 years old and I do not know what future there is for me, let alone my potential children and grandchildren.”

Even after this year’s fires are put out, their ripple effects will keep spreading, creating economic shocks — in the insurance industry and with the state’s power grid, to name two examples — well beyond the physical and health damage of the disasters themselves.

This summer millions of Californians’ homes went dark for an hour or more as the smothering summer heat threatened to overload the grid.

Those blackouts are separate from the pre-emptive shut-offs carried out by California utilities in an effort to prevent their equipment from sparking wildfires. This week, Pacific Gas and Electric turned off power to about 170,000 customers — a continuation of a program of extensive power shut-offs that began last year.

In the insurance industry, years of heavy losses have pushed companies to pull back from fire-prone areas, in what state officials call a crisis of its own. A lack of affordable insurance threatens to devastate housing markets, by making homes less valuable and harder to sell.

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