André Naffis-Sahely at Harper's Magazine:
Two days after the fires in Sylmar burned twenty-nine horses alive at a local ranch owned by the Padilla family, the evacuation orders were starting to be lifted. A rancher rode her horse calmly along Tujunga Canyon Boulevard, ash and dirt clinging to her clothes and arms. I was driving around the LA neighborhoods of Sylmar, Lake View Terrace and Tujunga in the San Fernando Valley, hugging the outer perimeter of the 16,000-acre Creek Fire, one of the eleven fires that tore across Southern California last month. A few minutes after spotting the rancher on her horse, I pulled off the road slightly before a police checkpoint. The officers, slouched against their motorcycles, were only letting residents pass. It was sunset and the air was still visibly thick with smoke. The neighborhood was mostly deserted, but a small trickle of residents could be seen pulling into their driveways. On the side of the road, a few cheerful, handwritten signs had already sprung up. Almost universally, they read: THANK YOU LAPD, FIREFIGHTERS AND FIRST RESPONDERS. It is difficult to estimate exactly how many of Tujunga’s inhabitants knew that their homes hadn’t been saved by firemen, but by ‘angels in orange’, or the thousands of convicts who have kept Californians safe from wildfires since World War II. Not a single sign mentioned them by name.
While Californians may not know them by name, the angels always turn out in force when a fire erupts. On December 6, when some of the blazes in Los Angeles County were at their peak, the official Twitter account for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) tweeted that 1,500 angels were on fire lines in the LA, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, dispatched from as far north as the Bay Area.