My nearly 80-year-old parents have been sitting in the dark for days. They've been camping out in their own house in California, confined to one or two rooms as winter nears.
They're in a decent-sized town in the most populated state in America, where up to 2 million people have been forced to go without power the past few weeks because of wildfire danger.
• Thousands ordered to leave as Northern California Kincade fire rages
• California endures more wildfires, one sparked by a hot car
• California firefighters struggle with big wildfire
• Study reveals how giant 'firenado' was formed in devastating California fires
There have been at least four major blackouts in the past two weeks in the northern California foothills where I grew up, ordered by electricity company PG&E because of fears of high winds sparking on tree-choked power lines.
Knocking out the power to millions of people seems more of a bandage than an actual solution. There's questions if it's really making a difference at all — the Kincade Fire now burning in Sonoma County north of San Francisco may have been caused by a tree hitting PG&E power lines, NBC Bay Area reported.
The blackouts come with little warning. There's been rushes on generators, food supplies, and some of the kind of panicking you associate with post-apocalyptic movies.
A combination of greed, climate change and corporate ineptitude has turned much of California into a Mad Max-style pressure cooker, and there's every reason to fear it's only going to get worse.
A faulty PG&E power line has been blamed for last November's Camp Fire in Butte County northeast of Sacramento, where 86 people died in an inferno that destroyed the entire town of Paradise. Many of the victims were elderly or infirm.
One of my oldest friends, Lenka Vodicka of Nevada City, has had her power out four times in the past few weeks. She has a degenerative disease. Thousands of people with medical concerns face similar situations. There's no warnings other than a text from PG&E.
Dara McNaught: Superannuitants caught in the trap of poverty
Patrick Carvalho: World's first free traffic congestion solution
It's not just power — many have no water because they're on wells, food has to be thrown out, internet service is patchy as well. It's like going back in time.
"As a person on medical baseline, I have dedicated all my waking energy to prepping, getting through the outage, cleaning after an outage, then mad prepping for the next one," Lenka said.
For years, PG&E have deferred needed line maintenance across their massive network, and they're paying the price. Meanwhile, they've given massive staff bonuses and tried to reward their top executives with even more cash before it was rejected by a bankruptcy judge, the Sacramento Bee reported.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy shortly after the Camp Fire, citing expected liabilities of more than US$30 billion. They're probably the most hated company in California at the moment.
Nine of the largest fires in California's history have been since 2000, five since 2010, according to the New York Times.
California has been drying out for years, overpopulated, forests undermanaged and strained to its limits. California was officially in drought from 2011 to 2017, according to the US Drought Monitor. Drought is becoming the norm.
There is no easy answer. The entire electricity infrastructure is a relic that needs rethinking, but the cost is unimaginable.
Here in New Zealand, fire doesn't seem that big a danger. But a review released just this week found big shortfalls in New Zealand's preparation for fires. The independent review came after last summer's Tasman fires burned 2300 ha near Nelson and forced thousands to evacuate. We're not ready, either.
I worry for the future. There's no simple answer to California burning, but at the moment, man and nature seem to be conspiring to make these events worse.
• Nik Dirga is an American journalist who has lived in New Zealand since 2006