Kaija Richter and her husband come from Upper Lusatia in Saxony.

Twelve years ago, the 38-year-old emigrated with her family to California, where she lives with her husband and three daughters.

Actually the west coast of the USA was a place of longing for them, but this year is different, apocalyptic.

First came Corona, then the forest fires began.

We didn't see a clear sky for five weeks and the smoke from the forest fires kept it foggy.

Sometimes it wasn't really bright during the day.

On the worst days, the sky was yellowish, poisonous.

Kaija Richter, 38, has lived in California for twelve years.

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Now and then one could make out the sun through the veil.

It looked pink, neon-colored like a post-it note.

It even rained ash, and the air smelled burnt the whole time, as if you were sitting right next to a camping fire.

I could barely breathe, it was scary.

I have never experienced something like that.

I live in San José with my husband and our three daughters.

We come from a village in Upper Lusatia, in Saxony.

We emigrated to California twelve years ago.

My husband is a civil engineer and tests nuclear facilities for earthquake resistance.

I work at a public school as a learning support for students.

We like to live here, we like the many cultures and nature.

We're used to forest fires.

That belongs to California like bikinis and palm trees.

At first we didn't think it was that bad, but in the last few years it has gotten worse.

It burns longer, the smoke is heavier.

This year is extreme.

The fires started much earlier.

It has been incredibly dry and hot all summer, almost 40 degrees for a long time.

It didn't even cool down at night.

When Kaija Richter looks out of the car window, she rarely sees blue skies at the moment.

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Then it started, fires all over the west coast.

One of the larger fires raged about half an hour's drive from our house.

The fire has been contained for a few days.

It's still glowing and smoking, but the sky has finally been clearer again since the middle of the week.

We experienced the first lockdown after the outbreak of the corona pandemic.

We stayed at home a lot, but at least you could leave the house now and then to go for a walk.

When the fires started, it was hardly possible.

We often had to wear masks outside.

Not just because of the corona, but because the air was so bad.

We only left the house for the bare minimum.

We mostly went shopping alone, without the children, as quickly as possible.

You can tell immediately if you've been outside for too long: the smoke is burning in your eyes.

It is difficult to breathe.

We have installed air filters in the air conditioning throughout the house.

They weren't easy to get; recently they were sold out in many supermarkets.

Since Corona I have been teaching the students in the home office.

I set up my workspace in our garage, but it's not as airtight as our house.

Since the fires broke out, a gray haze of smoke and ash has covered the streets.

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I sometimes have to talk for two hours at a time for class.

After that my voice was gone.

The smoke pulled through the cracks and settled on my voice.

Many people also get headaches from smoking.

A friend was visiting us yesterday.

He said he slept with the window open at night when the air was a little better.

But then he woke up with a severe sore throat.

It was so bad that he had the doctor tested for Covid-19.

But it wasn't, his complaints came from the smoke.

We had already restricted our contacts due to Corona, and the fires further isolated us.

We only meet friends for dinner once or twice a week.

A few social contacts are important, otherwise you go crazy.

Everything else from everyday life is now gone.

Our three daughters are thirteen, eleven and eight years old.

This time is exhausting for them too.

They have been homeschooling for months because of Corona.

Because of the fires, they could hardly do anything outside for weeks, no skateboarding, no football training.

The days become blurred when you spend so much time at home.

We watch TV more.

We started with puzzles.

And everyone put on a little weight because my husband and the children often bake cakes.

Where is the fire in the USA?

The map shows the forest fire hotspots in the states of Washington, Oregon and California (as of September 15).

Source: Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) © ZEIT ONLINE

Sometimes the children are allowed out in the garden, in the pool, for a few minutes.

On days when the air isn't that bad.

Once the children quickly came back into the house by themselves and said: The sun is turning red!

So by now you already know for yourself if something is wrong and you have to earn money.

We can't really get out right now, but we still have our belongings.

Others lost it to the fires.

In some places the air values ​​are even worse than here.

We are already thinking about whether to stay or move away, if the situation remains that way in the long run.

People are used to a lot in California.

There are hurricanes and earthquakes, but people are still building their homes everywhere.

But the fires change the quality of life.

If you can no longer move outside, a big piece is missing.

When we finally saw the sky a few days ago after such a long time, the joy was huge.

Even with our children.

It hasn't been normal for so long.

Now the blue sky is something you value too.

This weekend the wind should turn, then we get smoke from the surrounding fires again.

I still hope that the worst is over for now.

We want to finally take a breath again.