Northern California has been burning. Massive wildfires have devastated tens of thousands of acres, more than 40 people have died, thousands of homes and businesses have been consumed by the flames, and many thousands of people have been forced to evacuate. Those who had to flee could do nothing but sit and wonder if they would return to find a house intact or nothing more than a pile smoldering rubble.

It seems like 2017 has been a year of natural disastersfirst hurricanes, and then the fires. Mixed in with them have been tragedies caused solely by human hands, the most notable being the shooting deaths of 58 people attending a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. The bad news just keeps piling up.

In California, more than 11,000 firefighters spent days trying to halt the spread of the flames. They were aided by a fleet of airplanes dropping fire suppression chemicals and water. Bulldozers cut fire lines on the see the blazes jump the lines and continue to take another house, another business, another grove of trees, another life.

While wildfires in California occur nearly every year, those of recent days are the worst in the state’s history. Just before they started, the hurricanes began to strike. At one time there were three hurricanes swirling around at the same time. Only one of the hit the mainland of the United States, but it was a whopper that moved up Florida.

We like to think our modern society, with all its knowledge and technology, protects us from natural disasters. This year has proven that is not true. We are just as helpless as people were hundreds or thousands of years ago. We can’t stop a hurricane, and as California proves, it is only with tremendous effort that we can stop huge fires.

We tend to worry more about being caught in a mass shooting like the one in Las Vegas than we do an earthquake or wild storm. Both can be equally deadly and unpredictable. Good law enforcement can and does stop some human-made tragedies when people are arrested before than can strike. Nothing much we can do will stop a natural disaster, even we have advance warning. About all anyone can do is run for safety.

Americas today live sheltered lives, and that often produces a false sense of security. Some people hear the warnings and fail to heed them. They decide they can take what comes because they have no experience with serious difficulty or danger. Too late they learn they are helpless in the hands of nature at its worst and they die.

Some of the people who died in the California fires lost their lives because they waited too long to evacuate, thinking the fire would somehow burn out or miss them. Others made the fatal decision to stay and fight of the flames, even if all they had was a garden house to do it.

No one has yet come up with a way to prevent natural disasters. They have always happened, and they always will. Anyone who fails to realize some forms of nature in action can kill or seriously injure frail humans is not thinking clearly. There are some things we cannot overcome, no matter how advanced our civilization might be.

- Stan Johnson is a columnist for the Citizen Tribune.