We continue to play with fire

We continue to play with fire

3 January 2009

published by www.sbsun.com


USA — How many times does something “unprecedented” have to happen before the word no longer applies?

That’s the question I asked myself recently when reading a story in the Los Angeles Times that reported California’s wildfire spending in 2008 cost taxpayers more than $1 billion. In the story, Ruben Grijalva, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, declared the past year as having been filled with “unprecedented fires.”

Really? Where has he been?

Just thinking locally, the years 1980, 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 come to mind, which makes me know that a precedence has been set before. Each of those years witnessed catastrophic wildfires. Having lived in the area for nearly eight years now, those are the ones I am most familiar with. In some, people died. In many, homes were lost. And in all, acres upon acres of forest suffered disastrous burns – the sort of inferno that makes nature’s recovery impossible, or in some fortunate cases, only nearly so.

Then I wondered some more. Every few summers, we hear firefighters talk about fighting their “career fire” – which really just means, the most recent major conflagration that they have fought.

How many “career fires” have to be endured, fought, lost or won, and then cleaned up before both lawmakers and the public who chooses to live there realizes this is a losing cause – at least, working under the conditions, the laws, the regulations, and, perhaps most importantly, the mindset we continue to remain in.

In a way, this mindset is akin to what has happened to the nation’s credit industry, or, more importantly, to the people who use the nation’s credit industry, meaning, us, the consumers. It’s been an “I want it and I want it now and it’s my American right to have it.”

Folks, if we have learned anything over the past year, that bubble has burst.

When it comes to development and legislative management in what fire officials have dubbed the “wildland-urban interface,” the bubble might get a little squishy, but it just continues to grow.

We have built and built and built in places that cannot safely sustain it.

Too many people still don’t take the time and expense to keep their properties safe by removing the hazards that cause their homes to burn.

Lawmakers buckle to the well-heeled development industry each time regulations are proposed to make the growth more manageable or to improve safety regulations. And everyone still expects the nation to pay for firefighting and rebuilding costs in areas experts have declared, “repeatable and predictable disaster areas.”

All the while, the expense of wildfires multiplies. That’s bad news for a state on the verge of bankruptcy and a federal government struggling to save the nation’s economy.

Now I am sure some will take this to mean that I think no one should live in the mountains. Its completely untrue. I am originally from Maine, and was raised to appreciate nature to its fullest.

I was also taught to respect it, and realize I had no control over it. But we do have control over how we partake in nature. We have to become better at it, because we’ve reached the point that the precedent of wildfire expenses is simply being reset every few years. At some point, it will become too much.


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