A California fire season like no other likely could get worse with the prediction of high winds blowing across the state. Some statewide and local political campaigns might try to gain an advantage by tying ballot measures to fire response needs, but timing will determine if they have any hope of success. As suggested here previously, the most obvious advantage will go to the wildfire fund created under Proposition 19.
Besides those brave souls from CalFire, OES, and the contributions of local firefighters from around the state who deserve praise for their valiant efforts, a special tip of the hat goes to the California National Guard for the Hollywood movie-like helicopter rescues of residents, vacationers and hikers involved in Fresno County’s Creek Fire.
Will California officials learn any lessons from this latest set of devastating fires bedeviling the state?
In the north, the winds are called Diablo. In the south Santa Anas. In California fire season, they are like the carriers of a fast spreading plague.
You may have read mystery writer Raymond Chandler’s famous description of the Southern California winds: “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
With the windstorms, imagine nature is holding the carving knife in the form of lightening strikes and fast moving, out-of-control fires with lives and properties as the potential victims. That is California fires, 2020.
The carving knife as fire is cutting through California. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom reported that in the current fire season 7,606 fires have consumed 2.3 million acres. Compare those figures to last year, considered by many as the worst fire season on record, when 4,927 fires ate 118,000 acres.
What can be done? We will hear that programs are needed to alter climate change, forests must be managed, controlled burns must take place over environmental opposition, and building must be reduced or banned in fire areas. While all these ideas may help to some degree, all the proposals would have to overcome political opposition. But changes must occur if things are not to get worse year after year. For the quickest positive results, a return to traditional methods of thinning growths and managing forests must happen.
The fact is any solution might reduce the number of fires but would not eliminate them.
Fires in California always existed, with nature being partly responsible, but people often the cause of fires, as well.
As once before, let me reprint the description of a fire in the Lake Tahoe region over 150 years ago inadvertently started by Mark Twain as he describes it in his book, Roughing It.
“Within half an hour all before us was a tossing, blinding tempest of flame! It went surging up adjacent ridges—surmounted them and disappeared in the canons beyond—burst into view upon higher and farther ridges, presently—shed a grander illumination abroad, and dove again—flamed out again, directly, higher and still higher up the mountain-side- -threw out skirmishing parties of fire here and there, and sent them trailing their crimson spirals away among remote ramparts and ribs and gorges, till as far as the eye could reach the lofty mountain-fronts were webbed as it were with a tangled network of red lava streams. Away across the water the crags and domes were lit with a ruddy glare, and the firmament above was a reflected hell!”
Acknowledging that fire is a part of California does not mean we must accept it unchallenged. Political differences must be healed to advance sensible fire prevention programs. At the same time, people must take responsibility for their activities, for like Mark Twain’s experience, many fires are the result of human actions. But nature, as we have seen particularly this year, cannot be contained, however, with wise planning the cruel aftermath of fires can be lessened.