Tag Archives: wildfires


by Brian Leubitz

The fires are still raging in the North Bay. There are at least 23 confirmed deaths due to the fires, but the number of missing is still in the hundreds. Mandatory and recommended evacuations are still in place for many neighborhoods in Napa and Sonoma Counties, and the fire grew to nearly 35,000 acres overnight. Smoke is covering large portions of the Bay Area, closing all schools in Napa County and most in Sonoma. Communities throughout the Bay Area have “unhealthy” air, including Oakland as the Number 2 worst air in the country right now. (After Napa.) And the devastation is stark. The drone video of this USPS driver delivering mail to a burned out subdivision is haunting.

Yet with all the devastation, and the continued fight to contain the fires, questions linger about whether we could have done more to prevent the fires and save lives once they started. The cause of the fires has not yet been fully determined, but with the warm winds on Sunday night, it wouldn’t take much of a spark to start an inferno. And it seems that several downed PG&E lines may have provided that spark:

On Wednesday, Cal Fire said that investigators have started looking into whether toppled power wires and exploding transformers Sunday night may have ignited the simultaneous string of blazes. The acknowledgment followed publication of a review by the Bay Area News Group of Sonoma County firefighters’ radio transmissions in the fires’ infancy that found that there were numerous downed and arcing wires. In the first 90 minutes Sunday night, firefighters were sent to 10 different spots where problems had been reported with the area’s electrical infrastructure. The crews reported seeing sparking lines and transformers.(SJ Merc)

We will eventually get a more complete determination, but this doesn’t look good for PG&E. It also doesn’t look good for the Governor, after he vetoed Orange County Sen. Moorlach’s bipartisan legislation (SB 1263) to require the California Public Utilities Commission to prioritize fire vulnerable areas for electrical line mitigation measures, and work with CalFire and local fire departments to develop maps and a system of “enhance mitigation measures.”

Brown vetoed the measure, saying that the CPUC was already doing the work. Brown doesn’t love stepping in with legislation when action is already in motion. That’s just Jerry. And it is far from clear that it would have changed anything for this fire even if it was signed.

Questions also remain as to whether authorities could have done more to alert residents in the early hours of Monday morning as the fire tore through neighborhoods. County officials used their subscription based services, but did not put out a general wireless alert:

As fires that would prove devastating burned across the North Bay late Sunday, Sonoma County considered sending a mass alert to cell phones in the region to warn of the rapidly spreading flames. But county officials decided against it, worried that doing so might create widespread panic and hinder the ability of first responders to combat the blazes.
It’s unclear how much that decision might have affected area residents’ responses to the deadly wildfires, particularly since many cell phone towers were destroyed in the blaze, making such messages undeliverable. But it adds to concerns that some in the fires’ paths were not alerted about the danger, leaving them little time to flee.(SF Gate)

Besides the downed cell phone service, the limited geographic filters meant that more people than necessary would have started evacuations and brought traffic to roads needed by firefighters. Ultimately, it was a judgement call, and it is difficult to really go back and determine if a larger blast would have been a net positive. Surely there will be time for much further review of all of these questions once the fire is put out and the communities can get to the long process of recovery.

Yellow Skies, Arson, Little Fish, and Causation

(x-posted from DailyKos)

The skies are finally clearing above Los Angeles.  For days, they’ve been that peculiar yellowish color.  The Station fire, largest in county history, is 42% contained.  So far, the official cause is arson.  

Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles has imposed water rationing, and hundreds of miles to the north, the California state legislature prepares to tackle the water issue.  Governor Schwarzenegger claims that the cause of the drought is the Delta smelt, a two inch long fish.

Everything has a cause, but some causes are more important than others.  

My day job includes arguing about “efficient proximate causation,” or predominant causation, of potentially covered insurance losses.  For a true example, if a building’s foundation settles, an insurance carrier will deny a property damage claim, because earth movement is not covered…unless the foundation settles because of a sudden and accidental pipe burst under the building, because a sudden and accidental pipe burst is covered…unless the pipe burst because it was made from  low quality Korean steel, because an original construction defect is not covered…unless your eyes have glazed over reading this, in which case you’re like most judges.  We bicker about causation in flavors of immediate, concurrent, superseding, and intervening.  Ultimately, a judge sifts through the facts and arguments and decides that one of the various proffered causes is the predominant one, one lawyer wins the case and one lawyer loses, and an insurance carrier pays or doesn’t pay accordingly.

 (Photo: LA Times)

Investigators have found the starting point of the huge Station fire that devastated mountains near Los Angeles, and the cause might be arson — although they’re not ruling out an accidental spark from a negligent person.  A fire in Los Angeles in August seems unnatural to this native Angeleno, because hot dry Santa Ana winds of October are usually required to bring out arsonists and fan sparks, but I don’t doubt the investigators’ work.

The Station fire ranks 12th (so far) on a list of California’s largest wildfires.  As this chart of California’s 20 largest fires shows, 9 fires occurred from 1932 to 2000, while 11 have occurred since 2000.  Six of those fires were lightning-caused, three (including the Station fire) are listed as unknown/under investigation, and the remainder are attributed to humans and their creations.  Yet are humans and lightning the predominant cause of all these horrific fires?

Meanwhile, the Delta smelt is giving California legislators conniption fits.  

There’s widespread agreement that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is collapsing.  This tiny fish was once common in the brackish waters of the Delta, but is now endangered.  In 2007, a federal judge ordered water managers to cut back drastically on pumping water from Northern to Southern California, causing water rationing across California.  Yesterday, the Governator complained to the federal Departments of Interior and Commerce that the fish have caused the catastrophic impact of the drought.  The federal officials responded: “a three-year drought is responsible for most of the state’s water shortages, not agency scientists.”  Pwned!  No, Arnold, the fish is not the predominant cause of Southern California’s water shortage.

On a thermometer, climate change in the Southwest so far looks like this:

In other words, temperatures already increased an average of 1.5 degree F from the 1960s-70s baseline to 2000, and they’re likely to increase another 2 to 3 degrees by 2020.

What does that 1.5 degree (or more) temperature rise mean for wildfires?  Economists studying wildfires (22 pg pdf) in Montana concluded:

We find that a one degree increase in average spring and summer temperature is associated with a 305 percent increase in area burned, and a 107 percent increase in home protection costs. These results suggest that climate change and development in wildfire-prone areas will likely lead to a dramatic increase in wildfire suppression costs in the near future.

Got that?  The immediate cause of a particular wildfire may be an arsonist, a lit cigarette butt, or a lightning strike; but the predominant cause of the dramatic increase in wildfires is the climate.

Droughts have come and gone, but California and the Southwest appear to be beginning a megadrought.  The general consensus of state and federal reports is this: Rising air temperatures cause the shrinking Sierra snowpack and thus cause more drought.  The causal connection between global warming and drought is more intuitively easy to grasp than the causal connection between global warming and wildfires.  However, in case there’s any doubt, the future of the Southwest ain’t pretty.

Happy New Year, But Take A Long Look And Savor Your Soon-To-Be-Altered Landscape

Not to be completely depressing on New Year’s Eve, but this article about the impact of climate change on the California landscape is a must-read.

Where celebrities, surfers and wannabes mingle on Malibu’s world-famous beaches, there may be only sea walls defending fading mansions from the encroaching Pacific. In Northern California, tourists could have to drive farther north or to the cool edge of the Pacific to find what is left of the region’s signature wine country.

Abandoned ski lifts might dangle above snowless trails more suitable for mountain biking even during much of the winter. In the deserts, Joshua trees that once extended their tangled, shaggy arms into the sky by the thousands may have all but disappeared.

“We need to be attentive to the fact that changes are going to occur, whether it’s sea level rising or increased temperatures, droughts and potentially increased fires,” said Lisa Sloan, a scientist who directs the Climate Change and Impacts Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “These things are going to be happening.”

We could be talking about the end of ski season as we know it (at least with real snow), less rainfall in the south and the attendant issues with water supplies and wildfires, the potential for 10-year drought cycles, a wiping out of the Joshua trees that line the high desert, the death of both giant sequoias and untold amounts of marine life, and resource skirmishes, particularly between farmers in the Central Valley and the more populous cities.

Oh yeah, and rising sea levels of up to 20 feet.

Will the rising sea swamp the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the nation’s busiest harbor complex, turning them into a series of saltwater lakes? Will funky Ocean Beach, an island of liberalism in conservative San Diego County, become, literally, its own island […]

The changing sea will present trouble for much of the state’s land-dwelling population, too. A sea level rise of 3 to 6 feet would inundate the airports in San Francisco and Oakland. Many of the state’s beaches would shrink.

“If you raise sea level by a foot, you push a cliff back 100 feet,” said Jeff Severinghaus, professor of geosciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. “There will be a lot of houses that will fall into the ocean.”

We can pass laws and write regulations and pat ourselves on the back, and we can encourage new technologies that may reduce carbon output, but we’d better also prepare for the inevitability of the changes the world’s population has already put into motion.  They’re particularly acute in this state.

Now that you’re completely depressed, happy new year!

California Wildfires Again

( – promoted by Robert in Monterey)

They’re Baaaaack! (Cross-posted from OpenLeft, thanks to a gentle nudge from Lucas O’Connor.]

I live in Long Beach, walking distance from San Pedro Bay, the southern edge of the Los Angeles Basin, and today there are wildfires raging on the other edge of the Los Angeles Basin. Over 100 houses have been evacutated, and over 2,000 acres burned so far. I can look out my window as I type this and see the smoke.  It’s not as bad as the fires one month ago.  But it’s a stark reminder of quickly and easily those fires could return.  So I’m going to republish an article I wrote about the fires for Random Lengths News.

The image below combines a satelite photo of the fires from last month with Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”  She was a refuge from the most famous megadrought of the last century.  But there’s been much worse centuries ago, and there’s much worse to come, according to scientists I spoke with.

Story begins on the flip…

  The Fire This Time, Next Time, And The Time After That…
It’s not that global warming caused the latest round of wildfires, it’s that they tell us what’s coming.  And even now we’re not handling it well.
By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor, Random Lengths News

The blast furnace of Santa Ana-driven wildfires has receded, but three things are certain: First, they’ll be back.  Second, it will  be sooner, rather than later, and with increasingly intensity.  Third, we won’t be prepared.

An Associated Press story, titled “Global Warming Could Worsen California Wildfires,”began: “Drought- and beetle-ravaged trees in this mountain community stick up like matchsticks in the San Bernardino  National Forest, bypassed by the fires still smoldering, but left  like kindling for the next big blaze. Welcome to the future.”

The story was written in 2003.

  But even then, it was old news, whether AP new it or not. We are already two decades into that future, according to a study published in Science magazine three years later, which examined every forest  fire that burned at least 1,000 acres in “federal land-management units containing 61% of western forested areas.” Out of 1,166 fires in that period, four-fifths of them-about 900 fires-occurred after 1987, a period in which the average fire season length increased by 78 days, almost equally due to starting earlier and ending later.

That explosion in the number of fires is matched by increases in size. On CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday, October 21, Tom Boatner, chief of fire operations for the federal government, said, “Ten years ago, if you had a 100,000 acre fire, you were talking about a huge fire. And if we had one or two of those a year, that was probably unusual. Now we talk about 200,000 acre fires like it’s just another day at the office. It’s been a huge change.”

Despite the growing threat, which global warming will only intensify, California has done very little to prepare itself since the 2003 wave of fires, and no place has done less than San Diego County, home to noted social critic Mike Davis.

“Since I published The Ecology of Fear, a lot of the fire scientists’ views have almost become conventional wisdom among firefighters and the public, but it doesn’t make much difference,” Davis told Random Lengths.

“There was a sense of optimism after the 2003 fire, when people thought some kind of change was possible, but everything was shot down.  It was crushed by development money at the polls,” Davis added.  “The grand jury urged the creation of a county fire department, that was never implemented.  The [San Diego] city fire chief quit in frustration.”

Ronny Coleman is one of America’s top firefighting professionals, and his views are strikingly similar to Davis’s. He formerly served as California State Fire Marshal and retired as Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.  Earlier he served as Orange County Fire Chief.

“Every tax bond issue put before San Diego County voters was voted down in the aftermath of the fires. You don’t have adequate resources if you’re not willing to pay for it,” Coleman said, flatly.

“Every asset that is not there in the first 8 hours is a deficiency of some kind. But if the people are unwilling to pay for that at the local level, why should Orange County or Los Angeles County or any other county be taxed for it?” he asked, pointedly.

Coleman served on Governor Schwarzenegger’s Blue Ribbon Fire Commission which developed an action plan in the months following the 2003 fires. But in May of this year, the LA Times published a blistering criticism of failed follow-through on crucial aspects of the plan. According to the Times:

  • The state remained “far short of the 150 additional engines recommended to supplement the governor’s Office of Emergency Services fleet of 110,” with the first of 19 new engines due for delivery by July.
  • The state’s aging fire helicopters-built in the 1960s-needed to be replaced. But no new choppers had been purchased.
  • A national contract fleet of heavy air tankers remained at less than half of what it had been five years earlier- 16 compared with 41.
  • The Times noted that the legislatures passed four bills “to increase staffing and add fire resources, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars,” but Schwarzenegger vetoed them.

There was no mention of his neglect as Schwarzenegger toured the San Diego area on Tuesday, October 23. “It’s going very smoothly,” Schwarzenegger said.

Davis saw it as a state of denial  “Since the governor arrived yesterday, you haven’t seen anyone frowning,” he said.  “You’d think the Charges had just won the Superbowl instead of 500,000 people just being evacuated.”

Again, expert firefighters agreed. The Washington Post noted “Because no aircraft were available to attack a blaze near Irvine that arsonists apparently set, flames leapt a road and overtook a dozen firefighters who survived only by wrapping themselves in fireproof tents that they carry as a last resort.

“‘Yadda yadda yadda,’ said [Orange County] Fire Chief Chip Prather, dismissing the state’s assurances. ‘All I know is, I had 12 firefighters deploy their shelters yesterday, and they shouldn’t have had to do that.'”


But if firefighting equipment is in short supply, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Coleman talks in terms of four stages of firefighting: preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery, with response getting the lion’s share-and for good reason. “It costs a lot of money to prevent small fires from becoming big ones,” Coleman stresses.  Still, that leaves a large short-fall in the other areas.

Some of that could and should come from non-government sources, if government did a better job of public education.  Coleman served as a consultant on a just-released study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Safe at Home: Making the Federal Fire Safety Budget Work for Communities,” co-authored by Amy Mall and Franz Matzner, which analyzed the costs of protecting homes in wildfire zones, based on a study of homes in the Love Creek community in the town of Avery, in Calaveras County.

“Homes can best be protected by ‘firewise’ measures that improve the fire resistance of structures and modify the surrounding vegetation in order to limit the spread and intensity of these dangerous fires,” the report said..  “Unfortunately, federal dollars that should be spent on firewise protections are instead diverted to commercial logging and other misguided practices that do not make communities safe, and may even heighten fire risks.”

Even after major fires, Coleman noted, “Many communities are reluctant to impose new mandates, because they think it drives up the cost of the housing,. It might dive up the cost of those houses, but the difference in loss is huge. Thats why we did the Love Creek study. Amy [Mall] wanted to find out how much per house.”

“It was less expensive than we thought,” Mall said. “Not everything has to be the most expensive. For windows, double-paned is better, but they could have the windows covered.”  Combining Coleman’s estimates of structural needs, and another consultant’s estimates of surrounding landscape and vegetation, Mall said, “The average cost was $2,500.  If you amortize those for several years with home improvement loans, its within reach of most homeowners.”

Obviously, it’s better not to be building so many homes in or abutting wilderness areas. Vulnerability to fire is not the only concern.  Still, it’s a relatively modest investment that vigorous public education and special financing could greatly facilitate-with the right set of priorities.

“When we look at where the federal government funds have been going, the funds need to be shifted to meet this need,” Mall concluded.

Global Warming

Naturally, if current needs are being neglected, the problem is much worse when one considers what global warming will bring. Of course, global warming doesn’t cause wildfires-ignition causes them, whether by arson, accident or natural causes.  But weather and climate conditions play a major role in determining how intense and widespread fires become. 

The 2006 Science study found that, contrary to theories placing primary blame on land-management practices, “The greatest increases [on fires] occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt.”

Thus the wildfires serve as an emblem of the kind of world that global warming will bring.  Adapting to that world, and doing what we can to avoid it will both involve significant public policy efforts far beyond merely responding to existing conditions.

Richard Seager, a research scientist at Columbia University, is a climate modeler who has studied the history of North American climate over the past millennium and more.  He has written about a four-century era during Medieval times when “serious drought affected large areas of the West.” These megadroughts covered significantly more of the West than modern droughts, such as the 1931-1940 “Dust Bowl” drought; they also lasted longer, up to 30 or 40 years. 

Seager was also lead author of a paper published in Science last May, covering results from 19 climate models, all but one projecting a drying future for the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. According to the paper, “[T]he transition to a more arid climate should already be under way. If these models are correct, the levels of aridity of the recent multiyear drought or the Dust Bowl and the 1950s droughts will become the new climatology of the American Southwest within a time frame of years to decades.”

However, Seager explained to Random Lengths that the Dust Bowl was used only as an historical reference, and that conditions would much more likely resemble those of Medieval megadroughtgs-or worse.

“The drying is already under way,” according to the models, Seager explained, but there is not yet unambiguous proof in the data that anthropogenic [human-caused] global warming is the cause, although some signs point to it. “As time progresses and climate changes become larger it will become easier to distinguish it,” he added. 

The return of megadroughts will place severe strain on water resources, Seager warned, but there would actually plenty for people to drink-if politics allows.  Agriculture uses 90 percent of water in the West, he explained, “but it’s a tiny part of the economy.”  It’s politically well-organized however. “A conflict is going to appear between the urban users who have the numbers, and agriculture, that doesn’t.” 

This much seems inevitable, but the shape of the fire threat is less clear over the long run, since fire regimes vary from place to place. However alternating wet and dry years play a major role in Southern California’s chaparral fires, so fires could actually diminish in frequency after some time-but not for several decades according to Glen MacDonald, a UCLA geographer who has focused most specifically on our region, and related ecosystems.

“You wouldn’t be able to burn everything up, even in ten years. These chaparral plants are tremendously resistant,” MacDonald stressed. “They went through the Medieval dry period.”  On the other hand, “Some studies in the Great Plans indicate that the fuel load went down, so fire dropped down a bit,” he pointed out.  “Were actually doing research on that right now to see what occurred.”

Like Seager, however, he’s more confident predicting general water shortages, coining a new term in the process. “A  ‘perfect drought’ is defined as a prolonged drought that affects southern California, the Sacramento River basin and the upper Colorado River basin simultaneously,” he wrote on his website, biogeographer.com.  These are the three main sources of water for Southern California. 

Perfect droughts over the last hundred years or so have generally lasted no more than five years, he observed, but “prolonged perfect droughts (~30 to 60 years), which produced arid conditions in all three regions simultaneously, developed in the mid-11th century and the mid-12th century.”

Significantly, the records show that Southern California was much more noticeably drier than either of the other sources during this period. The dry periods were “more broken up,” in the Sacramento and Colorado river basins, Seager explained: “That makes sense if the Pacific Ocean [impact] is kicking in and out. If you look at the impact of la niña, it’s stronger here than in the north.” [La niña conditions, the opposite of stormy el niños, are strongly associated with drought.]

Experiencing that same pattern in the future only means that water politics will grow increasingly strained.

“It’s not the depth of that drought it’s the persistence,” MacDonald remarked, of the 12th Century event.  Megadroughts could easily last much longer with human caused global warming. 

But other interacting factors will be harder to puzzle out-such as the strength of Santa Ana winds. “We’ve never had winds like we had on Saturday night, Sunday,” said MacDonald, who lives in Westlake Village. “We had trees down all over our neighborhood. I’ve been there 10-12 years and never seen anything like that, how strong the winds were and how persistent.”

For more precise information, Marilyn Raphael, a colleague of McDonald’s who studies Santa Anas, could not be reached by press time.  She’s part of an ever-widening corps of researchers in different fields piecing together the picture of what our future climate holds in store.

But since that future still depends on what we do, we can also learn simply by scrutinizing what’s right in front of us, including the political quid-pro-quo.

“A lot of the suffering of the people is not visible,” Mike Davis warned, and yet, “The comparison to Katrina has been invidious,” he said. “I’m sure the Republican vote in North County is not going to be displaced.”

To the contrary, after each fire, home loss figures indicate that from one fire to the next both home prices and densities continue going up.

More FEMA Shanigans: No Promotion After Staged News Conference

I was going to make this a quick hit but it’s a little too ridiculous to not allow for comments.

File under “heckuva job from the gang that can’t shoot straight” in your FEMA folder.  It was announced earlier today that FEMA’s external affairs director Pat Philbin would not be promoted to head of public relations for the director of national intelligence.  The decision comes after Philbin set up a fake briefing in which actual reporters called in but could not ask questions while Deputy Director Harvey Johnson took questions from FEMA employees.

FEMA Director David Paulison said disciplinary measures are being taken against several employees over the staged California Wildfire briefing, which Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff ripped as “one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I’ve ever seen since I’ve been in government.”  Dana Petrino, in her infinite brilliance, noted that “It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House.”

FEMA, interestingly, is one of the few organizations to have not come under particular criticism for its response to the wildfires and its performance has been well received for the most part.  But I guess even (apparently) doing things right doesn’t preempt obfuscation and coverup these days.

As the Smoke Clears: Republicans Complain About Imagined Complainers

As the smoke begins to clear in San Diego, the stories and reactions to the fire will start competing with the recovery effort atop the fold.  First on the minds of many in government seems, not surprisingly, to be response time and firefighting capacity.  Unforunately, Republicans are again demonstrating that they make up in bluster what they lack in remote semblance of coherence.  Southern California Republican Congressmen such as Duncan Hunter, Brian Bilbray, Darrell Issa, Jerry Lewis, Elton Gallegly and Dana Rohrabacher have been lining up for every available reporter to knock Governor Schwarzenegger and the state’s CalFire bureaucracy for supposedly impeding firefighting efforts throughout the region last week.  They’ve flown so dramatically off the handle in fact that even Chris Reed has it right on their craziness- or at least part of it:

The congressmen who are doing such a good job exposing the state’s bureaucratic tomfoolery in its wildfire response have some explaining to do themselves. Couldn’t they have spared an earmark to cover the cost of outfitting the California Air National Guard’s C-130 with a fire-retardant tank, something that was promised to happen after the 2003 wildfires but never did?

Instead, Duncan Hunter funneled $63 million into the DP-2 Vectored Thrust Aircraft boondoggle. And Dana Rohrabacher worried more about buying expensive planes the military didn’t want than about helping California’s wildfire-fighting capacity. This is from a May story in the Washington Post:

… Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has made one of the biggest earmark requests in the new Congress, seeking $2.4 billion to build 10 more C-17 planes — which the Pentagon has said it does not need.

These gentlemen have ended up discussing almost every issue in the country, all in the context of the fire.  And they’ve managed to be completely wrong every time.  So without further ado, an “oh the humanity” sampling from the past week.

Certainly the loudest complaints have come over the 36 hours that passed before military aircraft could be cleared to fight fires.  This delay was apparently to do with dangerous winds and CalFire’s insistence, later dropped, that all aircraft must fly with a CalFire spotter. Without a doubt, there’s a discussion to be had about this process and almsot certainly it will be coming soon.  Indeed, Rep. Rohrabacher wailed that “The weight of bureaucracy kept these planes from flying, not the heavy winds…When you look at what’s happened, it’s disgusting, inexcusable foot-dragging that’s put tens of thousands of people in danger.”

On Thursday morning, the U-T fireblog reported 40-45% containment of the Horno/Pendleton fire, 20% containment for the Witch Creek and Rice Canyon fires, 10% containment of the Poomacha fire and no containment estimate of the Harris fire.  These fires were, clearly, still mostly out of control.  Yet neither Rep. Rohrabacher nor his Republican colleagues from throughout the region objected to President Bush’s Thursday visit to the area that grounded all firefighting aircraft for several crucial hours.  Rep. Brian Bilbray, who represents areas that were still burning at the time, even joined the President.  For a group so concerned about rapid air response, the silence here is deafening.

San Diego’s GOP Congressional delegation (Bilbray, Hunter, Issa) blasted specifically the policy of, well, requiring a trained crew and compatable equipment.  They specifically targeted the CalFire policy of requiring a ‘military helicopter monitor’ as responsible for keeping eight marine helicopters on the ground during the early stages fo the fire.  But if you listen to CalFire’s chief of aviation, you get a slightly different story.  Michael Padilla, who actually does this for a living, said that laying blame entirely on bureaucracy would be “‘absolutely wrong. Those aircraft could have been used had they had properly trained crews’ and proper equipment, including radio systems compatible with ones used by California fire agencies. ‘They represented a hazard to themselves and to the rest of the people.'”  Presumably the sort of necessary training and equipment could have been provided in the four years since the 2003 Cedar Fire.  Certainly Congress promised to outfit military C-130s with necessary firefighting tanks after the Cedar Fire and never delivered, a failure which Rep. Elton Gallegly terms “an absolute tragedy, an unacceptable tragedy.”  Left out of lamentation over that tragedy is any note of the fact that Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress during and after the Cedar fire and that all of these Republican Congressmen save Bilbray were part of that majority.  But they never actually delivered the goods.

The SoCal GOPers are infuriated that the country’s business would carry on without them as well.  Despite everyone knowing full well that none of them would vote for it and the outcome was never in question, Jerry Lewis was one of many who was indignant over the most recent SCHIP vote on Thursday.  He asserted that at least Republicans were not elected to help children, blasting Democrats for “showing a blatant disregard for the people we are elected to represent and are trying to help.”  At least he was good enough to say it outright instead of forcing us to infer based on his voting record from the past 27 years.

But perhaps nothing has whipped local Republicans into a frenzy more than the implication that there might have been ways different than Republican second-guessing which might have been helpful.  Senator Barbara Boxer for example noted:

Right now we are down 50% in terms of our National Guard equipment because they’re all in Iraq, the equipment, half of the equipment. So we really will need help. I think all of our states are down in terms of equipment.

You might that Republicans who had been champing at the bit to get the military more involved faster would also lament this lack of response capacity.  Yet Rep. Brian Bilbray instead “said the global warming and Iraq war concerns are coming from ‘the `blame America first’ crowd in Washington.'”  This being the same Rep. Brian Bilbray who blamed CalFire for keeping potentially hazardous helicopters out of the air.  I guess blame is alright as long as it’s directed at someone else.  Bilbray also went on to explain that, essentially, everything being said about preventing or better reacting to such a fire said by a Democrat is wrong because these sorts of things “are caused by winds that have been around for thousands of years.”  Somehow I’m not comforted to know that Bilbray’s plan is to just accept the inevitability of it all.  Especially when he’s complaining about the response.

But it all comes down to feigned outrage over “politicizing” disaster.  I’m less interested here in casting blame than I am for demanding accountability, both for words and actions.  For comparison’s sake, Rep. Susan Davis, San Diego Democrat, visited today with Navy families who had been evacuated to the local Naval Amphibious Base and praised the military’s “amazing response to the fires here in San Diego,” expressing her appreciation for the military’s help to the entire community. This juxtaposed with Rep. Lewis railing last week that “The Democratic leadership is once again showing that they only care about scoring political points.”  SoCal Republicans are up in arms accusing Democrats of playing politics, but it certainly seems as though the GOPers have found plenty of politics for themselves.  While it’s important to learn lessons from each experience, pointing fingers isn’t productive.  Michael Padilla perhaps explained it best:  “We want to get it (the response) better, too,” Padilla said, but “we would like to wait until after the crisis is over.”

October 25, 2007 Blog Roundup: Special SoCal Fire Edition

Today is the second day with a special SoCal wildfire blog roundup. In a little while, I’ll post a blog roundup on other topics that will cover the last couple days.

Wildfires: Welcome to Eco-apartheid

The images are strikingly similar. People of color, including children, standing in the middle of a disaster, crying out for help.

First it was Katrina. Today it’s the aftermath of the San Diego County wildfires, where Latino families at refugee centers are reporting family members being taken away by U.S. Border Patrol agents, according to reports on Spanish-language radio and TV. More on the flip…

The LA Times reported yesterday that six undocumented immigrants were arrested for “stealing food and supplies” from the refugee center at Qualcomm.

Six undocumented Mexican immigrants were arrested today by U.S. Border Patrol agents at Qualcomm Stadium, after a report that they were stealing food and water meant for evacuees, according to spokesman Damon Foreman.

It’s happening again. During the Katrina aftermath, African Americans were “looting” shops and stores, while whites were “finding food.” Border Patrol denies, of course, that they are trying to find undocumented immigrants:

“We are not in any means at Qualcomm for enforcement capacity,” he said. “We are not there to take advantage of a situation.”

My question is, why are they there? Why do Border Patrol agents have to be at the evacuation centers at all? Is it not enough that people who are working hard every day to provide a better life for their children have been displaced from their homes? Is it not enough that they will have to figure out how to survive when they are not eligible for any government aid? Or do they have to live in fear of being rounded up by ICE agents, or have to watch as friends or family members are dragged off, at a center that is supposed to be a place for help and support?

Al Gore says in “An Inconvenient Truth,” quoting Winston Churchill, that the global climate crisis is entering an era of consequences. The California wildfires are a consequence of global warming, as many scientists have said — the land is drier because of rising temperatures and more susceptible to fires because of low rainfall.

What is happening now at these refugee centers, and what will be happening in the aftermath of the fires and the recovery effort, is the consequence of what Van Jones calls Eco-apartheid. There are the eco-haves, and the eco-have nots. Those who are able to survive and get through a natural disaster — like the people who took their SUVs and high-tailed it out of New Orleans — and those who cannot — like the folks who waited on their drowning roof for days with no sign of rescue.

Bridging this divide is the greatest challenge of our generation, and it is something progressives must lead on. If we don’t, who will?

October 24, 2007 Blog Roundup: Special SoCal Fire Edition

Normally I go through between two and three hundred blog posts for one day of California Blog Roundups. Today there were right around 500 posts in my feed reader, and almost the entire difference was the fires in Southern California.

To that end, everything below the fold is about the fires, and there’s a lot. I will try to catch up with everything else tomorrow.

“Where is the National Guard?”

This is cross posted at the Huffington Post.  If you’ve seen California Lt. Governor John Garamendi on CNN or MSNBC today, you’ll agree with his statement that, “we need our troops back from Iraq.”
This post deals with that.

Where is the National Guard?

Today, we all extend our sympathies and prayers to those devastated by the wildfires in California.  Millions of Americans are impacted by this natural disaster.

Neighbors should help neighbors in their time of need.  As Governor of New Mexico,  I ordered two fire crews (strike teams, with 5 engines and 21 crew members each) to California. As a candidate for President, I donated to the American Red Cross and I encourage you to do so as well, click here to do so.

But as someone who believes the war in Iraq is a complete disaster and that we need to get our troops out now (www.getourtroopsout.com), I look at the natural disaster in California and feel compelled to also ask President Bush and every candidate who thinks it is okay for our troops to remain in Iraq until 2013 or longer – where is our National Guard?

It is a sad irony that yesterday, the very day I sent fire crews to California, 300 more New Mexico National Guard members were sent to Iraq.  Just when we need them most at home, more of our brave men and women, true public servants, are sent away to a war we cannot win.

Never before in our history has our National Guard, a group of dedicated men and women who serve our country and provide critical aid in the time of natural disasters been used, and re-used, for so long to fight a war tens of thousands of miles away.

In California, the Guard force is authorized to have over 21,000 members. Today, that number is just under 15,000. Why the decline? I believe it has nothing to do with a diminished commitment to service, but rather is a frustration with having that commitment abused, and families turned upside down, just so President Bush can continue to pretend his war can succeed. 

George Bush, his Republican friends and the Democrats who continue to allow this war to continue have not only broken our military, they’ve broken our National Guard. 

The news this morning had images of Americans fleeing to a huge sports arena for shelter during a natural disaster that struck a familiar chord.  When Katrina struck and the floods hit two years ago, a good portion of the Louisiana National Guard was in Iraq. How many people died in the days it took to get proper personnel on the ground in New Orleans?  Today, as the fires rage, California has National Guard men, women, and critical equipment thousands of miles away in Iraq. 

They need to come home.  We need them here.

This has gone on long enough.  When a national disaster hits, our states depend on the National Guard.  Right now, President Bush is robbing Peter to pay Paul to continue his disastrous adventure in Iraq, and when tragedy hits us here at home, Americans are stuck with the bill.  This cannot continue. 

Bush won’t end this war.  Congress must.  And they must end it now.  We shouldn’t have to wait until January, and we certainly can’t wait until 2013 – we need our troops out of harm’s way and our National Guard members back home where they belong. 

Join my call at www.getourtroopsout.com to push Congress to begin ending this war now.  Not in January, not next spring, not next year – now.

The war in Iraq is a tragedy, and compounding it by leaving our citizens here at home defenseless is an even greater crime.