Tag Archives: Fire

Prop 13’s Effects Still Rippling. Bodega Bay and other small fire districts struggle for survival

Small fire departments facing long-term financial sustainability questions

by Brian Leubitz

Last night I attended a meeting of the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District. Not normally the type of event that I cover here at Calitics, but beyond some self-interest, it was a fascinating experience. The meeting was attended by embattled Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carillo as well as a host of Sonoma County officials from the City Administrator’s office, the Parks Dept, and County fire dept.

The reason for the meeting was pretty simple: the fire district is running out of money. If nothing happens in the next 15 months, crews will be cut from three to two leaving the district incapable of responding to simultaneous incidents. Of course, the money question brings up a series of other questions. First, to clear it out of the way, as far as I can see there has been no issues of any kind of glaring mismanagement. Rather, it is a case of a system set up to fail doing just that.

It wasn’t always that way. The fire district is post-Prop 13 district, which is something of an immediate strike one in terms of revenues. But in a county that gets a lot of tourists, it is particularly popular. The tiny hamlet of about 1,000 attracts over 13% of Sonoma County’s transient occupancy tax (TOT) and over 4 million visitors per year. Putting aside the issues of collecting that tax, particularly for airbnb and similar services, almost all of the burden for providing fire and ambulance services falls upon local property owners. It is why Bodega Bay has one of the highest parcel taxes for a fire district in the state.

At the meeting last night, many homeowners expressed frustration with the lack of TOT coming back to the community. While there has been varying levels of support over the last few years, next year’s budget includes no such support for the district after the district’s proposal to replace their aging ambulance was rejected. Given the large number of tourists, and the fact that 57% of calls were for non-residents, many feel they are carrying an outsized burden and subsidizing ambulance protection for the state and county parks in the district.

There are additional available revenue sources, the county general fund, and Prop 172 funds chief among them. There is a change.org petition here about the Prop 172 fund that I highly recommend folks sign.

The County officials certainly seem committed to working on finding additional sources of revenue, and residents are organizing to make their presence known at the budget hearings this June. And in an election held on April 8 (because of a recall election in the neighboring Russian River fire district), a new tax measure, Measure A, was defeated by a final tally of 206-356. Most of the reasons for that failure are listed above, but the consensus last night was that it was mostly the unfair burden on the small community surrounding the parks. Well, that and a bit of off-topic ass-hattery calling for a No vote based on “saving the salmon”.

All this brings us back to the whole system set up to fail. In the world after Prop 13, revenue is increasingly difficult to acquire, and because it can, money tends to drip upward to the state. In case after case, the state has reached for local money to pay for various constitutional requirements. While some of that has come back, including through Prop 172, somehow it is never really replaced. Counties are then forced to reach down the ladder to finesse finances, and it becomes harder and harder to consistently fund local districts. (See the closure of Palm Drive hospital, which also complicates the situation in Bodega Bay.) And then you have situations like the $150 fire fee, where the money never actually went to the fire districts that actually did the fire protection.

Perhaps the system was meant to fail, or perhaps it is just a patchwork system that now has seen so many patches that the entire system is now completely dysfunctional. But in the end, the long-term answers need to come from the state. If we are to have this local control of our fire protection and other public services, they need to be able to access their fair share of revenue to provide these vital public services.

Did ‘Don’t Shut It Down’ Mentality Cause Chevron Refinery Disaster?

More than two hours passed at Chevron’s Richmond, CA, refinery between the discovery of a leak and the ignition of a blaze that threatened the health of thousands of nearby residents and sent hundreds to hospital emergency rooms Monday night. At any point during those hours, shutting down the big crude-oil processing unit in which a pipe was leaking could have prevented or greatly limited the disaster.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported details of that excruciating delay Wednesday morning, along with very different accounts of why it happened. The plant’s emergency response managers vaguely said they saw the leak as too minor–just “20 drops a minute” at first, to trigger an emergency or notify anyone. Until, of course, it suddenly got bigger and exploded into a blaze. But workers on the ground saw it differently and told their story to their union’s safety experts:


“From the time they did see the leak, they debated what to do,” said Kim Nibarger, who has investigated refinery accidents nationwide. “It was not so much whether to fix the leak, it was about what could they do to keep the line running and get it fixed.”

Nibarger based his opinion on Monday’s incident after discussions with union representatives at the refinery. The choice, he said, should have been clear.

“When you have hydrocarbons outside the pipe, you are no longer running at a normal condition. It’s time to shut the thing off and fix it, not to try to figure out a way around it.”

The last big fire at the Chevron Richmond refinery, in 2007, started the same way: a leak in the same refining unit, No. 4. Two employees were injured and the refinery was shut for months.

What one local resident said in 2007 sounds like it was today:

“Once those [emergency] sirens sound, you are supposed to shelter in place,” [the resident] said. “That means nobody goes to work, nobody comes to work in the west end of Richmond and no schools open. The cost of that is incredible.”

The costs of shutting down a refining unit to be on the safe side are nothing compared to the costs of shutting down a community, of treating respiratory crises at the emergency room, of higher child asthma rates.

Motorists will also pay. San Francisco and Los Angeles wholesale gasoline prices jumped 30 cents a gallon overnight following Monday’s fire. If recent history is any guide, other West Coast refiners will just grab the extra profit rather than raising production to keep supplies up and prices down. That’s exactly what happened after a major refinery accident in Washington State last year, according to a study commissioned by Sen. Maria Cantwell.

So all Californians will pay something for Chevron’s attempt to keep Unit 4 running even though its own emergency response team knew about the leak.

Safety procedures are also at issue in Chevron’s offhore drilling near Brazil, where 155,000 gallons of oil leaked from undersea cracks. Brazil last month accused Chevron of failing to follow its own procedural manual and dismissing troubling test results when it started production from the well. Chevron is also continuing to pay its lawyers millions of dollars to avoid paying damages to Ecuadoran peasants whose land was ruined by Texaco, which is now part of Chevron.

Chevron is not alone in this mindset.

BP ignored safety and quality questions about sealing cement used to cap a deep offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago, when it could have ordered the cement contractor, Halliburton, to start over (meaning at least a few days of delay). We all know how well that went. BP also skimped on maintenance and ignored corrosion of its Alaska pipeline near Prudhoe Bay in a 2006 spill of 200,000 gallons that shut down the pipeline. Exxon let a known drunk pilot its giant oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez.

It’s a long list. But the common thread is that safety is not a profit center for the oil industry and every penny spent on safety dings the bottom line. Until, of course, cleaning up the mess costs millions or billions.

Posted by Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Crassus Was An Honorable Man: The Loss of State Services

In the first century BCE, the first Roman triumvirate was a cobbled together coalition of three men who didn’t much actually care for each other.  We all know the ultimate winner of the conflict that grew out of the relationship, as Julius Ceaser was able to best his foes.  And Pompey Magnus, was a general whose reputation made it into the history books.  But for our purposes, the most relevant of the three was a man who is still ranked amongst the world’s richest men of all-time, Marcus Licinius Crassus.  

How did Crassus attain all that wealth? Well, as you would expect, he was wildly corrupt, using his power and influence to attain wealth.  But there was one particular source for Crassus that was a little, umm, evil.  From Wikipedia:

Most notorious was his acquisition of burning houses: when Crassus received word that a house was on fire, he would arrive and purchase the doomed property along with surrounding buildings for a modest sum, and then employ his army of 500 clients  to put the fire out before much damage had been done. Crassus’ clients employed the Roman method of firefighting-destroying the burning building to curtail the spread of the flames.

Outrageous, right? Well, not exactly.  As you can see from the Countdown clip up top, it’s happening in America:

Firefighters in rural Tennessee let a home burn to the ground last week because the homeowner hadn’t paid a $75 fee.  Gene Cranick of Obion County and his family lost all of their possessions in the fire, along with  three dogs and a cat.

“They could have been saved if they had put water on it, but they didn’t do it,” Cranick told MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann.

The fire started when the Cranicks’ grandson was burning trash near the family home. As it grew out of control, the Cranicks called 911, but the fire department from the nearby city of South Fulton would not respond.

“We wasn’t on their list,” he said the operators told him. (MSNBC)

Mr. Cranick even offered to pay whatever was necessary for the firefighters’ help. But no dice, it wasn’t until a neighboring house caught on fire that the department began to fight the fire.

Of course, this is the point of government services.  They are best done by spreading the risk across all of us.  Having fire departments is an expense that for years, we have all been willing to pay through our taxes, yet now we see that these services are coming in the crosshairs for Norquistian “drown the government” calls.  The irony is that the right-wing calls of property as sacrosanct comes into conflict with their anti-government tendencies.

We all lose when government is dysfunctional.  And to some extent, the Tennesee community made its bed by consistently electing politicians who told the community that this is exactly what they should expect, a smaller and worthless government.  At some level, you get what you pay for, and if you tell your politicians that you don’t want to pay for government, that’s exactly what they’ll give you.  A broken government.  But, we’re not that hard up in California, are we? Well, we’re getting there:

Drivers in California who cause crashes may find their pocketbooks dented as well, courtesy of local fire departments.

More than two dozen fire agencies, struggling for ways to boost sagging budgets, have begun tallying service charges at crash sites and sending bills to drivers or their insurance companies.

Is a pumper truck called to the scene? That’ll be $400. Traffic cones and flares needed? Another $20. An incident commander to oversee? That’s $75 an hour.

Roseville, Woodland and at least a half dozen smaller Sacramento area fire districts have imposed such fees in the past year. The city of Sacramento expects to start this fall. And, beginning July 1, Placer County Fire will charge non-local drivers or their insurance companies for crashes that require fire agency response.(SacBee 6/25/2010)

We shouldn’t be surprised at just how far our own government has come to resemble the lack of structure that the Romans faced 2100 years ago.  That’s exactly what much of the state is asking for here too.  Of course, this is just a more dramatic example, but the same situation is cropping up in the context of health services, where we are telling people that we won’t provide them in-home services anymore, or cutting off prescription coverage, or eliminating MediCal coverage.  These things matter, and they are a matter of life or death for some in our state.

There isn’t a fire crew going around trying to buy up “fire sales” that I have yet heard of, but is that really that far away?  

UPDATE by Robert: Let’s not forget that the Orange County Register called for this kind of privatized fire service in their response to my criticism of them back in October 2007:

A broader goal would be more privatization efforts and more private ownership of land. Private firefighting firms would have a financial interest to promote prevention, and more private ownership of land would mean better-maintained property. Private owners are far better at protecting their property than public owners, who follow an entirely different set of objectives.

In that exchange I had with the Register – they devoted an entire editorial to attacking me – I also explained that privatized fire services were already in operation in San Diego during the 2007 fires:

Some victims of the California fires may wish they had their own firemarks. During this week’s wildfires, “there were a few instances where we were spraying and the neighbor’s house went up like a candle,” Crays said.

As Brian points out, this is a replay of the end of the Roman Republic, when a group of wealthy oligarchs in the Senate destroyed the public commons for their own wealth, collapsing the political system and leading to a dictatorship that, eventually, produced feudalism.

Publicly funded fire protection has worked extremely well for a century. There’s no good reason to end it – unless you believe cutting taxes for the wealthy is more important than preventing people’s homes from burning down.

Embracing The Fire

Since the middle of last century, we have aggressively worked to stop forest fires across the country, and particularly in California.  From Smokey Bear’s ad campaigns to boy scout lessons, Californians worked to prevent forest fires, thinking that they damaged the forest.

But in Yosemite National Park, in central California, fire is viewed differently. The forest needs to burn to survive, although fire was once thought to be an enemy of the region’s giant sequoia trees. People used to think that the park’s beautiful trees needed to be protected from fire, according to Gus Smith, a fire ecologist.

**** *** ****

But scientists have come to realise that years of suppressing fire in Yosemite prevented the trees from reproducing.

Excluding fire from the ecosystem allowed leaves and other vegetation to build up around the trees. The litter stopped seeds from germinating in exposed soil and a dense canopy of foliage blocked the sunlight from reaching the forest floor.

“I think that we need to see more fire and the benefits of fire,” says Mr Smith. (BBC 12/3/09)

The forests existed before humans were here, and they just may last beyond our interference. However, as the line between forest lands and residential areas becomes ever more blurry, the question of which fires to stop, which to contain becomes ever more challenging.

One thing that is clear: fighting fires in the old method of suppressing everything has led to some pretty bad results.  Fires are more ferocious with the added fuel, and we haven’t actually kept structures out of jeopardy.  As we move forward with whatever limited resources CalFire will have, the state will need to work to not only allow proper burns of state forest lands, but also to provide education.  We have 50 years of bad messaging on the suffocation of fire to overcome. We can’t hit the panic switch every time we see smoke. People who have chosen to live in fire-prone areas must now what they can do to make their home as safe as possible.

However, we will never end the threat of fire as water becomes ever more scarce. And so, management of the sort that the National Park Service is doing at Yosemite will become increasingly important.

The Fire Season and its Implications

This fire season is going to be bad.  The land is bone dry, and it has been hot.  The Station Fire is huge, and already deadly.  To the families of those who lost their lives fighting for the safety of others, we all wish you well. This is a terrible loss for the state, as losing any public safety always is.

The fire continues to threaten thousands of homes, plus billions of dollars of infrastructure. The Mt. Wilson Observatory is not only important from a scientific standpoint, it also has substantial historical value. This fire is far from controlled, and what it takes with it is anybody’s guess.

I hesitate to bring this up, but I have some quibble with the way this article was presented. Long story short, it points out that CalFire didn’t really get hit with cuts.  And that’s true, but this fire season looks set to wipe out whatever budget reserve the July deal kept (or didn’t keep depending on your accounting).

Thing is, we don’t have much choice but to fight the fires where they endanger lives.  It is a mandatory expense. But, when the legislature has to deal with the next budget crisis, these fires will end up hurting the state in more ways than just property damage. It’s going to take resources from other programs, other programs that are barely getting by as it is.

[UPDATE] by Julia By the way, the state already now burned through (pun intended) $106.5 million of its $182 million in allocated emergency firefighting money only two months into the fiscal year.  And we are just at the beginning of the fire season.  It is highlight likely that we will need to tap reserves.

Go Find Your Own Water, says country club to firefighters. — Updated

(this is an edited & updated version of a diary published on DailyKos)

As a California native with a hillside, I know the rules of fire.  

* Clear your brush by June 1.

* Watch other states burn in July and August.  California firefighters will help them — it’s great experience for October.

* Don’t worry until the Santa Ana winds blow in mid October…and then, worry a lot.  Make lists in your head: family photos, computer hard drive, pet food, handmade quilts, important papers, medicines, kids’ comfort items.  Pace around your house and realize that all else is just stuff.  Plan your route.

* Cheer the burly young men with charred faces and heavy gear.  When they stagger into the Jack in the Box fresh from the latest Malibu fire, don’t just bring them water, buy their meals.  Drop off home-baked cookies at the fire station.  Hang a banner to thank them for saving your community.

I’ve seen the glow of fires 10 miles away from my hillside, and I’ve watched burning embers dance above a firefighters’ command post and settle on that same hill.  I’ve packed the essentials at 3 AM while the kids race their bikes past the Halloween-decorated lawns.  I know that October is fire season.

This year, Los Angeles is burning in August, and it’s unnatural.

Our fires are different from those in other Western states.  The fires of Wyoming, Colorado, and Arizona start with lightning strikes in semi-arid mountains.  Ours start with the winds of October and November. I call it “Chapstick and nosebleed weather,” but Raymond Chandler described it better:

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.

Today, 35,000 42,500 acres have burned in an out of control fire 19 miles long known as the Station fire, burning northeast of Los Angeles.  So far, three to five homes have burned, while 10,000 12,000 more are threatened.  Separately, fires burn in Riverside and San Diego Counties, Yosemite National Park, near Pinnacles National Monument in inland Monterey County, and in Auburn near Sacramento.

All this with no wind.  We’ve had high temperatures, but without Santa Anas these fires should not exist.  The winds start many wildfires — they down power lines, causing electrical sparks to arc out of control.  At a bare minimum, the winds take sparks from innocuous sources — a welder, a weed-whacker, a cigarette butt — and blow them up.  To analogize this for East Coast folks, fires without wind are like snowstorms without clouds.

Record-setting wildfires are resulting from the rising temperatures and related reductions in spring snowpack and soil moisture, according to the US Global Change Research Project:

How climate change will affect fire in the Southwest varies according to location. In general, total area burned is projected to increase. How this plays out at individual locations, however, depends on regional changes in temperature and precipitation, as well as on whether fire in the area is currently limited by fuel availability or by rainfall.  For example, fires in wetter, forested areas are expected to increase in frequency, while areas where fire is limited by the availability of fine fuels experience decreases. Climate changes could also create subtle shifts in fire behavior, allowing more “runaway fires” – fires that are thought to have been brought under control, but then rekindle. The magnitude of fire damages, in terms of economic impacts as well as direct endangerment, also increases as urban development increasingly impinges on forested areas.

Shorter (pdf): climate change is already here, and increasing temperature, drought, and wildfire will accelerate transformation of the landscape.

Angelenos already joke that fire season now runs from July 1 to June 30.  In the last two years, we’ve had brushfires in February, during what’s supposed to be the rainy season, and in May, at the end of what’s supposed to be the rainy season when the plants are supposed to be plump with stored water.

To make matters worse, California budget cuts are reducing firefighters’ ability to do their job.  In Los Angeles, the mayor of the city is decimating city fire stations, and has ordered city firefighters not to intervene in fires outside the city.  Vendors refuse to do business with CalFire during state budget crises.  State politics only exacerbate the larger issues of megadrought combined with climate change.

California’s vulnerability to fires is not going to get any better.  Before Steven Chu became Secretary of Energy, he predicted that even the most optimistic climate models for the second half of this century suggest that 30 to 70 percent of the snowpack will disappear. “There’s a two-thirds chance there will be a disaster,” Chu said, “and that’s in the best scenario.”  The Southwest region is prone to mega-droughts lasting decades, and California is generally considered to have entered one beginning 1999.

For up to date news of today’s fires, Firefighter Blog runs both a blog and a Twitter account.  

In the short term, the “we’ve got ours” selfishness is best exemplified by the La Canada Country Club.  A lifeguard reports:  

Water-dropping helicopters had been taking water from the pond on the golf course at the corner of Angeles Crest Highway and Country Club Drive since the fire started. The club management opposed, even going so far as telling sheriff’s department and police officials they couldn’t take any water unless the club was paid for it.  One of the other guards on duty heard a conversation between club management in which they said they wanted the guards to remain on duty to prevent the helicopters from taking water from the pool.

The Real La Canada blog  UPDATED from The Real La Canada Blog:

There appears to have been a misunderstanding. Helicopters were using a water hazard at the country club to gather water to fight the blaze. This resulted in the water depleting rather quickly from the water hazard. A hose had been hooked up to a nearby fire hydrant was being used to replenish the water that had been taken. This rapid use of water became a concern for city water officials. Aware of the magnitude of the blaze, city water officials cautioned the use of such a large amount of water. This is very understandable, La Canada can only store so much water and once its gone, its gone.

In the medium-to-long term, it’s time to rewrite the rules of fire.  We can’t control the megadrought, but we can use water wisely.  We can’t do much to reverse the climate change that has already occurred, but we can keep it from getting worse.  We can’t reverse years of bad Republican decisions, but we can take back the state.  And in the long term, if we don’t do any of those, I fear that we will have to make some ugly choices about attempting to sustain both a very large, thirsty population and a thirsty agricultural way of life.

Contractionary Budget Cuts Transfer Wealth to The Rich

The massive cuts to fundamental public services are working a massive transfer of wealth from the less wealthy to the more wealthy. I don’t think this is news to many readers here, but being able to provide a concrete example or two helps win the watercooler wars.  More on the flip.

Example 1: Fire Services

I have yet to see in writing what the impact is on fire services in Santa Barbara County, but the rumor is that there will be substantial increases in response times. In the LA Times a month ago, the LAFD warned of this:

Los Angeles’ budget crisis is likely to mean it will take longer for firefighters to respond to calls for help.

Faced with $56 million in budget cuts, the Los Angeles Fire Department plans to enact rolling brownouts that temporarily take fire engines out of service at stations across the city.

Now, how does this transfer wealth to the rich? First, let’s falsely assume that fire stations are equally distributed by response distance across property values and/or average income by area. (They most certainly aren’t.) Second, without delving into specifics of the science of firefighting, let’s assume that there is a roughly linear relationship between property damage and response times. (In other words, there isn’t a massive difference between 4 minutes and 5 minutes but not between 5 and 6.)

Given these assumptions, what happens when response times are lowered? One might think it’s typical of the Darwinian mindset of conservative policy. If you have a fire in your house (and you should, you know, take personal responsibility for that–everyone who has a fire deserves no sympathy unless they have the top rated fire retardant roof, all of their wiring is up to 2009 code, and they have fire alarms every two feet in their house with both land and cellular connections to the fire department–otherwise, they shoulda…), you lose.

But that’s a mistake. Slower response times mean more damage and more injuries. And what does that mean? That means higher insurance rates. And everyone with a mortgage has to have fire insurance.

So, even if you don’t have a fire, your “taxes” just went up. This is like a tax because it’s a payment that you are more or less bound to pay. And given the marginal utility of extra money (another concept that the conservative brain cannot compute) this “tax” will, as usual, fall far harder on those with less cash to spend.

Of course, the rates also go up because now you really do have a higher risk of your house being destroyed by a fire!

Now, universalize this effect to the other cuts in basic services. 40-to-1 classrooms mean the earnings potential of students in lesser funded school districts would be even lower (yet another concept all the “self-made men” can’t handle). Police? Better hope you live in a well funded police district.

People want services. People love socialized schools, socialized fire departments, socialized vector and animal control, socialized police, socialized sewers… and they love their erstwhile “public option” for workers compensation (SCIF), but they don’t want to pay. Well, guess what? Everyone’s paying now–but the check is going to Allstate instead of the state.

Jesusita Fire is a Sign of the Times

Today we learned that the Jesusita fire in the Santa Barbara area was likely caused by power tools used in brush cutting around the Jesusita hiking trail. The good folks at the Santa Barbara Independent have been an excellent source of information:

The fire cause appears related to the use of power tool equipment involved in vegetation clearance. Fire investigators are requesting public assistance with identification of the person or persons engaged in vegetation clearance on Monday, May 4th, and Tuesday, May 5th, 2009. The unidentified persons are known to have been on the trail between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on both days.(Press release via SB Independent 5/10/2009)

While nobody has suggested arson of any sort at this point, the hot dry weather combined with the fact that the region has received very little rainfall made any spark dangerous.  It is just that this one took off. As noted above, the authorities are looking for whomever was cutting brush with the power tools though.

The fact is that areas across the state are extremely vulnerable to fire this year.

“Every year seems to be getting worse,” said Halsey, who works for the California Chaparral Institute. “I don’t see the climate changing and people are still building. If this is any indication, it certainly seems like it is going to get a lot worse.”

Invasive, fire-prone weeds have taken over in many areas of Northern and Southern California, he said, creating kindling for fire. Combine that with a warming climate, drought and an ever-increasing population and you have what he called “a perfect storm” for fire.(SF Chronicle 5/9/09)

Every year the fires begin earlier and earlier, the droughts have been devastating, and increasing temperatures only add to the danger.  Of course, the fires themselves are massive contributors to global warming as they release massive amounts of C02, some have estimated that wildfires release up to 5% of America’s greenhouse gasses. And so the cycle continues.

Whether or not the state is in a budget crisis, the fires this year are going to require whatever resources they require. Quite simply they are not optional. While the feds will provide some resources, a big fire season will still be a huge drain on our state budget.  And even more importantly, it will threaten lives and the wherewithal of Californians already stretched to the brink.

Jesusita Fire Threatens Santa Barbara

As if on cue, Mother Nature reminds us that in a dry and fire-prone state such as ours, it is folly to plan to slash the ranks of firefighters. From the Santa Barbara Independent:

The flames are growing above Santa Barbara this afternoon, as a wildfire that seemed to start near Jesusita Trail in San Roque Canyon continues to march its way up the mountains.

Wildfire expert and Indy correspondent Ray Ford is with a fire crew about 400 yards from the fire, which has been officially named the Jesusita Fire. He said that it is burning straight uphill, with 40-foot high flames. He said that the wind is starting to blow hard, with 20 to 25 mph gusts, pushing the fire northeast and east into Mission Canyon. He’s watching two helicopters attack the fire, and says they are doing a good job of knocking it down. He has noticed a plume coming up from Mission Canyon and believes something may be burning there. But the fire does not seem to be moving back down San Roque Canyon at the moment.

Mandatory evacuations are underway in the Santa Barbara foothills, although the current path of the fire is quite unclear. This is pretty early in the year to see a major wildfire, as the “season” usually doesn’t start until June 1. But global warming and the drought are causing nearly year-round fire conditions across the state, putting an added strain on firefighting resources.

Something Arnold might want to think about before threatening to destroy Cal Fire as part of a tantrum over voters’ unwillingness to support Prop 1A.

Shorter Arnold: Vote For My Props Or I’ll Set Your State On Fire

That faint smell is the whiff of desperation coming from the governor’s office:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to seek the elimination of more than 1,700 state firefighting positions and closure of scores of fire stations if voters reject key ballot measures in the May 19 special election, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle on Monday.

Schwarzenegger’s proposal involves slashing $80.8 million from Cal Fire’s spending plan – a 10 percent reduction – by eliminating 602 full-time positions and 1,100 seasonal firefighting positions. The cuts would be part of a series of deep cuts to the state budget.

Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency, has about 5,000 full-time firefighters. At the peak of last year’s fire season, more than 2,700 wild fires ravaged the state and the agency hired extra help: 3,000 seasonal firefighters.

Arnold seems to have quickly forgotten the record-setting 2008 fire season, and the 2007 fires before that, and the 2003 fires before that, etc, etc. And considering that the US Forest Service’s firefighting problems haven’t yet been straightened out, and that firefighting capacity is being cut as cities try to balance their budgets, Arnold’s proposal is likely a death sentence for many vulnerable communities this coming summer.

Obviously Arnold is trying to scare voters into supporting his craptacular May 19 propositions. But voters can smell desperation a mile away, and they’re not likely to be swayed by this truly insane proposal.

What Arnold’s crazy “let’s burn down California – literally!” plan will actually do is show voters that Republicans, whether they are for or against the May 19 propositions, are really just hell-bent on destroying our government and leaving everyone to fend for themselves. The last time a Republican demonstrated that to the public, as Bush did after Hurricane Katrina, his party’s public support collapsed and they were thrown out of power at the first available opportunity.

The same will happen here in California. The question is whether Arnold and his wingnut allies  will destroy the state first. They’re already pouring gasoline on everything in sight…