Fighting fire with fire in the new California

That means making advancements in prevention of, protection from and dousing blazes once they’ve begun


The Editorial Board at the Orange County Register released the following editorial on battling the increasing number of wildfires in the state of California. 

The Orange County Register
 
In the California of 2018, there are little fires everywhere, every day — and most of the time, awfully big ones, too.
Firefighters take care of smoldering wood on a hillside along the road leading to Griffith Observatory on Wednesday July 11, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Firefighters take care of smoldering wood on a hillside along the road leading to Griffith Observatory on Wednesday July 11, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
 
It is nothing short of extraordinary how quickly all Californians have been forced to accept the formerly eccentric-seeming fact, first reported by wildfire experts just a couple of years ago, that there is no longer a “fire season” in our state, as there had been for all recorded human history here. What was the dangerously incendiary time of the late summer and early fall in the Golden State is now the reality — or the potential, given just one spark — 12 months of the year.
 
Three things caused the new normal: global warming, which has turned most meadows and forests into kindling; the ongoing drought, which has done the same; and the simple fact that humans are affected by wildfires more as residential neighborhoods throughout the state abut or creep into what were formerly uninhabited places.
 
Like the firefighters who now must do battle against the elements for us more often than ever — another, Braden Varney, a heavy equipment operator with Cal Fire, lost his life in the Ferguson fire near Yosemite last week — we both have to accept these facts and try to do something about the situation.
 
That means making advancements in prevention of, protection from and dousing blazes once they’ve begun.
 
In February, the members of the watchdog Little Hoover Commission — California’s official tut-tutters — announced their conclusion that the way state landowners have managed our forests is an “unprecedented catastrophe.” And, yes, there is something to do about that. Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott says he intends to triple the amount of prescribed fires — the old-fashioned “controlled burns” — on state lands. It’s part of the ongoing realization that a century of putting down all fires as quickly as possible has had the dangerous effect of making California more flammable. “We can prevent these large catastrophic fires or at least reduce the intensity when fires do occur,” told KQED. “So a little bit of smoke now and a little bit of inconvenience now is well worth offsetting these large damaging fires.”
 
Not only are we going to have drier dry years — we often will have wetter wet ones. As the massively deadly post-Thomas fire Montecito mudslides showed last year, the after-effects of wildfires can be as terrifying as the burning itself. We need to plant more trees and help nature create more floodplains to be able to absorb the rains.
 
Officials in all fire-prone communities need to get a better understanding of Wireless Emergency Alerts, text messages that can alert neighborhoods to evacuate in an era of decreasing land lines. J.D. Morris’s reporting in The Press Democrat in Sonoma has shown that leaders there last October did not understand just how well those can be targeted to specific areas rather than a whole county.
 
And, yes, the power companies, in the wake of transformers and other equipment sparking wildfires, need to be able to more quickly shut down the grid when conditions get dry and windy in California. It’s not simple to do so — the needs of those who need the power for life-sustaining medical equipment have to be considered. It’s complicated. But the need to protect our entire state from wildfire dangers has grown far more complicated, too, in the last five years, and we must rise to the occasion.
 
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©2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
 
 
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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