Why is California burning? In a private email, Australian investigative reporter Gavin Gatenby offered an important perspective, which he has allowed me to share. Gavin speaks as "a former National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighter who was a spokesman for the NPWS during the big bushfire crisis of 1994 and during subsequent fire seasons."
I might point out that, from where we stand, your rural fire situation is pathetically under-resourced. Here in NSW (population 6.72 mil) we have a volunteer Rural Fire Service of 70,000 – in absolute terms the biggest fire service in the world. That's backed up by public service professionals from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Forests who double as firefighters, are generally more highly-trained, and are available, if necessary, for months on end. And then there's the ordinary urban fire brigades who now have their own cadre of volunteers on the residential urban-bush interface who use simple methods (mostly lots of water!) to protect their own streets.
Quite often our specialists are despatched to the US to help out there (and occasionally we see US fire professionals over here).
I knew the reputation the US had for its absolute lack of resources for wildfires but I really had no idea it was as laughable as it is until I read on MSNBC just now that California had just 4800 professionals and 1400 "seasonals". Population, what 30 mil? Unbelievable.
When these huge but short-lived events happen you just have to be able to mobilize BIG numbers to fight them. So in NSW we can get (between the volunteer Rural Fire Service, the NPWS, Forestry, the urban fire service) something like 80,000 on the job with all their equipment, etc. Then we can also borrow brigades from Queensland (their season starts and generally finishes before ours) and Victoria (their season starts later, etc). The RFS have brigades in all towns and most villages and they're now organised so they can muster task forces from unaffected areas to rush to crisis points. Backing up the fires services there's a separate volunteer State Emergency Services which is basically tailored to flood and storm crisis work. But they can be put to all sorts of important non-fireline tasks. There are 10,000 of them. We seldom have to call on the military
We cannot pay for a proper number of firefighters because our taxpayer dollars are going to Iraq. Our homes have been sacrificed and our wallets robbed to pay for a misadventure perpetrated by a president whom most Californians despise.
In fact, nearly 38 million people live in California. The butcher's bill for Iraq comes to $8000 for every man, woman and child in America
. (That's a national average; in real life, Californians pay a far larger amount.) Do the math: If each Californian annually devoted one-tenth
of that figure to fighting fires and other natural disasters, we would have $30 billion more
to spend on our
Alas, we are forced to live according to the red state credo that militarism is the only proper expenditure of taxpayer dollars. That is not a Californian credo. It is foisted upon us by the inhabitants of the red states -- who, hypocritically, take more from the Federal government than they give, forcing the suckers in California and other blue states to pony up the difference.