Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why California Burns

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 needs.

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.
The southern California conflagration has destroyed property, but the residents have been saved, and hardly any casualties have been reported.

Perhaps from now on a volunteer firefighting force will grow large. Volunteers don't get paid, so there's only a scant financial burden from any sector.

California's municipal and county governments are bereft of many services owing to 1978's Proposition 13 (when California was a very very 'red' state).

For the young or forgetful, here's the history and consequences from Wikipedia:

and a pointed excerpt:

"Local governments now use imaginative strategies to maintain or increase revenue in the face of Proposition 13 and the state's attendant loss of property tax revenue (which formerly went to cities and counties). Most California localities have recently sought their voters' approval for special assessments that would levy new taxes earmarked for services that used to be paid for entirely or partially from property taxes: road and sewer maintenance, school funding, street lighting, police and firefighting units, and penitentiary facilities. Sales tax rates have skyrocketed from 5% (the typical pre-Prop 13 level) to 8% and beyond."

Proposition 13 explains the lack of funding. What explains the lack of volunteer fire departments?
Haven't you heard the news? Fox is now claiming that al-Qa'ida may be responsible for starting the fires in California. Our troops are fighting the arsonists in Iraq so we don't HAVE to fight them here. What could possibly be wrong with that strategy?
DEAR gavin what a load of rubbish ive traveled to Australia a couple of times and watched your poorly funded fire service struggle to deal your bush fires whilst i was there in 97 seven main highways were shut and firefighters were injured and unfortunately killed the story is the same the world over nobody wants to pay for effective firefighting.ill be at the next firefighter games in liverpool 2008 an dwill pass your comments onto your fellow ausies who struggle every year to cope with the nsw bushfires
Ah yes, Wazza, everybody always THINKS they're underfunded, and in relation to the task and what they COULD have, they always are. The real issue here is the absolute level of available resources, and there's no doubt that if NSW (population 6.72m) can field 80K firefighters, California (35m) should be able to do way better than 6 or 7 thousand.
Dana Perrino at WH presser today:

"When we are a nation at war, there are priorities that you have to make sure that the national guard units that are serving, that live in California but are serving right now in Iraq, you want to make sure that they have the equipment that they need in order to protect themselves, and so you have to weigh those priorities... but I think that there are ways that we can make sure California has what it needs."

As Keith Olbermann so aptly put it -- White House to California, DROP DEAD.
No domestic infrastructure (or National Guard) to fight fires due to endless wars, yet another infringement on our rights by the gov't. Add it to the ever-growing list of violations:
They violate the 1st Amendment by opening mail, caging demonstrators and banning books like America Deceived (book) from Amazon.
They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns during Katrina.
They violate the 4th Amendment by conducting warrant-less wiretaps.
They violate the 5th and 6th Amendment by suspending habeas corpus.
They violate the 8th Amendment by torturing.
They violate the entire Constitution by starting 2 illegal wars based on lies and on behalf of a foriegn gov't.
Support Dr. Ron Paul and end this war.
The fires are clearing land that can be used to build large high-density communities for the illegals that are moving up from Mexico. These people will be needed to fill vacancies left as the baby boomers retire, and as young Americans die in more and more wars of conquest. They will work at jobs that no American wants for wages no American would ever accept.

By the way, this is not the end of the natural disasters that Bush has neglected to prepare for.
FAUX NOOZ(FOX) is still carrying a line that says al Qaeda (which, BTW in English is "the toilet")is involved in the fires.

In light of all that has happened since 9/11 and the phony blame games that have occurred, I'd just like to say that ....

.... Iran does not actually HAVE BIC lighters just yet, but they do have the desire to make them, and we dare not wait until they have them!
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