The SoCal Fires

By David Simmonds

This is a web site about Mexico, so how do I tie in the California fires to make sense? Try this: I live in San Diego and one of the fires spread across the border near Tecate. OK, I’m covered, now for my thoughts on what went down this past week here in America’s Fire-Prone City, where well over 1,000 families lost their homes and the damage estimates are over $1 billion.

I’ll ignore the fact that San Diego has a long reputation of back-room deals where developers ensure that they can build where ever they want, which is often in areas surrounded by dry, flammable brush. I get that money buys influence.

What I find perplexing is why in the hell, in 2007, are we fighting fires in much the same way we did 50 years ago? We can send a computer-driven missile a hundred miles, up the tailpipe of a small car, but we’re still fighting fires with helicopters and buckets filled with water? We have perfected the ability to maim and kill, but have done little with new technology to save the homes and lives of our citizens. This is insane.

And get this for a Catch-22 Yossarian replay: after a 48-hour delay in having access to the large C-130’s planes that can carry cover large areas with water and fire-retardant, they couldn’t fly them because of the wind. You see, the fires burn wildly when the Santa Ana wind blows, but you can’t use the planes because it’s too windy. The unbelievably brave and dedicated firefighters deserve the best equipment and technology in the world, but there doesn’t seem to be the will to pay for it or the leadership and vision to find a better way.

These fires did not surprise anyone. The local news had been talking about the fire danger for days as the Santa Ana’s were predicted and the terrain was Sahara-dry from a multi-year drought. Like all fires, they started small and then spread. These fires should have been hit hard and knocked down fast by aircraft that should be, but aren’t, permanently stationed in the area.

It has been four years since the last large inferno here in San Diego, and not much has changed or improved in our ability to fight the fires. And to be sure, it will be pretty much the same when the next one hits, unless we start to elect people to office with vision, integrity, and the huevos to tell the people that we can improve this situation but it’s going to cost you some serious money.