CA 2014 fire season: A test of government competence

CA 2014 fire season: A test of government competence

san.diego.fireThe two worst wildfires in recorded state history struck San Diego County in 2003 and 2007, as I wrote about in today’s U-T San Diego.

“In October 2003, the Cedar Fire … broke out in the Cleveland National Forest, started accidentally by a lost hunter trying to signal rescuers. It burned more than 2,800 structures and caused 15 deaths, almost entirely in East County. …

“In October 2007, the Witch-Creek fire broke out east of Ramona, triggered by a power line buffeted by Santa Anas. Before it was contained, the blaze destroyed more than 1,650 structures — with more than 300 in Rancho Bernardo, within San Diego city limits. Ten people were killed in the Witch-Creek blaze and other county wildfires that fall.”

Local, state, military and federal officials have been preparing for the next California fire apocalypse ever since. U.S Interior Secretary Sally Jewell even came to San Diego County last week to talk about wildfire preparedness and tout what the feds have done to help out, prompted by the state’s extreme drought.

Confidence in the face of chaos

What are these officials saying? There’s lots of grousing about homeowners who haven’t done enough to reduce fire risk by clearing their property of flammables. But by and large, they say they’ve been gearing up for years to prevent encores of 2003 and 2007, and that they think they’re up to the task. They cite additional personnel, big upgrades in technology and equipment, and a healthy emphasis on interagency cooperation.

This official confidence was evident in San Diego County on Wednesday even after a wild day in which at least seven separate wildfires brought out:

“[Officials] stressed that far more resources — both firefighters and equipment — were available than in 2003 and 2007, and that agencies were working well together.

“’This region is the best-prepared it’s ever been,’ said Dianne Jacob, the chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors.

“’We’ve come a long way in the last 11 years,’ said county Sheriff Bill Gore.”

We shall see. In San Diego, the specter of multiple out-of-control wildfires is so scary that it’s tough to think from a broader perspective. But when you do think from that broader perspective, you start with the fact that there are only a few responsibilities that just about everybody thinks government should do and do well. The most obvious is public safety.

This year in parched California, millions of people with reason to worry about their safety have to hope that the local, state and federal governments rise to the challenge.

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