Marc Ash | Trial By Fire
Trial By Fire
By Marc Ash
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 04 November 2003
It's raining now, finally, in Los Angeles. The relief comes not a moment too soon for crews fighting an uphill battle to contain several infernos. To date, 750,000 acres, 3,700 homes and 20 lives - including that of one firefighter - have been lost. The tragedy is a case-study in the dangers of deregulation, or more aptly, the absence of any regulation at all.
The sight of human beings literally bounding out of the forests side-by-side with Bambi and Thumper should provide a clear explanation for the origins of this fiasco for even the most Fox-News-deluded among us. However, leaving nothing to chance, here's the breakdown in black and white.
The rules for development in the West are simple; Rule number 1: 'Build first, and ask questions later.' Rule number 2: 'Profit isn't the most important thing, it's the only thing.' Everyone living in Southern California has had the experience of driving down a stretch of road one day, only to travel the same road the following day, and see 350 homes where none had stood the day before. Where did they come from? Who built them? How did the builders get permission? How will this overnight community be sustained? What will be the impact on existing communities? See Rules 1 and 2 above.
For the record: habitation is not the same thing as development. Yes, homes can be built in most of the areas in which they were lost this past week, and survive wildfires, if they are built "responsibly." Had the majority of the homes in question been built to withstand a fire season, they would have done so. Building materials such as stucco, adobe, and Spanish tile roofing are readily available and would have fared far better than the predominant wood-frame plasterboard two-story tinder boxes that have been front page photo material for the past week. Did the developers know this? Did those who issued the permits know it? Did the lawmakers in Southern California know it? You bet your life they did.
What I am proposing is blasphemous: traditional building methods, craftsmanship, investment in the future. This is forbidden fruit, clear evidence that I am off my rocker. Surely I cannot expect modern California to respect building methods that have served mankind for thousands of years. The only way is the new way - slash and burn.
If the firefighters had a say in issuing the permits for the developers, you can rest well assured that better standards would be adopted overnight. The firefighters are the ones whose lives are on the line trying to save those homes when a fire does approach.
"Free Market" Disaster
The firefighters do have a say but a very limited one. In the end, "freedom" for southern California businessmen/developers is interrupted to mean "cash and carry," regardless of the consequences. If you haven't seen the images of the people who have lost everything standing bewildered in the middle of what used to be their homes, betrayed and alone, then look again. You and I stand beside them, next in line.
Further, in pursuit of your safety, Congress has caved in to George W. Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative." The Senate approved a deal brokered by Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey, former timber industry lobbyist, which allows logging interests to "thin" 20 million acres of public lands -- for your safety, of course. Again, the "free market" gets its legislation and its profits, while the community gets lip service. The fact is that, as "free marketeers," the logging companies are in it for the profit, and since deadwood and scrub-brush don't sell very well down at the Home Depot, the substances that provided the very fuel for the wildfires will remain the problem of the state. The lumber that can be sold will be taken out by the "free marketeers."
Handing over the states natural resources to George W. Bush's logging interest cronies does nothing to address the cause of the problem. Experts say that 9 in 10 forest fires are started by man. That includes both the accidental and the deliberate. That's pure human malfeasance. Congress can't fix that by rolling over for Mr. Bush or his campaign donors. It has to be confronted on a local level.
We need better resources for the fire fighters. We need seasonal reinforcements standing by to bolster existing manpower during the critical fire season, and more air craft equipped to fight the blazes from the air. These are two very important items, but the list is long. The fires will return. The "free marketeers" won't stop them. It's time to demand that the best interests of the community be put first, It is time to start paying attention.
Marc Ash is the Executive Director of t r u t h o u t. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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