Monday, August 15, 2011

California's crazy and proud of it

Roger Hedgecock

CAL FIRE is the California state agency tasked with fighting the state's increasingly devastating wildfires.

Only in California would a cause of these fires – illegal marijuana plantations in the public forest lands – be ignored. Only in California would there be a mandated politically correct way to fight these fires. Only in California would there be more concern with union rules when fighting a fire than with putting the fire out.

In recent years, dozens of major wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres of wild habitat, destroyed thousands of homes in rural and suburban areas and killed dozens of Californians. California's 37 million people have pushed development into fire-prone areas, and environmental laws have prevented those private landowners from clearing the land around their homes to protect them from fire.

Add to the list of causes of these wildfires the recent proliferation of marijuana plantations run by Mexican drug gangs in state and federal forest lands near metropolitan areas. Armed illegals working these plantations live illegally in the open in makeshift shelters with primitive sanitation. They illegally cook and heat with open fires in dry, windy conditions. It's a recipe for disaster.

Because illegals are protected in California, law enforcement looks the other way. Only citizens would be prosecuted for the multiple law violations I just described.

Now the California Air Resources Board has published proposed rules, developed jointly with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, requiring that CAL FIRE get the approval of "local air quality managers" as to methods used to fight these wild fires.

The new rules would require CAL FIRE to develop "smoke management plans" for any fire bigger than 10 acres, have daily discussions with local air quality managers before fighting the fire that day to ensure that the smoke-management plans are being followed and choose fire-fighting tactics that limit smoke from the fire.

In other words when dropping fire retardant on the fire produces more smoke than letting the fire burn, the fire will be allowed to burn. Officials admit that the intent of the rules is to let fires run their course in the name of respiratory health, regardless of the threat the fire itself poses to humans, livestock and homes. In California, not fighting a fire will be the new definition of fire fighting.

In San Diego County, the Cedar fire started on a Saturday night (Oct. 25, 2003) and by Sunday had raced 30 miles from the Cleveland National Forest into San Diego's suburbs. The fire destroyed 2,232 homes, killed 15 people and took nine days to contain.

In 2007, the Witch Creek fire killed seven, destroyed 1,500 homes and forced the evacuation of 500,000 residents.

In these major disasters, California union rules and agency turf disputes didn't help.

(Story continues below...)

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In the Cedar fire, initial calls for aerial drops of fire retardant were countermanded because the sun was setting. Pilots who were minutes from dropping the water on what was then a two-acre fire, were ordered back to base. CAL FIRE rules prohibited aerial operations after a defined "sunset." The pilots said there was light enough to make an effective drop.

In both the Cedar fire and the Witch Creek fire, offers of military trained and equipped U.S. Marines and Marine fire-fighting helicopters from local military bases were turned down when they were desperately needed because the Marines were not "certified" by the state of California as "firefighters." In the Cedar fire, the Marines fought the fire when it threatened the Miramar Marine Air Station, thereby saving the civilian suburbs to the west of the base.

When a Texas firefighter, now living in California, offered his services as a volunteer and brought his private tanker truck to provide much needed water to the fire, he was blocked by CAL FIRE, who denied all volunteer firefighting help.

This is California crazy – and it's getting worse.

To "balance" the California budget, the Legislature mandated many new fees. One of these is a new $150/year fee on every property owner in areas served by CAL FIRE. The Legislature created a new "State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund" to receive the new fee and a new state staff to administer the Fund.

California obviously could do with more fire prevention, but a closer look at the permitted activities invites skepticism.

The law requires the money from the new fee to be used for "fire prevention activities," including "fire hazard mapping," "public education to reduce the risk of fire," "grants to Fire Safe Councils," "grants to a qualified non-profit organization" to "plan, implement, and complete a fire prevention project" etc., yada, yada.

So, this new fee will hire more state (non-firefighter) workers and funnel money to politically connected Democratic Party front groups and institutions.

Worse yet, all of these "fire prevention" activities are already funded through other existing state programs. This whole thing is a duplication of already ineffective state programs and will do exactly nothing to prevent or fight fires.

In response to the threat of wildfires, California has ignored one of the causes of the fires, mandated new rules using smoke hazard concerns to block efforts to put out the fires and used concerns over the fires to pass a new "fee" on property owners to circumvent Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative which capped property taxes.

For property owners in affected areas, the state of California has committed one atrocity after another leaving them vulnerable to the next inevitable devastating wildfire.

California – it's crazy and proud of it.