Fire as War in SoCal

An efriend named Judith Lewis, an enviro reporter for the LAWeekly, has a good story out this week on the Day Fire. She too interviewed fire ecologist Richard Minnich, but had the advantage of interviewing him after the fire broke out. He made an important point, quoting a TV forecaster:

"‘It’s better that it got burned off in the weather we’ve got right now instead of waiting for the Santa Anas to come along over the weekend.’ He actually suggested that the forest might need to burn."

It’s absolutely true. Twice during the three-plus weeks the fire has been burning, a Santa Ana condition developed, causing havoc and near-panic in both cases, but both times the winds were relatively mild (about 25 mph) and brief. Later in the fall, we will get Santa Anas blowing 50 mph or more, for days at a time. Much better than the fire burn now.

Lewis also noted Minnich’s point on controlling fire is always likened to war: 

Firefighters battle blazes on their frontlines and, as they contain them, mop up their smoldering remnants.

This is true, and most war metaphors (war on cancer, war on poverty) are ludicrous, but in this case I think the word fits. The Ventura County Fire Department is well-aware of the benefits of controlled burns, and has a full-time fire planner working on how to best burn down fuel beds at the right times. But they also know that air campaigns, ground campaigns, evacuations, and countless other massive, war-like, technology-dependent measures are necessary to avoid disaster in SoCal when the flames begin to rise. Fire suppression is not sufficient in and of itself, but it is sometimes necessary, and when it is necessary, war is what it feels like.

Here’s a picture of a couple of the smaller helicopters based at the fire helicamp not far from us in Upper Ojai:


And here’s a picture from the LATimes of the fire in the Lockwood Valley. It’s not over…

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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