Good news for residents of Ventura County: although the Ranch Fire is listed as being only 10% under control, it’s not nearly the threat it was two days ago. From Inciweb:
Last night fire crews and structural protection engine crews reported
that the night operations went extremely well with no surprises. In the
early evening, the winds were less than previous nights and increased
slightly after midnight. By 2am, the winds over the fire calmed
considerably and in some places stopped completely. The fire did not
expand significantly to the south or east…The fire did not cross highway 126 or progress any closer to the
communities of Piru and Fillmore. All evacuations from the Ranch Fire
within the counties of Las Angles and Ventura Counties have been lifted.
The news from down south is much, much worse, and finally people are beginning to ask questions about San Diego’s fire preparedness. Could there be a connection between a low-tax, low-service county and inadequate fire protection? Gee, you think?
The former San Diego fire chief, Jerry Bowman, who quit in 2006 in frustration over San Diego’s refusal to fund firefighters, does make that connection. This cropped up in stories in both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, but the best discussion I’ve seen is in popular Steve Lopez’s column today for the Los Angeles Times:
Although the city of San Diego has a fire department, the county
doesn’t, leaving many suburban and rural areas to rely on volunteer
departments. The city has but one firefighting helicopter and just 975
firefighters for 330 square miles and 1.3 million residents.
Compare that, he says, with San Francisco, which has 1,600 firefighters for 60 square miles and 850,000 people.
(Or Ventura County, which has about 800,000 people and 1900 square miles, but a highly-professional fire department with 700 full-time and seasonal firefighters, 5 helicopters, and extensive resource-sharing agreements with the Forest Service, which is responsible for its huge backcountry.)
Lopez also gets to the heart of San Diego’s real estate corruption, Developers turn out to back most of the county’s anti-tax movements, according to UCSD professor Steve Erie.
Erie says that "developers own most of the city councils. In Poway, in
Escondido, what they do is put homeowners in harm’s way. They’re able
to control zoning processes, and they’re frequently behind initiatives
that say no new taxes, no new fire services. It’s insanity."
Will this be the wake-up call that brings the county to its senses? Don’t count on it. After the devastating fires of 2003, which killed more that 20 people, and were the largest wildfires in modern state history, San Diego had a chance to pass a modest hotel tax increase to fund firefighting efforts.
(cross-posted at The Ojai Post)