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Burning as the world fiddles

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
October 22, 2007


Monday October 22, 2007:

I write this as San Diego County burns. The sky is a sickly yellow, ash particles dust the beaches of Encinitas as Olivenhain residents evacuate their homes along with the folks of Rancho Sante Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, Rancho Bernardo, and Ramona. Highway closures hinder evacuations and Interstate 5 crawls in the haze. Air Quality is poor and potentially fatal.

All day I watch the human drama unfold as people come to terms with the result of living in fire prone areas. With the sweet smell of smoke permeating my every thought, I channel surf between local news affiliates trying to understand the size and scope of this natural disaster. Accessing on-line satellite photos, traffic information, and weather sites, it's clear the Witch Creek Fire is a harbinger of things to come.

Human population plays as big as factor as wind and lack of water in setting the stage for disaster. The only thing unnatural about the Santa Ana fires of 2007 is the number of people who found themselves in their path.

Drought, low humidity, and Santa Ana winds are not unknown to Southern Californians. Fire, although scary, is an integral part of Southern California's ecosystem. For centuries the inhabitants of the semi-arid region have learned to live with fire, some species requiring the heat of wildfires for reproduction. With the onset of global warming and climate change the question is not whether there will be more fires, but rather how devastating they will be.

Tuesday October 23, 2007:

San Diego County is still on fire, Leucadia like the rest of Encinitas is covered in ash. Air quality is worse than yesterday. At mid-day the Witch Creek Fire is cresting Mount Israel headed for Harmony Grove and the Colony of Olivenhain on the Eastern edge of Encinitas. Fires in Rancho Sante Fe threaten Olivenhain from another direction and I'm still glued to the television.

Julian, Fallbrook, and Palomar Mountain are also burning. Like highways of flame, fires connect East County with the coast and North County with the Border region. Firefighters, 8,000 at this count, working like the professionals they are keep things from going from bad to way worse.

At 5pm as the mandatory evacuation order is lifted for Olivenhain residents. The number of displaced residents stands at 910 thousand. Fire has blackened 400,000 acres. Twenty-Five thousand homes, in 44 communities are without power. Ramona is without water. Like the Witch Creek fire, these numbers are far from contained.

Although the people of San Diego have handled the unfolding fire crisis with common sense, consideration and composure, the flames they fled have shed light on the fact San Diego County has reached the boundaries of quality of life and carrying capacity.

Wednesday October 24, 2007:

Day four, and still not dreaming. I awake early to news that Interstate 5 has been closed through Camp Pendleton due to approaching flames. Southbound train service has been stopped at San Juan Capistrano. Bonsall and San Luis Rey Heights have have been issued mandatory evacuation orders. Firefighters are worried about the wind changing directions, and further compounding the 13 active fires raging in the county.

It's clear that the future of Southern California will be shaped by fire, drought, and overpopulation. All and ignorance of natural processes continuing to plague the people of San Diego County. The challenge for residents and their elected officials is how to best adapt to changing climatic conditions brought about by global climate change.

The extent of power outages is evidence that San Diego County must adopt local generation and self sufficiency as key governing policy. San Diegans must also reassess how and where they build their homes. Always at the forefront of environmentalism, Californians must now evolve the way they interact with the natural ecology they call habitat. This includes infrastructure.

It's time to fireproof the California dream.

Thursday October 25, 2007:

Day five, things are looking up because the winds are dying down, and fire fighters, exhausted as they are, are getting the upper hand. Full containment is still days away. Breathing is still hazardous, and air quality will be unhealthy for weeks. Hopefully life is not returning to normal. Normal burns.

Midmorning George W. Bush arrives for a fly over and photo op/walkabout with Gov. Schwarzenegger and Senator Diane Feinstein. In front of the press, with fire fighters and other first responders at his back George has his say. Giving praise, saying thanks, pledging money and promising a better tomorrow. Mission accomplished.

As predicted, this presidential visit was a distraction from the reality experienced by the people of San Diego County. Nothing more, nothing less. Now it's just at matter of cleaning up the mess, counting the cost in lives and property lost, and preparing for the next climate induced fire storm.

Got rain?

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