“The case for letting Malibu…

“The case for letting Malibu burn”

“We keep putting tens of thousands of homes in harm’s way,” said author Mike Davis.

The UC Irvine history professor’s scorching books have assailed Southern California as an apocalyptic theme park, always courting disaster. In “Ecology of Fear,” Chapter 3 is called “The Case for Letting Malibu Burn.” It’s a history of California’s failure to conduct preventive burns, despite the growth of “firebelt suburb populations” on the edge of combustible vegetation.

Homeowner groups resist preventive burns because they’re risky and leave scars, but then scream for help when fire rages out of control, Davis argues. The public cost is huge; so is the risk to firefighters.

On Monday, Davis said friends had been burned out and relatives were preparing to evacuate, and it’s remarkable there hasn’t been more death. He captured the horror and madness in a single sentence:

“We’re building homes in places where there’s no fire escape at all.”

In “Ecology of Fear”, Davis details how people, usually well off financially, build homes in dangerous fire-prone areas, then get low interest loans to rebuild when the homes burn. He rightfully says this is a tax subsidy for the wealthy paid by the rest of us. There are other costs too, like maintaining expensive fire departments, roads, sewage, electricity, etc. in canyon areas.

Most controversial, and the article touched on this when it mentioned controlled burns, is the insistence of homeowners that property be protected first, even at the expense of fighting the fire. Thus, fire crews sometimes are forced to leave an area where they have a chance of stopping the fire to, say, go to an evacuated housing development to protect houses. This is backwards, as it puts protecting individual property above that of protecting the general populace.

If a house in a canyon burns, it is lunacy to give low cost loans to rebuild in the same spot, yet this happens all the time.


Forest Service boss urges more prescribed burns
The head of the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday that residents of the fire-prone West must reintroduce prescribed burns into their vocabulary to avoid the sort of catastrophic blazes now sweeping Southern California.

From Steve Lopez in the L.A Times today

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to prevent the kinds of roaring fires that are currently swallowing homes and taking lives. If we’re going to be dumb enough to continue building in high-fire-danger areas, brush needs to be cleared to prevent the spread of killer blazes.

But we don’t do it, because our attention spans are shorter than the time it takes to eat a bag of Cheetos. Someone can be burned out of house and home, only to move straight back to Tinder Box Boulevard as soon as possible and wait for history to repeat itself.