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Originally published October 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 26, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Editorial

Fireside chats to reduce the threat

San Diego residents, and their Southern California neighbors, must be ready for blunt civic conversations after the last brutal fire is...

San Diego residents, and their Southern California neighbors, must be ready for blunt civic conversations after the last brutal fire is extinguished and the ash settles.

It is time to get real about substantial investments in fire suppression and adopting broad, tough water-conservation measures. After the 2003 conflagrations, local voters refused to beef up San Diego's firefighting capabilities. Nasty, lingering drought conditions compounded the damage from the current fires, and the city is still hemming and hawing about the regulatory prospects of brown lawns.

Blistering Santa Ana winds add to the lethality of the huge fires. Those winds will return whether or not the state and local fire services learn to better coordinate their efforts. Local news coverage and editorial comment echo the turf wars.

Look at the role of lax land-use planning in the fires. If homes are snugged up against areas with a history of trouble, they might as well name the subdivisions Rancho Kindling and expect the worst.

Homeowners will bear a measure of responsibility. Since 2005, state law has required that homes have a 100-foot defensible barrier, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Thinning trees where residential development and forests abut may have to be accepted over environmental protests — same with reconciling the need for controlled burns and air-pollution regulations. The apparent alternative to relative wisps of smoke would be fires with names like Witch, Harris and Buckweed, which have incinerated 198,000, 81,000 and 38,000 acres, respectively.

Southern California has to take remedial action for past poor planning, and not repeat the actions that now regularly force evacuations ahead of walls of flames. How many times will the region explode in flames before it acts to reduce the threat?

A common denominator for more and more of the nation is drought. Check out maps at the Web site of the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group (such as www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html). The arid West is hardly alone. The Southeast United States is in the grip of horrific conditions.

We in the soggy Pacific Northwest are not immune, and need to ramp up our own civic introspection. Climate change and warmer weather are melting snowpack faster and will not allow the region to store water in the mountains for humans and fish. East of the mountains, the state had what officials describe as a light fire season — and it still claimed tens of thousands of acres.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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