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Burned Out: The End Result of Californication

learn from the horror and apply it this election

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 24, 2007.

For KGNU’ers, I’ve posted a piece on the good Mouse Bradshaw at The Boulder Lout in the BlogaBoulder. Just type in Mouse or KGNU in the search engine. There's an audio with it. And, later, I've posted it here in the KGNU section, where it probably should always have been.

I don’t recall in my lifetime when a million Americans were physically evacuated by natural disaster. Not by hurricane, earthquake or anything. But it’s happening in Southern California, where a combination of irresponsible if not corrupt governance, stupid construction, lazy maintenance, and cheek by jowl neighborhoods has led to at least a thousand buildings - and maybe several times that - to be burned to a crisp. Burned so quickly that people sometimes were given seven minutes to get out of the house with pets and kids. Nothing else.

It’s not cricket to drop kick those when they are down. It isn’t civilized to be like Glenn Beck and suggest that the people who hate America are getting what they deserve, although I love his ignorance of the voting demographics in San Diego, where much of the fire damage has been. That’s Red State territory, his supposed support group.

But we need only look at Katrina and New Orleans, where everyone made heartfelt speeches and did nothing. To this day, Nawlins is an illustrative example of photo-op hypocrisy by all politicians. That won’t happen in lily white and voter heavy California, of course, but I use it as an example of how we tend to shine on revelations that don’t fit our visualization templates. Just as we’ve forgotten, and allowed Hillary Clinton to forget, that we need to get rid of the Electoral College.

So, what can we learn and remember from this day forth about this disaster in California? At least till the election this November?

Well, automatic recorded evac messages work. Good to know. And firefighting is my idea of hell, and my heart goes out to the people fighting the long defeat and risking their lives to do so.

But, what was shown on television last night was incredible. The fire apparently would approach a neighborhood from rural canyons. It blew across the lawn singing the grass, and caught in what often were several inches of dead pine needles in unraked pathways to reach the wooden houses, not a few expensive. And the houses burst into flame when hit by what could not have been much in the way of a ground fire. Then, the houses were built so close together that the high heat from one exploded the next and so on. It was amazing to see houses burnt to the ground, surrounded by green grass and barely marked shrubbery. Hot enough to melt metal from the cars in the garage.

In short, the houses were firetraps, the paint seems to have ignited easily, the oiled shingles very easily, and they were done. These were middle class houses, some expensive, and they could not repel what should have been quite easy to survive. Nobody, it seems, took the Saturday afternoon necessary to rake up dead flora and dispose of it.

It’s not like this doesn’t happen often. In fact, this very scenario has been predicted forever, certainly in my lifetime. When the bumper sticker 'Don’t Californicate Colorado' began to appear, it wasn’t the supposed hedonism and left wing politics of Hollywood and San Francisco that was the fear. It’s what would happen if Colorado had the building construction that California does. We haven’t prevented it. We almost lost north Boulder in the last decade when a huge grass fire nearly swept across a neighborhood and past Broadway. There was nothing but a wind change to stop it. And, nothing has changed.

When you see the brand new Dickensian tenements of stained wood condos and townhouses built cheek by jowl on Highway 36 that have sprung up in the last few years, that’s Californication. We have a forest of dead evergreens up Canuck wind in a narrow canyon pointed like a gun at central Boulder in areas developers salivate over. Just like the California canyons of dead Chaparral down wind of the Santa Annas.

We vote soon. Remember the fires in California when you vote on measures that will address how we might prevent these very same disasters in our own tinderbox.