Brown declares fire emergency

Rocky FireFaced with a string of large, dangerous fires, Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

“Firefighters in steep terrain and rugged conditions in California are fighting nearly two dozen wildfires that have torched more than 134,000 acres,” CNN reported, citing data obtained from state fire officials. “That’s nearly three times the state’s 5-year wildfire average of 48,153 acres for this time of year, according to statistics posted by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire.”

The largest blaze, the so-called Rocky Fire, tripled in size over the weekend, jumping a highway that had served as a containment line, according to reporting from KXTV Sacramento and the Associated Press.

Republished with permission by Cal Watchdog.com

Fire politics

By making the crisis official, Brown boosted the state’s ability to fight the fires in two ways. First, as the Sacramento Bee noted, he triggered the mobilization of the National Guard. Second, in a move likely to deepen the frustration of climate change activists, he “relaxed some regulations like environmental rules” and prohibitions on trespassing.

In a statement, Brown praised the state’s responders, but warned that the situation was critical. “California’s severe drought and extreme weather have turned much of the state into a tinderbox,” he said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “Our courageous firefighters are on the front lines, and we’ll do everything we can to help them.”

As BuzzFeed observed, California has hardly been alone battling blazes this summer: “Extraordinarily dry conditions are also plaguing other western states, and over the weekend wildfires raged in Oregon, Washington, and elsewhere in the region.”
 
Environmentalists have portrayed California’s drought-related plight as part of a broader spate of dangerously dry conditions. “Climate change not only aggravates wildfires,” suggested Public Radio International, “but scientists say that the millions of burning acres are in turn worsening climate change.”
 
“The average annual number of large fires in Alaska has doubled, and there’s also been a big increase in the size of those fires,” World Wildlife Fund climate policy analyst Nicky Sundt told PRI. “The fire behavior is unlike what we used to see three decades ago. The fuels are drier and it’s just burning hotter, it’s burning cleaner and burning down into the soil more than it used to.”

Fighting meddlers

California’s fire trouble has been compounded by residents interfering with operations — or, at times, necessitating new ones. A Redding resident, for instance, was recently arrested on suspicion of starting 14 small fires in the area.

But to date, the most sensational problem caused by meddlesome individuals has been drone related. In three separate instances, private drones floating overhead posed enough of a threat to firefighting airplanes that their missions were delayed. “After the unmanned devices were spotted flying above flames and smoke from the blazes this year — which altogether burned about 36,000 acres — fire crews were forced to ground water-dropping aircraft,” the Los Angeles Times noted. “Officials said the delays allowed the fires to spread, resulting in devastating property losses.”

As a result, San Bernardino County officials have now ponied up $25,000 apiece, one reward per incident, for details about who’s responsible. “We want to know who was flying drones, and we want them punished,” said Board of Supervisors chairman Jorge Ramos, according to the Verge. “Someone knows who they are, and there is $75,000 waiting for them.”

California lawmakers, Slate reported, “proposed a pair of bills that would make flying drones over fires a misdemeanor carrying up to $2,000 in fines and shield emergency personnel from liability for swatting them out of the way.” And in Congress, Rep. Paul Cook, R.-Ca., introduced legislation that would make similar interference a federal crime worth up to five years behind bars.

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