California fires create 'utter devastation'; Wildfire losses top $1 billion. I also heard on MSNBC this afternoon that an area twice the size of NYC has burned, and something like 1500 homes (as of this afternoon) had been lost. But, for comparison: something in the neighborhood of 200,000 homes (if I heard correctly) were lost during Hurricane Katrina. Nonetheless, seven counties were declared emergency zones. Someone (a Louisiana Congresswoman? I missed the name) pointed out that while there were racial issues involved in the way Katrina was handled, she couldn't fault the California rescue efforts for being quicker or more efficient--after all, during Katrina, people were stranded in water, unable to move in or out of the area, whereas the fires move quickly and don't bog rescue attempts down. They might resist firefighting efforts, but at least people are able to evacuate in a quick, orderly fashion. Another difference they mentioned on the news: California has had wildfire protocols in place since 1915 (1950? Not sure what I heard, but I think it was 1915), whereas the government was ignoring the need for additional dam funding right up until the moment all hell broke loose.
Were the fires started on purpose? "Amid worries of new blazes adding to the firestorm already afflicting the region, a man in Hesperia has been arrested on suspicion of arson, and police reported shooting and killing another arson suspect after chasing him out of scrub behind Cal State San Bernardino.... Investigators have said that at least two of the huge wildfires, one in Orange County and the other in Temecula, were the work of arsonists."
Some firefighters had been laid off. I can't help but wonder if this is related--a reason for arson, perhaps.
"Washington Wire was a little stunned to receive a press release today hawking disgraced former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown as 'available for interviews' to discuss the wildfire crisis in Southern California."
And finally, how to help fire victims.