Its hard to escape the news these day, of the conflagration of Southern California, fanned by the roaring Santa Anna Winds. It seems that if celebrity homes and life styles are threatened then there is no shortage of coverage and news. We get it all, from pronouncements of aid to flaming castles to satellite plumes. All the stations have the obligatory coverage.
But there is something to be taken to heart in all this, aside from the obvious. Disaster is no respecter of wealth and influence. And in this case there is far more here than meets the eye. It is obvious that the drought has played a great role in the ravaging fires, by providing tinder and fuel for the fires. But what has also played a pivotal role is the fact that for the past fifty years we in North America have believed the hype that all forest fires are bad, that the adage of Smokey and cohorts were to be applied no matter what. All fires were to be extinguished. In fact this is not the case. Fire plays a crucial role in the regeneration of forests, clearing detritus and clearing the slate for species to occupied new niches. In nature fire is a necessary evil, as we have found out. It we inhibit the process, when it does inevitably break out, either naturally or through the actions of people, it becomes a devastating raging inferno from which nothing escapes alive.
The second point to notice is the sprawl of our population. We are now building in places that we shouldn’t, because we are crowding ourselves out of our cities. We are building beside forests which have become tinder boxes, on the slopes of mountains that can come crashing down on us when the earth moves and close to ocean shores that turn deadly when storms turn the waters to towering waves and floods.
What began the process was the incredible drought that has affected not only North America, but also China, India, Africa and Australia. Somehow it is more newsworthy when it affect the denizens of Malibu, than it does the African Sahel.
What we can learn from the California conflagration is that sometimes when you play with fire, you can get burned. What are we in the Maritimes going to get burned by? Just like the West Coasters we treat the environment as disposable at our our peril. We have our own disasters waiting to take their turn. Consider the Gulf Stream, our prime disaster waiting to happen. Or our storms, hurricanes and ETs being generated with increasing freuency and intensity. Or our new climate with its prolonged summer and feeble winters. California and Santa Anna wind fires are not so far away after all.
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