Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Firestorms Across Southern California Continue

A map of the current extent of the fires says it all. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been burned, thousands of homes destroyed, and up to five people have been killed in fire-related incidents have been reported across Southern California as the wildfires continue to gobble up acre after acre as firefighters struggle to get a handhold on the situation.

The Santa Ana winds, which feed the fires and make them grow uncontrollable, have abated for the moment, enabling firefighters to catch their breath, but the situation remains dire.

More than a million people have been displaced thus far.

Again, the NYT displays some of its irrational Bush bashing, claiming that Bush acted swiftly based on his experience with Hurricane Katrina. That would, of course, ignore the fact that the federal government did move to provide aid to the Gulf Coast states before landfall, but Louisiana officials did so poorly in that crisis that everyone got screwed. California officials are handling the situation far better, and the newly implemented emergency contact system is working to alert residents to evacuate as a result of the oncoming fire hazards.

Firefighters are working to the breaking point, and some are complaining that they simply don't have enough men or equipment. They're also realizing that if they let some homes burn, they might be able to save hundreds more. It's a damning choice.

In response to Orange County Fire Chief Chip Prather's comments about the lack of air support to fight the fires, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger noted that it wouldn't have made a difference how many aircraft were deployed because they wouldn't have been able to fly because of the wind situation, which topped 100 mph at times.

With the winds dying down, firefighters should be able to gain control over them in the next few days.

A list of emergency contacts is here.

My thoughts and prayers continues to go out to all those affected by the fires.

Some are speculating that these wildfires may have been part of an al Qaeda plot to start wildfires. I recall that possibility, but the fires could have been started by a firebug just as easily as an al Qaeda operative.

I'd also expect al Qaeda to claim the fires as their own before long. It would fit their MO - a spectacular incident with the potential for mass casualties.

The problem is that wildfires are an annual occurance in the US, and some years are worse than others because of lack of rain, high heat, wind and/or low humidity. It would be too easy to dismiss such an "attack" as nothing more than a naturally occurring disaster rather than a terrorist attack.

A concern, however, would be that while emergency response is focused on firefighting, terrorists could take advantage and cause a mass casualty incident to which assets might not be available as a result of fighting the fires.

Is arson playing a role in some of the fires? Possibly. One man was arrested by law enforcement after a police helicopter spotted a man on their infrared cameras who may have started one of the many fires. (HT: njdhockeyfan at LGF)

It looks like law enforcement is ready to declare the Santiago Canyon fire arson, and to issue a $50,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of the culprit.
Investigators have identified two separate "points of origin" where they believe the fire was set, CBS News has learned. FBI agents secured the scene to "maintain its integrity."

The Santiago Fire has burned about 19,200 acres east of Irvine, officials said, and it is around 30 percent contained. Six homes and eight outbuildings have been destroyed, with another eight homes and 12 outbuildings damaged. Four firefighters have been injured fighting the blaze and about 3,000 people evacuated.

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