I live about two miles from where the Camarillo Springs Fire began. We live here because we love being within a stone's throw of the beaches and canyons along the California coast while still able to get to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara without too much aggravation. For nineteen years we've called this place home, and in that time we've seen wildfires before, but never one like this one.
As I write this, Point Mugu State Park is going up in a blaze of smoke and ash after our local foothills burned in a blaze of glory yesterday here. Until May 2nd, Wood Canyon was a quiet place to ride mountain bikes or hike on little out-of-the-way trails. It's one of our favorite places to go, and this time of year is usually one of the best times to go there because it's cool and spring wildflowers are in full bloom. Deer, hawks, rabbits and the occasional bobcat can be spotted alongside the bike trails from time to time.
Or at least, they used to be able to. Now they're fleeing an out-of-control conflagration that has chewed through most of their habitat and threatens the rest.
Watching exhausted firefighters cut away brush with shovels and bulldozers on TV causes my blood to boil. Here's a fact: Budget cuts due to sequestration cost us some of the most beautiful resources we have in this area. It cost endangered species their habitats, and from bird to butterfly to bobcat, it has devastated the populations living in the now-charred canyons.
Thanks to Republicans' stupid sequester and our former Republican governor's penchant for slashing the budget far deeper than it ever should have been rather than tax corporations even one extra dime,
18,000 28,000 acres have burned away, with more threatened. Deeper firefighting resources might have saved it. At the very least, having a Supertanker on standby might have bought a bit more time before the flames leapt into the canyon and rolled down the other side to the ocean.
Anyone familiar with wildfires knows there are few weapons to battle them, but one of the most effective is the Supertanker airplane, which is why Schwarzenegger cut their contract short by a year, of course. Governor Brown renewed it, but only beginning in September, which is when fire season used to be before our climate got crazy and screwed up. He should have known better.
It's not just the state cuts. In fact, the federal cuts do more harm than state cuts, because the federal budget pays for wildfire and forestry personnel. Thanks to sequestration, firefighting resources took their share of the hit, too.
This is the product of hard-core right wing libertarian destroy-the-government policies. Don't let anyone tell you this was President Obama's idea. It never was. It was hatched by Mitch McConnell and bearhugged by John Boehner as a way to get past the debt ceiling crisis without actually tanking the economy in real time by defaulting on our debt. McConnell came up with it, Boehner sold it to teabaggers, and Obama signed it because the alternative was worse. I've heard you deniers say otherwise. Be advised you're mistaken.
Their messages speak for themselves. Here's National Review Institute, debunking the "liberal myth" that we need federal funding for firefighters.
Our nation somehow managed to survive over two centuries without any federal police and fire department spending. Perhaps the sequester can help remind local governments of this fact.
I suppose they forgot the days when a routine house fire ravaged entire cities. I suppose they've forgotten even back to last year when Colorado lost firefighters, homes, and thousands of acres of forest to wildfires.
Here's the Heritage Foundation.
Fire grants appear to be ineffective at reducing fire casualties. AFG, FP&S, and SAFER grants failed to reduce firefighter deaths, firefighter injuries, civilian deaths, or civilian injuries. Without receiving fire grants, comparison fire departments and grant-funded fire departments were equally successful at preventing fire casualties.
You know what they don't mention here? Fire grants paid for forestry employees to go and clear brush and make fire breaks ahead of the disaster. Today we've got firefighters out there working overtime to do it in real time before the fire gets to them. An ounce of prevention would have saved our canyons. Supertankers are incredibly effective at tamping down fires in areas like you see in that video up above. But we didn't have one, nor do we have other critical resources.
But the U.S. Forest Service faces tremendous cuts to its firefighting capabilities under sequestration. Its “Wildland Fire Management” account, which funds preparedness, fire suppression, hazardous-fuels removal, restoration, and state fire assistance, among other things, is slated to be cut by $172 million in fiscal year 2013 if the sequester moves forward. Additionally, the Department of the Interior’s “Wildland Fire Management” account faces a $46 million cut next year. The department also funds the “FLAME Wildfire Suppression Reserve Fund,” which will be cut by $7 million under sequestration. In total, funding for wildland fire prevention and assistance at the land management agencies will be cut by $225 million.
Without such funding, not only will Americans’ property and lives be more at risk, but special places such as national forests and national parks will be less resilient in the face of future fires.
Progressives said right from the start that the sequester was terrible policy. They specified how it would do harm to children, the aged, the poor, and yes, how it would endanger all of us by limiting our resources to fight fires and police communities.
Do not be fooled by lying liars telling you we don't need federal firefighting resources or funding. For want of one Supertanker, our canyons were lost. Watch this little clip of my husband's bike ride through Wood Canyon a week ago and consider that the trees he rolled under and the growth the deer he saw hid in is now ashes and dust. Next winter when the rains come those trails will likely be washed out by mudslides and floods. It will take many, many years for the California sage, sycamore and oak trees to come back. It won't be in our lifetimes. Maybe not even in our children's lifetimes.
Ask the billionaires whether it was worth it. Ask yourself whether you'd pay a few more dollars in taxes to have kept this place from burning to the ground. If your answer is yes, get on the phone and tell your Congressman who owns this fire, and who needs to repeal sequestration now. Make them pay.
A quiet ride at sunset through Wood Canyon on April 26th