The numbers regarding the wildfires in California are mind-boggling. So far, 54,000 acres and nearly 100 structures have burned. Worse, over 80,000 buildings and businesses are threatened by a fire that is just 5 percent contained. It is hard to even fathom.
I must admit, even as a person who has written and talked about this situation – and personally knows people impacted by it, to a degree all those statistics remained just numbers. I could look at those numbers and the fire in safety. Indeed, I was in New York analyzing it all on "Fox & Friends" when it became so very real.
While I was preparing another article, I received a text from a good friend. She asked if I needed a place to stay. I had no idea what she was talking about. She proceeded to tell me she read that parts of my relatively small town in California were being evacuated.
I called her in a panic looking for an explanation. Then I spent the next four hours trying to get updated information. I contacted friends, pleading with one to abide by the evacuation while telling others to pack and asking another to visit my home — just 1.2 miles as the ember flies from the evacuation zone.
Some told me things were under control, and others didn’t. Good information was almost as uncertain as the wind direction, or so it seemed.
As the fires so close to my home were extinguished by brave men and women, it was easy for me to realize that I am among the very fortunate. So too are many in the city of Windsor, which sits on the edge of the fire.
As its young mayor, Dominic Foppoli, whom I knew as a teenager, told me: “There was despair yesterday morning, at this time [there's] just pride and hope. Yesterday was the most intense fire to ever hit Windsor. Through the amazing efforts of our first responders every house in the city was saved.”
For all those so much less fortunate, this cannot go on. Things have been done wrong and things must change.
California must recognize that decades of poor power line maintenance and allowing overgrowth near power lines (a policy choice) mixed with high winds and dry conditions (not new to California) are taking their toll.
The changes must start with those in California government realizing that their most important mission, from the governor on down, is public safety — not their brand of social justice. There will be no social justice for all of those who lost their homes and livelihoods, if not their lives.
PG&E must no longer bow to environmentalists who dictate that trees can only be trimmed to a few short feet from power lines. During high winds, that is no buffer at all, not to mention how quickly the trees grow back.
Beyond that, our power companies cannot have their core mission — delivering safe and reliable power — be compromised to achieve environmental goals. I suggest that a scorched earth is not environmentally sound. Simply stated, it is time for those environmentalists to put immediate public safety ahead of their fervor.
It is also irrational that PG&E cuts power to residents and businesses, thereby cutting off means of communication when safety information is most needed. These fires in California, the hurricanes of the South and the tornadoes in between demonstrate just how vulnerable our disaster communications are.
Imagine if our power grid was attacked from abroad. The dislocation would dwarf what we have seen to date. A better crisis communication system must exist in this high-tech age.
As the smoke billows in California, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Politicians and big government obviously don’t either. While they busy themselves with well over $100 billion in spending in California on so many non-essential programs, it is time for them to realize that people are the most essential of all. Public safety must be job one.
As I look out from my kitchen window, I can breathe a sigh of relief. More than ever though, none of us should rest.