Friday, November 30, 2007

Confronting the Fires

How wildfire preparedness is turning California into Arizona

By Constance Casey
A wildfire in Malibu, Calif.
The Santa Ana wind, which hits Southern California like a parched hurricane almost every fall, followed an unusually dry winter and spring this year. The California summer was, as usual, hot and rainless. An autumn with dry earth, dry trees, dry grass—all it took was a spark.

The sour though sensible aftereffect of the Malibu and San Diego County fires is that California homeowners are beginning to look at their trees and plants not as beloved and beautiful green stuff but as fuel for a future fire.

The lingering edginess and increased sensitivity to this threat is a lot like the way Californians feel about earthquakes. It would be nice to put the wineglasses up there on a shelf over the sink, but in a quake those glasses would be dangerous missiles. Similarly, it would be lovely to have that oak tree at the corner of the house shading the deck, but fire could race up the tree trunk to the roof. Now, in fact, wooden decks are strongly discouraged, and should be replaced by stone or cement patios. A rose-covered cottage is now perceived as a firetrap.

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