Local Fires 3

I’m updating my map with bits I get from here and there. Unless someone thinks it’s important for me to continue this effort, I’m only going to update once or twice a day now. I’ll leave this topic with some (uncommonly?) direct comments on how people view events like this.

At this moment the firefighters have set up a defense line and they’re sort of daring the fire to cross. The divider between Orange County and Riverside County is right across the top of the mountain and that’s one the points where they’re taking a firm stand. That said, on the other side of the mountain they’re preparing for what happens if the fire does decide to cross jurisictions and come down the other side.

If you want more info on the fire as it happens, the Orange County Register is doing a great job with their map updates. LA Times has a nice view of all fires. The Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) is finally updating their site about once a day or so. I’ve been getting most of my info from those sources to build my map but there’s no sense in me duplicating (plagerizing?!) their effort, even if I do add a couple personal comments here and there.

We’re doing fine in this area. The air is starting to clear and the sun is shining. I called Zumasys a little while ago and was told the fire was close but not on top of them. Check my map to see where they are – much closer that we are…

Thanks to everyone who has called or emailed to check in.

Best wishes are extended to anyone truly threatened by this disaster, especially those many people who actually have lost homes.

In the news and blogs I’ve seen a few comments for which I’ld like to make a personal response:

Mad when things go right?!

First – When watching interviews, some people are very upset that San Diego evacuees are being well cared for, compared to the problems people were having when Katrina hit New Orleans. Some of the people who have lost their homes even have smiles. Would others prefer that everyone suffer equally? Perhaps it’s better that after the fiasco in New Orleans, that government officials elsewhere got better prepared for disasters. It seems FEMA is no longer following their old plan, where all disasters handled by FEMA end in disaster :

From the real FEMA website - not really the image they intended to convey
It all leads back to Disaster? Obviously not what they intended…
(image has been removed from FEMA site)

Some people still believe this is a race issue, where people in New Orleans were taken care of poorly because of their skin color, but on TV people see big beautiful homes in San Diego going up in flames and white families getting food, toys, and medical care. Regardless of the houses you see on TV and the color of the people, the bottom line is that San Diego was better prepared for a disaster than they were in Louisiana, and yes that means keeping people mentally distracted from the devastation, as well as caring for their physical needs. In southern California there are fires every year and evacuation centers are always prepared for fires and for earthquakes. When Katrina was coming people were told to get out, leave the area, evacuate. Many of them didn’t leave when they had a chance, and found themselves in local evacuation centers that were unprepared for the event. Unfortunately Katrina didn’t hit where expected, many people in New Orleans really didn’t expect to get hit, and the devastation was truly huge – but nevertheless they were told to evacuate. It’s sad but not unexpected that there were inadequate resources to handle the mass of people displaced by Katrina. It’s sad that officials in New Orleans and Louisiana State didn’t call out every country-wide resource that was available. It’s sad that FEMA was incompetent. There were a lot of things that didn’t go right after Katrina. But when people learn and situations improve because of Katrina, and things go right somewhere else, try attributing it to man’s ability to learn from mistakes, rather than getting jealous or assuming malicious intent elsewhere. If anything, look at the obvious differences in the way these disasters were handled, look around at potentential disasters in your area, and check with your local authorities to make sure they’re prepared.

Living in Luxury

Second, I think reporters intentionally look around for the best combination of "nice homes" and "worst devastation". They’ve struck gold if they find a house worth a few million dollars going up in flames. Irony is at its finest when you see people walking through ashes and crying about losing everything, and then hopping in their Mercedes to head for a hotel. (Good luck finding one.) But this is not the average. There are people all over southern California with very diverse levels of income. The news media doesn’t generally seek out "average" homes on fire to put in their broadcasts because, well, that’s "average" and the news media wants glamour shots that will catch your eye. In other words, the public seems to want to see expensive houses burn (or at least that’s what the media is feeding us), but they get upset if they see just a few too many expensive houses.

It seems some people from New Orleans were concerned that those in San Diego are getting better care because they have better income. When someone gets evacuated to a shelter (local school or other public building) no one asks them how much their home was worth in order to determine what sort of care they’re going to get. While there’s not a direct correlation between the services rendered and the people who need the services, it does make sense that communities with higher per-capita tax revenue will spend more tax money on things that are important, like education, healthcare, and disaster relief.

"They Deserve What They Get"

I’ve heard that comment a few times and it’s a little irritating. When fires rage through an area every year or two it’s sort of tough to feel sorry for people who build expensive homes right in harm’s way. But the fires going on now are different. There are many fires, not all in the usual places. The communities burning now are not all new, and no, no one deserves what they’re getting. I do have less sympathy when people build houses in a flood zone like on the banks of the Mississippi, or on the top of hills that have regular landslides, or even in serious earthquake zones. But still, no one deserves a disaster.

It’s God’s work

I also get irritated when people invoke religion during disasters: "God is punishing you for your sins", "God hates democrats", "Allah hates christians", or even "Thank God my house didn’t burn". There are a lot of good people losing their houses: muslim, christian, jew, atheist, democrat, republican, black, white, gay, married, mexican, asian… If a house burns it’s not because God/Allah chose it to burn based on the people who live there. If the house next to it didn’t burn, it’s not because Jehovah spared it or because Allah accidentally missed as he was smiting the infidels. Take two neighbors with the same beliefs and burn down one of their homes. Is God punishing the latter? Rewarding the former? Testing faith?

No, I’m sorry, fire burns saints, sinners, and everyone in between as equals. The same goes for floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, lightning, and any other natural disaster – and with global warming we’re all going to see a lot more of this in the coming decades. When these tragedies strike I think it’s a shame that people jump on the opportunity to praise their deity. If you’re so inclined, maybe a "God’s will be done" will suffice. But I think gratitude to a deity is sort of misplaced when someone else has to suffer.

I know there are people who will "thank God it wasn’t worse" or "thank God more people didn’t die", etc. What I’m talking about here is not gratitude that it wasn’t worse, but gratitude that it happened to someone with whom one disagrees, or even the assumption that God is selecting individuals for a tragedy. There’s a big difference. This reminds me of a quote from Albert Einstein: "I believe in Spinoza’s God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind." Hey, we could be wrong.

Thanks for your time. Be safe – and thankful.

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