Firefighters say they have gained control of most of the wildfires that have scorched Southern California and forced a record evacuation. Most of the half million people who were forced to leave their homes were allowed to return by Sunday, and fewer than 2,000 people remained in public shelters that held 20,000 at the disaster’s peak. “We've turned a corner here," said Frank McCarton, chief deputy director in the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "But we have a long road for recovery, and we need to focus on that now.”
What the commentators said
At last, California can safely enter the “blame Washington” ritual that follows every disaster, said the San Francisco Chronicle in an editorial. But in this case state authorities should take the lion’s share of the blame. The federal government has “consistently and generously” poured money into fire-fighting resources for Californians, but residents have the right to ask what the state has done. “The answer is: Not much.”
Americans always need an explanation when they see mass destruction, said Gregory Rodriguez in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). The tragedy of “charred bodies, charred houses, charred hillsides” must either be an “act of God,” or the fault of a government that wasn’t prepared, or developers who put homes in fire’s path. But the “climate of recrimination” only “adds bitterness to sorrow and prolongs the tragedy.” The truth is, we can’t “avert all bad things” no matter what we do.
No, but we can rethink how to “minimize the loss of lives and property from fires,” said the Sacramento Bee in an editorial (free registration). Local governments should take more financial responsibility for protecting themselves, and limit construction in fire zones. And environmental and fire officials should figure out how to do a better job at clearing out dead trees and brush that fuel huge fires. Simple steps like these can save homes, and lives.