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Segment | Environment

After the Burn

After another devastating series of wildfires in Southern California, it’s clear that our fire season is now year-round, and that we must come to grips with where and how we build our homes — and with who is going to pay for the skyrocketing costs of firefighting.

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This is in response to your segment on “Southern California Connected” dated Nov. 20, 2008 concerning the impacts of the recent wildfires near Sylmar and Orange County. Being a wildland firefighter in Southern California and just recently participating in the Sayre Fire, helping to protect some of those homes, I was very enthusiastic about watching the segment. Though I only watched the first portion, I was very impressed with the relevance of the content and feel that this is an issue that touches practically everyone living here. I was very intrigued to hear the comments made by Lt. Governor Garamendi as well as the climatologist from the jet propulsion lab. What really intrigued me though was where they stood on what are the causes of why we now have a year-round fire season and who should be responsible for incurring the cost when such disasters occur?
It appears from watching the segment, that there were two camps on who was responsible: one group believing that the state and government should absorb most of the cost while the other believes that the cost should be levied on those that live in these areas in the event this happens again. I feel that this argument affects more people than many realize. Those that live in these areas are not realizing the true cost of their choice to live in an area that is extremely susceptible to such hazards. In essence, they are being subsidized at the expense of millions of taxpayers and the local community governments. I know this is not a popular opinion but it is in fact true. The areas that many of these communities are in, to state it simply, are “high to extreme hazard” areas. Most emergency agencies realize this along with, I’m sure, those in urban planning and development. Unlike the hazard of living in a metropolitan area that is prone to earthquakes, living in areas prone to wildfires should require an increased knowledge and responsibility on those that choose to live there.
For some, living in these areas is a financial choice where they are limited on options. For others, it seem it’s a choice of tastes and preference. Either way, I think that the responsibility should lie with both and out of fairness, be held more accountable – financially. It would not be right, nor moral, to charge someone the total cost. What I am saying is, out of fairness to all, that they incur a more proportionate cost for their choice to live there. Adjusting property taxes to include the additional risks or requiring residents to provide insurance coverage that would soley cover the residence would relieve the burden to the general taxpayer and make people fully realize the cost of living so close to such a hazard.
I hate to see people lose their homes and I have seen it enough times, up-close, while trying to defend them that I think the public should be made more informed on the risks they are taking. They should not be duped into thinking - either from the property agent or because they have some clearance around their home – that these areas are safe or that the only adverse result would be the loss of their home. In watching the segment, I got this perception. Aside from the cost of suppressing the fire, having emergency response and relief resources available to assist the public, there is the potential risk imposed on the emergency responder to risk his or her life when not duly necessary. Being a public servant and emergency responders, we understand that the task we do involves risking our lives. But, I feel it is selfish for some to gamble with our lives simply because they wanted to live in an area that is so dangerous just because of the view or privacy. Quite honestly, it made me upset during the segment when some homeowners were asked why they keep coming back after repeated wildfires and replied by saying “ Because I love it here and I am willing to risk losing my home if it happens again”. This public sentiment is not new to us and we accept that some people either do not know or simply don’t realize what they are saying and we continue to do what needs doing.
Having lost co-workers in the past under these same conditions, where they tried to defend a home in a extremely hazardous and unsafe environment, should be known to people who live there that that is what they are risking as well – the lives of firefighters and the lives of their families. I do appreciate all the thanks that people give us and I am grateful for that. I just feel that people living in these areas need to take a closer look at the costs.
In conclusion, I would much enjoy hearing more discussion on this subject on your show and look forward to watching other topics related to Southern California. Please also realize that these comments are my own and do not reflect the opinions of other firefighters or the agency I work for. Thank you for your time.

This is in response to your segment on “Southern California Connected” dated
Nov. 20, 2008 concerning the impacts of the recent wildfires near Sylmar and Orange County. Being a wildland firefighter in Southern California and just recently participating in the Sayre Fire, helping to protect some of those homes, I was very enthusiastic about watching the segment. Though I only watched the first portion, I was very impressed with the relevance of the content and feel that this is an issue that touches practically everyone living here. I was very intrigued to hear the comments made by Lt. Governor Garamendi as well as the climatologist from the jet propulsion lab. What really intrigued me though was where they stood on what are the causes of why we now have a year-round fire season and who should be responsible for incurring the cost when such disasters occur?
It appears from watching the segment, that there were two camps on who was responsible: one group believing that the state and government should absorb most of the cost while the other believes that the cost should be levied on those that live in these areas in the event this happens again. I feel that this argument affects more people than many realize. Those that live in these areas are not realizing the true cost of their choice to live in an area that is extremely susceptible to such hazards. In essence, they are being subsidized at the expense of millions of taxpayers and the local community governments. I know this is not a popular opinion but it is in fact true. The areas that many of these communities are in, to state it simply, are “high to extreme hazard” areas. Most emergency agencies realize this along with, I’m sure, those in urban planning and development. Unlike the hazard of living in a metropolitan area that is prone to earthquakes, living in areas prone to wildfires should require an increased knowledge and responsibility on those that choose to live there.
For some, living in these areas is a financial choice where they are limited on options. For others, it seem it’s a choice of tastes and preference. Either way, I think that the responsibility should lie with both and out of fairness, be held more accountable – financially. It would not be right, nor moral, to charge someone the total cost. What I am saying is, out of fairness to all, that they incur a more proportionate cost for their choice to live there. Adjusting property taxes to include the additional risks or requiring residents to provide insurance coverage that would soley cover the residence would relieve the burden to the general taxpayer and make people fully realize the cost of living so close to such a hazard.
I hate to see people lose their homes and I have seen it enough times, up-close, while trying to defend them that I think the public should be made more informed on the risks they are taking. They should not be duped into thinking - either from the property agent or because they have some clearance around their home – that these areas are safe or that the only adverse result would be the loss of their home. In watching the segment, I got this perception. Aside from the cost of suppressing the fire, having emergency response and relief resources available to assist the public, there is the potential risk imposed on the emergency responder to risk his or her life when not duly necessary. Being a public servant and emergency responders, we understand that the task we do involves risking our lives. But, I feel it is selfish for some to gamble with our lives simply because they wanted to live in an area that is so dangerous just because of the view or privacy. Quite honestly, it made me upset during the segment when some homeowners were asked why they keep coming back after repeated wildfires and replied by saying “ Because I love it here and I am willing to risk losing my home if it happens again”. This public sentiment is not new to us and we accept that some people either do not know or simply don’t realize what they are saying and we continue to do what needs doing.
Having lost co-workers in the past under these same conditions, where they tried to defend a home in a extremely hazardous and unsafe environment, should be known to people who live there that that is what they are risking as well – the lives of firefighters and the lives of their families. I do appreciate all the thanks that people give us and I am grateful for that. I just feel that people living in these areas need to take a closer look at the costs.
In conclusion, I would much enjoy hearing more discussion on this subject on your show and look forward to watching other topics related to Southern California. Please also realize that these comments are my own and do not reflect the opinions of other firefighters or the agency I work for. Thank you for your time.

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