Didn't Southern California feel like another planet last night? Right at dusk, I mean. The sky was ashen gray -- not foggy, but the color of a kind of Martian atmosphere we've only dreamed about in science-fiction novels. The moon was full and glowing pink, as if made of neon, or radioactive material. Are we this far into the future already?
Yes and no.
When the earth wants to burn, it's going to burn, writes Judith Lewis in this piece in the LA Weekly. The freaky thing this time around is that lately it seems like the whole world is burning:
From the Great Basin across the Midwestern United States, from Canada to the Amazon, from Greece to the Canary Islands off the African Coast, 2007 has been as wicked a wildfire season as any in recorded history (the only possible contender for a worse year was 2006).
In July, 600 separate fires raged across Croatia in 20 days, destroying homes that had endured world and civil wars. In August, flames chewed up forests on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula, threatening ancient relics and requiring the firefighting help of 24 countries (including Canada, but not the U.S.). Greece endured the worst fire season, said BBC correspondent Malcolm Brabant, "in living memory."
Now we have some final notes on the fire situation in San Diego. First, at Voice of San Diego, a rare and refreshing online-only non-profit news source, there is an interesting look at how the Spanish-language media in San Diego has covered the wildfires, by Emily Alpert:
Chastened for their low-key coverage of the 2003 Cedar Fire, Spanish-language television and radio stations had another go at it in this year's disaster. Telemundo and Univision joined forces Monday, streaming life-or-death information on evacuations, road closures and shelter sites in the tongue their viewers understand. NBC offered Spanish news updates between its English broadcast, winning praise from Latino leaders.
But the major Spanish stations didn't start continuous coverage of the fire until Monday, endangering Spanish-speakers in Ramona and Potrero, where the first two blazes started Sunday and gained steam as residents went to bed Sunday evening. And Spanish speakers haven't been as well-served by city communications, some complain. Memos from the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista haven't been translated into Spanish, forcing bilingual volunteers to step in.
By mid-week, the papers started looking at whether San Diego was well enough prepared to handle the multiple fires that ignited on Sunday. Some politicians were huffing and puffing about a few firefighting aircraft that didn't get off the ground soon enough, with some media following course, but I see the issue as a silly distraction from the root problem: a population and political establishment terminally averse to taxing itself or buying bonds to better fund fire protection and prevention.
This Union-Tribune story on the topic, for example, curiously made no mention of the words "bonds" or "taxes," veritable slurs in San Diego politics. But it did make note of the fact that former San Diego Fire Chief Jeff Bowman resigned 18 months ago -- without collecting pension, mind you -- because he believed his department was not just under-funded but "under-everything." This week, Bowman actually defied an evacuation order and stayed at his home near Escondido as fire approached.
At the intersection of border politics, fire season, and racial profiling and prejudice, an incident involving two couples accused of looting at Qualcomm Stadium is raising questions about San Diego's almost too-pristine reputation for its cordial and generous treatment of fire evacuees. It's just not the same if you're brown, surprise-surprise:
Since then, some Latino evacuees say they feel they are being eyed with suspicion, even when they ask for supplies. Joana Miss, a 27-year-old native of Mexico City who was evacuated from her Ramona home, said that Wednesday evening she asked a volunteer for diapers for her 2-year-old son, who had diarrhea, and was handed three individual diapers. Then "when I was leaving, they gave an American woman a whole box," she said.
But could sweet fire-sparked karma be touching the border? The crossing at Tecate was locked shut when the Harris Fire started, but someone at some point broke the gates' chains, and an undetermined amount of migrants and Americans poured in, reports the L.A. Times: "After someone opened the gate, the rush was on, Nuñez said. People started walking and driving back and forth unimpeded. Most, he said, appeared to be U.S. residents who had been visiting Mexico and were rushing back across the border to get their parked cars away from the flames. Some people, however, disappeared into the hills west of town." Link.
That's it for now. I'm finally bouncing to Mexico City next week, just in time for Dia de los Muertos.