When you drive up the last stretch of the northbound 605 Freeway, you are aimed dead at the Cogswell Dam, west of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, where there are said to be wild trout, though they’ve never been interested in my dry fly.
Labor Day weekend around 2 p.m., I was driving that stretch, because in my gang Sunday is Mandatory Surf Day, and I was returning to Pasadena from Bolsa Chica.
That meant I had a terrifyingly spectacular view of the smoke from the beginning moments of the Bobcat fire, which was sparked near the dam around 1 that day. I was seeing the first few acres burning of a fire that as of Friday afternoon had roared through more than 60,000 acres of crazy-dry wildland with an end date now predicted for six weeks from now.
The gray smoke that has lived in our lungs for two weeks was already almost a mile high above the San Gabriel Mountains that windless midday.
It was a sickening sight. And it was compounded by a sickening sight I had just seen on my car’s thermometer as I passed by the Santa Fe Dam. It registered 119 degrees, which I’d never seen anything close to. Of course it was what we Southern Californians know as a “freeway temperature” — hotter because of all the asphalt and exhaust around me. It was probably “really” more like 115 degrees. But even that is not normal in these parts. That’s a normal late-summer Arabian temperature. And, as we all know, that same Sunday the non-freeway temp in Woodland Hills hit 121. It was the hottest day ever recorded in Los Angeles County history. It was inhuman out. But it was a perfect day to be a wildfire.
Californians need to cease-and-desist the merely political arguments about what has “caused” the last several years worth of the worst wildfire seasons ever. They are not caused by the global climate emergency. They are merely exacerbated by it. Forest fires don’t give any more of a damn about your politics than the deadly coronavirus does. They also don’t give a damn if you don’t have any politics, as the current president doesn’t, but simply an ego. Although, for an inanimate object, they sure got a good laugh at the current president when he came to California last week and intoned, with that deadpan-dummy face of his, “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.” The person he said this to was our state’s secretary for natural resources, who actually knows what he’s talking about. Not often you get a chance to fire back the perfect, if polite, retort to a prexy: “I wish science agreed with you.” And then, almost unbelievably from the non-leader of the Free World, an ugly smirk and: “Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.”
Oh, science knows.
But, again, as we continue, hope against hope, to fight the fires this year and all the years to come, the plans that will work will have nothing to do with California leaders being liberal or conservative. You think we fought fires better, or had better forest management, when Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian or Pete Wilson was governor? We did not. The federal government, temporarily under the sway of the current president, owns the vast majority of California’s burnable wildlands. Yet under Bushes and Reagan, under the current president, it has not magically swept the forest floor clean of tinder.
All wildfire experts agree: First, after decades of drought, bark-beetle infestation and rapidly rising temperatures, California’s forests have tens of millions of dead trees that need clearing out. Second, controlled burns need to be set to clear underbrush. Third, we need to continue to be the world leader in fighting climate change to halt the rise in global warming. We need to be scientific Americans.
Larry Wilson is on the Southern California News Group editorial board. email@example.com.
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