• The Publisher’s Notebook •
Malibu Wildfire: More Ready than Not
BY ANNE SOBLE
The brushfire at Mulholland and Las Virgenes on the Fourth of July was as routine as a fire can be in the unpredictable urban-wildland interface, but the swift and ample response of personnel and equipment was reassuring in the face of the extraordinarily incendiary conditions statewide. Even with some local forces assisting neighbors to the north, just as they would assist us if circumstances were the reverse, there were several hundred personnel marshalable to instantly squelch the makings of an inferno if it had gotten out of control. In addition to some 225 crew members, there were 27 engines, four helicopters, eight patrols, two backup trucks, four paramedic squads, nine camp crews, two water tenders, a hazmat crew, five battalion chiefs, one assistant chief and one deputy chief.
This response is indicative of the state of ground readiness in which the county fire department intends to remain for some time. In addition to the ground forces, there are 10 aircraft in the county’s air arsenal. The Fire Hawks and the Bells, the workhorses of the county helicopter fleet, are kept available and ready to go around the clock.
Still, more is better. In the case of specialized aircraft, much better. The SuperScoopers aren’t here yet, since their contract is based on the archaic notion of an end-of-year fire season. Los Angeles County doesn’t bring in these Canadian fire-swallowers until the fall. The Erickson Air-Crane helitanker is not here either, as it is on the same schedule. Until the Board of Supervisors accepts the responsibility for acquiring this equipment year-round, fire preparedness is incomplete. Yes, these craft cost money, and the county is cash-strapped, but compare the numbers to the toll of a raging wildfire.
Though they are still fledgling, there are private efforts underway to solicit private funding to assure the year-round presence of major air artillery for firefighting. The hope is that donors might contribute to firefighting as they contribute to medical research, in order to make a major contribution to society. For now, it’s difficult to listen to officials talk about fire season, even though the calendar makes a mockery of the concept. Fire is a year-round game of ready-or-not. Malibu is more ready than not, but can never be too ready.