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Mike Davis on California burning (LRB, 15 November 2007):

The loss of more than 90 per cent of Southern California’s agricultural buffer zone is the principal if seldom mentioned reason wildfires increasingly incinerate such spectacular swathes of luxury real estate. It’s true that other ingredients – La Niña droughts, fire suppression (which sponsors the accumulation of fuel), bark beetle infestations and probably global warming – contribute to the annual infernos that have become as predictable as Guy Fawkes bonfires. But what makes us most vulnerable is the abruptness of what is called the ‘wildland-urban interface’, where real estate collides with fire ecology. And castles without their glacises are not very defensible.


  1. dick dill says:

    The Editors perhaps write from afar. While Sonoma and nearby wine grape raising areas certainly have “luxury real estate” and perhaps castles (both are houses to some folks), the briefest glance at the large and very concentrated neighborhoods burned in Santa Rosa hardly suggests swank. The before pictures show homes of working folks trying to have a place to raise a family, live quietly with neighbors doing the same, as well as single folks and older folks (these latter were among the dead as 2 seconds of warning did not allow for their limited mobility, or when they jumped in desperation into the pool the fire took all oxygen).

    Hurricanes, tornadoes, great North Sea and North Atlantic storms, and fires of the California fires’ magnitudes create their own weather. Yes, there is fire ecology, the idea of buffer zones, and natural accumulation in forests of forest floor fuel, yet when folks went to the south shore beaches of Long Island, New York, in 1938 to watch the arriving hurricane they thought they were looking at a wall of fog coming their way. What they were actually seeing was a 40 foot high wall of water coming at them with a forward speed of 60 miles per hour + the force of an enormous hurricane.

    A little sympathy at someone else’s disaster would be nice. When “stuff” gets that big and strong, all normal parameters go away and folks caught in very strong self-feeding storms, of fire, of sea, of wind, are in a zone that is always new to those being attacked.

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