Monday, April 28, 2008

Sierra Madre Fire: It Could Be Worse

It isn't the usual start of the California fire season yet, and already we've got the Sierra Madre fire, in the San Gabriel Mountains. So far, it's burned the better part of a square mile of brush near this north Los Angeles suburb.

As of this afternoon, about 1,000 people have been evacuated from 400 structures. The good news is that so far only one small building got burned.

The bad news is that the Sierra Madre fire is gaining on the firefighters. And, even if no more buildings are damaged, it's going to be expensive to put out.

So There's another Los Angeles Area Brush Fire: So What?

This is "Another War-on-Terror Blog," not a "Brush Fire Blog."

The Sierra Madre fire caught my attention for several reasons. It's
  • Big
  • Manmade ("Authorities said the blaze was manmade but they did not know exactly what caused it.")
  • Directly affecting a Los Angeles suburb
  • Out of season
California's fire season is generally from around June to October or November. Although the start of the season varies, the Sierra Madre fire is over a month early, compared to most years.

"Manmade" doesn't mean arson. Arson caused about 7% of the fires handled by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection from 2000 to 2005.

The Sierra Madre Fire as a Terrorist Plot?

I seriously doubt it. The area hadn't had a major fire for about three decades, and was due for a serious burn.

Why Californians don't clear brush, or have controlled burns, so that this sort of thing doesn't happen every year is beyond me: and beyond the scope of this blog.

If this had been a terrorist act, I'd have expected some sort of damage done to fire departments in the area, too: or a blaze started in so many places that it would be more uncontrollable than the Sierra Madre fire is.

The Malibu to San Diego string of fires in October last year looked more suspicious - but don't seem to have been more than a freak coincidence. ("Fires in California: a Reality Check" (October 22, 2007).)

"We Burned Los Angeles" - Now That'd be Bragging Rights

I think, though, that fire as a weapon of terror is still a possibility. Japan tried to set the western forests of America on fire in 1944. Someone could try again, albeit on a smaller scale.

As a weapon of terror, I believe that a wildfire spreading into an urban area would be very effective
  • Starting wildfires seems to be very easy in the undeveloped lands next to Californian cities and towns
  • Large fires guarantee a national audience - potentially international
  • A firestorm in, say, Los Angeles would be not only spectacular, but would do a great deal of economic damage
Then there's the possibility that an oil tanker could be set afire: but that's a topic for another post.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.