Wildfires by Andrew Gorbert EPA

Wildfires by Andrew Gorbert EPA

people stop respecting it. What one Californian who disobeyed the evacuation order said:

"We know fire officials don’t have the manpower to secure our properties," Gafill said. "There are a lot of people in this community not following evacuation orders. Based on what we saw during Katrina and other disasters, we know we can only rely on ourselves and our neighbors."

Anyone willing to tell Gafill he’s wrong? Of course he isn’t.

Here’s another question. When I was growing up (don’t know if it’s still the case in BC), if there was a big fire that was too big for the paid crews to handle what they’d do is throw up a road block across a major highway, pull you aside and all men who were young enough and fit enough, were drafted. You were paid a nominal sum, given a shovel, tent and a sleeping bag, and you were put to work. If you didn’t like it, too bad.

What I don’t understand is why that isn’t done anymore. Or even why folks aren’t allowed to volunteer for such work. Form volunteer brigades, each squad with an experience full time firefighter as leader, and go to it. Some work may be tricky, but anyone can pick up a shovel.

And if the fear is lawsuits, have the government simply make a law saying you can’t sue if something goes wrong. Harsh? I don’t know. But I don’t know when it happened that we started expecting "professionals" to do everything and started think that citizens weren’t to help out when disaster threatens everyone.

We saw this in Katrina, where an incompetent FEMA wouldn’t let volunteers help. We see this virtually every fire season. There simply aren’t enough workers to go around. But like so much in our society, rather than fix it, we just keep doing the same failed thing over and over again. And while we talk big about citizen participation, in practice we won’t even let citizens join up to save their own communities.

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in Pogge.ca and BlogsCanada. He is also a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

His homeblog is at http://www.ianwelsh.net/