This Place Is On Fire!

The fire season that usually arrives in the fall got an early start yesterday.  As I write this, no less than eight more fires started within the last ten hours and are burning in San Diego County.  Some areas of the country suffer from hurricanes, some from tornadoes and others from blizzards.  We get the fires.

I hasten to add that none so far have been near our home which was evacuated in 2003 as a fire burned to the edges of our community and took a few homes with it.

Never we are told have the conditions been like this so early in the season or worse than they are right now.  Temperatures are in the 90 to 100 degree range, the wind is howling erratically, humidity is in single digits and the drought has resulted in vegetation that is tinder dry and ready to burn.

Any spark under these conditions or ember fanned by the flames could cause a conflagration that takes away property, homes and lives.

But there is something worse.  There are some genuine sickphucks who show up under these conditions.  They drive from area to area and set additional fires for reasons they seem unable to explain – beyond their pathological ills.

Sadly, and with all due respect to the men and women who risk their lives as firefighters – far too many of these miscreant creeps have proven to be firefighters themselves.

Some years ago I managed the City of San Diego’s water supply reservoirs and their city-owned watersheds, somewhere around 26,000 acres that we had scarcely the staff to check in regularly on those properties – let alone the ability to genuinely protect and manage them.

One particular property at Lake Hodges was threatened by fires each fall.  After numerous fires sprung up along the nearby Del Dios Highway, I was approached by the Captain from a nearby station who asked for our help.  In the course of that request we walked over to a stand of dry vegetation that I verbally surmised could easily burst into flame as the result of a discarded cigarette or contact with a faulty catalytic converter.

The Captain shook his head, lit a lighter and knelt down to expose the open flame to the dry grass.  Nothing.  The open flame from his Bic burned hot, but the grass simply would not ignite.

“The vast majority of the fires we are experiencing are intentionally set,” he said.  “There are a few nuts out there who wait until the conditions are just right or fire fighting resources are focused elsewhere before they strike, and most of them use delayed devices like a lit cigarette attached to a book of matches which allows them to get our of the area before the fire is detected.”

Given the history and potential for the loss of lives and property, I wondered aloud “what kind of assholes would do that.”

“That,” he explained, “is why we are asking that you instruct your staff to be particularly vigilant in the area and to provide us with the license plate numbers of anyone they might see who is suspicious or lingering in the area.”

He then went on to explain that fire fighters are involved in the intentional setting of fires at a higher rate than any other group and that they were looking to link any license plate numbers we could provide with a fire fighter they were investigating and had under surveillance.

A week or so later the fire conditions changed as hot and dry east winds blew into the county from the desert.  It was not long that a firefighter who had been under surveillance was arrested after he was observed placing a slow burning device in some dry grass.  When he was apprehended, additional devices were found in his car.

At roughly the same time, a Fire Chief in the Los Angeles area who was widely regarded as an expert on intentionally set wildfires was the featured speaker at a conference in Sacramento.  During his stay, he slipped away, drove an hour or so east and attempted to start a wildfire in a national forest.

Fortunately, he had been under surveillance by investigators who had noted that other fires had broken out in association with his travels in the past, and was immediately arrested.

I’m not contending that the fires ravaging San Diego County were set by fire fighters or that they were intentionally set by anyone.  The fact is that this county is poised and ready to burn.  Under conditions that don’t normally appear until September or October – and with little rain this past winter – it’s going to be a long hot summer of fires in this region.  Some accidental; some intentional.


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