Saturday, May 17, 2014

California Burning

Fire season has begun early in California this year.

In the last week, a series of blazes in San Diego County has blackened almost 20,000 acres.  More than 120,000 people were evacuated from their homes, including 8,400 service personnel from Camp Pendleton.  Many houses were burned.  Worse, the charred body of one person was found in the ashes of a transient camp in Carlsbad.

Even before those fires, by May 10, the number of fires in 2014 was nearly double the five-year average. reports that 2013 was the driest year ever in California, where records have been kept since 1895.  Snowpack in the Sierra stands at 30 percent of normal.

Still, dry weather in itself does not cause fires.  One blaze, now called the Bernardo Fire, is believed to have been started by a spark made by a backhoe digging trenches; that accounted for 1,500 acres.

But most of the fires seem to have been started by arsonists.  Escondido police have arrested two young men, aged 17 and 19, for starting two small fires and possibly others.  A 57-year-old man in Oceanside was taken into custody after witnesses saw him throwing kindling on another fire that burned 105 acres.

Less than a week earlier, in Northern California, 10 small fires were set in the town of Novato.  In one case, a wreath on a front door was set alight, and in another a garage burned and its owner was hospitalized for smoke inhalation after trying to put out the fire.

A Novato police officer said later that "the time frame, close proximity and common sense would lean you toward suspecting that it's the same person" who set all 10 fires.

During the same period, five fires were set in Walnut Creek, a city in the East Bay area.  Police there also suspect a single arsonist.

Arson is a curious crime.  It is difficult to understand what benefit a person derives from burning homes and landscape and endangering people's lives.  Police speculate that arsonists see themselves as lacking power.  The theory is that setting fires, to them, offers a sense of accomplishment.

Pathetic, when you think about it.

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