As Glenn Garvin and John Hood, among many others, have detailed in the pages of Reason, natural disasters and bad public policy go together like drought and fire. There will be plenty of government actions to second-guess in the wake of what is being called the worst inferno in modern California history; near the top of my list is the 1968 state law that specifically orders insurance companies to pool together and offer homeowner policies to people who live in high-risk brush fire zones, a non-market last resort enjoyed by 20,000 people, most of whom live in the foothills of Southern California.
Other issues that are making headlines (all collected from today's newspapers by the valuable California-news web site Rough&Tumble): San Diego policy makers are being criticized for having "never invested public funds into a local firefighting air fleet"; four Navy helicopters that have been volunteered to help the San Diego efforts have sat idly on the ground, "caught in a confusing tangle of firefighting bureaucracy and policy"; the Senate is pushing through brush-clearing legislation; the L.A. Times reports that government money spent on fire-prevention in California has fallen disproportionately on the less-hazardous north; the Sacramento Bee avers that the disaster "could change U.S. environmental policy for decades to come"; and, in the story that surprised me the most, some of the state's many prison firefighters are frustrated they can't go out and battle the blaze. Excerpt from the latter:
In fact, of all the state's full-time forest firefighters, more than half come from the trained inmate pool doing time in minimum-security prisons, Heimerich said. Inmates tapped for the fire program are a carefully screened, select group trained by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Most are in prison on drug or theft charges.
You've seen the news photos or footage of firefighters battling the Southern California firestorms, right? Some wear yellow fire gear; others wear orange. Few people realize that the men and women in orange are all inmate-firefighters.