Update 5:20pm Eastern. The Blame Bush brigade blows its hot air.
Photo via The Gulbransens
Nearly 300,000 Southern California residents have now been evacuated as wildfires spread across the region:
Thousands more residents were ordered to evacuate their homes Tuesday, bringing the number of people chased away by the wind-whipped flames that have engulfed Southern California to at least 270,000.
The dozen wildfires have burned more than 700 homes and set 245,957 acres — 384 square miles — ablaze, and the destruction may only be the start for the region. Tuesday’s forecast called for hotter temperatures and more explosive Santa Ana gusts.
The blazes bedeviled firefighters as walls of flame whipped from mountain passes to the edges of the state’s celebrated coastline, spreading so quickly that even hotels serving as temporary shelters for evacuees had to be evacuated.
Wanda Tomkinson, 79, fled the Doubletree hotel in Del Mar with her husband and their Boston Terrier after employees called each room to tell customers they had to leave. The couple, carrying medication, clothes, tax records and a dog bowl, said they were relying on a family friend to take them in.
If not, Tomkinson added, “the Lord’ll take care of us.”
As the fires spread, most out of control, smaller blazes were merging into larger, more fearsome ones. Evacuations were being announced in one community after another as firefighters found themselves overwhelmed by gale-force Santa Ana winds, some gusting to 70 mph.
We’ve been here before and we’ve been warned that these disasters will continue. Just last month, experts were calling on Congress to expedite forest thinning and other forest managment alternatives:
Wildfires thrive in hot, dry weather. But the conditions also contribute to the die-off of trees, which must compete for water in forests that have become unnaturally dense because of a century of misguided fire suppression. Once dead and brittle, the trees become more fuel for catastrophic fires.
The panelists testified that more resources are needed to keep up with necessary tree thinning and removal campaigns. One witness, University of Arizona Professor Thomas Swetnam, said even that won’t be enough to reverse the trend.
“I don’t think we can thin our way out of this,” Swetnam said.
He said more prominent use of intentionally set fires to mimic naturally occurring blazes has certain risks, but is less costly than mechanical thinning with hand crews and chainsaws.
Environmentalists blame global warming for the problem, but guess who’s standing in the way of a solution?
The GAO examined 762 U.S. Forest Service (USFS) proposals to thin forests and prevent fires during the past two years. According to the study, slightly more than half the proposals were not subject to third-party appeal. Of those proposals subject to appeal, third parties challenged 59 percent.
Appeals were filed most often by anti-logging groups, including the Sierra Club, Alliance for Wild Rockies, and Forest Conservation Council. According to the GAO, 84 interest groups filed more than 400 appeals of Forest Service proposals. The appeals delayed efforts to treat 900,000 acres of forests and cost the federal government millions of dollars to address.
Forest Service officials estimate they spend nearly half their time, and $250 million each year, preparing for the appeals and procedural challenges launched by activists.
“The report demonstrates that the appeals needlessly delay federal efforts to prevent wildfires, and if the process is not streamlined, millions of acres will be lost this summer,” said Senate Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico).
“The American people will no longer tolerate management by wildfire,” Domenici added.
“This finding is nothing short of appalling, especially when you think of the catastrophic losses suffered in last year’s  horrific fire season alone,” said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-California).
“These were not only losses of forest, endangered species, and wildlife habitat, they were losses of human life and family property,” Pombo said.
N.Z. Bear has set up a helpful page of wildfire web and blog resources.
Mark Jackson blogs the view from Oceanside.