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Wildfire challenges

August 09, 2008

Re "Beige Plague," Aug. 2

This Times article treats a complicated subject in a clear and mature way. It's not oversimplified, as some reporting on this topic is, and it's graced with some really evocative writing.

My only complaint is that by focusing on the loss of sage habitat in the Great Basin, it doesn't adequately convey that chaparral and sage scrub areas of Southern California face the same problem.

The process is pretty much the same here as in Nevada and Utah, but the roles are filled by different actors. Here, most ignitions are caused by humans, rather than by lightning. Also, many of the highly flammable invasives here are different species, such as the various wild mustards.

The sidebar with ecologist Jon Keeley talking about the problem of too-frequent fires in Riverside County addresses the problem prospectively but does not emphasize the current extent of habitat degradation in our reserved areas.

Overall, though, a fine job showing that The Times is still capable of outstanding reporting.

Len Gardner

Laguna Woods

The Times' recent series on the wildfires in California and their monumental cost to taxpayers in dollars and property loss has been very enlightening.

It supports the position of the Malibu City Council in its recent decision to take the Coastal Commission to court over its support for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's plan to increase access for camping in the fire-prone hills above Malibu.

The Corral fire destroyed more than 50 homes last fall after visitors made campfires in inadequately patrolled parkland. This fire occurred during public discussion of this new "public camping" plan -- and still the SMMC is insistent that its plan poses no heightened fire danger.

If the state cannot afford to properly monitor its parks, it certainly cannot afford the gargantuan costs of putting out fires in them, detailed in your articles.

Rick Mullen

Malibu

Re "Just for show?," July 29

From the simple brush hook used by hand crews on the ground to the razor-precision work of pilots providing water and retardant drops from above, firefighters must use everything they can to combat wildland fires.

The use of helicopters, heli-tankers and other aerial firefighting equipment has long proved to be a cost-effective way to quickly knock down a wildfire in its earliest stages. This aggressive use of initial air attack can and has made a difference in minimizing property loss.

During last year's unprecedented fire season in Los Angeles County, nine fires occurred within a four-day period, pressing every resource we could muster from our own arsenal and from agencies across the State of California. Five of those fires were kept to 45 acres or less because of the swift and efficient use of our own fleet of helicopters, three contract aircraft and assistance from the state.

Without using large- and medium-sized aircraft, many of these fires could have mushroomed to threaten lives, destroy property and cost much more to suppress.

We view our aircraft as a solid investment in public safety, never as a publicity show or a way of keeping up political appearances. The only "show" is the one provided by Mother Nature's fury during a wind-driven fire.

P. Michael Freeman

Fire Chief

Los Angeles County

Los Angeles

If The Times survives as a major newspaper, it will be thanks to superior reporting like this. The writing, photos, graphics and research were all top-notch. This was a must-read.

Frank Duvall

Palmdale

Re "Memo to governor: Cut the road shows and try governing," Column, July 31

Although the recent fires in Northern California did not generate as much media attention as the fires last October in Southern California, I can assure you that the people and communities affected by these fires have suffered significant loss and disruption of their lives.

Contrary to George Skelton's assertion, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's visits to Butte County were greatly appreciated by the people most impacted by the fires. The governor's leadership and hands-on approach gave a much needed dose of encouragement to fire victims. The thousands of firefighters battling these fires were also encouraged by his support.

Henri Brachais

Fire Chief

Butte County

Butte Valley

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