A wall of smoke. When I opened the window on Saturday afternoon, the horizon was completely obscured by a thick, black, ominous tidal wave of smoke and ash. The air was heavy with the pungent odor of burning trees in the distance. Ash fell lightly on the street. At that point, I was a full 15 miles from the fires raging through Simi Valley in California.
For one of my friends, the situation posed a far greater threat. She lives in Simi Valley, and her home was threatened by the flames. Out of her window, she could actually see the raging fires. On Sunday and Monday, she packed her pictures, her books and any other items of value into her car, waiting to see whether her house would be burned. Thanks to the skill of firefighters and a bit of good luck with the weather, her house escaped damage.
Others were not so lucky. As of Tuesday morning, over 1,100 homes had been burned, 500,000 acres had gone up in smoke, thousands of buildings were without power, and 15 people had been killed, several of them residents who refused to leave their homes until it was too late.
The California wildfires are a tragedy of monumental proportions. As with most other tragedies, however, the situation is not without its share of blame. A large portion of the blame must be laid at the feet of the radical environmental movement.
Environmental lobbyists wield tremendous power in the state of California. Environmental restrictions are stricter here than virtually anywhere else the world. As William Clay Ford Jr., chairman and chief executive of the Ford Motor Co., explained: "In California, people used to write songs about T-Birds and Corvettes. Today, they write regulations."
In the great state of California, environmentalists oppose national legislation designed to save forests: clear-cutting. Clear-cutting is a practice of thinning forests and other wooded areas. Clear-cutting prevents small forest fires from turning into massive ones; wildfires must have a constant source of fuel, and discarding dry tinder diminishes that supply.
Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, hardly a right-wing anti-environmentalist, supports clear-cutting. On Oct. 2, Feinstein proposed a compromise in the Senate that would allow a national clear-cutting program, HR 1904 Healthy Forests Restoration Act, to be implemented. "With 57 million acres of federal land at the highest risk of catastrophic fire, including 8.5 million acres in California, it is critical that we protect our forests and nearby communities," Feinstein stated.
Environmentalists naturally opposed any sort of clear-cutting. In their view, when man comes into conflict with nature, man must give way, even if massive forest fires and environmental damages ensue. The Sierra Club Web site still tells readers that it is a myth that "Salvage logging after forest fires is needed to remove dead trees to prevent future fires." Rather, it says, "Trees downed by forest fires provide habitat for wildlife and nutrients needed to help keep forests healthy." Greenpeace avers: "Natural and controlled forest fires are integral to the health of all forests. They restore nutrients to the soil, create habitat for fish and wildlife and help eliminate the smaller brush and saplings that compete with the forests' large and fire-resistant trees."
As of Tuesday, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace Web sites contained no mention of the forest fires raging out of control in California.
Ironically, environmentalists oppose clear-cutting and promote forest fires even though forest fires are the sources of materials most dangerous to air quality -- far more dangerous, in fact, than the smog environmentalists fret over ad infinitum. The California government has issued a health alert for the Southern California area.
According to government officials, anyone who can see, taste or smell smoke should stay indoors. Schools in the region have been told to keep children inside rather than allowing outdoor sports. The smoke caused by the California wildfires contains hundreds of natural chemicals and gases, including formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. The smoke also contains microscopic particles that are easily inhaled into the lungs, where they often become permanently lodged. Those who prolong their exposure to particulate pollution may experience retarded lung growth.
Meanwhile, some Senate Democratic pawns of the environmentalist movement continue to stall President Bush's Healthy Forests Restoration Act. At the start of October, Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster HR 1904, forcing advocates to find 60 votes in order to pass the bill. The prospects for passing HR 1904 look good. Unfortunately, it's too little too late for those in California who tensely wait and watch as the wall of smoke draws ever nearer.