Wednesday, September 23, 2015

One of California's Biggest Wildfires Still Raging

Source: NBC News
On September 9, the Butte wildfire began its destructive rage. Three days later, the Valley fire began. Both of these wildfires are in Northern California, and both have still yet to be contained. The damage has been estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars so far. More than 1,000 homes have been burned to the ground, around 2,000 structures have been burned, around 3,000 people have been displaced, and more than 5 people have died (and counting). The Valley wildfire is estimated to be the third biggest wildfire in California's history.
This is a serious issue, as Obama has declared these fires an emergency, calling for federal funding to put an end to these wildfires and give relief to the people affected.
On another note, prisoners were given the chance to lighten their sentence and get paid by being firefighters for these wildfires. More than a third of the firefighters were prisoners that volunteered, and many of the inmate firefighters found that they enjoyed putting out fires and saving lives. This leads to the argument that prisoners are still people and deserve second chances for their crimes.
This is a two-part blog post, but here are the questions that I am posing. This year is the fourth year of the California drought, and evidently, dry conditions increase chances of wildfires. What do you think should be done to ensure the people's safety from these wildfires? Will this prompt California to really strengthen conservation efforts? What direction is California (and subsequently, the country) headed if the drought continues to worsen? Regarding the inmate firefighters, do you think it's a good idea for inmates to be given these life-saving opportunities?


kristen said...

The devastating fire in Northern California have shown risk of people living in close proximity to nature and open space. Indeed the dry conditions increases the risk of fire in these areas. People living near nature should have the discipline to protect their homes and properties from potential damages from fire by trimming excess vegetation around the perimeter of their homes and properties. Many of the smaller towns in California though cannot enforce this as a city ordinance due to lack of manpower. Education is the key. The residences in these areas need to understand the risk of living close to nature and perform constant maintenance and vigilance especially in this draught condition. The state cannot acquire the money needed to enforce nor patrol vast areas for violations of city ordinance. It's just not practical.

The ideas of using inmates to help with the fire I thought was bold and insightful. Not only did it provide desperately needed help with the raging fire, it also showed that these inmates were human with the potential to change for the better, given the opportunity. Their service in firefighting should be credited back to their time served and good behavior for an earlier release.

Elliot Quan said...

Allowing inmates to help is no doubt a good sign. I think there's a real value in reintegrating them vs condemning them and keeping them stuffed up without the ability to contribute to society.

It's hard to say what the state can do. Like Kristen said, a lot of the burden falls on the citizens to be proactive themselves, and avoid as many risks as possible. On the flip side, it's hard to prevent arson, and people will no doubt be negligent as always no matter how informed, and unfortunately current drought conditions allow for one small spark to set off a whole inferno. It doesn't look too promising; it looks like the best the state can do now is to just treat the effects of the problem.

Katherine Liu said...

As Kristen said, people simply need to be more proactive in tending to fire hazards around their homes. However, I would say that this wildfire situation is out of the ordinary especially considering the drought conditions.

In response to Obama's intent to aid the firefighting, I would like to bring up the implications of allowing the federal government to get involved on a clearly state issue. As we've studied, there has always been debate regarding the expansion of federal power. Thus, the extent in which the federal government can go to interfere with a state issue is limited. That being said, although Obama's intentions to get the federal government involved are good and can definitely help soothe the worries of displaced people, would this be a case of the federal government crossing the line with involvement? Especially since the wildfire problem isn't really an interstate issue.

Teague Bredl said...

I don't think there's much more that can be done to ensure the people's safety form wildfires except more preventative measures. Heavier penalties on irresponsible campers, arsonists and more surveillance on higher risk areas. I think this wildfire will definitely add to California's effort to be responsible with water usage, but it won't really make a difference. If the drought get's worse than it already is through the next two seasons, I think we got another year before things get really serious. People are aware of the drought right now, but it really isn't effecting most city/suburban citizens in California at all. Once it starts effecting common-folk, I think the drought will be more of an immediate issue. I think inmates (with less severe convictions) should be made more useful to society instead of being burdens. Too much tax money goes to keeping people who made bad mistakes from doing anything. Feed them, watch them and punish them, but at our expense. I think its an interesting implementation and I like the idea of it.

Monica Mai said...

Kristen, I agree that it's ultimately up to the people to do their part in preventing the drought, and thus preventing more devastating wildfires. Definitely the inmates helping is a great idea-- a lot of inmates said in interviews that being exposed to this occupation gave them a desire and passion to turn over a new leaf and save other people's lives. It's a win-win situation and I think more inmates (with nonviolent records) should be given the opportunity and chance to do civil service in exchange for a minimized prison sentence.

Teague, I agree that people won't really take any preventative measures until it starts to affect them... but maybe that's what needs to happen. People need to realize that it already is an immediate issue even if the effects aren't as visible. Heavier penalties are a good idea, but also I think that making water more expensive will help. Regarding the inmates, I agree with you that inmates can be made useful to society. When they're in prison, they lose touch with the outside world, and having these opportunities will still allow them to integrate into society. Plus, confining people who "made bad mistakes" from doing anything is a waste. Instead of having released prisoners go through an integration back into society, prisoners should be able to do civil service in the outside world to still keep in touch with society, as long as they pose no threat or danger.