As the havoc that the California fires are wreaking grows, the public searches for someone to blame. In true California fashion, Gov. Gray Davis has immediately been sought out as a potential scapegoat. But a question to be raised is not who is to blame for not preventing the fires, but rather what?
The bark beetle has been cited as a main cause for the recent outbreak of fires. The bark beetle burrows into the bark of pine and fur trees, infecting the tree with a fungus that blocks the trees’ vascular system, killing the plant. The abundance of dead trees turns California’s forests into potential tinderboxes.
Critics are disgruntled that Davis denied their requests to declare their areas as states of emergency more than a year ago. They feel that Davis’ declaration of a state of emergency in March, a full seven months before the fires started in October, came too late.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Davis has been ducking the blame by stating that he sent a request for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in April. He requested $430 million to help remove the dead trees killed by the infestation of the bark beetle.
Davis sent letters to the Bush administration, which controls the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pleading for assistance. After six months of deliberation the Bush administration rejected Davis’ request, saying that FEMA is unable to provide aid until a disaster has already occurred and citing that Davis had requested the aid for preventative measures for the impending disaster. The administration’s stalling, as well as denial of aid, condemned California to suffer through the largest fire disaster in its history.
Rep. Mary Bono told the Los Angeles Times that “FEMA’s decision was wrong; the timing couldn’t have been worse. … We knew this disaster was going to happen with certainty. It was only a matter of when, and we were trying to beat the clock with removing the dead trees.”
FEMA defended its stance by citing that California was already receiving $40 million in aid to deal with the bark beetle infestation. This does not include funds for fire prevention.
The main blame should not be placed on individual people or organizations but rather the emergency relief system as a whole. There are no provisions in the system for emergency prevention, only for relief after the disaster has already happened. It is easy to say that Davis reacted too late and that FEMA should not have rejected Davis’ proposal for much needed aid. However it is apparent that the system needs to become proactive, rather than reactive. The two sides caught up in this story need to stop pointing the finger and reform the system that has put them in this horrible situation.