Mother Nature is in a really bad mood. It’s enough to make a person question the primacy of mankind.
Actually, it’s as though people and the things we build for ourselves don’t matter. How else do you explain the events in Houston a couple of weeks ago, what’s happening now with rampaging Irma, and the wildfire devastation scorching western states.
If you look at a Google map of current U.S. wildfires, the west appears to have a serious skin condition. Fires dot the landscape in almost every state west of the Rockies. Satellite images reveal smoke plumes fanning out like kelp beds in a rip tide.
Enlarge that imagery, zeroing in on just California, and we’re having some of the worst of it. The La Tuna Fire was getting major media coverage because it was the largest in history within the confines of Los Angeles city limits, but that was a small fish compared with some of California’s major wildfires.
Stated in terms of acres burned, the 2012 Rush Fire in Lassen County holds the record of 315,577, but about 46,000 of those acres were in Nevada. There was no loss of structures or human life.
The 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County burned 273,246 acres, destroyed 2,820 structures and killed 15 people, the worst human toll in California history.
Here on the Central Coast, the Zaca Fire in 2007 started on Independence Day near Buellton and took months to scorch 240,207 acres, with the loss of one structure but no human lives.
One of the scariest for local residents was the 1990 Painted Cave Fire, which didn’t even make WikiPedia’s top-20 list, because it was relatively small at about 5,000 acres. But it scared a lot of South County folks, destroyed 427 structures — mostly single-family homes — and killed a woman who was unable to escape the fast-moving wall of fire.
When it comes to a face-off with a natural disaster, it’s difficult to know which is worse.
Hurricanes are fierce and unpredictable once winds begin to howl and the rain feels like bees stinging your skin, but with modern radar and computers, people in such a storm’s path get plenty of warning. It’s the decision-making that comes after the warning that can be the difference between life and death.
There usually is some warning leeway in a wildfire, but not always. The Painted Cave Fire was arson started near San Marcos Pass then raced downhill toward Goleta at the rate of about an acre a minute.
Wherever you may find yourself in America, you have to be ready for Mother Nature’s wrath. Hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Wildfires and earthquakes in the west. Tornados and catastrophic flooding in the nation’s heartland.
As hundreds of thousands of Houston-area residents now know, what nature sends us transcends all arguments about climate change and who or what is causing it. Scenes of rescues and destruction from Houston tell us just how useless it is to argue about who’s to blame, when a “500-year flood” has happened several times since 2000.
In a way, we’re all to blame. We build in a flood-prone area and when the flood comes, as it inevitably does, we rebuild in the same spot. When the wildfire or mudslide destroys our hillside home overlooking the Pacific Ocean, up pops a replacement structure. When that Category 4 hurricane rips our community to shreds, we’re back there at the first hint of sunshine.
Maybe it’s just pugnacious humans standing up to Mother Nature.