This time last year, the Camp Fire exploded in a whirlwind of wind-whipped flames. Fire and heat and destruction that leveled the town of Paradise, California. Almost 100 people were killed. Tens of thousands of Paradise residents made it out alive, but with nothing. Everything they had was obliterated by the wall of flames that was the Camp Fire.
The year before that, it was fires in Santa Rosa, California, and down south in Santa Barbara, California. Although not as deadly, those fires did their damage as well.
This year, there have been fires in Sonoma County, the Hollywood Hills, and points in between.
Meanwhile, PG&E, the for-profit utility that serves much of California, has started turning the power off for millions of Californians when the wind gets too stiff. Better to avoid the potential damage of power lines and other pieces of the power grid if the winds do too much havoc.
So, where are we a year later … no better than we were the day before the Camp Fire. No better than we were the day before the Santa Rosa fires of the year before.
In Paradise, tens of thousands of buildings and homes were leveled. News reports suggest that only eleven or twelve new homes have been constructed since.
California, PG&E, and the state’s residents are no more capable of stopping these conflagrations than they were a year, two years, three years ago.
It’s a perfect example of how we as a state, a nation, a society, a group of people, have no solution anymore. There was a time when politicians and government officials and corporate honchos and others were able to do grand things. The California Aqueduct system. The national highway network. Heck, go back to the 1800s and the Transcontinental Railroad. There are plenty of other examples from the past.
The problem is that there are no examples from today.
Earlier this year, I sat in a meeting where a group of college students made a presentation about re-imaging Paradise. It was filled with ideas the students had for building a new Paradise in place of the old. Buildings and development strategies that were more resilient, more community-based, with ideas for how to ensure that if another fire were to come, the damage would not be as great. The horror would not be as it was one year ago.
I have no idea what happened with these students’ creative solution. But I can make a guess — it died somewhere. Because it’s too difficult, too hard, too expensive — it requires people to re-think the possible. To re-imagine how communities should be built, and how we can live together. It’s the kind of thing we simply do not seem capable of.
Instead, with all of the problems we face. Here in California — wildfires destroying communities, housing that has become so costly that the only people who can afford to own a home are millionaires and billionaires, homelessness that is expanding everywhere, commutes that descend more and more into hellish experiences — nothing ever changes. No new ideas are every floated.
We are constrained by the limits of our resources and our willingness to sacrifice at a time when we desperately need to do something different. We need to recognize that sacrifice is needed. We can’t solve these problems by just continuing what we have done for years and decades. Something needs to change.
Corporations need to become better citizens. Politicians need to start working towards real solutions and not just those their financiers want. And common every day citizens need to make more noise. To demand that the elites, those in power, and those in control start listening to us and addressing our needs.
One year later — after a disaster that destroyed a community — nothing has changed.
What will it take.
What will it take.