Jerry Brown blames climate change for the fires in California. Wrong again with that fear mongering.
From The Guardian: Authorities have revealed the wildfire that razed homes owned by LA’s wealthiest residents was started in a homeless camp inhabited by its most downtrodden.
After the Los Angeles fire department announced on Tuesday that the Skirball fire began life as a cooking fire under a freeway about 20 miles from downtown, the homeless services community took a sharp intake of breath.
“These kind of reports are never good for us in general,” said Laurie Craft, a director at Hope of the Valley, which runs the only winter shelter in the area where the Skirball fire started.
Craft fears a backlash against the homeless community as a result of the disaster, which included the destruction of six Bel Air homes valued at $20m, the Wall Street Journal has reported. Yet assigning blame in this situation is far more complicated than it might be if the fire had been started by a careless hiker or a driver unthinkingly disposing of a lit cigarette.
“Are people going to react the same way to someone who works a job and has a car [as] to someone who’s homeless?” Craft asked. “Or is it worse in their eyes?”
There are hundreds of homeless encampments filling the nooks and crannies of Los Angeles’s elaborate freeway system, home to many of the county’s estimated 58,000 homeless people. The encampments pop up under bridges and alongside exits, ranging from two or three residents to a dozen or more.
People live in tents or jerry-rigged shelters made of tarps and branches, often with little access to sanitation or clean water. And they often set fires to cook food or keep warm in a region where nighttime temperatures often dip down into the low 50s.
The law is clear, said deputy chief Scott McLean of Cal Fire, the state fire protection agency. Any time a person lights a fire “on someone else’s property, it’s always illegal,” he said. But he added that campfires were not a particularly common source of wildfires. “It takes one spark. Even parking your car on dry grass right could be a risk.”
And owing to the harsh conditions in which homeless people live, social workers and others involved with the community are more focused on mitigating the risk than telling people not to start fires in the first place.
Victor Hinderliter, an associate director at the Los Angeles homelessness services agency, said his teams have been advising people at encampments they visit to be extra careful – and they usually are.
“The first people impacted if a fire does get out of control is the people in the surrounding encampment,” he said. “But it gets cold at night, and people have to eat. Sometimes, for survival, people have to make difficult decisions.”
Hinderliter argued that the fires are merely a consequence of a much broader and more important issue. There is approximately one shelter bed available for every three people who are homeless in Los Angeles county, and a recent study found that the county would need an additional half-million affordable housing units to keep up with its growing low-income population.
“For me, this [fire] really highlights the urgency of getting people off the street and into housing,” he said. “Where people have to rely on warming fires in the middle of the night to survive, we should get them a roof over their heads, so they don’t have to make that difficult decision.”
A fire is not even always the first resort for people in encampments, said activist Mohammed Aly, who works in homeless encampments along the Santa Ana riverbed in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles.
“There’s an interest in self-preservation in keeping these fires safe,” he said. People often use other methods to keep warm or cook if they can, like gas stoves or electric generators, and display “proper etiquette”.
For those quick to judge the person who set in motion a catastrophe in order to satisfy their hunger, he urges restraint. “None of us understand what life is like in a homeless community.”