Health News Digest

October 10, 2005

Blame It On The Windbrush fire

By  Michael D. Shaw

We are all familiar with the signs of the Fall season: A chill in the air, the turning of the leaves, football games, and apple cider. Add to this, for residents of Southern California, the likelihood of massive fires. The force behind these fires, described in Indian lore, in the journals of Spanish settlers, and known by such colorful names as the Devil’s Breath, are the infamous Santa Ana winds.

The Santa Anas develop when the desert is cold, and are most common from October through March. High pressure over the Great Basin causes the cold air to sink, compressing and warming it with great rapidity. The air gathers speed as it moves through passes and canyons; its fast, hot winds dry most forms of vegetation, and increase the danger of wildfire.

There is also the psychological component, the Santa Ana’s mysterious and soul-vexing quality. Police agencies have attributed a jump in crime to these harsh winds, while hard-boiled detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler called the Santa Anas:

“Those hot dry [winds] that come down through mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”

Or, take journalist/essayist/novelist Joan Didion’s description of this phenomenon:

“I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air. To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.”

In the past few weeks, these winds have fanned the flames that destroyed thousands of acres and thankfully only a few homes, cutting a wide swath in the Los Angeles area. Yet, despite the long and reliable history of the Santa Anas, some muddleheaded critics must nonetheless blame the recent fires—no different from those that occur virtually every year—as another consequence of (yawn) global warming.

This latest manifestation of junk science is merely the next act in a travesty of misguided “environmental” pronouncements, that are anything but. Radical Greens who oppose sensible forest management would actually worsen the very fires they seek to prevent. And, when they occur, now choose to blame them (and a whole lot else) on global warming. Regularly-scheduled controlled burning to reduce undergrowth—violently opposed by these faux enviros—is one of the best ways to limit the devastation wrought by a Santa Ana.

Alan Oxley, a writer and bona fide environmentalist sounds off on the consequences of NOT managing the forests, and letting nature take its course:

“Because it is the reserve for the California spotted owl (which was recently declared by authorities as not endangered), environmentalists are calling for the entire Sierra Nevada to be permanently set aside as a ‘biosphere,’ or giant park. If no action is taken, most wildfire experts predict that when it burns, everything will be destroyed.”

By blaming these most recent fires on global warming, and by anointing unbalanced zealots as “environmentalists,” we are only increasing the already damaging wake of the Santa Anas. The voices of reason must prevail, or we risk a conflagration greater in magnitude than the horrific Bel-Air-Brentwood and Santa Ynez fires of November, 1961—the worst in the history of Los Angeles.