Fires in Malibu ignite rage on the Web

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Coverage of the Southern California wildfires

In times of natural disaster, the best often surfaces in all of us. Donations, warm blankets, sandwiches. Whatever is needed, we’re at the ready.

Unless it involves Malibu.

In response to a posting about the tragedy of lost structures and evacuations, a guy who calls himself Fast Fred had three words of advice.



That wasn’t quite as caustic as author Mike Davis’ three-word 1996 valentine to the Malibu of mudslides and firestorms:

“Let Malibu burn.”

But Fast Fred’s posting on The Times’ website ignited a raging exchange about class and race and the insanity of building in high-danger wilderness areas.

“Why are there enough fire assets to park a fire truck in every multi-million dollar, 10,000 sqft home in Malibu, but not enough fire fighters to save several neighborhoods in Canyon Country?” asked Mike in Northridge.

“When isn’t Malibu on Fire?” asked CaliforniaBeachGuy. “The City of Malibu and the County of Los Angeles have done absolutely nothing to deal with the brush all over the Malibu hills this year.”

Not that Malibu didn’t have its defenders, who disputed the notion that everyone there is white, rich and famous.

“One of the families who lost their home this morning is black,” wrote Gail.

“All the people posting comments insinuating that Malibu is getting special treatment of news coverage and fighting the fires are angry, negative, hateful, and ignorant jerks,” wrote Sarah.


It’s strange that Malibu has so many people worked into a lather. If anything, this is a fairly democratic set of fires, with the Canyon Country blaze and the ring of fire around San Diego causing massive evacuations of people who are not movie stars. Your tax dollars are dousing the homes of rich and poor alike.

But most of the fires do have one thing in common, according to Richard Minnich, UC Riverside wildfire expert and professor of geography.

Californians love to live dangerously, he said, and they foolishly think their homes can and should be protected by firefighters, even when massive, wind-whipped firestorms come raging.

And why wouldn’t they rage?


We’ve got drought. High temperatures. Blistering winds. And countless residential and commercial developments adjacent to wilderness areas.

“What the hell are they doing?” Minnich asked of those who live in such areas in Malibu and beyond.

If it were up to Minnich, national firefighters would spend more time starting fires -- controlled burns that can prevent major firestorms -- than putting them out. And if the feds won’t do it, he argues, then cities and counties need to fill that role, especially if they’re going to continue allowing development next to highly flammable chaparral-covered hillsides.

We’re all being ripped off by bad public policy, Minnich argues. We all pay higher insurance premiums because public officials keep approving development in high fire-danger areas and then do too little to prevent disaster.


“Society has this weird expectation. We think firefighting in urban environments and wildlands are the same thing. I’ve gotta have my house protected. Well you can’t go there. . . . A wildfire is a matrix of fuel that goes miles and miles and miles, and there’s no way you can have the same protection.”

The only good news in the current burn, Minnich said, is that we’ve now lost 1.2 million acres in four years, which means a lot of the natural fuel has been eliminated.

As I finish off this column before heading out to the fire lines, I’ll leave you with one last posting from the website.

“Living on hillsides that are proven to be future landslides and combining that with living in a dry area,” said Kevin, “comes down to not rich or poor but smart and stupid. . . . These lands were not meant to be built on but some people think money can overcome that. Good luck, you should have moved to the Valley.”