I've lived in Los Angeles during fire season. I've driven down the 405 when the hills were ablaze, and I've had friends in Malibu evacuated several times. I know exactly how those Santa Anas feel when they come whooshing down the canyons. They're drier than bone and they make your skin crack and itch. But even more, they carry with them the same evil promise of the Mistral. When the Santa Anas are blowing, you know something bad is going to happen. Murder, mayhem, fire.
They're saying that California firefighters are the best in the world. Is that because they're as used to fire as Vermont is to snow and Florida to hurricanes? They're also saying that California is prepared, as Louisiana was not. FEMA is out here, saying 'This time we've got it right.' Reporters at evacuation centers are noting the air of calm, of business-being-taken-care-of.
"It's different this time. This time we were ready."
No, this time your half million evacuees are not poor black people. The evacuation centers are not teeming with the unwashed masses because the unwashed masses don't live along the coast of Southern California. They may clean those houses that were incinerated in the fire, but only after taking several bus trips from their homes in the interior.
Reporters are searching for that human interest piece, the story that kind of socks you in your gut, that doesn't need a soundtrack to stir up pathos. The best they got this time was this: evacuees living in their cars and trucks at the local WalMart, "savoring the safety of acres of concrete--and the camaraderie of shared troubles."
The evacuees in New Orleans didn't have cars to live in. They didn't have cars to flee in. All the Reverse 911s in the world would not have gotten them safely out.
This fire in California is not the same as the hurricane in Louisiana. Not that it doesn't have its own horror and tragedy. But to make of the two similar situations is to enable that complacency that dogs our country at every mishap.