California Fires:Bosses Fiddle While Workers Burn

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 26 — At this writing, over 1,800 homes have been destroyed and 12 people killed in fires that swept through southern California carried by the Santa Ana winds. Several immigrants trying to cross the border died and others were badly burned. The fires were worst in the San Diego area: over 300,000 acres burned, 1,500 buildings destroyed and 500,000 people evacuated.

But U.S. rulers’ priority is protecting imperialism, not ensuring enough firefighters, flame retardant materials or water-carrying planes nor preparing levees in New Orleans to withstand fierce hurricanes.

The bosses’ media is crowing about their “reverse 911 system” which automatically called people to evacuate, but many immigrant farmworkers were not warned and not allowed to leave the fields. In New Orleans, black workers suffered the most. The conditions at the Super Dome there were hellish; people were left without food, water or sanitation. In San Diego, immigrant workers were murdered trying to find or keep jobs in the local farming industries. Racism is the cutting edge of the attack on all workers.

Unlike New Orleans, most of those evacuated in San Diego had cars and could escape the fires. Volunteers, not the government, provided almost all the food, water, cots, toiletries, etc., and worked at San Diego’s stadium and other evacuation centers.

Politicians, including Bush and Schwarzenegger, spent lots of time on TV congratulating themselves for the work performed by these volunteers.

But the firefighters were overstretched and had insufficient resources to fight these fires, including too few planes to drop water and fire retardant material. As is common in southern California, 3,000 prisoners were sent to clear brush and fight the fires.

Every fall winds and drought conditions mean potential fires in southern California. In 2003, understaffed fire departments lacking necessary resources faced big fires in San Diego County. In 2004, a Blue Ribbon Fire Commission recommended many improvements but they never materialized. Fire Chief J. Bowman quit in June 2006, having said the department was “ill-equipped” and “understaffed.” (San Diego Union, 4/5/06)

Local real estate bosses, who control local government, refuse to invest to fund better fire protection. These developers are frequently behind initiatives that say no to raising their taxes for new fire services. San Diego still has no county-wide fire department.

In richer communities developers covered homes with a special retardant that protected them from fire, raising the price of the homes. Only the very wealthy can afford this extra cost. In these areas, the houses did not burn and the residents were able to stay inside as the fire skipped around

Three days into the fire, the electric company pleaded with people to cut electricity use, which residents desperately needed for air conditioners to counter the toxic smoke. Pollution in LA and San Diego Counties is as much as ten times above safe levels. The fire shut several power lines connecting San Diego with other counties and states but there was little excess transmission-line capacity or local power-generation capacity. Ten percent of the county’s power had to be imported from Mexico. Workers were forced to quickly repair lines in dangerous areas to avoid a complete San Diego black-out.

From New Orleans to Minnesota to San Diego, U.S. infrastructure (including firefighting and electric power) is strained beyond its limits. (See CHALLENGE, 10/31) Luckily, these fires mainly hit suburban and rural areas where more people have cars. If San Diego’s urban area had to be evacuated, as proposed by the City Attorney, the resources simply aren’t there.

Now in California many white workers as well as Latino, Asian and black workers lost their homes in these fires. While such losses were preventable, no reform of capitalism will significantly change the situation. In fact, funds for any added fire-fighting equipment will come from workers’ pockets and may be linked to a push for “national service” (drafting youth to perform these tasks).

Capitalism exists to make capitalists rich, not to protect workers and their families. It can’t meet workers’ needs. The murderous U.S. bosses need workers to fight to defend their empire. In a communist society with no profit motive or imperialist wars for world domination, society’s driving force will be organizing production, housing, safety and defense to guarantee the well-being of the working class. Building the fight for communism is truly a life-and-death question for our class.

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