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Cut red tape on early response in emergencies

In October 2003 when the Cedar and Paradise fires devastated San Diego County, few were naive enough to believe that was the last time a catastrophe of such magnitude could happen here. Most figured - hoped and prayed - they might not witness such an event for many years, perhaps not even again in their lifetimes. But here we are again, a mere four years later, dealing with an even larger and more destructive wildfire event.

Admittedly, hindsight is 20-20, and it’s easy to point fingers.

Clearly, San Diego County isn’t likely to get any less arid - or any less developed - as the years tick by. When Santa Ana conditions arise, as they periodically will, the stage will be set for a reoccurrence of the kind of emergency we’ve experienced twice now.

We can’t change Mother Nature. But we can change our level of preparation and anticipation. Did we learn anything about fire prevention - or preparation - the first time around?

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Apparently, not enough. This time, many of the same logistical issues arose as four years ago - can we use military and other aircraft? Under what circumstances? How soon?

The question we’d like to ask is, when a disaster of this magnitude occurs, why is there even any doubt that you would, or should, toss the normal rules that apply out and use whatever resources are available, at the earliest conceivable moment, to help stem the tide of a wildfire before it makes that fatal transition from a local to a regional event?

The truth is, we are at war with Mother Nature, then and now. It’s a no-holds-barred fight going on much closer to home: Right in our own backyards, before our very eyes. When battling out-of-control wildfires that threaten our lives, livelihoods, the ground we live on, the air we breath, we should be allowed to use every resource, no matter where it comes from, at the very earliest opportunity.

Granted, high winds made it difficult to bring air support to bare early-on with these wildfires. But the air response was, once again, too little, too late.

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At the conclusion of this latest catastrophe, we really need to do some soul searching. What can be done to ensure nothing of this magnitude ever happens again? Will it take clearing brush on a massive scale? New, stricter building codes? Dispensing with the usual hidebound chain of command to use military aircraft in the fight?

We need to ask ourselves the right questions - and get the right answers - about how to improve disaster preparedness regionwide in the long-term. We need to, once-and-for-all, resolve the logistical problems with early response. If not, it’s only a matter of time before we’re back here again asking ourselves, was there something more we could have done? Why didn’t we do it?