Officials should act quickly to temper disaster damage What others say

Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2003

The egg on FEMA's face could fry in this firestorm.

Oct. 23: The Federal Emergency Management Agency advised President Bush not to declare the San Bernardino Mountains a federal disaster, despite acute fire risk.

On Oct. 27, nearly a week after the Grand Prix Fire north of Fontana ignited, FEMA recommended that Bush declare much of Southern California a fire disaster. The president did so, freeing federal money to help victims and fight 10 fires.

It's good that Bush finally made the emergency declaration. But he and FEMA should have acted months ago to diminish fire danger in the Inland region.

For a year and a half, San Bernardino County pleaded for federal money to thin timber killed by drought and bark beetles. It was bad enough that Gov. Davis sat on the request for a year. But once Davis declared a state disaster, FEMA responded: We don't do pending disasters only real ones. Now fire grips Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.

That risk should impel FEMA to refocus on prevention.

Every dollar spent on fire prevention saves $7 in spending to fight fires, according to Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen, a forest restoration expert who has toured the San Bernardino Mountains. And that doesn't include the toll of human suffering.

No one expects FEMA to forestall earthquakes or other unforeseeable disasters. But when it is clear that calamity lies in wait, federal authorities should provide the resources to taper the danger.

The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif. - Oct. 29

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