Dispatches From the Inferno

A Vision of Hell: While my home in Simi Valley wasn’t directly threatened, flames came within about 1.5 miles of us. From our house, we could see the wildfires surrounding Moorpark and Simi, angry red lines stretching for miles unending.

Homes and businesses of many friends were threatened as the merciless towers of flame moved through town. Oppressive ash, heat and thick smoke harass the nose, eyes and throat. This wasn’t hell, but it’s as close as I ever care to get.

Only one thing is worse than being in danger: knowing your child is in danger. Saturday night, my daughter got off work at Arroyo Vista Park in Moorpark. Knowing fires were nearby, she was unprepared for encountering the real thing. Huge walls of undulating orange flame engulfed three sides of the city. Red flashing sirens spun incessantly and fleets of yellow firetrucks rushed by, honking like flocks of mad geese. With traffic beginning to back up, she began a frantic dash home. Her usual route closed because of the fire, she returned via a roundabout, unfamiliar course, detouring through Thousand Oaks.

Pretty scary stuff, especially for a new driver. Her return, naturally, was greeted by hugs and great gratitude.

Our Fallen Nature: It’s bitter knowing most — if not all — of these horrendous wildfires resulted from arson. This dark side of human nature, man’s tendency to do wrong even when knowing what is right, isn’t addressed by modern pieties, which can’t account for the presence of evil. How could anyone intentionally cause such heartbreak and destruction? The only plausible answers are the ancient ones. Put another way, the older I get, the more firmly I believe in Original Sin.

On the Other Hand: The heroic efforts of firefighters, tirelessly battling these furious blazes, are beyond praise. We can only express awe and gratitude for their service. They are the direct opposites of the cruel cowards that started these fires. Between the two, we see our own dual natures: at once, both base and noble. Good and evil live in every human community, as it does in every human heart.

The Perfect Firestorm: These wildfires couldn’t have come at a worse time. Drought conditions, a scorching summer, and dry, hot Santa Ana winds made Southern California the world’s largest kindling bundle. The financial burden of costly fire fighting is also terribly timed for cities, counties, and, especially, the state. All our “rainy funds” were frittered away in wild government spending sprees. Now the rainy day (figuratively speaking) is here, but the money isn’t.

Cause and Effect: Our staggering budget crisis, tremendous loss of business base, and flight of long-time residents to other states has devastated California, degrading the once Golden State into a leaden one. Does anyone really believe it’s just a coincidence California’s decline dramatically accelerated in the six years since the governor, state legislature and all major statewide elected officials have been in the hands of Democrats? Just asking.

Dueling Governors: As if one publicity-hungry governor isn’t enough, Californians now must put up with two. Both Governor Gray Davis and Governor-elect Schwarzenegger made widely publicized appearances during the wildfires. Schwarzenegger, who visited working firefighters, came off looking better than Davis, appearing with small town Democrat Party pols who nearly knocked each other off the podium rushing to take credit for assistance programs. The entire affair, though, led to an obvious question: Who’s in charge here?

The Measure of a Man: As mentioned, Schwarzenegger paid a visit to firefighters working in Moorpark and Simi Valley. A nice gesture and apparently good for morale, bringing smiles from exhausted workers. His visit pointed up an unstated truth, though: Each of these fellows is twice the man Arnold (or most any politician) will ever be.

© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange

James Bemis is an editorial board member and columnist for California Political Review.

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