California Threatened With Severe Fire Problem
Recently, Kenneth I. Fulton, Director of Natural Resources for the State of California, sounded the warning that “Unquestionably the war confronts California with the toughest fire suppression problem to be found in the United States.”
There is nothing secret about the fact that city, state and county officials are tremendously worried about the coming fire season. The fire fighting forces of California are competent, operate efficiently and are well organized to cope with peacetime fire problems. The war has not only doubled the problems but complicated them as well. These forces are trying to raise their defenses to the new heights required by war but they are encountering great difficulties in so doing.
For more than four months the State Division of Forestry has been trying to buy additional firefighting equipment. I tried to get U. S. Army type fourand six-wheel drive trucks and trailers. They couldn’t be had. The Division has been trying to get 200 or more of the smaller trucks but priorities have held them up so that few have been obtained.
The extraordinary nature and urgency of the problem stems from several facts. One is the inseparable relationship of watershed to water supplies. Practically all large urban and industrial areas are directly dependent on protecting forest and other watershed lands from the erosion which invariably follows fire. This is true of San Diego, Los Angeles, the cantonment areas, and the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Everyone knows of the airplane plants, the shipyards, the other war plants and industries housed in these metropolitan areas.
Another fact is that the large areas of exposure have a very high value.
These areas include, in addition to urban areas and the National Forests and Parks, some 50 million acres of forests, watershed, and the most highly productive agricultural land in the country; all of the utmost necessity to health, welfare and safety, as well as to economy and defense.
Another point is the high value of the risk. This year those high values include nearly a billion dollars of agriculture products; a billion-dollar forest and lumbeying industry; a billion-dollar oil industry; a billion-dollar airplane industry; a very large shipbuilding industry and miscellaneous industries producing at least a billion dollars annually.
The large number of military objectives complicates the situation. These include, in addition to cantonments, fortifications and fortified areas, the two most important Pacific Coast ports; the most prolific and dependable sources on the Pacific of oil and its products; the country’s largest aggregation of war industries as measured by contracts awarded: a high percentage of the country’s remaining and readily available commercial timber: and railroad and electric power utilities.
Another fact that must be reckoned with is that the great majority of the areas, values and objectives are in what has been designated as “combat zone.” The high vulnerability of these values and objectives to saboteur-set fires is most apparent. For example: Most industries are concentrated in small areas, a hazard inherent in the nature and distribution of the water supplies: much of the electric power is produced at long distances from points of use as are city water supplies; rail hauls are long, increasing the difficulty of adequate protection.
As Fulton puts it, “Hundreds of fires could be set going simultaneously in our forests, brush and grain lands and oil fields very easily by a mere handful of determined enemies traveling through the State scattering incendiary materials.”