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Article Critique

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The following essay encompasses an article critique of research on fire disasters. To that end, the paper features an article on the Southern California fires of 1993. The thesis of the work will seek to apply the action plan guidelines in order to appraise the fire-instigated disaster.

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From late October to early November in 1993, wildfires seared through more than 175,000 acres. The fire in Southern California burned over 700 homes and buildings and killed three people (Sutphen, 1994). The nightmare ensued through a 10-day period. For ten days, 26 fires scorched Poway, in the north of San Diego, to Ojai, in the north of Los Angeles, and East to Banning in the Inland Empire. The region was declared a national disaster by the then President Clinton. Private structure damage from the Laguna Beach fire alone amounted to an astonishing amount of $435 million (Sutphen, 1994). The Southern California fires left a total of 1 billion dollars in losses in its trail.

A report postulated that 19 of the 26 fires were a consequence of arson (Newton & Hubler, 1993). However, the actual origins of the fire stemmed from the following: urban interface that juxtaposed dense residential houses on the narrow streets bordering the wilderness. Secondly, another determinant of the situation was a meteorological system that envisaged Santa Ana winds traveling at 92-miles-per-hour with 5% humidity (Sutphen, 1994). Thirdly, there was a rare and profoundly dense amount of vegetative growth as a result of six seasons of drought and one of torrential rainfall. Finally, the houses abutting the wilderness provided the fuel to the fire, with highly flammable housing materials and roofs. According to the research, the fires were inevitable and so was the consequent destruction (Sutphen, 1994). Due to the conditions of that year, it was easy for authorities to predict a firestorm and formulate an efficacious action plan. However, drawing upon Orange County Fire Division Chief Larry Holmes, the fire was the worst in their hstory since the above steps were not undertaken (Newton & Hubler, 1993). Apparently, even an army of firefighters would not have mitigated it. 155 victims of the Laguna Beach seemingly echoed his sentiments in a conducted survey: 43% believed the arsonists were to blame, 27% blamed the Santa Ana conditions, and 15% blamed ‘Mother Nature’ (Newton & Hubler, 1993). However, criticism could not be stifled.

The Orange County Register, Laguna Beach Fire Chief Rich Dewberry, and a civic group United Laguna postulated three policies that exacerbated the disaster (Sutphen, 1994). First, the Laguna Beach failed to recognize the necessity to authorize the erection of a three-million-gallon reservoir. Secondly, there was opposition from the environment to instigate a controlled burn of the vegetative cover. Finally, the disaster response failed to use the available resource of military fire-fighting equipment and personnel.

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According to the guidelines of an operational action plan guideline, there should be strategies fashioned according to the vulnerabilities of each location (Valcik & Tracy, 2013). The disaster-stricken area was shown to be susceptible to fire due to its unique meteorological composition and the conditions that plagued the region. Santa Ana winds exacerbated the speed at which the wildfire spread through Ventura, Chatsworth, Altadena, and the Orange County (Sutphen, 1994). The disaster management and action plan was fundamentally helpless in its wake.

In particular, the action plan lacked the requisite flexibility to deal with the intensely dynamic fires. Before the dispatched teams could control a fire in one area, the blaze had already caused untold damaged and quickly moved to another zone. Arsonists amplified the scope of the catastrophe to greater heights. At this juncture, the failure to meritoriously utilize law enforcement as a vital resource comes to light (Valcik & Tracy, 2013). According to the guidelines, the above force is a resource that wouuld have alleviated the extent to which the disaster transpired by apprehending the arsonists. They also needed to eject obstinate citizens from their homes, who were hampering the efforts of the firefighters (Sutphen, 1994). In the same breath of failing to account for vulnerabilities, the action plan failed to address the canyons. The fire burned incessantly because the canyons were inaccessible to transportation as another integral action plan resource.

Manpower, which is a critical resource according to action plan guidelines, remained stifled by the yoke of bureaucracy and a host of other problems (Valcik & Tracy, 2013). Nightfall drastically restricted the magnitude of help that the airborne services could provide. Marines from the Tustin Marine Corps volunteered to provide special equipment, such as water-dropping helicopter and bulldozers, and battalions of firefighters, but their offers were rebuffed. The absurd reason was that the Orange County Fire officials had not trained with military firefighters in their county (Sutphen, 1994). Air tankers from the Air National Guardremained grounded as federal and state officials sifted through bureaucratic red tape (Sutphen, 1994). The convenience the three-million-gallon reservoir could have come to the fore when the fires destroyed auxiliary pumping stations (Sutphen, 1994). Water, a critical resource in battling the fire, eventually dissipated. Further, there was an absence of electricity due to the fire’s ravaging effects. Consequently, firefighters became impeded at nightfall because of smoke and difficulty in navigating the narrow twisting streets.

The research reveals a plethora of failures when viewed through the lens of the action plan guidelines. Following the crisis and a latter earthquake, the Emergency Management Division (EMD) was incorporated into the Office of the County Administrator. With the luxury of experiential hindsight, the office could gain lessons from history that could go a long way in generating a sound and operational action plan.

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