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January 23, 2017 Social Media Specialist

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There’s nothing Natural or Wild about the Wildfires in San Diego right now! t’s NOT GLOBAL WARMING – IT’s NOT DROUGHTS! It’s NOT An UNEXPECTED DISASTER!
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(picture from rooftop at UCSD – fire sky- 8am)
Catastrophic wildfires are framed as a problem that is the result of "wild winds" or drought seasons, or global warming. but really the big problem is that we don’t let forests and dry land burn naturally on their own because of hyper suburban development – as a result when winds like the Santa Ana come around and vast areas of land and forests start burning out of control. Whereas if we actually just allowed forests to burn on their own in contained spaces – these out of control wildfires wouldn’t happen. Natural fires create natural fire barriers.

Natural wildfires regenerate the soil with nutrients and burn away potentially super-dangerous brush. Some tress, like pines, depend on fires to spread their seeds in their cones! Stephen J. Pyne, an ex-firefighter and Prof. of Ecological History – is a specialist on the social mis-management of fires in the US. He has written extensively about different societies over time have used actively used controlled fires to develop the land or to practice cultural rituals. From national geographic: "Today’s fires can grow unusually fierce because Smokey Bear went overboard. For decades, the well-meaning policy of suppressing all forest fires allowed too much fuel—dead wood, underbrush, small trees—to build up on public lands, especially in the fire-prone West. What might have once been a minor grass fire now turns cataclysmic, like last year’s Hayman Fire in Colorado."

This is also a chance for us to think about how much control we have over nature – people build homes right in the middle of forests and lands that are prone to fires. Is there anything logical to that? When we don’t let natural fire happen, suburban homes on the edges become the unnatural barrier. I hope these San Diego fires get people to think more about ongoing fire management than fire suppression.

On another note – as I watch this disaster unfold, I keep comparing how the news frames the San Diego 2007 Firestorm in contrast to how they framed New Orlean’s Hurrican Katrina. Race and class are at the heart of the comparisons. So much of this sounds different when you are talking about SD’s primarily Caucasian middle-upper class communities being affected by the fire – whereas in new Orleans it was primarily poor black people stranded in the hurricane.

For example – in New Orleans, helicopters didn’t rescue all the black people on their roofs, supposedly because they were hearing "gun shots." I remember the reaction from the news and online community was that those who didn’t listen to the mandatory evacuation were complete "idiots" or people trying to defy the law- essentially those stupid poor blacks folks. In San Diego – firefighters can’t fight the fires because of the winds and they are also busy doing emergency rescues on people who didnt’ listen to the mandatory evacuation. HOWEVER – the news frames these people in a more sympathetic light – by saying well you can understand why these people are so attached to their beautiful homes they own – but they should have listened – essentially we are sympathetic to middle-upper class folks for staying behind in the face of a fire if they are protecting their houses. Remember how the media said black folks were raping, murdering and eating each other in the New Orleans Superdome? Now the media in San Diego frames the 10,000 primarily white middle-upper class folks from North County in the Qualcom Stadium as peacefully sharing oral stories about their homes and eating home-baked brownies dropped off by sympathetic volunteers.

I know the situations are completely different and do not stand for a sound comparison – but it is worth thinking about how the news frames disasters depending on the class of the community. For a reminder at how much race and class does matter in media discourse- here’s a photo I examined from Hurricane Katrina when the news framed a black man wading in water as "looting" while they framed a white man wading in water as "finding" floating goods.

You can read my other thoughts about the racial class politics of San Diego fires here, National news coverage of SD fires here, distortion of wildfires here, emphasis of LA over SD here, and what a Sociologist would do during a fire here.

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Whatever that means…

Lovingly parodied from Hugh’s Social Media Specialist series of cartoons. Originals here

And from my line of SOCIAL OBJECT t-shirts viewable here…

And Hugh I know this totally goes against your non-derivation CC license so I will gladly remove it if annoys you.

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