It’s fire season in California. The most recent fires seem to reinforce the sense that humans are helpless in the face of a changing climate. Look more closely. Individuals can make a difference.
Drones are proof that the difference is not always positive. Last Friday, as firefighters were working through the night trying to slow the rapidly spreading flames of the Maria Fire west of Los Angeles, a Ventura County helicopter pilot reported seeing a drone flying above the flames.
Airborne water drops had to be delayed for at least 45 minutes. And then another drone appeared. It is not the only instance of drones impeding critical fire-suppression efforts.
As anyone who has experienced Western wildfires knows, delays are more than an annoyance, and drones are more than a nuisance. If birds can take down an airliner, imagine what a fast-moving piece of plastic can do to a helicopter or low-flying airplane, especially in the dark.
Insensitive drone pilots are examples of individual actions that can have terrible impacts when it comes to dealing with natural disasters. Fortunately, there are opposite examples.
Wealthy property owners are now hiring private contractors to fight fires threatening their homes. There is nothing wrong with doing so. Federal and state governments have contracted with private agencies since the 1980s. Plus, private firefighters can help relieve the growing stress being put on public responders by the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires.
One wealthy former radio executive, however, has taken a different approach. He has turned his Santa Monica mountaintop property into a base from which the Los Angeles County Fire Department refills helicopter water tanks, which allows a quicker response to the small spot fires that give birth to massive wildfires.
Last month, those helicopters were able to help contain the Palisades Fire to a few dozen acres. The alternative would have been the loss of dozens or even hundreds of homes in a densely populated section of urban Los Angeles.
Individuals are not powerless in the face of natural disasters pushed into overdrive by a changing climate. Defensive measures in locating, building and maintaining structures can reduce loses. Emergency preparations can help both oneself and fragile neighbors in the event of trouble.
Taking a picture with a drone for an Instagram account or a news feed is a thrill. In a disaster, drones should be kept out of the way, instead.