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Richard Carson, economics professor at University of California, San Diego, gave a mixed grade to the government’s response to the ongoing fires when comparing them to the 2003 fires.

He said government officials and first responders are “doing a remarkable job of saving lives,” by notifying and evacuating them. But he said the overall response had been too slow, and the general public had been poorly informed about what was happening.

Fire crews are headed to San Diego from Northern California, but Carson said efforts should have been made to get firefighters and equipment in place from other states throughout the West where the fire season has ended: Oregon, Washington, Idaho.

“What’s not avoidable is the big wall of fire,” Carson said. “What’s somewhat avoidable is being overwhelmed.”

When fire officials realized late last night that the fires were burning out of control, Carson said they needed to have equipment ready and waiting for the morning when winds picked up again.

“The last go-around, they were two days late,” Carson said. “This time they’re about a day late. We needed that equipment here this morning.”

With several hundred more crews, Carson said many smaller spot fires could be extinguished.

“I don’t think they could do a better job with what they’ve got,” he said. “In this type of weather condition, you could almost never have a big enough fire department and enough equipment.”

Carson also criticized the county’s Office of Emergency Services, which had set up a website Sunday that was quickly overwhelmed by visitors.

“This is something that should never happen,” he said, “(not) having enough server capacity to do this. You know you’re going to have this type of fire, you know what type of hits you’re going to get, and this is the time you need it the most.”

Carson has specialized in studying the economic impacts of disasters and governmental responses.

ROB DAVIS

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