The New York Times went front-page today with a story on the worries surrounding fire preparedness in the bone-dry West. The story carries a San Diego dateline and includes this:

Here in San Diego, the city fire department has far fewer fire stations than experts say are needed and officials are bracing for another bad year.

The city has opened an additional fire station, plans over the next two years to clear the 1,190 acres of brush that abut housing developments and acquired a second water-dropping helicopter to arrive later in the summer. In addition, a county supervisor, Ron Roberts, has pushed the county to lease two “super scooper” firefighting planes for the fall as a stopgap.

But the city’s former fire chief, Jeff Bowman, has called the city and region woefully unprepared for another round of large blazes.

“There’s a lot of talk, but very little action,” Mr. Bowman said in an interview. “The city has done virtually nothing.”

Outside experts have recommended 20 additional fire stations in the city, and elected leaders in the city and county increasingly agree that the only way to find a steady source of revenue for expanded fire protection is through taxes. But voters in the city have twice rejected the idea, and opposition to any tax has proved a particularly strong message for winning candidates here.

“This county is a cheap county,” Mayor Jerry Sanders of San Diego said. “I shouldn’t say cheap. It’s thrifty. And they have not been prone to raise taxes. That makes it pretty difficult.”

Tracy Jarman, the San Diego city fire chief, said residents must confront the reality that some homes built on the fringes of wild lands cannot be saved in a big fire. While cautiously optimistic that the additional aircraft and other measures will put the city on better footing in the event of another disaster, Ms. Jarman said, “We didn’t get here overnight; we’re not going to climb out of it overnight.”

That quote by the mayor jumped out at me, considering he has said he doesn’t yet support raising city taxes to help solve the city’s financial problems.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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