He’s back at it. That damned bear I encountered as a young boy is still putting a responsibility on me that triggers shame and guilt. It started out when I was a child. “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” Me? I’m the only one that can prevent a massive fire consuming acres and sometimes square miles of wooded land? I didn’t even live close to a forest.
Smokey the Bear hasn’t aged that much. However, he’s still placing blame on me as he’s expanded his message to go beyond forest fires. Now, I have to prevent wildfires. That could be right-of-way land along the railroad tracks where grass burns. It could be a fire in your backyard. It also includes prairie fires that get out of hand. I don’t even have to be present when the burning occurs. I’m still responsible.
Growing up along the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad (now the Union Pacific), the town firetrucks were often called out to extinguish a grass fire by the tracks. When the fire fighters came back to town, I would hear them talk. They would often say that the cause of the fire was a “hot box”. It took some time before I received an honest answer from a fire fighter about what that meant. A hot box is a railroad car in which the axle bearing overheats, starting a fire. It doesn’t occur as often as it did when I was kid.
Railroad companies now have detectors inlaid within the tracks that help determine if a passing railcar has conditions that will identify a hot box. Also, the use of “ball, roller, or tapered” bearings instead of the old-time journal bearings has cut down on the number of fires caused by hot boxes. A modern bearing can still ignite a fire when it fails, and it can cause a significant fire if the railcar is hauling grain, coal, sawdust, or other pseudo-combustive material. The responsibility for these fires belongs to the railroad companies.
What about lightning? Am I still to blame because the lightning caused a fire? According to The National Fire Protection Association, “the average number of acres burned per fire is much higher in lightning fires than in fires caused by humans.” Based upon this information, I question the Bear’s statement that “only YOU” can prevent wildfires. Clearly, the responsibility falls on Mother Nature.
Finally, the deadliest and most costly wildfire in California history was the 2018 Camp Fire, which burnt the city of Paradise into nonexistence. This fire was started by the failure of a major corporation trying to divert maintenance funds into profit for company shareholders. Corporate culpability continues.
California’s largest utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), admits that it was its equipment that started the Camp Fire in November or 2018.
Long before the failure suspected in the Paradise fire, a company email had noted that some of PG&E’s structures in the area, known for fierce winds, were at risk of collapse. It reported corrosion of one tower so severe that it endangered crews trying to repair the tower. The company’s own guidelines put Tower 27/222 a quarter-century beyond its useful life — but the tower remained.
A hot wire broke loose from Tower 27/222 and started a fire moving very fast and so intense it killed 88 people. It could have been prevented. But the cost of maintenance would have cut company’s profits. “The state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, concluded that the company was more concerned with profit than with safety.” The PG&E’s answer to this entire mess – file for bankruptcy.
“State officials also blamed PG&E equipment for starting 17 of 21 major fires in 2017 that ripped through Northern California, including wine-growing Napa and Sonoma Counties.”
The railroads have worked hard at trying to prevent fires. No one can do anything about lightning strikes, but massive money-making corporations can file bankruptcy and continue to operate with impunity.
Railroads, lightning, and company greed have more to do with wildfires than human error. Oh, sure, fires have been started by careless campers, hikers, homeowners, and other human sources, but I don’t see that damned bear pointing at them.
I think I’m old enough now to realize that the bear was not pointing at me specifically, yet for some reason, I don’t think anyone is pointing a finger at corporations who seek profit over safety: safety for employees; safety for the environment; and safety for those of us who depend upon the services many corporations provide.
Greed! It’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s my sin to bear since a pension plan I rely on may have invested in some of these greedy companies. Greed, guilt, gullibility. Gee, guess I’m the bear(er) of bad news.
Quotes in regards to the Camp Fire and PG&E are taken from: How PG&E Ignored Fire Risks in Favor of Profits. NY Times Business Section. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/18/business/pge-california-wildfires.html Penn, Ivan; Eavis, Peter; & Glanz, James. MARCH 18, 2019
 Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.
Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.
Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.
Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.
Anger is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath.
Greed is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.
Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work.