Governor strikes triumphant note
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his aides today struck a triumphant and self-congratulatory note as they attempted to show that they were moving into the recovery phase of the 2007 California fire disaster.
Schwarzenegger called cabinet members and agency heads to his Office of Emergency Services headquarters at the former Mather Air Force base for a 20-minute session in front of reporters to discuss recovery efforts. The governor, flanked by other state officials, then walked into a state operations center and thanked emergency services workers who helped coordinate the response.
"This is not over, I just want you to know," Schwarzenegger said. "I always say, this is the sprint. Now comes the marathon."
In a news conference afterward, Schwarzenegger and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi both said the state had dramatically outperformed its response to the southern California wildfires of 2003, losing fewer lives and property despite more fires.
"While there was a very good response to those horrific fires in southern California, the response this time was much, much better," Garamendi said. "The ability of the state government to learn from the problems and shortcomings of the 2003 effort is obvious. It's obvious that there was substantially lower loss of life, lower loss of property, fewer homes burned."
State officials have responded to criticism of the time it took to deploy air resources by pointing to local agencies who are the first responders and to outmoded federal equipment. Schwarzenegger said the state had not purchased all the new fire engines recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission after the 2003 fires because of the state's budget crisis, but added that it is continually purchasing more.
The governor said there would be time to analyze how to make further improvements, but that time would come later. He spoke instead of the fire chiefs and evacuated residents he said had expressed their gratitude to him for the state's help.
"The fact of the matter is, I'm looking right now at the extraordinary work that was done and how many people's lives were saved," Schwarzenegger said.
-- Michael Rothfield