Some fine reporting has been done, especially by the great investigative journalist John Dougherty, as well as from the Arizona Republic. Unfortunately, reportage of event has lacked the nationwide heft it deserves. There has been no Norman Maclean to immortalize it. Newspapers don't crusade any more.
The accountability I demanded when I wrote about Yarnell a year ago in one of Rogue's most popular columns has been conspicuously lacking. Clearly tactical mistakes — even inexcusable rookie blunders — were made. But what was learned? Only one weak bill emerged from the Legislature: clear vegetation, if you wish.
The biggest disappointment has been the utter lack of curiosity about the larger problem: lack of any sensible land-use laws. Why was this subdivision that became a killing zone allowed to be built there in the first place? It wasn't in the little town of Yarnell. As with much of the state, it was plopped down for quick profit at the dangerous interface between established settlements and the wilderness.
Yavapai County has grown from 37,000 people in 1970 to more than 215,000 people last year. But Prescott accounts for only an estimated 40,590, and even that comes with the big asterisk that subdivisions have spread out far from the historic city.
We see this around the state. Another example: exurban subdivisions vomited across the once pristine Mogollon Rim, many the product of shady federal land swaps. More than 230,000 houses have been allowed in fire-prone zones. Many are also in areas with questionable water supplies, or, in the case of Verde Valley sprawl, are sucking water that rightly belongs to the Salt River Project.
The Legislature, controlled by the Real Estate Industrial Complex, has no incentive to address this problem. In addition, the outlanders who moved to Arizona believe they have a "right" to live where they choose, no matter the public costs or consequences.
When my "Young Men and Fire" column was posted on Reddit, it elicited responses such as these:
Fucking really? The majority of the people impacted by wildfires in AZ are honest, hard-working folk, not uber rich politicians in huge cabins. Maybe they should try moving here and actually make a difference in politics if they actually hate the state so much they wish the whole thing would burn down.
The article is just a bunch of rambling about how much this dude hates urban sprawl and he's just using this tragedy as an opportunity to voice his opinion. Yarnell only has like 600 residents, but the construction of those two subdivisions since fucking 1970 is supposed to be some huge problem? God forbid any city with any chance of experiencing any natural disaster actually builds a few more damn buildings, right!?
What a cynical column. Most of us realize that Arizona has been developed in a sprawling manner but to launch an anti-establishment and anti-development tyraid like that is ridiculous. What about the people in the Midwest who live in flood plans? What about the people in the Midwest who live in blizzard prone areas? What about the people in The south who live in the path of hurricanes? What about all of California who is in a massive earthquake zone? Wildfires are a natural disaster just like any other natural disaster. No need to condemn the whole state over it. And to berate politicians for caring, Jesus Christ man they are people just like the rest of us.
Don't be sore winners. The result of the Yarnell catastrophe is...nothing. People are apparently rebuilding on the same dangerous site.
Arizona will continue to profane (Prescott Valley, anyone) some of the most beautiful country on the planet. Any discussion of limits or sustainability, much less respect for the land, will be met by loud cries for "ECONOMIC FREEDOM!!" and "NO SOCIALISM." Oh, and taxes must be cut, always cut, even when these eviscerate the ability of public safety to keep up with sprawl. But when the fire comes, and it will, these will be the same people demanding firefighters — you know, those thuggish takers at the trough of public pensions — and restitution.
For those of you who think this is a nostalgia blog, let me take you down memory lane. The Arizona of my boyhood didn't have these massive fires. The Arizona of the future will have far more thanks to climate change. The profits from the real-estate hustles will be privatized. The costs of fighting the fires will be socialized.
So get your cigarettes, lighter, flip-flops and towel and follow Valinda Jo into the inferno.