Progressives throughout Southern California are asking some hard questions regarding the devastating and deadly fires sweeping the area, from just north of Los Angeles through San Bernardino and San Diego counties and into Mexico.

In a letter to the editor circulated via e-mail, one woman writes:

“At a time of massive tragic fires that have taken lives, destroyed homes and devastated families in San Diego, it is time to ask some hard questions.

“Where are the State National Guard personnel, whose original mission has always been to do rescue work in the event of natural disasters? Why are they in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting wars while U.S. citizens are left to fend for themselves?

“Where are the firefighting helicopters that drop fire retardants and water in major fires? Why are they shooting people in foreign lands when they are needed for rescue work at home? … It is time to reverse the trend in this country that neglects the public sector, supports only profit-driven enterprises and always, the military, at the expense of everything else. A country that spends all its resources meddling in foreign lands and does not care for its own citizens in need does not deserve our support. It’s time to speak out! No more silence!”

Seventeen deaths have already been reported and nearly 2,000 homes have been destroyed. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services says a total of 14 fires are now burning, nine of them major. More than 11,000 firefighters, including emergency back-up from the nearby states of Nevada and Arizona, are battling the flames. The area has been declared a major disaster.

One PWW/Mundo reader called from San Diego, which is surrounded by three major fires, to report on the serious situation people faced there. The air quality is so bad – full of smoke and ash – that schools, campuses and the shipyards have been closed. People are urged to stay indoors. The United Food and Commercial Workers have suspended their area picket lines at supermarket chains Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons. Only essential government workers are on duty and the infrastructure, especially water and electricity, are stressed. Many people are wearing masks and respirators when outside.

“Besides the issues of public resources being siphoned off by war and occupation in Iraq, the over-development of wilderness areas by real estate interests has also contributed greatly to this disaster,” the reader said.