The California Cedar Fire lessons : a Chiropractors Perspective

By Darrel Crain, D.C.

The Cedar Incident, as it is called, is the largest fire ever recorded in California history. Now I don’t know about you, but calling that unimaginably devastating fire an “incident” just sounds puny and disrespectful. I think of an incident as a minor annoyance that is only slightly painful, such as the Invisible Skateboard Incident last night on my dark front porch.

For a fire that devastated more than 280,000 acres, leveled 2,232 residences and killed 15 people, more fitting names come to mind such as the Cedar Inferno, the Cedar Conflagration, or the Cedar Incomprehensibly Destructive Instant Landscape Transformation.

Here is a sincere wish that all the thousands of people affected by the fire have found the words of Euripides to be true, “There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change.”

A base camp for the Cedar Incident was hastily put together on Viejas tribal land, a virtual city of tents populated by many hundreds of firefighters. A group of us volunteers was set up in a large tent–chiropractors, massage therapists and an acupuncturist–all of us attended by long lines of grateful, exhausted, aching men and women through the day and into the evening. The second day I lost count after adjusting more than 120 firefighters before lunch.

Many of those amazing folks told me it was a career fire, the likes of which they would never see again. Firefighters drove here in their rigs from every corner of California and all the way from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and other states I am probably forgetting.

One fire crew described in hilarious detail a painful and punishing ride they endured all the way down from Utah crammed into the cab of a small brushfire truck designed for extremely short trips at a top speed of 50 miles per hour.

I was honored to meet so many dedicated people who left behind wives, husbands and kids to come and help put out the big fire. It was an awe-inspiring week dominated by images of nature’s raw and limitless power tempered by countless individual acts of heroism and people in the community rising up to help each other.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we learned a few lessons from the fire. For example, pumping well water to defend structures against a blazing fire only works until the fire takes out the electricity. Oops. County and state officials apparently learned lessons too, such as the need for effective communication among so many people working directly in the path of danger, and the need to somehow prepare for a more rational mass evacuation.

We managed to evacuate our families and pack them off to relatives in North Park with a couple of kids, cats, and computers thrown into cars. They promptly joined a massive traffic jam created by hundreds of other households trying to escape the fire through Harbison Canyon all at once.

My sister Cass drove off a few minutes later towing a large horse trailer full of all the big animals except for one horse, a goat and a dog, all of whom refused to be loaded into the trailer. By the time Cass reached the road, traffic was at a complete standstill even as the front end of the blaze approached. Suddenly, all drivers instinctively knew that the time had come to abandon normal traffic etiquette. Cars began streaming down through the canyon using both traffic lanes, barely ahead of the flames.

My brother in law Greg and I were not really intending to stay and fight the fire, it just turned out that way. One thing led to another and the next thing we knew we were running around and around and back and forth putting out fires as they sprang up from scurrying clouds of cinders and sneaky crawling flames. Our neighbor Bill stayed too. He hooked up garden hoses all along the hillside adjacent to a row of houses and successfully fended off continually shifting and flying flames. About three in the morning we were all able to take a break.

With Bill’s help, we only lost a few outbuildings, a couple of trailers and an old tractor. One trailer, a vintage 1950 Crown travel trailer of sturdy sheet aluminum was reduced to molten puddles in the dirt from the extreme temperatures of the fire. The aluminum hardened into interesting cloud shapes that we later hung up as wall sculptures. Luck brought us safely through all the craziness of the wildly shifting winds and the relentlessly recurring flames, otherwise we might have become statistics ourselves.

Which brings me to insurance companies. I have never understood the so-called logic of fire insurance companies. For example, over the decades companies have cancelled fire insurance on our old ranch seemingly whenever someone drops a cigarette butt on the carpet of their home office in Cleveland, Ohio or wherever it is. They always send a letter with the three magic words underlined in red: Dangerous Fire Area.

What I don’t understand is this. On two separate occasions, twenty-nine years ago and then three years ago in the Cedar fire, our land burned completely to a crisp–a fine, gray dust. But not the houses. What you’ve got here is a 100 percent positive record of safety. If there were any justice in this world, they would reward us using some kind of point system to grant substantial reductions in our insurance premiums each time we pull through an intense fire. So far they have not offered to do this.

During the few days I spent at the Cedar base camp in the big tent, conversations inevitably turned to the reasons a fire could become as huge and uncontrollable as the Cedar fire. A number of firefighters agreed that the standard practice of immediately extinguishing all wildfires ignores the potential wisdom of allowing nature to periodically run its course and burn off large areas of flammable undergrowth.

I am no judge of this view, my fire expertise is limited to keeping the home fires burning. But what they said made a lot of sense to me. “Man masters nature not by force but by understanding,” according to mathematician and philosopher Jacob Bronowski.

I am reminded of other ways we humans persist in using technology seemingly for its own sake. Perhaps the big fire is an apt metaphor for customs in modern society, including some of our major strategies for public health. The words of the great Roman philosopher Cicero come to mind, “Never can custom conquer nature, for she is ever unconquered.”

Currently, a primary goal of public health is to reduce the incidence of self-limiting infectious diseases in the short term. Does this strategy make sense any more knowing as we do that it contributes to huge, uncontrollable fires of devastating chronic disease in the long term?

Time will tell. One thing is for certain though, I’m planning to replace the bulb in the front porch light. My primary goal this week is to avoid any more skateboard incidents.

Dr. Darrel Crain is a Family Chiropractor and Natural Health Writer practicing in San Diego, California. He is the President of the CCA San Diego County District and can be reached at 619-445-0100 @ 7:43 am | Article ID: 1166553838