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We are witnessing mind-boggling devastation in the still uncontrolled fires spreading throughout the suburban areas north of San Francisco. Closely following the destruction of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, it seems like Nature is attacking us with a vengeance. My proximity to the fires, heightened by the orange skies of smoke and particles, and the campfire smell of burning wood, may exaggerate the uniqueness of this tragedy over those of the hurricanes, floods and other holocausts in distant parts of the world. More than the loss of property, much of which will eventually be replaced, we lament the total disruption and loss of lives.
Conditions were ripe for this to happen. Years of drought weakened trees and last year's heavy rains brought on a bountiful crop of now dried-out grasses. Strong dry winds and flying embers fanned the explosive growth of the fires. What ignited the fires, and so many simultaneously, is yet to be determined. Lightening storms were not a factor. An accidental or careless spark could be the culprit.
There is always a lingering suspicion that the fires were deliberately set. I am not suggesting that, but it can't be ruled out. (There is more than a lingering suspicion that human-instigated global warming contributed to the hurricanes as well.) Could it be the work of a pyromaniac or part of the mania of our times that results in acts of violence like the mass shootings in Las Vegas? Or could it be a purposeful act of "terror" in compensation for our acts of aggression in other parts of the world - as was 9/11? The California wine country is a symbol of American affluence and lavish life style, as the Twin Towers were a symbol of American financial power, both being symbolic targets.
The haunting images of the fires' devastation closely resembles pictures of total destruction of cities in Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen. We are confident that our demolished towns will eventually be restored to something like they were, by means of insurance money and other sources of our nation's wealth. But what hope have the people in those other countries to rebuild their homes and lives as they were before we came there? They were destroyed by deliberate acts of inhumanity, incidentally killing hundreds of thousands of people, in which we - our government - conspired and participated without having any vital stake there.
One redeeming aspect of these natural catastrophes is the heart-warming out-pouring of assistance and generosity from both workers and strangers, demonstrating the natural instinct of altruism in most of humanity. In anticipation of the predicted escalation of natural disasters, our capacity for altruism may be severely tested. Every one of us may be called upon to make serious sacrifices to meet the challenges. We will not be able to continue the duplicitous policies whereby we are fighting devastation on one front while creating devastation elsewhere. We'll need to convert the liability of our polluting and military enterprises into a constructive peace force to fend-off these disasters as much as possible.