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tv   After Words Lizzie Johnson Paradise  CSPAN  November 11, 2021 4:49pm-5:49pm EST

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♪♪ >> book notes plus. >> edward mozer is a historian, tour guide and author. his latest book is called lost history of the capitol, an account of many bizarre tragic and violent episodes around the u.s. capitol building from the founding of the federal city in 17902 contemporary times. many publishers in his career, he's been a speechwriter george herbert walker bush at a writer for the tonight show jake mental. >> the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcast. ♪♪ >> next on "afterwards", journalist lizzie johnson folks at the root causes of california's 2018 campfire from the base u.s. wildfire and is country. society of american foresters ceo.
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"afterwards" is a weekly interview program with relevant guest host interviewing top nonfiction authors about their latest work. >> thank you for joining us, this great discussion about your book from paradise to survive an american wildfire and the opportunity to speak with you on behalf of of 9000 plus members. i really enjoyed the book and the way you wrote the story so i would like to kick it off by hearing more about you. i've done ait little digging myself in a major way from nebraska to journalism to city hall and since for cisco partnering wildfires. let's start there, how did you make that journey?
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i'm looking forward to hearing how you made it to where you are and what you learned along the way. >> thank you for having me. i grew up in nebraska when i first dropped out of college in california. i was hired to cover local politics and always joked it's its own kind of fire. i realized i was work looking for change, you can really write about anything. around the time the wildfires in california and across the greater west were starting to get really bad. we had buyers in 2017 which shocked the state and the nation and after that, the acceleration continued. every summer it seems like the fires were getting bigger, thousands more homes are burning
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down than the previous summer so by the time the cap buyer was in 2018, i've been covering fires for a while and spent a lot of time in the town of paradise when the town was burning and "afterwards", even after they had gone out. >> that is quite the journey and i can imagine he was his own type of fire. natural resources, we often talk about how it's a close community and separation especially related fighting wildfires across country so a little-known fun fact, i worked on national forest -- we have a connection we didn't even know about. >> that's crazy, what were you
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doing out there? >> isa ranger, i oversaw the forest, located with managing interesting small pieces of land in nebraska. >> that is wild to hear. i think i flew over it one time. >> or drove through it. >> you drive a tractor to school. very cool that you used to work there, to. >> i know a little bit about dorothys lynch. >> dorothy lynch. [laughter] >> so as you talk aboutta your journey, i wanted to give some kudos, technical knowledge around forestry and while fire fighting into your story.
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it was profound for me. this is impressive, you know some of the terms but you also knew them in a way where i pick up on it but a person who's not a professional, it made sense to them. a great piece to me, football field every second and that is the anecdote so i wanted to just understand of the more have you developed that understanding and expertise on how fires actually work. >> is a journalist, i viewed my job as helping people understand technical concepts they don't otherwise. i think particularly when it comesly politics and the decisis being made, how they impacted their lives and later with
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firefighting because i think a lot of people don't understand all that goes into it. even when i started covering wildfires, i didn't understand how the blazes are contained, not actually by using water but digging dirt patches and starting the fire there so m trying to learn as much as i could, i went through a professional fire academy in san francisco. two weeks i learned about firefighting wild firefighting academy, they had me out and lit a field on fire and had to chase it down and put out so that taught me how it felt, how heavy the gear is and how hard they work and how the tools felt in my hands. alsoso the terminology and understanding this is what it means and what it looks like. when i was writing about it, i
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could help people understand what it wasg like. >> excellent. at that is definitely immersing yourself in the world of firefighting. definitely having the experience myself so with that, was there anything that resonated with you going to the training or the terminology? is there something you would never have thought this is a name or this has a name? >> i think for me, the thing that stuck with me was terminology l, the experience aa firefighter, every summer but like i was hearing fire chief over and over again, this is going to be normal. the sense of new normal was a new meaning altogether. spending a lot of time talking about their going to have to deal with emotional experiences that were really hard and how
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you carry those with you, what you do in a situation where you can't put then fire out and it comes down to saving lives, o realizing the way firefighting was being taught in that regard was because the landscape changed and they were seeing more fires that were totally uncontainable. that was something that really c stuck with me, the conversations of what you do when you are a firefighter can't fight the fire. >> that is great and i noticed some of that in your book as well related to for firefighters being able to stop of fire somebody is home and their safety and the emotional toll which we don't talk about much, it's becoming more and more of a
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conversation, not only is it the community but they may live in eythese communities. their pet or other animals were family have to be taken out to consumer us so there really is a growing challenge. thank you for sharing that. the next lot i had was the concept of as i speak with my members and other professionals in this sector, oftentimes i think about the concept of being willing to engage in a way that's valuing the outdoors and the land versus jumping trick
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technical explanation of what happened or what is going to have you seen or do you think there are other barriers around that technical last part of what we are trying to convey to the public around wildfires and are there barriers in language or the profession from your perspective? i jokingl say i didn't have to talk to people and i could just o hang out in the trees and nowi talk to people about the trees. i am curious your thoughts on that concept of what some of the barriers are? >> people who don't understand firefighting, it is.
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i think that space civilians and first responders occupy together is becoming broader because disasters are getting worse, increasing the firefighters aren't just trying to stay home to put out fires but they are educating people in advance of what to do and how to prepare. ...t i think there's a bit of positivity or. you know what your past experience was and i know the fire chief is telling you you have to goot back but it burned down last summer and the town
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did some work so maybe i should be okay. as i talk to firefighters and first responders that people don't always necessarily understand why it is. >> host: it's that piece of being reactive versus being proactive and fires come in communities and they say sometimes they didn't reach us.s but the hurricanes it was the same thing. so it is that big challenge for the community. i think also for policymakers. one of the things as we look at policies and the overall
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implications of policies from a national on the local level the ability to engage in policy sessions and policies that are helpful and supportive help. obviously i'm sure you've heard conversations on the climate solution. where do you see opportunities around the impact of the virus thehe policy rate and discussions that are happening now in the things being discussed withre forestry? >> guest: i think it's just making sure we are having these conversations and i think it's change in being proactive like you said versus reactive. people aren't on the same page having the same conversations on what these fires are like so
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they are trying to help places that haven't burned down yet and they don't necessarily see it as ace threat as much as the people in policy or the firefighters and say this is important to do it particularly because public support is hard and i think that's the biggest thing right now what is the conversation that we are helping and we do need to take this seriously because these fires are getting worse year after year. >> host: you mentioned trying to have the same conversation as possible for of having as you call the tools in the toolbox so being ahead of the game and how we managed that in for me what comes to mind organizationally
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being in a national position. a prescribed fire is not used in the western states as much as it has in the east so i'm curious on your thoughts on how these conversationsersaons begin where there's that visual of this or response was smoke in the air and what to do for the greater good. >> guest: remind you something that happened last summer and pew county is where the town of paradise was got hit by the camp fire in 2018th and it's getting hit again this year by another fire. last summer there was a north
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complex fire and it affected a couple of small committees near paradise. those p were areas where the ciy council had realized they needed help so they were trying to secure a prescribed fire and it just took a really long time to get the community and board admin to get the funding for that. it wasnd only a short while befe the fire department would do it and it's so hard to know whether have changed things but there were a lot of people that were frustrated when the fire came through. they said we were so close and maybe they were something we could have could have done to lower the intensity of the he can be really hard to convince people that it's hard it's as it is that could mean the difference in your community burning down or not. >> host: that's a challenging thing to hear especially just
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being that close. many conversations i've had of looking at communities like paradise andnd those landscapes and not a matter of if but when so the community and the firefighters are really that key component and you just never know and it's just a race against time. and on that policy piece i'd like to hear yourur thoughts on not so much policy but the strategy and as you are talking aboutin in the book around gasd electric and the whole conversation we are having around the energizinger the lins and all thell push back that was
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very strong by the people who said don't do this and if you do this the amount of time that it will take to reenergize alliance alliance -- but i think that speaks to your point about getting ahead of these things and realizing we have these utilities that can be very impactful but the challenge and becomes how do you de-energize aligned so i'm just wondering as you get all those and of roots and do your research how does that come together and is there anything to help convey that messagess to a community especiallyrn in california that may be facing it in other parts
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of the t country collects >> guest: i kept finding myself nodding the entire time you were talking because you are making some of the same points. yeah the situation we have found ourselves in particularly with climate change and environment we are in is very different than it was 10 years ago and we have a vulnerable electrical infrastructure that goes across land that super dry. people understand now that it's important tond try to problem solve as much as possible and the electric company which is the largest power provider in california has meant turning off the power and that's one of the tools in the toolbox that we have right now. we know they are serious issues with that and people have
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interacted medical care and they lose their phones. it's very very hard but at the same time we have seen summer at her summer headlines of another fire and it seems like we haven't had a year as long as i can remember that it's been five years or that hasn't happened. people mostly see the inconvenience instead of seeing the. off of that treaty can't just say oh oh this is the fire that would have started in this firewood at burned down this town and this firewood a burned through this many homes. there is no tangible thing that you can hold up and say this is what we have repented. these people are left with its another week without power and
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we didn't have air-conditioning in our home but if you know that there's a point to that being inconvenienced or seriously inconvenienced by intricate medical care i think it's the reality that we are living in right now and it goes back to u what i was saying earlier abot making sure we are having the same conversation in understandingg it's not going away and we are living our legacies of how we have managed thewe forest and how we have approached climate change and where we have built homes and now we are back to some really hard choices and it means being inconvenienced. >> those are great points. they are really important points especially the national environment is our reality and
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it has been our reality but the impacts are nowan so significant with that. that leads me to my next question. you mentioned during town hall meetings that the county sheriff had to engage and difficult questions and part of that reference the challenge related to the mismanagement of the forest. i'll be totally honest it was among mum of those moments in reading the book where is like you know ms. managing the forest with forestry? there'sh no such thing but it s good to make that point because we all have a stake and in how the land is managed in
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particular and how we operate through that so i think there is that important balance of how we sustainably manage it in the presence of our structure. i want to say thank you for putting that in there because i was taken aback a little bit on the key point but it's not so much that that's something we can't move past but as you just mentioned what is the evolution of our forest management as we begin to grow into wilder spaces. i want to get to this how we manage. i'm sure they are some of the conversations you might have had following the paradise fire but
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what were the conversations that would come up about tree removal and this piece of how do you address people who have obviously died during the fires but the projection of what's to come and what will likely not make an impact on homes are roads. i'm just wondering did you have any conversations where there was some of that response and concerns about what things will look like and how trying to make a case that we are going to impact those things? >> right. you have to remember. ice because of where it was at
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this town of 26,000 people up in the hills these big beautiful canyons on both sides and people talk about the towering tender at times. the air smelled like warm sap and a christmas. i think after the fire one of the big things was what do you do with all of these trees on the town crest like built-in to the environment and people sense of identities and that many of those trees died. i think the decisions surrounding this is emblematic of also the larger conversations happening because the conversation changes when they have homes there and they would
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prefer if it would hit the house or hit the car or a person. as much as we hated it has to come down so that was part of the conversation and part two is how do you pay for that? paradise is a working-class community and the populace is either newly -- our newlywed. the demographics are a lot of retirees and a lot of younger families who can afford to build a life there. it's not an extremely paved privilege demographic where peoplele have a lot of income to spend cutting down hundreds of trees on their property so how do you have those conversations when at a certain point choice feels like a privilege and also it feels like your identity and
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given that he understands the right thing to do it's emotionally hard when you've lost everything in the trees that were out of fear window life that i'll have to go. that's what makes it hard when you're having a combination of the conversation of science and emotional conversation with people trying to decide what their community willci become. >> you know that resonates so much in one of the parts of your book when you talk and about going down a [roll call] road in one of the teachers is rlike ours that paradise was -- and the bus drivers like this is fuel and we are taking downse overgrown roads. it's kind of that culmination of
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that situation. there's nothing to push you to that place. the challenge is what you can take and on the policy side of things and you mentioned the challenges of the evacuation and everything from originally having a four lane highway that was brought down to two andan trying to bring traffic into town forth an evacuation without massive congestion not to mention having a very small population of the community come out and assist. i was wondering in your conversations with the town
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manager and members what were some of those thoughts and was there a question on what it was like to have ignored -- then ignored by calfire? >> i know i sound like a pro can record but they keep coming back do we need to have a conversation on it. it is important to note that paradise is a town that was pretty well prepared and had thought about an evacuation plan. the people in town thought more of that as an inconvenience at should be avoided to the evacuation drills think about how annoyed you would feel if you had to practice an evacuation. it's just human nature. it's just an inconvenience and
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you'll never have to do it. paradise is a very fire prone place and in all the documents that i read firefighter officials called it the paradise problem because again this town is tucked between two geological communities that had smooth evacuation routes and they need to pay for going to get trapped in a major fire. they knew that was a possibility but it's like waiting for the 100 year flood. that's something that the town halls were battling with. have you battle the concerns and making the town of beautiful place to live and understand you only have a certain amount of money because it's a more impoverishedmo committee. it's not like their coffers are overflowing and they can just build the road on the other side of the candid to help people get
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out. so dealing with that in trying to understand how much you can plan for the 100 year fire. i think it was a decision where people were planning for the fires from the past and those fires never burned all the way through town. there were decisions they could have made but again it's impossible to p know but it it would have made the evacuation efforts a little easier but again they have these other concerns tonc and i think parade is so emblematic of all of these places across california and across the west have how you keep people safe and how do you make those hard decisions? now you can't just depend on this town being safeus next tim.
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itee seems unfathomable compared to a decade ago so you have to start putting money into places where you didn't think you would have to and yet to make those hard decisions because that 100 year fire is now something that's a lot more frequent than you would think. they make you make a great point on that. is that the everyday safety or the 100 year safety. that takes a rewiring if you look at the grand scheme of things. imagine something that came to mindu related to the current conversations that are happening around infrastructure legislation around infrastructure and the fours have been included in some of the infrastructure bills so the
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forests are just as important as bridges and roads and where the infusions of dollars ago into communities like paradise for that love to hear your thoughts on that that it's almost in the same light l as roads and bridg. the'v reality is there really a significant. >> infrastructure is not very to a lot of people say don't really thinky about it and people think even less about a crumbling bridge or road as opposed to a forests. even having this conversation is really important because it could changemp the outcome of te
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state of towns like paradise. i know the town to spend a lot of time thinking about trying to keep the firebreak area but the money for that is not something that these communities always have. infrastructure bills would help with that and help future conversations about how can we make places safer for committees in the future? this isn't necessarily happening as much a couple of decades ago and now people are talking about it more. >> does that make you a a little bit more hopeful? paradise another's that are the small [roll call] communities especiallyec in the mountains and are really
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starting to see a picture around the importance in and around these communities and the impact it's had. they are more focused on the catastrophic impact of the fire and so many others you mentioned. >> people are talking about solutions and a lot of doom and gloom. so much of my job is holding a mirror up to the problem. when i started covering fires ah couple of years ago to show the way that these communities i really struggled and at the time is really hard to keep covering that same storyline over and over when there would never be a break in the narrative or a solution. itit is encouraging that maybe this h isn't something we have o
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relive every single year for eternity and people are making better decisions. >> i think you'll find yourself in any company so congratulations on that. >> junge. >> one of the o things i did wat to follow up with you on is the book and enough itself can you tell me about your method of writing and covering those stories with a bit of gloom and doom and making these things better. it really delves into how you wove together the different characters
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and apologetically people have many stories tied to the fire in the community of paradise. i just wanted to talk to you about the headspace of what you were saying over and over again. >> i and up writing the book because i had reported it and i thought my editor would be mad at me if i try to write this because it would take an entire newspaper. there is a sense of wanting to create somethingor more lasting that would help people understand what was happening in california particularly because at the time that i would visit the east coast or visit my family inn the midwest there is this sense of people not really understanding like oh yeah
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california is very -- and that rubs me the wrong way because it was impacting people's lives so i thought if i can help people understand what these fires feel like and the impact that they have and what it means for the rest of us on climate change and it's not something that 10 years down the road willoa be relevant and right now it's -- in writing the book i always say i'm an expert against normal p people's bias. i pride myself on getting people to understand the hard decisions i have to make when the fire
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rolled into town that morning. and after-the-fact they had to figure t out if they could rebud their lives and how do you survive fire like that? so i did all that reporting and they went through and listened at every single call from the local police department that morning but thousands of pages of m court documents learned as much as i could about firefighting and went into h the archives trying to learn about it and from there it was writing in a way where you are learning about the people in the town and its like a movie where you are learning about how we are building a the space and learning about the fire risk in learning about what you can expect the w next.
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balancing it just so where you are learning about these people's lives. >> i think you achieved your goal. it was something that resonated with me as someone who's worked in this field for years and speaking off that in your research you cross some tribal knowledge so you mentioned about what you discovered there especially as you rub it into the book and it seemed like you the like it had to be in book and kind of the story of the oral history about the impact of fires and the respect for the land and the resources in the community following all of that. i'm really curious to hear more about that part of the book as well. >> in early 2019 the fire had
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hit so i decided to go on a tour with the fire counsel. i did these tours to show people what it looked like after the fire and it would take politicians it would take civilians and it was this heartwrenching way to did get people to understand. there were members of the tribe and on this plateau overlooking overlooking -- and everything underneath is burned to a crisp. they told us the story about these people and their communities and how they lived through this massive wildfire that was eerily similar to the camp fire and how they had to moveve away and they said their home was greener and healthier
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after the fire. there was something about that and hearing it i was like how come we haven't heard about this as much and how come this is the first time i'm hearing about this? i've been doing all of this research in ohi the archives and have not stumbled upon it at that point. i knew that needed to be int? te book because i think it offers an illuminating echo of the fact that forests are cyclical and theirs does wealth of knowledge from white settlers the came from europe. i think there are remnants of that r today where people see it as a bad thing and it's not necessarily a bad thing. fire is a healthy part of the environment. looking at indigenous knowledge
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of how they lived oned the landscape and in turn that made him the environment a healthier space i really wanted to look at the entire store to help people understand that. so often we don't care about it in the ways we inspire should be much more nuanced than what they are. >> thank you for that. that's very insightful that you put a lot of thought into on how we. the space for those conversations both from the standpointos of meetings and discussions but also being open-minded on these discussions and how people live man's land over the years. and what that means and how we
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move to the concept of living as close in harmony with nature as possible especially with the ever structure we put in place. speaking with some of the people in your book several characters and people stood out. one of particular was an emergency dispatcheris and you mentioned she was a woman in a male-dominated field. i wondered if you had more on that with you going to a fire training t and what women face fire -- fighting fires especially given the shortage of firefighters but are there tchallenges their and i wanted o know if you want to make additional comments on that as well?
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>> it takes a long time to change a culture. she felt like she had to be tougher than her colleagues. she said at a certain point they realized i don't have to be tougher but i can beer smarter d figure out ways to be successful even when i went to my firefighting training and that was two weeks out of my life so i can't speak to what it's like for all women. i remember at 1.1 of the women in the class is like i feel like i have to try to fight the fires and -- and this was in 2019. those prejudices still exist and it's something that women are still confronting. it's a very male-dominated
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field. i think that is something that could improve. >> veryy much so hopefully with the standpoint of fighting fires and the perception that anyone can be successful. that's one of those key features. there were a few comments you mentioned that you had with the firefighters that you talk to. cany other insights related to those discussions and how it fell into it and not being aware and you were like it fueled
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something inside of me and around the concept of fighter flight and how that played out for firefighters. i was curious about some of your thoughts in being drawn to the profession either by generation are. >> many firefighters that i talk to i'm struck by what helpers they were. they just deeply wanted to help others out. that along with the fact that clearly you can be outside and work with your hands and you caa meet people and you feel like you're doing something in a way that maybe you couldn't pursue.
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there were so many people i talked with that were going to universities to study something else and they realized it was something they really enjoyed and it was in their blood. i've really enjoyed talking with firefighters. they just want to help and i want to help you understand. i had covered politicians to didn't necessarily understand what they werein doing. >> thanks for sharing that. you mentioned earlier that the impacts are exponentially impacting the community and the
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trauma that can go without and concern about safety and not way. i was really curious about your thoughts on three questions about three different communities and i'm really lookingse forward to hearing yor thoughts on these. ouwe have these challenges aroud changing climate and the impacts on forests and how they end up changing theop community. >> people ask me for instances and i wish i had them. what i found for my reporting is i think we have to reckon with their new reality and we need to
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start changing the way we make decisions in figuring out where to put money. in paradise so many of those homes have been around for decades and i think nine out of 10 homes have been built before 1990s of those for homes that were built in a fire safe way and there was legislation that passed that homes should be constructed in a fire safe way and that didn't. you can the legislation. that was something that i heard a lotin in paradise people sayig i wish i could have done more like changing the roof of a hat but i just didn't have the money and there was no way to retrofit the home. these places that exist to make them safer word where does that
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money come from? these fires are just going to go away y next year so we need to start thinking critically about a new way to build communities and is it good to build luxury apartments on a cliff in san diego county and realizing we need to start changing our decision-making and not think that won't happen because some point it will. just having conversations about thatg in asking ourselves knowig that scenario will probably happen at that point and what can we do differently to prevent those tragedies from happening again? >> are there any insights that you would share with.
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>> i think is that gap between the knowledge that we have is a higher fighter in the knowledge that normal peoplein have. when you are talking with someone who might not internalize or remember everything that you tell them sl it's important to take one thing. that is to have a plan and you need to know what to do if this happens because all that time you spend scrolling through facebook trying to figure out whether you should evacuate or not and the time is time that could save your life. they need to deal to help themselves.
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>> what advice would you give policymakers? >> a lot of advice giving today. >> what you've done a lot of studying and research. >> for policymakers again the thing to remember is sometimes those tough decisions at the right decisions and saving people's lives. it's hard to balance what constituents needd in terms of wanting to have a beautiful community. sometimes it's not in the best interest the long-term impact. we need to think critically dabout fire danger in the state and help us to protect tape on how we are building up where we
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are building. oftenli legislators don't want o trample on people's well-being and their right to live and build their homes the way they want.he i think we owe to each other to be safe and that starts with what happened at the capitol. >> very much so. last piece of advice. what would you share with community members? >> i think for them just understanding that the calculus has totally changed and you can't just assume that you are going to be safe that the fire won't come to your community even though we have heard it so may times in thes past. so many of these fires people think they will be safe and it's heartbreaking to hear those
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phonecalls and those people on the fatality list. you don't want to end up like that and youpe don't want to put other people in a situation where they are risking their lives to save you. you have to have a plan for yourself and you can't just assume someone is going to come and save you. >> that is a great point. thank you for all that great advice and thank you for an amazing book. i'm telling my friends in the firefighting world about it and he did such a thoughtful job of incorporating your stories into something that is digestible and key points that we all need to think about very seriously and hopefully will help us move
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forward with taking care of our committees and their forests. it's something that's important to myself and my renovation so thank you so much for your time today. i did enjoy having this conversation with you and it's great to talk with a fellow nebraskan. >> it was really nice talking to you too. and thank you for enjoying in the book and recommending it to people.
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>> it's a to privileged to sit down with you for an hour to talk about your book and the first thing i want to ask is how do you approach her role as a writer and a particular political writer? >> the first thing it's not a big part of most people's lives and it shouldn't be a big part of a healthy society.


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