Wildfires in California continue to rage as a federal emergency is declared.

Wildfires in California continue to rage as a federal emergency is declared.

Wildfires in California continue to rage as a federal emergency is declared.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 24 2007 6:10 AM

Reign of Fire

The Los Angeles Timescontinues to banner, while the New York Timesand the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with, the ongoing wildfires in Southern California that have so far burned through about 650 square miles and destroyed more than 1,100 homes, although all have slightly different figures. The rest of the papers front the fires that have forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. President Bush declared a federal emergency in seven counties and, in what everyone describes as a pointed effort to not repeat the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina, he said he will visit the affected area tomorrow. As firefighters made little progress in containing the flames, the LAT and WSJ focus on criticism that the fire-prone area is not adequately prepared to deal with a disaster of this magnitude.

USA Todayleads with a new Congressional Budget Office estimate scheduled to be released today that says the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could cost $2.4 trillion. The new estimate not only takes into account the increased requests for funding, but also adds billions in interest, which is recognition that the wars are "being funded with borrowed money." The White House wasn't happy about the numbers, which assume there will be 75,000 troops in both countries in 10 years. The Washington Postleads with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice approving new rules for security contractors in Iraq that would increase oversight as well as accountability. The move comes after a panel found major faults in the way the State Department keeps track of armed security contractors, which was reported in yesterday's NYT. As part of the plan, contractors will have to receive new training on military and diplomatic procedures, as well as cultural issues. The Post says that, by approving the rules, Rice seems to have rejected calls to place all security contractors under military control.

Advertisement

After the fires of 2003, which killed at least 15 people, there were expectations that the region would invest in preparing for a similar event in the future, but now many say it continues to lack the appropriate resources to battle the fast-moving flames. "The only lessons applied were those that don't cost any money … in terms of new fire prevention or fighting capabilities, we have barely made any progress," a professor at the University of California, San Diego, tells the WSJ. Some of the biggest criticism came from fire chiefs who complained about the lack of air support. Still, many praised the smooth evacuation efforts, and the Post even fronts a feature looking into how the emergency shelters really aren't so bad. "Nobody does disasters better than California," a FEMA administrator tells the WP. The NYT says "swift emergency response efforts … may have contributed to the relatively low death toll" and many emphasize the reverse 911 system that was bought two years ago and alerted many residents in San Diego to evacuate.

The NYT fronts a look at the seemingly inexplicable way the fire burned through some houses while leaving neighboring structures pretty much intact, making resident feel like they had either won or lost a very high-stakes lottery. The LAT fronts a look at how some newer communities that used specific building techniques that are effective against fires were able to avert disaster. The LAT notes the weather later this week might help slow down the fires, although the NYT emphasizes concerns that shifting winds might move the blazes closer to "populated areas along the Pacific Ocean."

The NYT off-leads a look at how the amount of money the State Department pays out to private security contractors has increased to $4 billion a year from $1 billion in four years. Meanwhile, the number of people in charge of controlling the contractors hasn't kept up, which means there's a  lack of oversight. But experts say this problem isn't just limited to the State Department as the Bush administration has greatly increased the amount of work that is done by private companies but not the number of government employees who work in contracting.

The WP fronts word that independent experts have analyzed satellite images and think they can pinpoint the structure inside Syria that Israel bombed during a middle-of-the-night raid that was carried out in extreme secrecy. There are lots of caveats and many warn against jumping to conclusions, but the experts say they've identified a site that looks roughly similar to a North Korean reactor. Officials say Syria is trying to clear up the site and remove any remaining pieces.

In Iraq, a U.S. helicopter killed at least 11 people, including several women and children. Iraqi officials say the death toll was higher in an episode that marks the second time this week that the U.S. military killed multiple civilians.

The WP fronts, and the NYT reefers, a dispatch from Burma, where fear seems to be the prevailing emotion after the country's military junta cracked down on protesters. The Post says there are reports that key leaders of the movement were captured, hundreds of people remain missing, and as many as 200 people were killed. "Resistance continues, but for now it is subtle," says the WP, which talks to people who all appear to be overwhelmed by fear. The NYT focuses on Burma's monks, many of whom have left their monasteries out of fear that the crackdowns will continue. So far, it looks like the military junta won the battle, but the violence against the monks has deeply upset many and could create a backlash.

The NYT's Tom Friedman notices there's been a disconcerting lack of debate about Iraq in Washington lately. Even if gains have been made against al-Qaida in Iraq that is hardly the extent of the problem, particularly since there has been little improvement on the political front. "It still feels to me as if we've made Iraq just safe enough for its politicians to be obstinate, corrupt or reckless on our dime."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.