Opinion: Brace our campus for perpetual fires

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By Cristobal Spielmann

This piece was originally published on April 19, 2021, by the Los Angeles Loyolan.

Fires near the University could be the norm if we don’t intervene. Even if they don’t ignite on campus, we still have a responsibility to prevent them from happening. Cartoon: Alexandra Linhardt | Loyolan

With finals on the horizon and the stresses of returning to campus after over a year of COVID-19, many Lions likely couldn’t care less about anything else, no matter how urgent a problem it might be. This is especially true for hyper-local environmentalist issues.

Before campus closed down in 2020, there were movements like Divest LMU holding on-campus demonstrations and the LMU chapter of Herbicide Free Campus doing in-person activities related to sustainability and eco-friendliness. As the news division of the Loyolan recently covered, both of these clubs have since gone virtual.

However, sustainability is only one factor as to how students can lead a positive existence on campus. Local activism also means reckoning with global problems that directly impact our campus, not just dealing with those problems that only originate close to home.

One of these major problems that’s captured my imagination: fires.

The Ballona Wetlands fire back in March is the most immediate example for many. An area that is uniquely vulnerable in being the last coastal wetland of L.A. County getting torched was emotionally scarring for many and literally scarring of the land itself.

Patch reported that while this fire’s causes were still under investigation, most of the discussion has revolved around trash and debris left by nearby homeless encampments. This is, in part, what motivated L.A. City Council member Mike Bonin (who represents our campus on a city level) to talk about potential solutions to these encampments, as previously reported by the Loyolan.

This is on top of noticing amateur videos of other fires seen off the Bluff during my time at the University, and especially recently, with several structure fires and wildfires noted by the L.A. Fire Department in just the past few weeks.

Again, while the causes of each and every one of these fires is unique in their own way, there’s no doubt that negligent human action has been at the root of a lot of it. Neglecting homelessness in our communities has culminated into a horrendous situation.

I’m not saying that the future is all doom-and-gloom; what I am suggesting is that anyone who came onto campus when I did back in 2018 will leave a very different campus behind. The differences won’t necessarily be from their individual impact, but instead from the world around them changing, and not just from COVID-19.

Our campus in 2022 will be one that is likely hotter than it was in 2018, and the impacted homeless encampments could be the kindling for that increased chance of a fire. Fires will be a bigger part of our campus in 2022 than they were in 2018, even if they never ignite on campus grounds.

What the upcoming school year will reveal is how ready we are to accept this new reality and what we’re willing to do to fight back against it. This could mean discouraging any tented encampments in favor of quickly building safe, temporary housing to prevent the chance of an encampment-related fire. Long-term, the effort against encampments also includes the fight against single-family housing/zoning and the fight against “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY)-reactionism that is unfortunately expected against solutions like these.

It could also mean being attentive to any fires that occur in view from the Bluff and being in tune to news relating to fires as a general awareness measure of how bad the situation has gotten.

Above all else, our campus needs to be engaged with the L.A. community on how best to prepare for a future with more fires and how to minimize the odds of extreme fires as best we can.

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