A California man is fighting efforts by San Diego county officials to auction off his property after he refused to remove combustible vegetation from around his home, and then refused to pay the expenses of the private contractor who performed the work. Joseph Diliberti, a Vietnam Vet who lives alone deep in rural eastern San Diego County, has until July 1, 2010 to pay the charges, plus interest.
State and local fire officials, reeling after years of tragic wildland fire losses, are stuck in the middle of this pitched battle.
Predictably, the media has characterized the battle as one of individual rights versus the big bad government bureaucracy, but fundamentally there is a serious question of individual rights versus individual responsibility. Whether it is the risk from wildland fires, or the threat of an approaching hurricane – people demand the freedom to ignore a dangerous situation until it is too late, and then complain (and often sue) when help doesn’t come fast enough.
The reality is that government doesn’t enough fire trucks to place hose streams between every home and the combustible vegetation around it, nor enough helicopters to rescue everyone who ignores hurricane evacuation orders. That is where individual responsibility comes in.
While part of me is sympathetic to Diliberti's plight, somewhere a balance needs to be struck. Perhaps this case will help better define the line between individual rights and individual responsibility… at least when it comes to safe practices in the WUI.