Are you a person who likes to VOLUNTEER?   Unfortunately, you are among a small minority of people if you actually are a volunteer of anything.   But I don’t think that anyone would like to volunteer to give up a home if you don’t get some sales money or at least some rent income out of it.

And yet after years of increasing world heat and accompanying increasing forest fires, there are still Californians that are asked to be ‘volunteer’ evacuees just hours before they die in a fire or a drought-and-outpour related mudslide.

They don’t escape.  They die in perhaps the most horrible manner imaginable in and around their houses.  Because volunteering to leave their houses is not strong enough to overcome their instinct for protecting their homes.

Surely the most tragic yet of these scenarios took place earlier this year in Montecito, California.  The area had been dramatically rearranged from its original beautifully pastoral natural design by years of unnatural drought. Then suddenly, when the natural law of compensation kicked in to answer the drought with practically unprecedented outpourings of rain, the precipitation hit areas that finally after all those dry years had no resistance or natural buffers left to stop a flood or mudslide.

Out of tragic inexperience, while massive mudslides were considered very possible, the authorities responsible for the area’s safety timidly only called for “voluntary” evacuation in areas that would soon be hit by immense mudslides

The people in charge of all this may perhaps have been so dazed by all their years of watching over everything but rain that they had little real idea of what an outpouring of rain can do to a drought-impacted rolling terrain.

This is not blame the residents of any of the residents of Montecito who interpreted the “voluntary” call to evacuate as perhaps you or I would – the mere word has a feel that seems unimportant.  There is surely a problem here with the wording that makes the whole human response to a natural disaster tragically listless.  Because surely there are only two possibilities with the idea of an evacuation – it is either an evacuation or it is a non-evacuation.

So everything that is not an evacuation is in fact a non-evacuation. That is how my mind reads a call for “voluntary” evacuation.

I hope that making such a mess of inexact words does not kill any people, because 21 people were killed horribly mostly in and around their Montecito homes in January during that area’s “voluntary” evacuation.  This is the special tragedy of the magnifications of killing in a small town, as Montecito has only a population of about 9,000 people.  It is not hard to see that every one of the 21 who died had a surviving relative or acquaintance in town who is dealing with this now, and that everyone in town must have known the face of someone who had drowned in the mudslide.

I also hope that misusing a word like “voluntary” does not drive someone to a near level of insanity, because I feel I am driving myself to a nearer level of insanity by my straining to put some framework on it here. I am wondering after this “voluntary” evacuation, where do California volunteers go?

If we have a war, will we put into effect a voluntary military draft?

Are we finally going to bring closure to our state’s capital punishment gridlock by now calling for voluntary executions?

I guess I left a lasting and reawakening wound in my thinking by reading in my adolescent and impressionable years the works of the Austrian thinker Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein’s lasting mark on me was the message about what a mess we create – and not just a mess, but a tragedy – when we address our most urgent problems with inexact language.

And this is why the people of Montecito – as well as any people in their situation – understandably interpreted the local call for a “voluntary” evacuation as a declaration of a non-emergency.

Chris Sharp- Commentary

Chris Sharp is an Educator and a prize-winning professional writer. He has recently published a new book titled How to Like a Human Being . Sharp's latest book is an Amazon Kindle collection of his published short stories, Every Kind of Angel . His commentaries represent his own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization he may be affiliated with or those of The SCV Beacon.