Cheat-Seeking Missles

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday Scan

This is probably going to be more of a Fire Scan than a Sunday Scan, because there's something about flames and smoke on the hillsides I've hiked not that far from myhome that focuses my attention away from other news.

Heroes From Cocoons

My computer is being rebuilt this weekend, so I can't load videos to Blogger (don't ask). Here, then, is the link to an NBC clip that tells the story behind the picture I posted a few days ago of the metallic cocoons that saved 8 firefighters in the Santiago Canyon fire. (By all accounts, it's 8, not 12, which is the number NBC reports.)

It's just over three minutes, so please watch it -- if for no other reason than (1) you'll see some heroes defiantly facing down death and (2) you'll see a seasoned journalist show emotion and admit, a little self-consciously, that she prayed at that moment.

Hot Air

This John Trever cartoon captures the yakking and attacking that has followed the shellacking California got from these fires.

The Hill caught Pinky Reed claiming a global warming connection (for the moment, until pressed, when he wimped back, sniveling):
“One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday, stressing the need to pass the Democrats’ comprehensive energy package.

Moments later, when asked by a reporter if he really believed global warming caused the fires, he appeared to back away from his comments, saying there are many factors that contributed to the disaster.
Under the categories "Crime and Corruption" and "Terror Psyops," hyper-paranoid blog Aftermath News apparently was busy making up the thoughts of San Diego evacuees:
Instead of praising Bush, evacuees said it is important to remember that the Bush administration censored reports on global warming. In San Diego County, the leaves and grasses were extremely dry from drought, creating prime conditions for fast spreading fires.
None of these evacuees are quoted by name, nor does Aftermath mention that it's the land the enviros fought to keep out of development, along with land owned and managed by the state and the feds, that were the source of the tinder.

The Latino news service Prensa Latino picks up the global warming rant, helped along by that always objective and trustworthy alliance of Wobblies and Warmies:
Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, said over this radio and TV network that fires extend from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara, the most devastating fires in San Diego County and the Governor has declared a state of emergency.

Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist has found that wildfires are related to global warming. This is the kind of disaster that we see more and more of as we begin to change the basic physics and chemistry of the planet we live on, he said in an interview with Amy Goodman.

One of the San Diego authorities noted this is the driest in at least ninety years. Another scientist, Tom Swetnam has found that global warming has increased temperatures in the West about one degree, and that's caused four times more fires.

Is there anything to make of this? Dr. Ricky Rood of wunderground thinks the conclusions are getting way ahead of the facts. First post:
The Santa Ana winds are not being caused by climate change. They’ve been around longer than Santa Ana. It’s wind falling down a hill, which warms the air, lowers the relative humidity, and sucks up moisture from the ground. Bad stuff for fire fighters. The fact that the fires are so damaging is that they are in places where people have built in very dry and very vulnerable places. And for the most part, people seem to set the fires one way or another. It’s mostly a land-use and land-management issue.

If, if, if there is anything to do with climate change it would be that the extended drought has warmer temperatures than similar droughts in the past, and hence, drying is worse. I cited some research earlier that made such a argument in a way that has some substance.
Second Rood quote, from OLTN Weather Update:
There have also been papers which make a compelling argument that wild fires in the western U.S. are increasing in intensity and duration. In the paper of Westerling et al. (Science, 2006), the conclusion is drawn that this is directly related to snow melt occurring earlier in the year, a hotter and drier forest, and hence, a longer burning season. Plus they isolate the impact to be at mid-elevations in the Rockies, and hence, relatively free of land-use changes. While many newspapers reported that this work showed an increase of wild fires due to climate change, I quote directly from their paper: “Whether the changes observed in western hydroclimate and wildfire are the result of greenhouse gas-induced global warming or only an unusual natural fluctuation is beyond the scope of this work”.
In other words, a little science, a lot of jumping to conclusions, and an unhealthy dose of hysteria -- the Warmie formula for mixing up a batch of "news."

Pensions and Pumpers

We were worried all week about the amount of equipment that would be available to fight our fire, given that significant firefighting resources were (rightfully) focused on LA and San Diego counties, where more homes were threatened than here. Rightfully or not, the OC Register lead editorial today makes a good point:
[F]irefighter unions are powerful, and fire budgets in recent years have been stressed as agencies, such as the Orange County Fire Authority, have expanded pensions. The more the agencies spend on salary and benefits, the less will be available for the latest equipment and other capital expenditures. Those who always call for more spending for public safety aren't doing taxpayers a service – no government agency ever has the amount of money it would like to have, and wise public officials understand the need to balance the many demands on the treasury.
A few years back, the OC Board of Supervisors lost their collective spines in the face of employee unions and approved a new pension plan that we have no hope of financing in the real world.

We love our fire fighters all the more after the last week ... but we still hate their greedy pension scheme.

Taking the Union's Side

Not surprisingly, the LA Times has chosen to megaphone the union's rhetoric in its lead story today, Shortages added fuel to OC fire. The main shortage, it appears, was union members.
Like most departments in the region, the Orange County Fire Authority was ready for trouble. Forecasts called for humidity in the single digits and hot Santa Ana winds roaring in from the desert.

[OC Fire Chief Chip] Prather put 30 extra crews on duty, roughly 100 firefighters. They added to the typical staffing of about 70 crews. He was paying firefighters overtime to have engines staffed and ready to go.

The size of those crews was one way that Orange County fell below the national standard. Most of the county's engines were staffed with three people. Four per engine is the voluntary minimum standard from the National Fire Protection Assn., a private organization that writes fire safety guidelines.

Crews with three firefighters work more slowly than larger crews, according to a study by the Insurance Services Organization, a national group that evaluates fire departments.

"When you lose one person on the crew, you're sacrificing safety," said Afrack Vargas, a spokesman for the California State Firefighters' Assn. "You're sacrificing another set of eyes. You're sacrificing another strong back to help in the incident. It makes a difficult situation that much more difficult."
Our cartoonist who leads of this column should have added "Union Shills" to the wind machines that are attempting to fan a new fire from the one that's burning up in the hills. Every union tries to write rules that require more union workers, from nurses on the hospital floor to machinists on the factory floor, and the fire unions are no different.

How obviously self-serving is the union argument? Far be it from the LA Times to ask the question:
Orange County, the sixth-wealthiest county in the state, has an annual firefighting budget of about $260 million. The Fire Authority has roughly one firefighter for every 1,100 people in the county's coverage area. But that figure climbs dramatically -- one firefighter for every 1,800 residents -- if only full-time, professional firefighters are counted.

By comparison, Ventura County has twice as many firefighters per capita, approaching 900. Los Angeles County's ratio of one firefighter per 1,500 residents is about 16% stronger than Orange County's. (emphasis added)
The LAT fails to point out that Ventura County is ranked higher in per capita and household income than Orange County ... but let's not let fact get in the way of reporting.

Besides, what does truck manpower have to do with this:
Prather said that [calling up overtime fire fighters] left the Fire Authority with 15 more engine companies than usual, in addition to help from other departments if things got bad in Orange County. He thought that would be enough.

It wasn't.

The Santiago fire broke out 13 hours later. By then, the 11 city fire departments in Orange County had also dispatched substantial forces to Malibu. That deprived Prather of the backup he would normally have relied on.
Plus, the state committed to buying 150 new engines after the 2003 fires, but so far has only ordered 19, none of which have been delivered.

But it's all about not enough union workers. Who will be eligible for generous union pensions. And pay union dues to support their union bureaucracies.

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