Ashlee, 9 years old, helps fire victims

Nine-year-old Ashlee Smith is going to be on national television on Thursday, December 18 on NBC’s “The Bonnie Hunt Show“. She is becoming famous because she created “Ashlee’s Toy Closet” to assist children who have lost their homes in fires. Here is how Thursday’s show is billed on “The Bonnie Hunt Show” web site:

Imagine if a natural disaster struck and you lost everything. Now imagine being a kid and losing everything. Nine-year-old Ashlee Smith did and created Ashlee’s Toy Closet, a charity that provides new toys to children who may have lost all theirs due to a natural disaster. She’ll be here to talk more about with Bonnie and how you can help this wonderful program.

Ashlee, the daughter of a firefighter, got the idea after the Angora fire burned 254 homes south of Lake Tahoe in 2007. She knew how children felt whose homes burned in fires because she lost her home in a fire in 2005.

Now she collects toys, books, and clothes for fire and natural disaster victims, saying that everyone helps the adults, but no one helps the children. She has helped young people affected by fires, floods, and this summer families whose homes burned in the wildland fires near Chico and Concow, California. In July she was featured on the International Association of Fire Fighters website.

If you feel like helping Ashley’s Toy Closet to help others, they will gladly accept your donation.

Statistics about deaths caused by natural disasters

According to a study recently completed by researchers at the University of South Carolina (and the very pretty pie chart above), 0.4% of all deaths caused by natural disasters in the United States between 1970 and 2004 can be attributed to wildfires. That 0.4% translates to 84 deaths, which is a very low number. According to a study done by Dick Mangan for the Missoula Technology and Development Center, from 1990 to 2006, 310 people died during wildland fire operations.

Here is a map of standardized mortality ratios at the county level:

More information from Reuters:

“According to our results, the answer is heat,” Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden of the University of South Carolina wrote in their report, which gathered data from 1970 to 2004.

“I think what most people would think, if you say what is the major cause of death and destruction, they would say hurricanes and earthquakes and flooding,” Cutter said in a telephone interview. “They wouldn’t say heat.”

“What is noteworthy here is that over time, highly destructive, highly publicized, often-catastrophic singular events such as hurricanes and earthquakes are responsible for relatively few deaths when compared to the more frequent, less catastrophic such as heat waves and severe weather,” they wrote.

The most dangerous places to live are much of the South, because of the heat risk, the hurricane coasts and the Great Plains states with their severe weather, Cutter said.

The south central United States is also a dangerous area, with floods and tornadoes.

California is relatively safe, they found.

California: insurance company says Santa Cruz County liable for Trabing fire

Photo of Trabing fire by Melissa Foraker

We ARE a litigious society.

Farmers Insurance Group has submitted $3 million worth of claims to Santa Cruz County in California, saying the county did not do enough to remove vegetation along county roads, which led to the spread of the Trabing fire near Watsonville. The county has denied the claims; now the ball is in Farmers’ court to decide if they will sue the county.

The fire started on June 20 from hot exhaust on a vehicle on state highway 1. The state is responsible for maintenance along the state highway, but Farmers is saying the vegetation on nearby county roads caused the fire to spread and contributed to the destruction of homes.

CalFire Chief John Ferreira says the vegetation along the county roads had little to do with the spread of the fire:

“Even had the roadsides been mowed, the fire would have raced through there because of the weather conditions and dryness.”

Here is a MAP of the fire.

Wildfire Today had a report on June 25 about a firefighter who lost his home in the fire while fighting another fire.

FREMONT — One of Fremont’s firefighters lost his Santa Cruz County home to a wildfire last weekend as he was battling another blaze in Monterey County, fire officials said.

Richard Simon, a 25-year veteran of the fire department, was fighting fires in King City when he got word of the Trabing Fire, which started Friday afternoon and destroyed 630 acres and several homes, including Simon’s, near Highway 1 north of Watsonville, said Fremont Fire Division Chief Geoff LaTendresse

Simon’s family, including his wife and sons, were home at the time, but they escaped unharmed.

Man accused of starting 75,000 a. fire kills himself

Stephen Posniak, accused of starting the Gunflint Trail Fire in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that burned 75,000 acres in Minnesota and Canada in 2007, committed suicide.

From the Star Tribune:

An attorney for a Washington, D.C., man accused of starting a wildfire that charred 118 square miles in Minnesota and Canada last year said Tuesday that his client had committed suicide.

Mark Larsen said Tuesday that a relative of Stephen Posniak’s told him Posniak, 64, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Posniak was charged with allowing his campfire to burn out of control in May 2007. The fire spread in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest in Minnesota and into Ontario, destroying nearly 150 buildings worth more than $10 million.

Larsen says they felt Posniak, who pleaded not guilty last month, was overcharged in the case. The Minneapolis attorney said that he spoke to Posniak on Monday and that he was “acute in his thinking and quite pleasant over the phone.”

More information is at the Washington Post.

Obama to nominate Vilsack as Sec. of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack with his wife Christie announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race.

The Associated Press is reporting that they have two Democratic sources that say President-elect Obama will nominate former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as the Secretary of Agriculture, the department that oversees the U.S. Forest Service. Obama is expected to make the announcement on Wednesday.

On November 30, 2006 Vilsack became the first candidate to announce that he was running for the Democratic nomination for president but dropped out a few months later after receiving lukewarm support. In March, 2007 Hillary Clinton bought Vilsack’s endorsement in exchange for Clinton assuming his $400,000 campaign debt and appointing his wife Christie as the co-chair of Clinton’s campaign in Iowa. *sigh*

Vilsack has no record on the topic of wildland fire that we could discover after a brief Google search.

He was one of the three names that Wildfire Today reported as possibilities for the position on November 5, along with Tom Buis and Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD). By the way, yesterday Sandlin gave birth to her first child, Zachary Lars Sandlin. Congratuations Representative Sandlin.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin

Firefighter competing for "Dirty Job"

Matt Cox, a guy with a “dirty job”

Matt Cox, a wildland firefighter, is competing in a contest for the dirtiest job in Central Oregon. It is down to the final four now, and if Mr. Cox wins, he will receive a weekend get-away on the Oregon coast including $500 in lodging and dining, a pre-paid gas card, and a vehicle to use for the weekend.

You can vote for the dirtiest job by going to the site and voting for one of the final four. You can even view videos submitted by the contestants.

It’s easy… you don’t have to register or sign up… just click on the one you want to win the weekend get-away. Look for the voting block on the right side of the screen.

As of 5:03 p.m. on Dec. 16, Matt is in second place. The leader has 43% of the vote to Matt’s 29%. Vote no later than December 20 to help Matt have a great little all-expense-paid weekend vacation.

Thanks, David, for the tip.