Wildfire News, September 16, 2008

Satellite Phone Surge

Satellite telephones are no longer rare in emergency management. Here is an excerpt of an article from Forbes.com:

Greg Ewert lives in Maryland, but Hurricane Ike has been keeping him up at night.
As executive vice president of global channel distribution for Iridium Satellite, Ewert aims to make sure that organizations ranging from the Red Cross to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have ready access to his firm’s satellite phones.
The job has been getting tougher. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike have swelled demand, prompting Iridium to ship 6,200 phones over the past three weeks. Last week, as Ike bore down on the Texas coastline, the firm’s call traffic in the region tripled. Two weeks ago, when Gustav swiped New Orleans, the company’s Louisiana traffic doubled.
“Three different areas in the southern U.S. have been affected in the last 30 days,” says Ewert. “We’re calling into service more equipment than we have in past years.”
So far, Iridium has managed to meet demand. The company’s policy of keeping three months’ inventory of phones prepared it for the recent run on handsets. It has been routing calls the way it normally does: through its network of 66 satellites and down through a “gateway” station in high-and-dry Tempe, Ariz. This sky infrastructure insulates Iridium’s system from whatever is happening on the ground, be it a hurricane, earthquake, wildfire or civil uprising.
The hurricanes, grim as they are, highlight Iridium’s recent achievements. Its frothy rise under Motorola (nyse: MOT – news – people ) and subsequent $5 billion bankruptcy in the late 1990s led many to write it off as a costly flop. New management and foreign investors resuscitated the company in 2000 as Iridium Satellite.
Iridium’s goals have since come down to earth. It has 305,000 subscribers–much fewer than the 1 million it once pursued but enough to make it the world’s fastest-growing mobile satellite services provider. Frost & Sullivan has declared Iridium’s service more reliable than that of its closest competitor, Milpitas, Calif.-based Globalstar (nasdaq: GSAT – news – people ), for the past two years.
Cellphones used for emergencies
And speaking of emergency communication, Forbes has another article about the usefulness of cell phones to provide important information during emergencies. Here are some excerpts:
The Federal Communications Commission is developing a national mobile alert system for 2010. The messages, which will be distributed through the country’s four largest carriers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile will include “presidential” or national emergency alerts, weather and local emergency alerts and child abductions. In a statement, FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps praised the ability of mobile alerts to reach people who aren’t near a TV set or radio or lack electricity.
The move follows the FCC’s attempt to establish a public safety communications network on radio spectrum auctioned earlier this year. Such a network would enable police and emergency workers across the country to seamlessly communicate on wireless devices. The FCC has said it hopes to establish such a network within the next few years.
Mobile alerts–messages moving the other direction–are another way cellphones can save lives. Manhattan-based Send Word Now delivers millions of mobile alerts a year for corporate, academic and public sector clients including Wal-Mart, Boston University and the U.S. Postal Service. New York City is testing a Send Word Now program that combines emergency notifications with everyday warnings, such as traffic. Text alerts have been growing in popularity for the past two years, says chief executive officer Tony Schmitz. Reliability and speed are factors. Even when phone lines and cellular networks are clogged with traffic, text messages tend to get delivered, within minutes.
……Advocates say that mobile safety functions are getting smarter and more specific. Send Word Now can program messages to be distributed automatically as soon as its software detects an event or disaster, speeding up the process and removing human error. Some firms are attaching documents to text messages–perhaps a floor plan for evacuation or a list of emergency procedures for employees to follow.
Yellowstone conference
Even the Associated Press has picked up on the conference which begins on September 22 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) An international “Who’s Who” of wildland fire management and science is set to gather in Jackson, Wyo., later this month to look back at the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park and the northern Rockies.
“The ’88 Fires: Yellowstone and Beyond” is the subject of the park’s Ninth Biennial Scientific Conference, to be held in Jackson from September 22 to 27.
Featured speakers include Norm Christensen, professor of ecology and founding dean of the Nicholas School at Duke University; Tom Zimmerman of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; Cathy Whitlock of Montana State University; retired Yellowstone Superintendent Bob Barbee; Steve Frye of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation; and John Varley, executive Director of the Big Sky Institute at Montana State University.
On the Net: http://www.iawfonline.org/yellowstone
Rescued bear update
CBS13 has an update on the bear cub that was rescued after being burned on a fire in northern
Li’l Smokey,” a black bear cub rescued by a firefighter while fleeing a Northern California wildfire, has taken a major step in his recovery.
The bear cub is now walking on bare paws! Doctors have decided to give Lil’ Smokey a trial at walking around without bandages or booties on his burned paws. Workers at the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center say his paws are a bit red but that’s to be expected.
Smokey has also been moved to a new bigger cage with one screened side that means

he will be subjected to the natural weather outside. He also has a small igloo so he can “cozy down”. Workers say he’s already moved all his favorite toys and blankets inside the igloo.
Lil’ S
mokey now weighs 35.2 poun
ds meaning he’s gained almost 25 pounds in the 8 and a half weeks at the center.
Doctors are also more optimistic that Smokey will actually be released back into the wild.
The cub, rescued by firefighter Adam Deem from a the “Moon Fire” near Redding on Thursday, July 17, likely stepped on scorching ground, and may have been burned by the flames.
Check out Smokey’s blog.
NPR Series on fire in Yellowstone

National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” is doing a series of five reports on fire in Yellowstone National Park called “Evolution of a National Treasure“. Each one has a fairly short written version available on the Internet and also a 3 to 9 minute audio version. Four episodes are available so far:
Russians suspected in Georgia fire
Wildfire Today covered a similar incident on August 25, and it has apparently happened again. From UPI:
TSAGVERI, Georgia, Sept. 16 (UPI) — Georgia says it has formed a commission to investigate whether Russian soldiers purposely started a forest fire in a popular national park.
Some witnesses near the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park said they saw a
helicopter in the area on Aug. 15, only hours before Russia and Georgia signed a cease-fire halting the military conflict. Some said they saw “burning things” being dropped from the chopper onto the park, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The Georgian government commission says it will investigate if Russia deliberately started the forest fire, which has burned 2,500 acres of old-growth forest and crippled a major tourist attraction.
“I believe that yes, (the Russians) did it,” said Revaz Enukidze, an official with Georgia’s Environment Ministry, adding he thought the fire was started “to make as much as possible the economic and moral damage before the cease-fire.”
“They know that this place is the treasure of the country,” Natia Muladze of the park’s visitor services told the Post. “Borjomi was full of Russians during the Soviet times, and they wanted to destroy the things which they could not take.”
California: fire caused by marijuana farmers
I don’t understand why fires caused by pot growers are so common. If you’re doing something illegal, why start a fire that brings attention to what you’re doing, shuts down your operation, and may lead to your arrest? But pot growers on public land are usually not the sharpest tools in the shed to start with. And, they are probably using “disposable” workers that are in the country illegally.
From CBS47.tv:

Madera County Sheriff’s investigators say the wildfire burning near North Fork was caused by a sophisticated marijuana growing operation.
Investigators working on the Cascadel Fire discovered about 6,000 plants in multiple plots in the area. They also found a number of dead fish they suspect died from chemicals from the pot farm leaching into the pools.
Narcotic agents removed two pounds of processed marijuana and a total of 5,918 budding plants, with a combined street value worth nearly 18 million dollars.
The fire is now 70% contained and has already scorched 280 acres. Helicopters are still being used to drop water on hot spots but crews expect the blaze to be contained sometime on Tuesday.

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