Wildfire news, November 3, 2008

Fire contractor volunteers to “detain troublemakers” on election day


An Evergreen helicopter at Custer, SD airport, September 9, 2008. Photo by Bill Gabbert

Here is an excerpt from an article on Wired.com:

CIA-linked private military contractor Evergreen Defense & Security Services offered to post sentries at Oregon election offices on Tuesday, “detaining troublemakers” and making sure voters “do not get out of control.”

In an e-mail to local election supervisors, obtained by the McMinnville, Oregon News Register, Evergreen president Tom Wiggins said he “recognized the potential conflict” that could occur on November 4th. “Never has there been a more heated battle in the race for president.”

The company, he said, ‘proposes to post sentries at each voting center on November 4th to assure that disputes amongst citizens do not get out of control. All guards will be unarmed, but capable of stopping any violence that may occur and detaining troublemakers until law enforcement arrives.’

In an update to the article, the author says that this proposal seems odd, since the state of Oregon conducts their voting by mail.

Evergreen owns and leases a fleet of 54 light, medium, and heavy helicopters, 30 of which can be used to fight fires. They are also seeking a firefighting contract with CalFire for their 747 “Supertanker”, which can carry over 20,000 gallons of fire retardant.


Changes at DHS after the election?

Will either candidate for President make significant changes, including response to wildfires, at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after they are elected? Domestic homeland security, other than protection from terrorist attacks and perhaps hurricanes, has not been a major topic of discussion during the campaign. The candidates have little time left after extensively covering plumbers and arguing about whose (tax cut) is larger.

However, in the DHS, the transition to a new administration has been receiving a lot of attention. Rear Admiral John Acton of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve is leading the DHS transition team in the develpment of a massive briefing book as well as training exercises for the incoming administration.

Jacob Goodwin at the Daily Beast covered the proceedings at a roundtable discussion in Washington, DC on October 15 where the transition was the primary topic. Here is an excerpt from his report.

C. Stewart Verdery, Jr., who was an assistant secretary of DHS for policy and planning from 2003 to 2005 and is now a lobbyist, noted that he was not “formally” representing the McCain campaign at the roundtable discussion. But he went on to say, “I don’t expect you’d see wholesale changes to the DHS apparatus,” in a McCain administration.

On the campaign trail, McCain sometimes notes with pride that the U.S. has remained free from attack since 9/11, although in recent weeks issues of homeland security have largely been shouldered aside by more pressing economic concerns.

Verdery predicted that McCain would implement some measures, such as the Real ID drivers’ licenses—which have been resisted by local authorities because they were mandated without the funds to pay for them—and add an “exit” capability to the existing “entry” capability of the US-VISIT program at U.S. borders.

Verdery also implied that Joe Lieberman might be named the head of DHS in a McCain administration. The independent Senator from Connecticut, who currently chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will “probably not be the most welcome guy” in the Democratic Party after this election, he said.

Senator Barack Obama also sits on that homeland security committee, and his legislative aide for DHS issues, Rachana “Ruchi” Bhowmik, presented his views at the Aspen event. She would not identify any individuals who might be appointed Secretary of DHS in an Obama administration, but she took her own swipe at the Republicans by saying that Obama “appreciates the need to restore professionalism and the need for management skills.”

Bhowmik agreed with Verdery that, given the huge financial problems confronting the U.S., neither candidate is likely to mount a wholesale reorganization of the five-year-old DHS.

Still, she said, Obama has some fundamental differences with the Bush adminstration about both the mission and the performance at DHS. Obama, she explained, favors an “all-hazards” approach that goes beyond counterterrorism to emphasize preparedness for natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and wildfire. That stems, in part, from the fact that Obama’s home state of Illinois, has been hit with “everything but locusts this year,” she said.

In the past, Obama has floated the idea of moving FEMA out of DHS. But push-back from various quarters on Capitol Hill—including from Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee—makes it unlikely that Obama would propose anything like that in the first 100 days.

Nevertheless, Obama takes issue with the idea that state and local governments should respond to local disasters entirely on their own and turn to the federal government only as a last resort. On the contrary, Obama believes it is the proper role of the federal government to come into a dire situation, such as Hurricane Katrina, she explained.

But in the view of the Obama camp, the Bush administration politicized DHS and dictated homeland security policy unwisely to the state and local governments. “Unless we pull ideology out of the driver’s seat,” she said, “we’ll see first responders getting told what to do by the feds.”

But homeland security “has not been a very hot topic” on the campaign trail, Bhowmick admitted. “The American people have other things they’re thinking about.”

Until something terrible and unforeseen happens.

California: less prescribed burning?

According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune where a CalFire Chief, Thom Porter, was interviewed:

Porter, the CalFire chief, said the fire breaks and big backcountry burns went away when budget cuts coincided with environmental regulations protecting endangered species and limiting air pollution.

Burns to eliminate dry brush and other fuel for big fires are still done, but only after the effects on the environment are aired.

The article goes on to say:

Now, the kind of b
rush clearing that used to
be done by flame is mostly accomplished by hand and machine and is targeted, almost surgically, to protect individual homes and sites such as radio towers.

It’s more expensive, and fire officials say there isn’t enough money to deal with the huge expanses of tinder-dry backcountry.

“With the current resources we have, we will not ever catch up,” said Thom Porter, a Cal Fire staff chief who heads the Forest Area Safety Task Force in San Diego.

Porter said prescribed burns are still used but not very widely.

He estimates agencies in the county would have to clear about 27,000 acres every year simply to eliminate brush that hasn’t burned in more than 50 years.

“Our current capacity is about 7,000 acres,” Porter said.

Louisiana: smoke causes vehicle accidents

Firegeezer has a story about how smoke from a vegetation fire in a marsh degraded visibility on a Louisiana highway and caused at least a dozen wrecks.

This reminds me of the January 8 incident in Florida where smoke from an escaped prescribed fire smoked out a highway, causing over 70 accidents and 5 fatalities.

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