Wildfire news, September 10, 2009

It is a busy day in the world of wildland fire.

SDG&E’s proposal to turn off electricity is rejected

The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday rejected the plan proposed by the San Diego Gas and Electric Company to turn off the power to large sections of the county during periods of high fire danger. The company’s power lines have caused numerous large fires over the last 40 years and critics have said the company thought it would be less expensive to turn off the power than to harden their infrastructure.

We have written about the power company’s proposal a number of times.

Drought in California

The USA Today has a story about the third year of a drought in California. Here is a brief quote:

California is in the third year of a drought that has contributed to extreme fire conditions. Fire officials say the lack of rain makes brush burn more easily. And when fire hits parched forests, the fire tends to burn faster and do more damage.

“You can have a fire go through the same area, and the damage to a forest is always more significant in drought years,” says Del Walters, director of CalFire. Trees and logs burn hotter and more completely in droughts, he said, and their heat kills nearby trees that might otherwise survive.

Ex-FEMA chief gets a job

Remember “You’re doing a heck-of-a-job Brownie”? Michael Brown who was run out of the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the hurricane Katrina debacle, has been hired by Cold Creek Solutions to be their vice president of its disaster recovery practice, the company said on Thursday.

Cold Creek Solutions is quoted as saying:

With Michael’s experience and his unique view into what possibly could go wrong when looking at a plan, we can truly help clients be prepared for the unexpected.”

Seriously. No shit. (Note to self: do NOT buy any stock in Cold Creek Solutions.)

NASA (mostly) evacuated the JPL during the Station fire

The Station fire came within one-eighth of a mile of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles. They do a lot more than just study jet propulsion there, they manage the Deep Space Operations Center which controls spacecraft that are whizzing around our solar system. At one point all but essential personnel were evacuated, but, according to a NASA news release

Two of the five Deep Space Network operators on weekend duty were sent to Monrovia, but three volunteered to stay at the control center at JPL, to ensure systems continued to operate normally, to keep connections open with the flight projects, and to maintain the flow of engineering and science data to flight projects and scientists around the globe.

The three who stayed at JPL – along with about 40 other mission-critical personnel at any given time – were told not to spend much time outside. Hodder called frequently to check on the health of the crew and to obtain status reports on the network.

On Saturday afternoon, Sible and Hodder were ready to pull out those remaining three operators and put further communications with the network on hold if the fire reached the Mesa, a flat helipad and testing site at the northern edge of JPL.

That afternoon, the fire burned to within an eighth of a mile of the northern border of the lab. Emergency managers told staff to be ready to evacuate in 30 minutes.

Thankfully, with fire department handcrews cutting firebreaks, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft dropping water and flame retardant, and the wind shifting, the danger passed on Saturday night. An unpleasant haze of smoke settled on the lab, but the air had cleared enough for the network operators in Monrovia to return to JPL Monday evening. The rest of JPL opened as usual on Tuesday morning at 6 a.m.

In the end, the Deep Space Network was able to complete its 182 scheduled uploading and downloading sessions with spacecraft over the weekend without interruption.

Reward for Station fire arsonist

A reward of $150,000 is being offered for the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for setting the 160,000-acre Station fire.

More about fuel management and fire prevention

I have probably already given researcher Jon Keeley more attention than he deserves, such this article. He has a theory that says it is unlikely that age class manipulation of fuels can prevent large fires. He is featured in an article written by Judith Lewis in the High Country News.

Thanks Dick and Kelly

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