Wildfire News, December 9, 2008

Fires in South Africa

From AllAfrica.com

…Meanwhile, on Monday due to raging fires on the mountain slopes above Gordon’s Bay, the City’s Disaster Risk Management Centre (DRM) issued an emergency evacuation order to residents living in the area.

Residents from Upper Watt, Suikerbossie, Valley and Kloof Streets and Gordon’s Bay were urged to make their way to the emergency assembly points.

Approximately 150 firefighters were still battling to contain the fire by Monday evening, which was raging in the Overberg District area spreading to the Streenbras Dam Catchment area.

Over the past three days Cape Town has experienced more than 120 shack fires in 11 different informal settlements that resulted in three deaths and more than 360 residents being displaced.

Two helicopters, including 54 fire fighting vehicles, 26 traffic officials, 25 Metro Police Officers, 10 Law Enforcement Officers and 11 DRM officials were deployed to the scene with additional available standby and off-duty fire-fighters were called-up to assist with the fire fighting efforts.

The South African Weather Office has indicated that the current weather conditions are unlikely to change within the next 24-hours, which will hamper the efforts of fire-fighters.

Red Flag warning in southern California

Another red flag warning is is effect for Los Angeles and Ventura counties until 4 p.m. today. Forecasters expect winds up to 70 mph, very low humidity, and temperatures of 80-90 degrees.

Looters target burned home

Two people were arrested Monday for stealing copper pipes from a home that burned in the recent fire in Yorba Linda, California. Gwendolyn Smith, 36, and Elisha Haas, 19, were booked for investigation of possession of stolen property. This is the first time we have heard of someone looting a burned home.

More research about shelter in place

Wildfire Today has documented several efforts of communities implementing the shelter in place, or prepare, stay and defend program. Just a few weeks ago during the Tea fire near Santa Barbara, California, two people were seriously burned while attempting to evacuate during the fire.

Two researchers from Washington State University, Matt Carroll and Travis Paveglio, are studying several Western U.S. communities that are considering the implementation of alternatives to evacuation. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Salem News.

The researchers said alternatives to evacuation make sense because in many cases, mass “relocation” (as authorities often call evacuation) often results in traffic jams and car accidents, nervousness and panic, which can cause harm to people during fire events.

In addition, research in the U.S. and experience in Australia have both shown that many buildings burn down in wildfires not because of flame fronts enveloping them, but because of flying embers before and after the main fire event. Such embers can be dealt with, as the Australians say, “with a bucket and a mop.”

Furthermore some rural communities have difficult access and poor roads that make evacuations dangerous.

Another advantage to preparing one’s property for the possibility of not evacuating during a fire is that such preparations may increase the survivability of homes and structures even if residents choose to evacuate in a particular event. Such physical preparations are known in natural resource parlance as “firesafing.”

Another key in a ‘stay or go’ situation is to evacuate early, if one is going to evacuate at all. “The literature is very clear that last minute, rushed evacuations are very dangerous. People die,” said Carroll.

“No one method will work for every community or condition, but it is necessary to understand the circumstances during which it is better to stay behind,” Paveglio said.

“If steps to an alternative to evacuation are not implemented right, it could put more people at risk,” warned Carroll, who highlights the importance of both physical and social preparedness and community cooperation to develop and implement alternatives to evacuations.

Paveglio, Carroll and U.S. Forest Service co-author Pamela Jakes’ research project “Alternatives to Evacuation – Protecting Public Safety During Wildland Fire,” was published in the March issue of the Journal of Forestry. Other articles from their ongoing work with Western communities are still under review. The research has been conducted in close collaboration with Jakes, a senior research forester with the USDA Forest Service North Central Forest Research Station in Minneapolis.

Thanks, Dick, for the tip.

What if Steve Jobs ran one of the Big-3 auto companies?

You know who Steve Jobs is. He returned to Apple as their CEO in 1997 when the company was in deep trouble–even worse trouble than some of today’s car companies. They were losing money and had a very low market share. Today, Apple has no debt, they routinely introduce new game-changing products, and they have $22 billion in the bank. Jobs gets the credit for this very impressive turnaround.

Robert X. Cringely allowed himself to imagine what one of the Big 3 car companies would look like if Jobs was their CEO. Here are some excerpts:

Back in 1997 Apple had a huge list of products it made or sold, many of them not for a profit. Here is a partial list of Apple products from 1997 courtesy of my friend Orrin, who brought this idea to my attention:

Power Macintosh
Workgroup and network servers LaserWriter laser printers
StyleWriter inkjet printers
Newton PDAs
External disk drives
Lots of software

And don’t forget the Mac clones. Jobs killed the clones, dropped the Newton, and streamlined the Mac product line into what today are four ranges of computers — personal and professional, desktop and portable. Yes, there are the Mac Mini and the xServe, I know, but nearly all Apple computer sales lie with the MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs and Mac Pros.


The first lesson Jobs learned was that he couldn’t build a successful company selling products at a loss. While we can argue that Apple prices are higher than they might be, nobody can argue with Apple’s quality or its success at selling those products. So the first thing Jobs would do as head of a U.S. car company would be to eliminate the lines that are showing — and have long shown — little or no profit, which today generally means the biggest and the smallest cars. Goodbye Hummer.


That’s where Steve Jobs’ second strength comes into play — identifying important new technologies. He’d look at the car market and conclude a number of things: 1) it’s a no-brainer to embrace dramatic design (no boring cars); 2) performance sells, and; 3) safety and fuel economy are co-equal secondary goals. So Steve’s goal for his car company would be to make a limited line of vehicles that were dramatically styled with visibly different technologies from the competitors and were uniformly 20+ percent safer and 20+ percent more fuel-efficient.


And Steve would also embrace one dramatic new technology, whether it is electric, hydrogen, natural gas, whatever, but he’d do it in a very Steveian fashion, which is to say exactly the way he did the iPod and iTunes. That is, he’d sell you the car and then sell you whatever is required to fill up the car. This has always been a barrier for the car companies because they couldn’t imagine themselves in the business of running electric/hydrogen/LPG stations, while Steve would imagine his company MAKING A PROFIT running just those stations.

Steve would take an existing operation that already had an ideal geographic distribution like McDonald’s restaurants. He would buy McDonald’s or seduce the company into a deal. Then he’d embrace a propulsion technology like advanced electric capacitors — batteries that could be recharged in less than a minute — and put charging stations on the drive-through lanes. By the time the electric models were ready for sale he’d have 12,000 charging stations in place to serve them. Would you like fries with that charge?

Georgia: Near miss in a fire, 100 years ago

From the Rome, Georgia, News-Tribune, December, 1908:

L.A. Dempsey was almost the victim of a raging forest fire when he barely escaped being trapped one day last week in 1908.


Returning to Rome from a trip to Texas Valley, he found the sides of Lavender Mountain on fire. Not realizing its extent, he attempted to drive his team through and was almost suffocated by the smoke.

Trees were falling and branches crackled as the fire whipped along both sides of the road. His team started to run away, but he held control of it, and finally managed to get home, his clothing burned but himself intact.

Give that firefighter an Air Tanker shirt for Christmas

Need an idea for a Christmas present for that firefighter in your life? How about a shirt with images of air tankers?
Or a stein:
Or a cap:

There are several other items too, such as various long-sleeve and short-sleeve men’s and women’s shirts, sweat shirts, hoodies, children’s clothing, mugs, and even men’s and women’s underwear.

There is a $5 discount if you order at least $50 worth before December 14. Just enter CANDORDANCE for the coupon code when you check out.

Fire detections, sent by e-mail

Did you know that you can receive automatic e-mails when a satellite detects a fire in a geographic area that you have identified? Diane Davies and her Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) team at the University of Maryland have developed a system that does just that.

Using the Terra and Aqua satellites that view each location on the Earth twice a day, heat detections of fires that are at least 100 square meters in size are processed by the MODIS Rapid Response System. Each active fire location represents the center of a 1 km pixel that is flagged by the algorithm as containg a fire within that pixel.

FIRMS uses the term “near real time” for these alerts, but the satellites only see each area twice a day and it takes a few hours to process the data and distribute the e-mails. So obviously, this is not practical for initial attack, except possibly in very remote areas where lookout towers or humans with cell phones do not exist. But if you are curious about fires in a particular area, this can be a useful service.

To sign up, start on this web page where you enter your e-mail address, then click on “create a new subscription”. You will have the option of being notified daily, weekly, or “rapid, near real-time”. With the first two options you will receive an email that contains the lat/long and a map showing the location of the detected heat. The “rapid, near real-time” e-mails will not contain a map–just the lat/long, so you’ll have to cut and paste the lat/long into an application such as Google Earth or Google Maps.

Then you will need to choose your “area of interest”. You will have two options:

  1. “Choose an area interactively with map”. First, click the “Protected Areas” box above the map so that parks, forests, etc. are shown. Zoom in on the map until only the area in which you are interested is shown. The easiest way to zoom in is to click on the “zoom” button (not the “+” or “-” buttons) then click on the map and drag to draw a square. Or,
  2. “Choose a country or a protected area”. Choosing a country is easy, of course, but then you will need to drill down and “Choose a Protected Area”–not as easy as it sounds, since the names of the “Protected Areas” are in a strange shorthand. It appears that the “areas” include national parks and forests, but the words “national park” and “forest” are left out. For example, if you are interested in the Cleveland National Forest, you could click on “Cleveland”, but you may get either the National Forest, or Cleveland, Ohio, for all I know.

The rest is pretty self-explanatory.

To find out more about the “Global Fire E-mail Alerts” you can listen to an 8-minute recording by Diane Davies about the system.