Friday :: Oct 31, 2003

Fire Fallout


by Duckman GR

by Duckman GR

In California we have a state version of the Clenis, Gray Davis. Local Pols, Dianne Jacob-County Supervisor, Duncan Hunter-Congressman 52nd District, Jay LaSewer-State Assembly Wing Nut, local talk radio hosts Rick Roberts, “The Court of Public Opinion” and Roger “Weasel” Hedgecock, have been screaming for Davis’ head on a platter. You should see the fury from Jacob, who has been the most vocal and visible (understandably so since her district has been hit the hardest), as she excoriates Davis for his failure to make a “single phone call” (her words).

But as we find out, and really, already knew, it isn’t quite that simple

Van Collinsworth is a retired firefighter and local activist, fighting sprawl here in San Diego County, and to keep open spaces, well, open, and he's assembled the following news clippings about the fire and the finger pointing, as well as a long piece talking about the effects on the mountain community of Lake Cuyamaca. His letter in the San Diego Union Tribune explains "how it really works" rather nicely, especially this part which talks about the consequences of politicizing firefighting,

Release of personnel from incidents at the outbreak of fires on their home districts would create havoc on suppression plans and potentially endanger firefighters. For example, if ground crews were placed in rugged topography based on the ability to be reinforced with air attack and those aircraft were prematurely called "home," ground crews could become ineffective or be placed in life-threatening danger.

Overlooked in this fire madness, is that 80,000 people have had to evacuate from the Arrowhead-Big Bear area of the San Bernadino Mts. 80,000 people! That's a good sized town, and where the hell are they all going to stay? This kind of thing happens in Serbia or Ethiopia or Congo or something, not here in the Golden State. Jeebus Murgatroid, what's next, floods?

Well, if and when it rains out here again (we've gone a record 6 months without rain in San Diego, 6 freakin months!), probably.

Atrios has the story of FEMA denying those funds too, so sorry if that seems repetitious, but if anything can be learned from the Mighty Wurlitzer, it’s that repetition is a good thing. FEMA, FERC, California just gets no lovin’ from the Feds, do we? Maybe with Arnold “the Groping Governor” we will, but is that the kind of loving we want?

Just consider this story taken from Van's news clips. If this can happen to a deer in the fire, how fast would the reactions of the CDF, Firefighters, Duncan Hunter, Gray Davis, the whole lot of them, had to have been, to effect a change in the results of this fire?

It was a picture frozen in flames: a young doe, back legs extended, front legs tucked and set for a jump over a barbed-wire fence.

But she never made it and was burned to death, petrified in that pose. Fifty yards above her on a charred hillside a young forked-horn buck, possibly the doe's mate, appeared to have lain down and died.

Read and consider.

Do not judge thy comrade until thou hast stood in his place.
Judaism. Mishnah, Abot 2.5

LETTERS
Reflections on the fires and the horrendous losses

October 30, 2003

Ex-firefighter explains official use of resources

Some county supervisors have suggested that local firefighting resources were inappropriately held for use on other incidents when they were needed at home and that military air support could have been obtained if the governor had intervened.

While I understand their expressed frustration in advocacy for our region, criticism of the "fire bureaucracy" and the attack on the governor is absolutely wrong, counterproductive and shows lack of understanding for the Incident Command System that allows multiple agencies to work so efficiently together in emergency situations.

The Incident Command System is a mutual aid, military style chain of command system that relies on professional experience and procedures to efficiently utilize available resources. Firefighters and support personnel are trained at every level to adopt specific roles in advance of fire emergencies. Intervention by untrained elected officials to direct resources during fire situations, no matter how well intended, are not appropriate.

Fire suppression strategies and tactics are implemented based on resources committed to incident. Release of personnel from incidents at the outbreak of fires on their home districts would create havoc on suppression plans and potentially endanger firefighters. For example, if ground crews were placed in rugged topography based on the ability to be reinforced with air attack and those aircraft were prematurely called "home," ground crews could become ineffective or be placed in life-threatening danger.

The unfortunate reality is that the Cedar Fire roared rapidly over the first 100,000 acres. Engine crews would not have made it home from outside our county in time, and air crews could not have operated due to lack of visibility from darkness, smoke and turbulence. The battalion chief at Scripps Ranch stated that there was a "two-mile long" fire front that "an army" of resources could not have prevailed against. Firefighters are not given suicide missions. They are assigned responsibilities where they can fight fires aggressively without taking on undue risk to their own safety.

Available firefighters performed admirably where they could be effective. I witnessed firefighters in Santee effectively backfiring to remove fuels from the main fire that saved homes. Santee has not lost homes to the fire despite a wildland interface around much of our city – most of which burned.

The allocation of firefighting resources should not be blamed for this fire catastrophe. Extreme conditions and risky land-use designs are responsible. Scripps Ranch has a wide eastern wildland interface and heavy fuels that were susceptible to westward-blowing Santa Ana winds. By contrast, Santee has few homes with long, protruding eastern wildland interfaces and few homes interspersed on hillside open spaces. Santee has not lost homes despite our rugged open spaces. More thoughtful land-use planning and fire prevention techniques can reduce fire losses.

Elected officials should consider the real costs of approving risky developments when their staffs advise rejection due to inadequate fire safety in their designs. We can't afford to put firefighting resources in every neighborhood with a wildland interface and we can't afford not to share the resources that we can afford.

VAN K. COLLINSWORTH

Former firefighter,
USDA-Forest Service
Santee

Years ago when I was a battalion chief with the New York Fire Department, we had the expression, "We lost the fire before we left the firehouse." A recent Los Angeles TV station reported on a sign in front of a completely destroyed home that read: "Still Home Sweet Home. Thank you fire department for trying."

Simply stated, fire suppression and control depends upon the extent of manpower, equipment and adequate water supplies. The other elements affecting success or failure are the type of combustible structures involved, their contents and the proximity of exposed adjoining buildings and wind conditions.

The awesome power of a fire can be seen in the fact that the temperature of an ordinary room involved in an unchecked fire will swiftly reach 1,000 degrees within five minutes of free burning. Obviously all nearby areas will also be quickly involved with the fire if unchecked.

People build homes too close to nature, to ravines and hills seeking scenic beauty and open space without regard to the possibility of wild land and brush fires impacting their homes. As we now witness, nature on a rampage can burn up to 6,000 acres within one hour with lethal consequences. Will people ever learn?

As for the Fire Department, San Diego fire forces literally lost the initial battle before they left their firehouses.

SAMUEL CAHAN
San Diego

Union-Tribune Editorial
Lessons learned

Fire policy has not kept up with area's needs

October 31, 2003

This is not the moment for scapegoating over the devastating wildfires that have swept through San Diego County. The prime objective at this point must be to get the fires under control and prevent further loss of life or property damage. After that, there will be plenty of time to concentrate on what can be done to better coordinate federal, state and local firefighting efforts in order to combat future wildfires.

The resources to fight fires that are endemic to California have not kept pace with population growth. Rick Martinez, second in command of the state's Office of Homeland Security, says there should be far greater coordination between agencies to deploy all available resources. This means the Pentagon should develop a cooperative relationship with the California Department of Forestry, the California National Guard and local fire departments.

Such a relationship would have permitted the deployment last Sunday of three Navy helicopters that were prepared to make water drops on the wildfires to the north, east and south. Instead, as the Union-Tribune's James W. Crawley reported, the choppers and their reservist crews remained on the ground for want of permission from the CDF to help extinguish the fires. They were eventually cleared to do water drops on hot spots in the city.

The CDF, which directs all aerial firefighting operations, cites incompatible radio frequencies and dangerous weather conditions among the reasons for its decision to ground the Navy choppers. Which begs the question: Why aren't the radio frequencies compatible in the first place? During normal circumstances, military aircraft have no need to be on the CDF band. But emergencies require instant communications with military personnel.

Maj. Gen. Paul Monroe, who commands the California National Guard, believes the cumbersome process by which military assets are used to combat natural disasters should be streamlined. He's right. A 1932 federal law requiring that firefighters use private contractors before requesting military assistance makes no sense in an emergency. This wastes precious time that could be used to save lives and property.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, who lost his home to the blaze, says the military should be in the forefront of fighting wildfires. He has the leverage to cut through the bureaucratic underbrush and help make this happen. Hunter's influence over the Pentagon also could pave the way for the cross-training of active duty fliers so they can attack fires. Training is key because it requires considerable skill to bring a chopper or tanker in low amid dense smoke to drop retardant on a raging fire.

In a perfect world, federal, state and local governments would have unlimited resources to respond immediately to wildfires before they get out of control. The real world, however, requires these entities to pool their finite resources in order to make the most of them.

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

Confucius said, "The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others; he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this."

Confucianism. Analects 12.16


Davis responds to criticism of firefighting equipment delay

By: North County Times
Thursday, October 30, 2003

SAN DIEGO - The delay in getting firefighting equipment earlier this week to combat the San Diego wildfires involved federal law, not his office, Gov. Gray Davis said, adding the point is moot anyway.

Since Monday, Davis has been publicly criticized by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, County Supervisor Dianne Jacob and other Republican officials for acting too slowly in bringing in aerial firefighting gear from outside the state.

But during an afternoon news conference at a San Diego fire station, Davis said he wasn't to blame.

"Duncan Hunter knows full well the problem lies with federal law, which to his credit he tried to change but was unsuccessful," Davis said.

"And federal law says before we can release any military aircraft, the state and federal government have to hire all the civilian aircraft companies that want to provide aircraft to put out the fire.

"In any event, it wouldn't have mattered because on Sunday the winds were too great to let aircraft get up," Davis said.
"On Monday, there was too much marine layer. So not one home or person would have been improved if we had those aircraft available on Sunday. But the problem was federal law, and Duncan Hunter knows full well.

"I'm not going into anymore back and forth. We are all Americans. We're trying to put these fires out," he said.
"I'm glad that all of my neighbors, the governor of Colorado, the governor of Arizona, the governor of Nevada, of New Mexico, of Oregon, of Washington, have stripped their cupboard bare to help San Diegans and help Californians.

"Anyone else who wants to play armchair quarterback is doing a disservice to this task, which is to put the fires out and put the victims back on their feet," Davis said. "And then there will be plenty of time for post-mortem. And I will join Duncan Hunter in trying to change the federal law."

CNS-10-30-2003 13:38


Lost treasures
From buildings to wildlife, state park's fire destruction will take years to overcome
By Ed Zieralski
STAFF WRITER

October 30, 2003

CUYAMACA RANCHO STATE PARK – It was a picture frozen in flames: a young doe, back legs extended, front legs tucked and set for a jump over a barbed-wire fence.

But she never made it and was burned to death, petrified in that pose. Fifty yards above her on a charred hillside a young forked-horn buck, possibly the doe's mate, appeared to have lain down and died.

These were two of what surely will be countless wildlife fatalities, the helpless casualties of the Cedar Fire that ripped through the 25,000-acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park on Monday and Tuesday on its way north.

"I haven't seen any dead wildlife, but I'm not really looking forward to seeing any, either," said state park ranger Bob Hillis, who spent much of yesterday attending to the fire-gutted Dyer House, which housed the park's headquarters and museum.

From the south end of the park to the north end of Lake Cuyamaca, San Diego's all-season outdoor playground is blackened and unplayable. This area's living treasure that ties us to prehistoric man, the native Kumeyaay Indians and the Southern California gold rush has been severely damaged.

"There's no telling when the park will reopen," Hillis said. "There are a lot of safety concerns."

Trees, weakened and still smoldering, snapped and fell all day and sounded eerily like gunshots in the gray-ash-filled park. Electric and telephone wires dangled dangerously low and, in some cases, were strewn on or across State Route 79.

Burning tree limbs rolled down hillsides or fell from overhead and lay on the highway. Flare-ups occurred on both sides of the highway long after the firefighters went through.

Many of the park's picturesque meadows were burned. Stonewall Peak was stripped of its greenery and looked balder than ever.

Somehow, the Pasa Picacho and Green Valley Falls campgrounds, though damaged, survived, as did their kiosks and ranger houses.

But the incredible terrain and habitat that give San Diegans a slice of the Sierra, with all its seasons and charm, won't be the same for many years. And the wildlife, usually tame and photogenic for lovers of the outdoors and photographers, was understandably scarce. Two does were spotted sprinting through the darkened forest, and a few flocks of turkeys survived, even though their earth turned into hell.

"It's like the surface of the moon," said Pat Valenta, who tomorrow celebrates his 26th anniversary as a state park ranger, 17 at Cuyamaca.

"I became a park ranger after fighting the Bear Fire in San Bernardino," said Valenta, who is retiring soon. "I wanted to work outdoors. It looks like I'm going out on this fire, so my career has come full circle."

Valenta showed dramatic pictures he'd taken of the firestorm as it overtook Cuyamaca.

"It was like a volcano," Valenta said. "I watched it come up the gorge behind Cuyamaca Dam, and the trees there are 70 to 80 feet tall. The flames were 150 feet high. All the years we've struggled to protect this park. We wrote tickets to people who cut trees or did damage to the park. Then in one day, it all went."

Valenta rattled off the list of places that burned and were lost. The Dyer House, named for rancher Ralph Dyer, who sold his ranch to the state in 1933, probably will have to be razed. The Harvey Moore House, named for Dyer's foreman, also is gone.

"I lived in that house," Valenta said.

Camp Wolohi, the Boy Scout camp, is gone. But the Sixth Grade Camp and all of its buildings survived.

"It made it except for a little scalding on the chow hall," Valenta said.

The Lakeland Resort on the west side of Lake Cuyamaca was destroyed, but Franz Dorninger's Lake Cuyamaca Restaurant and the Helix Water District's bait and tackle shop, boat house and boat dock, all withstood the flames, as did the district's cabins and office on the north shore.

Reservoir keeper Earl Voogd, who was living in the historic dam keeper's house, built in 1890 and overlooking the dam, built two years earlier, lost everything.

"I was here until the flames were 100 yards from the restaurant," said Hugh Marx, who has been Lake Cuyamaca general manager for 17 years. "The firemen set a backfire, and that's the only reason we're still here. It's incredible because the last time I saw Franz Dorninger, I told him to call his insurance agent."

At the neighboring Valle Sereno Ranch, a half dozen or so wild turkeys pecked the charred ground as if nothing had happened.

A big black bull, named Ferdinand, according to Marx, hunkered behind some boulders. His hide had been singed by the fire, but he survived. And sheriff's Deputy Steve McNamara checked to make sure the big guy had plenty of water.

The ranch, owned by Tyche and Jeff Edwards, did not. Tyche's grandmother was the original dam keeper at Cuyamaca, and she built the ranch house out of timber from the old Cuyamaca mine. Now the ranch is gone.

Farther up Route 79, the Rocking Horse Ranch, a place that provided kids and families with so many mountain memories, also burned to the ground.

Beyond the park, firefighters lined up at the southeastern edge of Julian and fought the advancing fire on the ground. Overhead, a helicopter scooped up buckets of water from a nearby pond and doused the raging flames.

San Miguel Fire Department battalion Chief Andy Menshek wondered what Cuyamaca Rancho State Park was going to look like in the winter after rains and snow.

"This is so painful," he said, "because this is a place we come to for recreation."

Copyright 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.


Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment that you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Christianity. Matthew 7.1-5

Duckman GR :: 3:37 PM :: Comments (1) :: Digg It!