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Fire Weather VII – The Crusader – UPDATED

October 26th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

I promise I’ll blog about a non-fire subject next time. But I figured the story below was an appropriate bookend to Thursday’s post, so couldn’t resist it.
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dc-10-2.gif

Our much-missed pal (and WLA guest blogger),
Alan Mittelstaedt, has written his regular LA Sniper column over at LA City Beat about my friend and Topanga neighbor, Tony Morris.

(By the way, if you’re not reading Alan’s inspired dose of weekly snark, you’re cheating yourself.)

For more than a decade, Tony Morris has been trying to slap California’s lawmakers into wakefulness about the state’s under-preparedness for just the sort of fire-wrought disaster that this past week of hillside infernos has brought us. Finally, it seems, he’s having some success.

A few representative clips from Al’s column:

The 65-year-old Yale graduate nearly lost his own home in the Topanga fire in 1993. It turned the former NBC documentary producer and construction guy into a crusader to set up a national fleet of supertankers to bombard flames with water scooped up from the ocean or other body of water.

He and his grassroots group – Aerial Fire Protection Associates – took their spiel on the road and testified before one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s blue-ribbon panels on fire protection. A few months ago, the governor announced that the state would sign a three-year lease for one of the supertankers – a converted DC-10 that drops 12,000 gallons of water over a half-mile area in eight seconds. “Everybody’s amazed that he did it,” says Morris, who traveled around the state to get homeowners groups to bombard the governor with letters. “But that’s not the end of it. What you’re seeing now, the catastrophic fires, is inexcusable. It’s unbelievable. It’s a combination of all of the elements coming together at the same time. It’s the perfect firestorm. Global warming has produced a rise in the intensity and number of fires around the world.”

The special DC-10, known as Tanker 910,
drops nearly 10 times as much water as the WW II-era turboprops. In the last few days, it has hopscotched the state dousing flames. But one jet tanker isn’t enough. The lease runs $5-million per year, plus $5,000-an-hour during fire-fighting. It’s a bargain, Morris says, and the company operates at a small profit. “You have to think about what you’re saving by putting these fires out.” By comparison, L.A. Unified recently got $600 million to build new schools it doesn’t need and the city announced a $150 million program to synchronize traffic signals that don’t make much of a difference.

(Here’s a rather cool video of the DC-10 dropping fire retardant, looking for all the world like a Godzilla-size, spawning salmon.)


For thirteen years, Tony has explained in informed and impassioned detail to nearly anybody who’d listen
that investing in the right tools to knock down the fires early will save the state money (and homes and lives) in the long run. Finally, after the Griffith Park fire threatened precious pieces of the city’s heart, those with the power to say “yes” began to realize he’d been right all along.

UPDATE:

I just got off the phone with Tony, who called by sheer coincidence to let me know how things are going with him, which he does from time to time. He says he’s getting calls from a zillion media outlets— from Which Way LA to the New York Times. It was nice to hear his excitement. After 13 years he’s suddenly the right guy for the right moment, and, I hope, in terms of public policy at least, it’s not going to fade away with the ever-turning news cycles.

What he says is, with the right planes, we can have a tanker up and in the air within minutes—not hours—and just knock the fire down. He talked about the new generation of high tech air tankers that have a different level of maneuverability. The Russians, it seems, are way ahead of us in this regard with their BE-200 [check the video link; it's another very cool one] No, they’re not cheap. But the damage wrought by the fires we’ve seen in the last four years is…how to put it?… a tad more expensive.

The approach to firefighting equipment in California has been, as my mother used to say, penny wise and pound foolish. (This is true of the US in general on the issue of firefighting. The Canadians simply roll their eyes at us.)

By the way, in case it wasn’t clear, for all these years, Tony’s done this work only as a man with a passion. He’s never been paid for any of it. And no, he’s not a trust fund baby. His wife works, and he writes free lance—as it leaves time for his excellent crusade.

Posted in environment, Fire, State politics | 34 Comments »

34 Responses

  1. Kevin Says:

    That plane was used on a fire up here in the Bay Area earlier in the year. It’s really something else to see it do that.

  2. richard locicero Says:

    I hate to saay it but ever since Proposition thirteen and Jerry Brown’s “Era of Limits” California has been nickle and diming itself to death. Whether we’re talking about resources for wildfires, retrofitting bridges or freeways (remember the I-10 fiasco or the Bay Bridge?) we all seem to take the attitude that it can wait. A state once known for its roads, schools and water projects is now becomming a pile of worn out concrete. So why should fire protection be any different?

  3. maggie Says:

    Don’t lay it on Prop 13, ric. IF it weren’t for that, and people had to pay taxes (even 1.2% on homes that escalated to over a million, people would have left in droves, prop values would have plummeted, whereas in recent years, tax revenues have increased 10%/yr, in L A, as Karen Sisson, CEO, told the Council recently(because of all the buying/selling turnover from people building and taking out their profits, trading up, etc.) But they’d come to rely on this and now it’s a time of reckoning. And LAUSD wastes tens of millions — to date, they haven’t gotten back the $65 mil they OVERpaid teachers due to the 100 mil faulty payroll system; inventory goes unfound and unused due to still more ineptitude; the Daily News documents what I’ve ntoed (e.g., “Shrinking School System” in their Opinion section) — they keep building in places where the population is shrinking and moving away, but not where the schools are needed: the much-blamed and vilified upper- middle= class who “aren’t paying enough.”

    Problem isn’t lack of money, but the waste that comes from an expectation that gov’t can always keep taxing “the rich” and no matter how onerous they make it, prop values will increase and people will ocme.

    On my hillside street, the last two buildable lots are being built on near my house, turning a quiet street into construction hell (and there has been a surge in robberies due to construction workers knowing who’s home or not), but after this, “new” taxable housing will be flatter citywide.
    They can’t keep declaring “emergengies” and proposing new taxes, so they’ll have to do better accounting for the funds of each dept. AND we have to get back some of the billions we pay to Washington and don’t get back. AND work towards a sensible immigration policy, our infrastructure is overwhelemed. — If you don’t live in L A County, the OC is a diff’t world, but they’ve surely had prop increases, too.

  4. richard locicero Says:

    There were very sensible and relatively easy solutions to the property tax problem but we created an imossible system that has had the effect of transferring most decisions to the state level and created a permenant property class. One example: Why should it be possible to pass the same tax benefits thru the generations? Look ask any expert on public finance and they will tell you that California’s finances are a mess. You get what you pay for. We want a lot. So we better pony up!

  5. Kevin Says:

    Fixing the Bay Bridge is scheduled to be complete in 2013. The Loma Prieta earthquake was in 1989! Ludicrous the way this state works sometimes.

  6. Randy Paul Says:

    There were very sensible and relatively easy solutions to the property tax problem

    It was called Proposition 8.

  7. Michael O'Rourke Says:

    The “vilified” upper-middle class, ah yes we read and hear so much about the poor vilified upper-middle class ladies. I need to start a “rejuvenating seminar” for the vilified upper-middle class ladies. I could hold these seminars at my Institute of Courage (the one Celeste wrote about), and the stressed hairdressers and stressed upper-middle class ladies can rejuvenate from all the stresses of their lives. And the newly rejuvenated ladies come out with great looking hair, Topanga Canyon open the roads here they come.

    http://www.instituteofcourage.com/

  8. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    What a cool ‘bird,’ Celeste. Looks like a great way to attack a fire.

    YAY, Alan. That was a good piece. What a way to spend your ‘retirement.’ Community oriented, crisis averting, and *useful.* I want to retire like that.

  9. maggie Says:

    Institute of “Courage,” Michael? You mean, institute of bohemians with a socialist agenda involving some confused and lost hairdressers in hummer stretch limos. Lost and confused more ways than one, if they’ve ended up there. Maybe you’re intent on a little socialist-style “re-education” in the guise of a makeover from confused hairdressers? Will they have to write self-criticism papers, seeing the light of what evil oppressors of the poor and people of color they are by virtue of their mere existence and not spending as much as you’d like to “uplift the underclass” (to the Al Ringels, “enough” is their own financial ruin) in exchange for their courageous makeovers?

    Funny how you assume the upper middle class is all ladies who lunch with too much time on their hands, in need of secret “courageous” agendas of reeducation by lost and confused hairdressers and their propagandizing handlers. Instead of people who are stressed from supporting the whole rest of society and its collapsing infrastructure, in the face of a tax-happy city leadership, who take them for granted.

    But there’s a revolution brewing among these natives, and it’s not for makeovers accompanied by courageous guidance in socialist self-criticism.

  10. maggie Says:

    Michael, you (and most others on this blog) seem to confuse the upper-middle class with the truly wealthy — who are limo liberals who’d probably agree with everything you say, so they can hide behind their massive gates lest the peons rise up against them with pitchforks, out of class envy. They live on trust funds and investments and profits from more Geffen-style real estate deals than they can ever spend. The blue-haired ladies who lunch in expensive suits they just bought at Neiman’s and have weekly hair makeovers for the sole purpose of having lunch in Beverly Hills with other blue-haired land botoxed adies, raised their kids long ago and now tend to fall into the wealthy class. (Unless they’re the skinny lipo-ed and botoxed trophy third wives, but I’m talking here about real, hard-pressed people who are mightily stressed and often with one foot out of the city.)

  11. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    How about them Rockies! Rocky rookies that they are. But, they’re comin’ home to Coors Field.

  12. Woody Says:

    “Global warming has produced a rise in the intensity and number of fires around the world.”

    Oh, bull. That’s a bunch of unsubstantiated propaganda. I guess this is Bush’s fault, too.

  13. Pokey Says:

    Even though I am firmly for conserving energy and reducing the use of all carbon sources of energy, there is strong evidence that the current warming is primarily coming from a more active sun.

    BTW – I have florescent lights (curly ones) all over my house. I am hoping my vacation house in the desert will use zero energy after net-metering.

    Global warming has finally been explained: the Earth is getting hotter because the Sun is burning more brightly than at any time during the past 1,000 years, according to new research.

    A study by Swiss and German scientists suggests that increasing radiation from the sun is responsible for recent global climate changes.

    Dr Sami Solanki, the director of the renowned Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, who led the research, said: “The Sun has been at its strongest over the past 60 years and may now be affecting global temperatures.

    advertisement”The Sun is in a changed state. It is brighter than it was a few hundred years ago and this brightening started relatively recently – in the last 100 to 150 years.”

    Dr Solanki said that the brighter Sun and higher levels of “greenhouse gases”, such as carbon dioxide, both contributed to the change in the Earth’s temperature but it was impossible to say which had the greater impact.
    ….
    Globally, 1997, 1998 and 2002 were the hottest years since worldwide weather records were first collated in 1860.

    Most scientists agree that greenhouse gases from fossil fuels have contributed to the warming of the planet in the past few decades but have questioned whether a brighter Sun is also responsible for rising temperatures.

    To determine the Sun’s role in global warming, Dr Solanki’s research team measured magnetic zones on the Sun’s surface known as sunspots, which are believed to intensify the Sun’s energy output.

    The team studied sunspot data going back several hundred years. They found that a dearth of sunspots signalled a cold period – which could last up to 50 years – but that over the past century their numbers had increased as the Earth’s climate grew steadily warmer. The scientists also compared data from ice samples collected during an expedition to Greenland in 1991. The most recent samples contained the lowest recorded levels of beryllium 10 for more than 1,000 years. Beryllium 10 is a particle created by cosmic rays that decreases in the Earth’s atmosphere as the magnetic energy from the Sun increases. Scientists can currently trace beryllium 10 levels back 1,150 years.

    http://tinyurl.com/3vqhj

  14. Pokey Says:

    It is simply about priorities

    It working with my corporate types who want everything and want it now, I have a simple trick that seems to bring their thinking into line with the budget. They are simply required to put their desires in the RANK order of importance if they want them done. (1,2,3,4,5,6,7….)

    What you find, if you are able to force politicians to make choices is that even politicians will make rational choices. Then “Fire Safety” might be more important to them than for example, than “psychologists” to help people to feel good about themselves or an arts program.

    Yes all are important, but some are more important.

    I had believed that liberals/democrats have a harder time making these types of choices than conservatives, but the last Republican congress, seems to have repudiated my theory.

  15. Celeste Fremon Says:

    I like that idea, Pokey.

    (But, hey, don’t mess with the arts programs—not that we have all that many in this golden state. Interestingly, every shred of research says that arts programs in schools are among the most effective of nearly anything in terms of raising a kids academic level overall, keeping ‘em engaged, and preventing them from dropping out. And yet they’re the first thing we seem to want to cut.)

  16. Pokey Says:

    Your rank them:

    D-10 to fight fires
    Arts program in the schools

    If the budget has room we get both, if not then the one on top stays.

    You choose.

  17. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Hmmmm. Do I feed my eldest child, or the youngest. Tough one. ; – )

  18. L.A. Resident Says:

    Celeste writes – “hey, don’t mess with the arts programs”

    The opinion of a female writer, but this male engineer says it is much more important to have more technology and trade programs. We should bring back all the carpentry, auto-shop, welding, drafting and electronics classes we used to have in high schools years ago. If you had more inner-city kids who are not going to college interested in a trade in which they can actually make a living you would not have so many disengaged young men. IMHO

  19. L.A. Resident Says:

    Frankenstein says – Fire good

    http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/boise/field_trip/lookout/fires.html

    Using Fire:

    Fire is part of the forest. In fact, fires help keep forests healthy. How?

    Fires clean up dead branches on the ground. They also burn up piles of leaves or needles. The ashes from the needles and branches add nutrients to the soil faster than if they rotted away.

    Fires also burn up trees that have diseases or insects. The disease and insects burn up too. That way other trees won’t get infected.

    Forest managers start fires under safe weather conditions. And, choose appropriate areas to burn. These fires are called “prescribed fires.”

  20. L.A. Resident Says:

    Frankenstein says – Fire good
    Using Fire:

    Fire is part of the forest. In fact, fires help keep forests healthy. How?

    Fires clean up dead branches on the ground. They also burn up piles of leaves or needles. The ashes from the needles and branches add nutrients to the soil faster than if they rotted away.

    Fires also burn up trees that have diseases or insects. The disease and insects burn up too. That way other trees won’t get infected.

    Forest managers start fires under safe weather conditions. And, choose appropriate areas to burn. These fires are called “prescribed fires.”

    http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/boise/field_trip/lookout/fires.html

  21. Celeste Fremon Says:

    I’d go for one from column A, one from column B.

    (We’ll just have to eliminate a some of those expensive studies, commissions, and blue ribbon committees—and it might be nice to incarcerated fewer people for, like, life….but that’s a topic for a future post.)

  22. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    Do I feed my eldest child, or the youngest.

    Ah, yes. Sophie’s Choice Wasn’t much of a choice, was it?

  23. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    Pokey, I suspect you are correct (both wrt global warming and priorities) in degrees.

    That the sun could be more active does not rule out added effects of greenhouse gases in regard to climate changes. The question would then become, what can be done about either of them? Which of them, or outcomes of them, can be influenced through policy levers?

    Somewhat similarly, for priorities. You can make item 1 #1 and item 2 #2, until something happens to screw up one’s best laid plans. In some cases there will be feedback loops among those priorities which would argue that you have to bring each forward together in order to preserve gains in either.

    But, I’m guessing that feedback loops are no new thought to a systems programmer/ecologist/family man.

  24. Jay Byrd Says:

    “Oh, bull. That’s a bunch of unsubstantiated propaganda.”

    a) You’re wrong: http://www.livescience.com/environment/060706_globalwarming_fire.html

    b) You’re claim is unsubstantiated.

    c) The “propaganda” characterization is ad hominem.

    “I guess this is Bush’s fault, too.”

    Ad hominem (attacking someone’s political leanings as a way to put their claim in doubt).

  25. Jay Byrd Says:

    “there is strong evidence that the current warming is primarily coming from a more active sun.”

    This simply isn’t true. The evidence is overwhelming the human-caused contributions to the greenhouse effect is the primary cause. As Judge Burton said of Al Gore’s film, it is “broadly correct”. And from
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_Solanki:

    But the same research has been quoted as being evidence for global warming in a News release from the Max Planck Society[11] where he is quoted as saying:
    “ since about 1980, while the total solar radiation, its ultraviolet component, and the cosmic ray intensity all exhibit the 11-year solar periodicity, there has otherwise been no significant increase in their values. In contrast, the Earth has warmed up considerably within this time period. This means that the Sun is not the cause of the present global warming. ”

  26. Jay Byrd Says:

    Here’s another quote from Sami Solanki that directly contradicts Pokey’s claim:

    http://www.mpg.de/english/illustrationsDocumentation/documentation/pressReleases/2004/pressRelease20040802/

    “Just how large this role is, must still be investigated, since, according to our latest knowledge on the variations of the solar magnetic field, the significant increase in the Earth’s temperature since 1980 is indeed to be ascribed to the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide,” says Prof. Sami K. Solanki, solar physicist and director at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.

  27. Jay Byrd Says:

    Here’s more on this:

    http://mediamatters.org/items/200509230005

    As the final comment in the comments section notes, the Media Matters piece isn’t really fair to Rush Limbaugh, as it’s primarily the authors of the Telegraph article who misrepresented Dr. Solanki’s findings and views.

  28. Jay Byrd Says:

    P.S. I had never heard of Sami Solanki before seeing Pokey’s claim about the sun here, but I was aware that the available evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the primary cause of global warming is human-generated CO2 and that that’s the view of nearly every climate scientist, so I googled Sami Solanki to get the real deal on his research. I wasn’t expecting the “primarily the sun” claim to be contradicted out of Dr. Solanki’s own mouth, but there you go. In these days of the internet, anyone can find out the truth about such things as what causes global warming (CO2) and whether global warming increases forrest fires (it does) if they want to.

  29. Jay Byrd Says:

    Your rank them:

    D-10 to fight fires
    Arts program in the schools

    If the budget has room we get both, if not then the one on top stays.

    You choose.

    That’s a false dichotomy at many levels. First, these aren’t the only two things money is spent on. Second, there are alternatives to D-10′s for fighting fires. Third, one can trade some number of D-10′s for some amount of art programs; ordering doesn’t address the reality of such proportional tradeoffs. Fourth, the budget isn’t fixed — there are ways of increasing revenue, including taxes, and taxation brings in a whole additional set of considerations about tradeoffs; in this case, it’s worth noting that the primary beneficiaries of D-10′s and the primary beneficiaries of art programs, while overlapping, aren’t identical.

    The bottom line is that “you rank them” is atrociously bad “analysis”.

  30. Jay Byrd Says:

    Don’t lay it on Prop 13, ric. IF it weren’t for that, and people had to pay taxes

    False dichotomy (as Randy Paul says, “Proposition 8″).

    (even 1.2% on homes that escalated to over a million, people would have left in droves

    Bogeyman. A proof would be appreciated.

    Maybe you’re intent on a little socialist-style “re-education” in the guise of a makeover from confused hairdressers?

    Maybe you’re intent on slinging ad hominems. “limo liberals who’d probably agree with everything you say”??? Is that what passes for intelligent and civilized discourse in your circle?

  31. L.A. Resident Says:

    A simple reason we have larger forest fires in California is because we extinguish/stop the “natural” fires which would occur in any forest. A few words form USDA Forest Service site.

    Using Fire:

    Fire is part of the forest. In fact, fires help keep forests healthy. How?

    Fires clean up dead branches on the ground. They also burn up piles of leaves or needles. The ashes from the needles and branches add nutrients to the soil faster than if they rotted away.

    Fires also burn up trees that have diseases or insects. The disease and insects burn up too. That way other trees won’t get infected.

    Forest managers start fires under safe weather conditions. And, choose appropriate areas to burn. These fires are called “prescribed fires.”

  32. listener_on_the_sidelines Says:

    Well, Jay Byrd. I nominate you for sheriff of the site.

  33. Woody Says:

    Jay Byrd, get a life. Seven serial posts! Do we know you under another name? Did you know that there is also a correlation between piracy and global warming? You really provided no “proof” for your claim. You show just how hysterical global warming alarmists can be just to feel important. Now, try to use reason rather than emotion.

    http://antigreen.blogspot.com/2007/10/california-fire-smokescreen-by-steven.html

    http://z4.invisionfree.com/Popular_Technology/index.php?showtopic=2050

    Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is generally to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

    Now, show your wisdom by concentrating on the main theme from now on.

    (BTW, you didn’t quote me directly in your rebuttal, as I know the difference between your and you’re.)

  34. Jay Byrd Says:

    Just another in Woody’s ongoing stream of ad hominems. But given the quality of his arguments, it’s easy to see why he depends on them.

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