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United States Power

Wildfire Threatens Water and Power To San Francisco 159

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Retuers reports that firefighters are battling to gain control of a fast-moving wildfire raging on the edge of Yosemite National Park that is threatening power and water supplies to San Francisco, about 200 miles to the west. 'We are making progress but unfortunately the steep terrain definitely has posed a major challenge,' says Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. 'Today we're continuing to see warm weather that could allow this fire to continue to grow very rapidly as it has over the last several days.' California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, warning that the fire had damaged the electrical infrastructure serving the city, and forced the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to shut down power lines. The blaze in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains is now the fastest-moving of 50 large wildfires raging across the drought-parched U.S. West that have strained resources and prompted fire managers to open talks with Pentagon commanders and Canadian officials about possible reinforcements. Firefighters have been hampered by a lack of moisture from the sky and on the ground. 'The wind today is going to be better for firefighting, but we are still dealing with bone dry grass and brush,' says Tina Rose, spokeswoman for the multi-agency incident command. 'This fire is very dynamic.'"
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Wildfire Threatens Water and Power To San Francisco

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  • Re:This is not... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @06:53PM (#44666221) Journal

    Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand they release CO2, but they also release particulates and *where* those things end up in the atmosphere matters, because that impacts how fast they are reabsorbed and/or break down. Oh, you mean it's not an effect of global warming? Less sure about that.

    One thing is certain--we have only been managing the forests for about 100 years. Native Americans didn't have planes dropping retardant and massive crews with chainsaws cutting breaks. The "dark day" that occured over New England in the early 1800s is thought to be from a fire in what is now Canada and/or the northern US.

    If wildfires are increasing, my first suspect is the decades of fuel we stored when the states had enough money to put out every spark. Now we don't have the money, but we have all that fuel stored.

  • Re:Not to worry, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 24, 2013 @07:30PM (#44666353)

    One is forced to wonder what compels people to live on a slab of land that is destined to roll into the ocean,...

    As a former east-coaster, now living in California for several years I asked the same question. I'll try to keep this brief.

    If I had to keep it really brief and use just two words they would be "Mediterranean climate". Some of the most disaster prone areas of the state feature this climate. Cool wet winters (the rainy season) with snow only on the peaks, and rarely at the lower levels where most people live. Summers are sunny almost all the time.

    Think Italy. In fact, I've been told that the Bay Area has a significant Italian community because 19th century immigrants wanted a climate similar to home. Italy is even more off the hook--hello volcano! With a Mediterranean climate *and* rich volcanic soil though, you get fantastic agriculture and we know Italians love their food.

    Of course the gold rush, ports, military and then technology growing out of the military all lead to a huge explosion in population. It just so happens that some of the best places in the world to mine gold and grow oranges are located near active seismic zones. There isn't a whole lot you can do about it.

    Aside from that, there are ways to mitigate against disaster. Mudslides and fire are seasonal possibilities and most people actually don't live in areas that will burn and slide. Those that do usually know the risk. The media always wants to show people crying, because well... that's the media. You don't talk too much about disaster here. Who wants to talk about it? I bet most people are a bit more stoic when their time comes though. Anyway, most people live on flat ground, near faults.

    The earthquake is something that happens on a geological timescale rather than seasonal. I've heard one person say you get one great earthquake in your lifetime. That's not quite true; but it's close. In a modern building, standards are high. If the "big one" hits, yes, some people will die even in structures that are up to code. It's a trade-off though. Do you want to die a healthy 80 year old who exercises in good weather all the time, sliding down a hill? Or... do you want to die less healthy at a younger age, from old age diseases because the weather is nasty and you don't feel like doing much during the winter except watching football and drinking beer?

  • Re:This is not... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Saturday August 24, 2013 @10:40PM (#44667137) Journal
    Smoker here, I don't know about the US but tossing a butt out the window on a total fire ban day here in Australia is looked upon by society as a kind of negligent arson. Most fires here start naturally (lightning), next major cause is power lines, third major cause are the mentally ill, ie: real arsonists.

    As for managing the bush with fire, Australian Aborigines have been doing that for maybe 30-40,000yrs.

    For example they used fire to clear paths through trees surrounding water, the paths were wider at the top than the bottom where they met the water and were covered in tall grass, the old growth forest either side of the path acted like the walls of a canyon. The natives would regularly burn the grass at the bottom of the path to encourage new green shoots. Kangaroos were attracted to the water and new grass, but they were also trapped in a dead end. Whenever the locals got hungry there was no running all over the countryside for days throwing sharp sticks at a high velocity dinner, they just strolled down the path and clubbed the first roo that panicked and tried to get past them. This landscaping of the environment appears to be the reason that they didn't go the traditional farming route like the Torres straight islanders did, (ie: planting plants and domesticating animals).

    The two people's traded with each other regularly so the practise was known to aborigines. I can see their point, why bother with all that work when a bit of clever planning will create a natural pantry right on your doorstep. You want Wild Turkey for dinner? - Just burn a small patch of grass in the late afternoon and wait for one to come looking for his own dinner. You want fish? - just pull a fresh one out of the small pond at the end of the tribes stone fish traps. Vegetables take more skill and knowledge, you need to know where and when to burn in order to promote the growth of food plants. All this knowledge was wrapped in layers of religion and ceremony, which was simply called "the law" (pretty much in the same way the old testament was at one time "the law")

    What we white fella's call "pristine old growth forest", aboriginal elders call "poor country, been let go wild". 20kyrs before other civilizations started making huge earth or stone works, these people were sculpting an entire continent into a carefully manicured estate using fire. These days, many aborigines in the north and west of the country are now employed by the government to manage their lands using traditional burning methods, in the south east of the country where the natives and their culture have been all but wiped out, white fella's do regular slow burns in the winter and maintain fire-breaks in the forests. But when a severe multi-year drought hits the best you can hope for is nobody gets killed in the inevitable firestorm. It really is a crying shame that it has taken us 200yrs just to start recognising the unique agricultural and land management practices that were staring Captain Cook in the face when he stuck a flag in the beach.
  • "Tinder Dry" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hoboroadie ( 1726896 ) on Sunday August 25, 2013 @03:03AM (#44668007)

    I was going up Briones Road yesterday and stopped to let a doe cross the road, and noticed a wisp o' smoke on the shoulder. I did not realize how dry it was until I saw how long it took me to put that out, every little blade of grass just wouldn't go out, and somehow magically passed on the smolder. I think I spent over three minutes, the dog was pretty pissed.
    I watched a broken Miller bottle bottle start dry grass on fire once a long time ago. Very surreal, like the time I watched oily rags spontaneously go. (That one is probably pretty repeatable.)

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"