Patterico's Pontifications

8/31/2009

California Wildfires

Filed under: Government,Obama — DRJ @ 6:06 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Station wildfire in California has burned over 100,000 acres, threatens 12,000 homes and vital commercial interests, has caused two firefighter deaths and the evacuation of many California residents, and is described as out-of-control:

“A voracious five-day-old wildfire that has churned through more than 105,000 acres of mountainous brush across northern Los Angeles County showed little sign of slowing down this afternoon as it threatened 12,000 homes in suburban tracts and desert communities, along with a historic observatory and major array of television and radio transmission towers.”

Smoke from the fire has drifted all the way to Denver:

“The smoke over Colorado — which has made the mountains west of Denver invisible from downtown Denver — has come directly from the massive 85,000-acre wildfire in Southern California, according to the National Weather Service.

Although Denverites could barely see the gray outlines of the foothills immediately west of Golden and Lakewood this afternoon, the higher mountains had disappeared in a dirty white haze.”

I assume California isn’t counting on help from the White House:

“Q As a natural disaster, the fires north of Los Angeles are reaching kind of staggering proportions. Is there any need for the President to get involved in a federal effort? Does he get any kind of updates on those fires?

MR. GIBBS: I can check. I assume that he gets a regular — we all get regular updates on these types of news events and these types of disasters. I assume as part of his daily briefing this morning he was briefed on the situation and local, state, and federal response.”

Obama’s Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano swore in Kelvin Cochran, FEMA’s Fire Administrator, on Thursday, August 27, 2009. I hope he’s the kind of guy who can hit the ground running.

— DRJ

49 Responses to “California Wildfires”

  1. I hope he’s the kind of guy who can hit the ground running.

    Is he paid up on his taxes?

    Dmac (e6d1c2)

  2. I once lived in a high risk zone and, sure enough, my house at the beach very nearly fell off the 200 foot cliff it was situated on. For a year, the ocean side of the house was on house-jacks and the doors were nailed shut on that side. After that experience, I moved inland and have never regretted it. In 1961, my in-laws’ house was burned flat by the Bel Air fire. Message: build your house in a flat dry place with no vegetation nearby.

    I am a bit concerned about the bassett rescue shelter in Acton but it’s too far away to do anything about it.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  3. Nothing to worry about cause I betcha if California smeared some of its six billion dollars of stem cells over the burny parts everything would be all better before you know it.

    happyfeet (6b707a)

  4. At the Monday morning meeting the one guy what’s in charge said and ohnoes all of the antenna tower thingies are right in the way and they could get burned and I said wouldn’t that be too funny and he gave me a look of what I think was some varietal of displeasure. Californians and their incessant misfortunes.

    Whatever.

    happyfeet (6b707a)

  5. The WH has a California Water Czar, as bizarre and tyrannical as that may seems; the least he could do is give us some to fight these fires.

    Guess he’s had some spirited meetings on the subject!

    Patricia (7aaa75)

  6. Good link, Patrica. And this, the insanity of the enviros and our new water czar,

    The farmers argued that cutting water deliveries to farms in the San Joaquin Valley oversimplifies the problems threatening salmon and smelt in the largest freshwater estuary in the west. They have asked for Salazar to ease enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, something he said he was reluctant to do.

    “At this time, that would be admitting failure,” Salazar said.

    Dana (863a65)

  7. I hope he’s the kind of guy who can hit the ground running.

    Overseeing training, education and fire prevention and improving response.

    He’ll look into the truck crash that killed the two firefighters.

    steve (132afb)

  8. There is a California Water Czar?!

    Happyfeet is killing me.

    JD (cb9226)

  9. They had some of this on a news channel and the fire chief started politicking the fire and saying Shwarznger should open up some fire posts around there that were closed down due to budget cuts. Made me think of that move Backdraft.

    j curtis (baef6f)

  10. steve,

    Are FEMA and the President supposed to defer to local government officials and provide “training, education and fire prevention” advice or are they supposed to respond immediately to a natural disaster, even if it means stepping on a few local toes? I used to think it was the former but Katrina taught me it is the latter.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  11. A couple things,

    First, Denver (where I’m on a project) is hazy as all get out. This morning I thought it was smog. The smoke made it all the way here but so far the ‘fire’ smell hasn’t.

    I havent been to the Mt Wilson antenna and communications site in years but back in the day (my dad was an exec with PacBell) when we used to visit the huge microwave relay office up there I seem to remember that vegetation was controlled pretty well around most of the facilities, did this change?

    harkin (f92f52)

  12. Controlling vegetation might be a cali endangered species law violation. I seem to recall the story of man who mowed down his overgrowth around his house as a wildfire approached a few years back. His was the only house standing after the fire was beat back. And for his efforts, he was fined for breaking the “save a field rat” law.

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  13. Hmmm…very strange, hazy sunset here in the Black Hills (SD) this evening. I thought it looked odd. Is it possible that here west of Rapid City we’re seeing some of the smoke? Denver is only 500mi SSW.

    chuck

    dhmosquito (2cc2ff)

  14. Are FEMA and the President supposed to defer to local government officials and provide “training, education and fire prevention” advice or are they supposed to respond immediately to a natural disaster, even if it means stepping on a few local toes?

    You expect Cochran will oversee something other than the role assigned?

    steve (132afb)

  15. John Hitchcock said:

    “……..I seem to recall the story of man who mowed down his overgrowth around his house as a wildfire approached a few years back. His was the only house standing after the fire was beat back. And for his efforts, he was fined for breaking the “save a field rat” law.”

    That reminded me of the South Lake Tahoe fire from a couple years back. The locals had been trying to get permission to trim the undergrowth for years but the locals in control told them they wanted to promote ‘natural growth’. The result was a fire that would have been contained much earlier if common sense had been followed.

    harkin (f92f52)

  16. THis is all part of the insanity that is 2009 California. The salmon problem is over fishing of adult salmon in the north Pacific. The story of the guy who was fined for removing the habitat of the kangaroo rat is true.

    Only in California. Anybody want to buy my house ?

    Mike K (2cf494)

  17. We all know that those standards only apply to Republicans, DRJ.

    JD (8e2709)

  18. steve,

    According to FEMA’s website, FEMA’s authority to provide disaster assistance to the States is governed by the Stafford Act that provides, in part:

    Sec. 401. Procedure for Declaration (42 U.S.C. 5170)
    All requests for a declaration by the President that a major disaster exists shall be made by the Governor of the affected State.

    However:

    Sec. 402. General Federal Assistance (42 U.S.C. 5170a)
    In any major disaster, the President may –
    ***
    (5) provide accelerated Federal assistance and Federal support where necessary to save lives, prevent human suffering, or mitigate severe damage, which may be provided in the absence of a specific request and in which case the President

    (A) shall, to the fullest extent practicable, promptly notify and coordinate with officials in a State in which such assistance or support is provided; and

    (B) shall not, in notifying and coordinating with a State under subparagraph (A), delay or impede the rapid deployment, use, and distribution of critical resources to victims of a major disaster.

    In light of these provisions, especially Section 402, do you still believe Cochran has limited responsibilities? If so, at what point should FEMA step in even though the State governor hasn’t requested assistance, or is this something we will only know in hindsight?

    DRJ (3f5471)

  19. What way is there to help the firefighters? Does anybody know?

    The hills are blazing still tonight. It’s been 100 degrees all day and they’ve got probably 75 lbs of gear on plus the equipment they drag with them up the mountains. What amazing heroes.

    MayBee (e17a64)

  20. Chuck,

    Based on this Weather.com winds/gusts map, since the smoke is already in Denver, it doesn’t seem farfetched to think the wind gusts could push the smoke your way.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  21. Here in Montana the western sky was hazy and red/gray. Likely the Cali fires. I really wish common sense was more common.

    tim (ceeb9a)

  22. In almost any fire incident, there’s a more-or-less standardized incident command setup. On a huge incident like this, it would be a unified command, but considering that it’s largely on National Forest land, the USFS will either be the lead agency (in a unified command, there isn’t supposed to be a “lead”, but tell that to the biggest stakeholder).

    Yep, the IC (incident commander) is with the forest service. No surprise, it’s a Type 1 team (the best and the largest). Nationwide, we’re in fairly good shape, so if more resources are needed, they can be found. For what it’s worth, I saw Long Beach FD doing structure protection. (We get KTLA on the dish feed up here in the boonies.)

    I’ve been out of firefighting a couple of years now, but FEMA has generally been in the support-and-followup role. They’ve had a bunch of training duties (and seem to be pretty good at it, I think), but last I looked, they weren’t involved directly in putting the wet stuff on the red stuff. They might end up doing logistics. Dunno.

    For those with the interest, here is the web page for the incident update stuff. This page will be active and updated for the duration of the incident.

    Red County Pete (ba0398)

  23. Are FEMA and the President supposed to defer to local government officials and provide “training, education and fire prevention” advice or are they supposed to respond immediately to a natural disaster, even if it means stepping on a few local toes? I used to think it was the former but Katrina taught me it is the latter.

    The federal government is always supposed to defer to local officials. All disasters are local. In fact without the Stafford Act the federal government wouldn’t be allowed to respond to local incidents. Under the new National Response Framework the feds can respond without being asked. During Katrina, under the old Federal Response Plan, they needed to be asked to come (unless it was declared an incident of national siginficance.)

    Regardless, any response (be it local, state or federal) depends on a robust, tested local emergency response plan. If this doesn’t exist in the first place there is no way that FEMA can scale it up and garner the necessary resources in an effective time frame. This is why hurricane response in Florida and the rest of the Gulf Coast has worked well for years and why New Orleans ended up the way it did. NOLA had no plan. The local government failed its people.

    If that statement pisses you off and you want to do something about it, try this: Make sure your local government officials have an all hazards emergency management plan in place and that all the players have tested it and continue to test it regularly.

    And of course, Kevin Cochrane is probably very qualified. But nobody gets a position like that unless they toe the party line and are tight enough with Schaitberger (who is probably still hoping to be SecLabor someday.)

    Jared (680bfa)

  24. Re smoke in Montana–I suspect it’s from Washington. There’s a map page that shows what’s burning where, and with a mouseover, you get the size of the fire. Not sure about Denver- there’s something in West Colorado that might go up the Colorado river canyon.

    Re: helping the firefighters: if you can safely get near a camp, bring goodies: bottled water, toiletries, high energy foods and stuff suitable for people camping out for a week or three. (Not unlike care packages for the troops, though I’d drop the Break-free and .22 patches…) Hmm, AA batteries wouldn’t be turned down.

    If you can’t get nearby, consider a donation to support charities: I never was on a long incident, but the Salvation Army had a good reputation with firefighters. Red Cross, not so much.

    Red County Pete (ba0398)

  25. Remember the ice storm in MO, KY, IN, last winter. I didn’t think you would. Some were out of power for weeks throughout. After a week or so, the One held a fabulous party at the House but never mentioned the poor slobs.

    gary gulrud (06aaa3)

  26. In light of these provisions, especially Section 402, do you still believe Cochran has limited responsibilities?

    Kevin Cochran’s FEMA responsibilities are as outlined. Not alternative housing or financial assistance for unmet needs as recovery begins.

    Notwithstanding a report that “the State governor hasn’t requested assistance,” FEMA has approved reimbursement of “75 percent of the eligible firefighting costs.”

    steve (132afb)

  27. Since at least part of the fire is taking place in a National Forest do the normal State versus FEMA rules apply?

    kaf (525681)

  28. What way is there to help the firefighters? Does anybody know?

    Try this:
    http://calfire.blogspot.com/

    Also, don’t forget the two firefighters that gave their lives in the line of duty last week in Buffalo, NY:
    http://www.buffalofirefighters.com/

    And the other 100 or so that give their lives every year saving you and your stuff.

    If you live in CA (or in any wildland interface zone) you can try building your home (or at least the roof) from non-combustible materials and following the local fire codes with respect to brush clearance and defensible areas around your home.

    [note: fished from spam filter]

    Nate (680bfa)

  29. Since at least part of the fire is taking place in a National Forest do the normal State versus FEMA rules apply?

    Could be a distinction.

    Utah doesn’t want the 75% FEMA money. The governor has been told the U.S. Forest Service “will pay the full cost associated with fighting the fire” that destroyed nearly a dozen structures in New Harmony over the weekend.

    Questions are being raised about the responsibility of the Forest Service, which initially had allowed the fire started by a lighting strike in late July to burn. Strong winds and high temperatures on Saturday caused the fire to double in size to 10,000 acres.

    steve (132afb)

  30. What way is there to help the firefighters? Does anybody know?

    We are on the edge of one of the fires and all of our community’s fire stations are accepting donations of items like those mentioned in #24. No donation is too small.

    Dana (863a65)

  31. Dana, thanks for reminding me to quit being outraged about this idiotic lionization of Ted Kennedy. Your post shows how to make a positive contribution to society, and I thank you for it.

    Eric Blair (a88004)

  32. steve,

    Since you persist in claiming you know what Cochran’s responsibilities are despite my link suggesting otherwise, would you please provide me a link to your claim? And, by the way, his name is Kelvin, not Kevin.

    DRJ (3f5471)

  33. I like the steve with the capital S much better.

    JD (8e2709)

  34. good morning DRJ Darleen has a very important post today what is heartbreakingly creepy in an oh I guess it can happen here kind of way after all who knew

    happyfeet (6b707a)

  35. Thanks, everyone, for the ideas.

    MayBee (e17a64)

  36. DRJ, thanks for the weather.com link. I just moved to the Black Hills from VA, and while we’re in a fairly vegetation-free area, like Mike K recommended, it sure is dry here right now. No local fires AFAIK. I suppose it’s possible that grass fires could occur. Local reservoirs are full, though, a consequence of last winter’s snowfall and spring rains. cheerio chuck

    dhmosquito (2cc2ff)

  37. Well, at least the smoke cloud over Denver isn’t as bad as the other cloud California sent Colorado’s way.

    John (da0d60)

  38. Katrina screwed up the relationship between the feds and local authorities on how to handle local disasters. People that blamed Bush and Brownie acted like New Orleans was some ungoverned swath of land that never had a mayor or governor. Nagin was smart enough to get his family out ahead of the hurricane but when it came to the empty buses he’s clueless. You can’t fix stupid and governors and mayors with their head up their butts can’t be fixed.

    We are the United STATES of America and the idea that desk jockeys in D.C. should be responsible for handling every local disaster is ludicrous. If a governor or mayor can’t handle things I doubt some faraway fed is going to step in and do it better. The feds have to take a secondary role and let the governors run things. Help, don’t hinder.

    MU789 (9a51ca)

  39. happs- that is very interesting.

    I need to find the clip, but a few months ago Michelle Obama told some school children they need to make the President’s job easier. This isn’t an accident, I think.

    MayBee (e17a64)

  40. Since you persist in claiming you know what Cochran’s responsibilities are despite my link suggesting otherwise, would you please provide me a link to your claim?

    I can’t find a link showing Cochran oversees disaster assistance (Disaster Assistance Directorate) or the fed’s primary role played by the Department of Interior and USDA (U.S. Forest Service).

    The Stafford Act citation doesn’t blueprint HIS responsibilities in the agency response framework. FEMA’s [08/27/2009] press release:

    Cochran will oversee and lead the coordination and direction of national efforts to prevent fires and improve fire response. Cochran will supervise fire prevention and safety education programs and professional development opportunities for emergency responders at all levels of government.

    Sorry for missing the “l” in his first name.

    steve (e1b5a2)

  41. It could be worse, the winds could be out of the east. With Santana winds you could see the fire spreading rapidly west, into territory with a lot of stuff to burn. We’re talking the potential for thousands of fatalities and millions of refugees.

    California’s regulatory situation is why I say the voters should have the right to approve or disapprove regulations. No regulation without representation.

    Alan Kellogg (c3aa1e)

  42. We’re talking the potential for thousands of fatalities and millions of refugees.

    What? Listen, I woke up to find my cars covered in ash. I can see the burn lines from my house. We have to have some perspective, people. The Station fire is already in the Top 10 largest fires ever with only two fatalities to claim. While those were horrible and tragic, they were also front-line first responders whose job involves putting themselves in danger. Thousands of fatalities aren’t at all likely.

    Fritz (0b030e)

  43. steve and drj:

    Kelvin Cochran has no field operational responsibilities. He’s the Administrator of the USFA. He oversees grants, data collection/ analysis and the National Fire Academy.

    In the NRF, Emergency Support Function #4: Firefighting is lead by the Department of Agriculture through the Forest Service.

    Read these:

    National Response Framework Overview

    National Response Framework

    ESF 4: Firefighting

    DHS Organization

    FEMA Organization

    USFA Organization

    Jared (680bfa)

  44. Fritz, #43

    Ever been in a fast moving fire, when communication breaks down and traffic gets stopped up? In San Diego we dodged a bad one in 2007 because people kept cool and kept their heads. That aint gonna happen in every similar situation in the future.

    The fact somethning hasn’t happened yet is no guarantee it will never happen.

    Alan Kellogg (c3aa1e)

  45. Fritz, #43

    Ever been in a fast moving fire, when communication breaks down and traffic gets stopped up? In San Diego we dodged a bad one in 2007 because people kept cool and kept their heads. That aint gonna happen in every similar situation in the future.

    The fact something hasn’t happened yet is no guarantee it will never happen.

    Alan Kellogg (c3aa1e)

  46. I used to live in Anaheim. I remember the yearly fires set by illegals that got away from them. I also remember the Lugana Niguel fire that burned quite a bit of Laguna Beach. I remember one of the councilmen down there as having opposed a water tank hidden in a hill. Would have not disturbed the environment in the long run. Well the fire burned down this idiot’s house and the tank he opposed would have supplied enough water to save that neighborhood.

    Karma does bite you in the kiester visciously.

    PCD (02f8c1)

  47. My heart and prayers to the families of the two firefighters who lost their lives.

    Is there any chance that typhoon that’s supposed to hit Baja gives some rain to CA too?

    JEA (0ccd61)

  48. the wsj has an expose on the real reasons for the CA drought. I do agree with Ace that it’s not the lawyers’ fault, it’s the group that hires them.

    EPA and Lawyers

    Patricia (7aaa75)


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