Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 30, 2009

“The fire burned at will; it went where it wanted to when it wanted to.”

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 30, 2009


Flames along Ocean Drive in LA County, Saturday night (Getty)

Monday Morning Update: Two firefighters have died.  Gov. Schwarzenegger warns fire is “totally out of control.” (6:30 am eastern)   Bloomberg has a good overview of the Monday morning situation.  The LA Times and CalFire links (below) continue to be best for details.

The Los Angeles Times is constantly updating a wildfires website

CalFire provides official information at http://cdfdata.fire.ca.gov/incidents/incidents_current

At 12 noon Eastern CalFire is reporting the Station Fire, above LA, is five percent contained.

The Watch has given considerable attention to wildfire risk.  There is nothing especially unexpected or unique regarding the situation in SoCal or with other fires now burning in California. 

Three prior posts with policy/strategy background:

Dry now, fires now, more of each soon

South Carolina fire is four miles wide

Black Saturday: Royal commission’s interim report released

Another post on June 9 highlighted a piece from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This study  found,

Because of increasing concern about the effects of catastrophic wildland fires throughout the western United States, federal land managers have been engaged in efforts to restore historical fire behavior and mitigate wildfire risk. During the last 5 years (2004–2008), 44,000 fuels treatments were implemented across the western United States under the National Fire Plan (NFP). We assessed the extent to which these treatments were conducted in and near the wildland–urban interface (WUI), where they would have the greatest potential to reduce fire risk in neighboring homes and communities. Although federal policies stipulate that significant resources should be invested in the WUI, we found that only 3% of the area treated was within the WUI, and another 8% was in an additional 2.5-km buffer around the WUI, totaling 11%.

Earlier today Gov. Schwarzenegger explained that the Station Fire has been especially strong because there is a significant build-up of fuel since there has not been a fire in the area for sixty years.

There are many kinds of disaster.  Tragedy requires a sense of heroic potential misplaced.  What is unfolding in the hills above Los Angeles fits the definition.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 30, 2009 @ 11:58 am

It happened with the seismic risk starting with the Field report of 1933! Is any effort underway in CA to develp a comprehensive STATE approach to firefighting including the wildland/urban interface or is it a stove piped system of each city and community on its own [including standards of training and equipment] supplemented by an erratic and not well thought out STATE operation? Implicitly in this question is whether CA should be the first STATE to make all of the FIRE SERVICE including enforcement of fire codes [Are their statewide codes?] a state level program with all of its functions? Local governments are totally creatures of STATE law so the STATE has the ability to make changes if it wants? Seems so far only the fire hazard and risk is cohesive in as the post states “The fire burned at will; it went where it wanted to when it wanted to.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 31, 2009 @ 10:18 am

Thanks Phil for update! Tecnically the problem is labeled the Wildland Fire/Urban Interface Problem!

For those Greek or Greek-American readers of the blog note that Athens and Greece in other places has been dealing with the same problem, including evacuation decisions. CA is now struggling with those determined not to evacuate including two victims (not sure if they lived or died) that attempted to ride out the fire in a hot tub! NOT A GOOD IDEA!

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