The value of UC ANR expertise in matters related to wildfire has been confirmed in the number of news outlets that have sought comments and information from UC scientists. For the record, here is a list of coverage to date that we are aware of:
- In the Line of Fire with UC Berkeley fire ecologist Max Moritz and UC Riverside fire ecologist Richard Minnich - Los Angeles Magazine
- Fight the Embers Not Just the Fuel with UCCE wood durability advisor Stephen Quarles - Voice of San Diego
- S.D. County growers begin to tally losses from wildfires, winds with UCCE farm advisor Gary Bender - San Diego Union Tribune
- Rethinking Fire Policy in the Tinderbox Zone with Minnich - New York Times
- Regional: UC Hotline and Web sites created for fire awareness, reprint of UC news release - CBS5, Bay City News Wire
- Empire on fire with Minnich - San Bernardino Sun
- Wildfire scars may prove to be permanent with Minnich - Long Beach Press Telegram
- Home building in fire zones under scrutiny with Minnich - Long Beach Press Telegram
- Fires chase critters from homes with UC Riverside biologist Greg Ballmer - North (San Diego) County Times
- Advice for homeowners with Quarles
- NPR's All Things Considered with Moritz on lessons in prevention and control from the southern California fires
- In the Ashes, Californians Ask How to Defeat the Santa Anas with Moritz - New York Times
- Flurry of questions, second-guessing on the southern California fires with Moritz - USA Today
- The burning question with Moritz, Minnich and UC Davis plant ecologist Michael Barbour - Salon.com
- Video report on the Fire Information Engine Toolkit
- UC wildfire resources (including Spanish language resources) - CBS 5 article
- Beetle damage and wildfire with Moritz - ABC 7 text /video
- Southern California fires with UC Berkeley fire science professor Scott Stephens - ABC 7 text / video
- Use of technology for fire detection/fighting with Moritz - Computerworld.com
- Southern California Fires Threaten Homes with Stephens - Daily Californian
- Prepare, stay, defend with Stephens - ABC 7 text /video
Help us find additional news coverage with UC ANR expertise by adding a comment to the blog if you notice something missing./span>
In addition to burning more than 1,000 homes and hundreds of thousands of wildland, the Southern California firestorm of 2007 has reignited an ongoing debate about fire policy. The issue is beginning to appear in the press, with UC scientists providing much of the expertise and opinions.
Salon.com ran an article titled "A burning question" which quoted UC Riverside fire ecologist Richard Minnich, UC Berkeley wildland fire specialist Max Moritz, and UC Davis plant ecologist Michael Barbour. Minnich said he believes California's fire suppression policy in the last 100 years is behind the tremendous devastation of recent fires.
"Fire is the primary way that we decompose organic material in California. Growth and decomposition must be equal over time. We're trying to get rid of one-half of the equation," he is quoted in the article.
Barbour also said attempts to stop fires encourage massive blazes.
"We're very good at putting out fires in good weather, but not in the worst weather," says Minnich. "By suppressing little fires, we select for the big fires to occur in the worst weather.
However, a biologist who is also trained as a firefighter says fires must be put out. "The reason that they put fires out is that they kill people," he is quoted.
Minnich blamed the fire on the weather and dry summer. "The Santa Anas themselves are one of the worst fire weather types in the whole world," Minnich was quoted.
The high interest in the debate is illustrated by the number of responses to the article. It generated 55 letters and 15 blog reactions.
In terms ongoing fire coverage, newspapers continue to run stories on wildfire losses, including an article in today's San Diego Union Tribune about the effects of the blazes on agriculture. UCCE advisor Gary Bender commented on the fact that the fire losses come on the heels of a devastating freeze last January and precede a 30 percent cut in irrigation water that takes effect this January.
“I've got people saying 'Hey, are we going to be able to continue to produce avocados in this county?'” he is quoted.
The news media are continuing to use University of California Cooperative Extension as a source of information on fire issues. In a New York Times article, UC Riverside earth sciences professor Richard A. Minnich raises the sometimes controversial issue of the state's fire policy.
“California has lost 1.5 million acres in the last four years,” Minnich is quoted in the second paragraph of the article. “When do we declare the policy a failure?”
The article presents the argument that California has gigantic fires from time to time because of its fire
suppression policies — in which the government has kept fires from their normal
cycle — ultimately resulting in huge fuel stores that erupt into "conflagrations" every few years when the conditions are right.
On Oct. 25, the Bay City News Wire ran a tip sheet distributed by UC News and Information Outreach with links to a wide variety of UC Cooperative Extension Web sites and workshops. UCCE provides a wealth of information on what to do before, during and after a wildfire.
An online publication, "Computer World - The voice of IT management," ran an interesting story today on the use of high-tech tools such as GPS technology, satellite imaging systems and aerial photography in fighting the Southern California fires and managing evacuations. For the story, reporter Todd Weiss spoke to two UC Cooperative Extension experts.
Glenn Nader, the natural resources advisor for UCCE Yuba City, said one technology that continues to help firefighters is geographic information system mapping data, which can be combined in layers to provide details on topography, fire history, roads, access and population.
"It gives you kind of a plan," Nader is quoted.
He told the reporter that GPS navigational technology helps fire fighters from other areas find fire hydrants and other water supplis and reverse 911 systems enable police and fire officials to quickly issue evacuation notices to thousands of residents at a time.
The reporter also spoke to Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at UC Berkeley, about his new "fire engine tool kit" Web site, where officials and residents can use databases of historical fire data to analyze new fires and determine how they might behave.
"Firefighters can use the tool kit to see what they're up against when fighting fires like this," Moritz is quoted.
According to the article, Moritz said the Web site is still evolving, but it's drawing interest from officials.
In California's current fire frenzy, reporters seem to be focusing on the breaking news, speaking mostly to firefighters and evacuees. Once the embers begin to cool and analysis begins, they will likely turn to UC experts, among others, to try to tease out reasons for the devastation and how to prevent it in the future.
Already, UC ANR experts have been tapped by two media outlets. ABC 30 News in the Bay Area spoke to UC Berkeley fire science professor Scott Stephens. He noted that, until the wind dies down, crews can only take a defensive position, and get people out of harms way.
"It's constantly jumping from one place to another, so it's making it impossible to catch," Stephens was quoted on the TV station's Web site.
The San Bernardino Sun, which reports on an area heavily affected by the fires, sought comment from Richard Minnich, a professor of fire ecology at UC Riverside.
In a story titled "Empire on fire," Minnich compared the fires to the severe blazes of 2003. He said this year the fires were of a "smaller scale," and that the weather conditions four years ago -- Santa Ana winds and low humidity -- are comparable in 2007.
Minnich predicted temperatures would rise and humidity would stay dangerously low today as winds could lighten. In the coming days, fire behavior will be based as much on the combustibility of the drought-stricken vegetation as it was Monday on the erratic wind, he said, according to the newspaper report.