Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hyping the Fire

My sister emailed from Salt Lake City to ask if I was okay with respect to "that thing," meaning the fire that was on the news. It is much too early in the season for this kind of thing, but let's be clear about what this was.

About 5000 homes were evacuated, not the 20,000 reported. No one knows where the latter number came from; police and fire officials are vehemently denying that they ever reported it. One police officer said that 5000 homes might be expected to contain 20,000 people, so perhaps that was the source of the bogus number. For information, the average value of those 5000 homes was probably about $4 million.

The fire topped out at 850 acres, which is not really a very big fire. It was fought by about 150 firefighters, not the "hundreds" that was reported. It was driven by Santa Ana winds, but at their worst they were gusting at 50 mph or less, and by noon they were blowing at 15 mph with gusts at 25 mph. That hardly qualifies as "fierce Santa Ana winds."

Only one structure was burned, a small outbuilding. There are two reason no homes were lost, one being that homeowners had done a supurb job of maintaining "defensible space" around their homes; a 100' radius cleared of brush and combustible material. The other is that the fire was mostly burning in canyons which run toward the sea and in which no homes are built. That area of San Diego is very hilly and open, and is only now beginning to be developed; expensively developed.

This was by no means a minor fire, and great credit is due to the firefighters. They were ready, and their expertise and dedication prevented this from being a whole lot worse than it was. But it was only a precursor. Anyone freaked out by this had better move to Minnesota before July.

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