Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Whatever Lame-O Rationalization Convinces

When you are spread thin:
While the southland burned as daytime temperatures soared toward 100 degrees, the fire season in Northern California was officially declared over Monday, thanks to recent wet weather. The moisture lessened the chances of a major blaze here, according to fire safety experts, and freed up fire crews for the trip south.

Some 700 firefighters from 16 city and county fire departments stretching from Monterey to Del Norte County were rounded up and sent south to help. Hundreds more from the California Department of Forestry were deployed to fires in seven Southern California counties, including Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego.

"Obviously the conditions we have up here today are much different than what they are seeing in Southern California," said Keith Richter, chief of the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, who coordinates mutual aid requests for the region. "We're all acutely aware of the situation. We have to be mindful that in case there is a fire up here we have to maintain enough resources so we can handle it."

...The exodus of firefighters south has caused some concern among Bay Area residents and fire safety officials. On Saturday, a 16-acre grass fire scorched a ridgetop in the rural Marin County village of San Geronimo after an errant toy rocket ignited some brush.

The blaze was quickly brought under control, but local fire officials saw it as proof that comparatively wet Northern California is still ignitable.

"There is still danger," said Kent Julin, a Marin County Fire Department forester and president of FireSafe Marin, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fire safety. "We do see the beginnings of the green grass from the rains we had, but there is still standing dry grass, and it doesn't take long for that to dry out."

Julin said testing shows that the chaparral on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais is still very dry. He also pointed out that Northern California can fall prey to Santa Ana-like offshore winds like the ones that fed the devastating Oakland Hills Fire on Oct. 20, 1991. These have become known as diablo, or devil, winds, he said.

"This is the time of year when we too have those strong offshore winds with low humidity and relatively higher temperatures," said Julin, whose agency deployed 18 engines, eight supervisors and 54 firefighters to Southern California. "This is also the time of year when we have our worst fires."

Bay Area fire officials insist that despite the end of fire season and the out-of-town deployments, they are well equipped to handle local emergencies.

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