Fighting wildfires with science

Fire modeling tools rely on information from the National Weather Service, detailed maps of fuel layers in forests and other factors. They estimate how fast the fire will burn and how it will spread in relation to vegetation, trees, homes and other properties.

For Joe Hudson and Byron Bonney, the WFDSS program calculated the Johnson Bar fire’s potential spread within a 26,000-acre planning area where firefighter actions could slow or stop the fire. The modeled fire behavior informed them on the potential effects on threatened values: homes along the Selway and in nearby Lowell, a rustic lookout, the historic Tahoe Trail, habitat for fish, and timber and replanted forests.

“Once the fire has escaped initial direct attack, the goal is to protect the values at risk and contain the fire,” said Hudson.

Hudson called in the Incident Management Team, an interagency group that manages large fires. The IMT set up camp Aug. 8 at the Kooskia airport, 20 miles west of the fire.

Winds were pushing the fire north. Winds were gusting 35 mph on the ridges, triggering an Aug. 12 flare that doubled the size of the fire in one day. People living in the 30 homes along the Selway already had been evacuated.

The IMT kept the fire from spreading and establishing itself on the other side of the river. The WFDSS analysis was helping guide their decisions.

With the fire spreading down the slopes of the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater River, the managers decided to perform burnouts using the rivers as barriers.

It worked. Welcome rains helped tame the fire. Firefighters were able to establish containment lines.

There are a few sections to this article – each valuable. It all leads up to fire science, divining the factors affecting heat, fuel and oxygen – the determinants of a fire.

Read the article. Especially if you live in the Moiuntain West.

TechKnow on Aljazeera America had a good segment on these studies a week or so ago. Here are the producer’s notes. Haven’t a video of the segment, yet – only a promo for the show.

Thanks, Mike

Republican governor says re-election is “distracted” by pr∅n revelations


Republicans only enjoy a little pr∅n

A widening scandal over the exchange of emails containing pornography by current and former members of the attorney general’s office has gripped the Pennsylvania capitol all week.

Pennsylvania’s state supreme court chief justice demanded information on whether any judges were part of the exchanges. Governor Tom Corbett, who was attorney general when the emails were exchanged, was forced to defend his management of the office as he campaigns for a second term.

And on Thursday, two top officials who followed Corbett from the attorney general’s office into his gubernatorial administration resigned…

Their departures came a week after Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office identified them as being among eight ex-employees who sent or received hundreds of pornographic images or videos in emails that were discovered during Kane’s review of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse prosecution.

All eight men, who also include state police commissioner Frank Noonan, worked under Corbett while the latter was the state’s elected attorney general from 2005 to 2011. Corbett had requested details on the emails in question before determining if the four men employed in his administration should keep their jobs.

Kane is a Democrat who took office last year. Corbett, a Republican, is in the closing weeks of an uphill re-election campaign against Democrat Tom Wolf.

I doubt either of the two sleazy political parties we’re stuck with has a commanding lead over the other when it comes to morality or dedicating all their political time to working for the citizens who elect them. Still, the Republican tradition of holier-than-thou campaigning, moralizing about anyone and everyone who might come from anywhere other than fundamentalist Christian culture is contemptible in repeatedly being caught in lies about their so-called family values.

It’s more established in exception than in standards of practice. Pretty much everyone expects their deeds to contradict their words.

SCOTUS hides from civil rights — refuses to rule on gay marriage

The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for an immediate expansion of same-sex marriage by unexpectedly and tersely turning away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit gay and lesbian unions. The court’s order effectively makes gay marriage legal now in 30 states.

Without comment, the justices brought to an end delays in same-sex marriages in five states- Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin…

Couples in six other states – Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming – should be able to get married in short order. Those states would be bound by the same appellate rulings that were put on hold pending the Supreme Court’s review.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, called on the high court to “finish the job.” Wolfson said the court’s “delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places.”

Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, an opponent of same-sex marriage, said blah, blah, blah!

James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union said he believes the court will quickly take up a case if an appeals court upholds state bans.

It takes just four of the nine justices to vote to hear a case, but it takes a majority of at least five for an eventual ruling. Monday’s opaque order did not indicate how the justices voted on whether to hear the appeals.

Most important, the SCOTUS non-ruling lets all the Circuit rulings overturning homophobic state law stand – and extends it automatically to the other states within each circuit. Otherwise, the Supreme Court is as adept as Congress or the White House at avoiding the demonstration of leadership on any critical question.

We are an obedient nation led by cowards.

Time is running out on Freedom Act — with luck, the phony Patriot Act as well

As the clock ticks down on the 113th Congress, time is running out for the USA Freedom Act, the first legislative attempt at reining in the National Security Agency during the 9/11 era. Unless the Senate passes the stalled bill in the brief session following November’s midterm elections, the NSA will keep all of its existing powers to collect US phone records in bulk, despite support for the bill from the White House, the House of Representatives and, formally, the NSA itself.

But supporters of the Freedom Act are warning that the intelligence agencies and their congressional allies will find the reform bill’s legislative death to be a cold comfort.

On 1 June 2015, Section 215 of the Patriot Act will expire. The loss of Section 215 will deprive the NSA of the legal pretext for its bulk domestic phone records dragnet. But it will cut deeper than that: the Federal Bureau of Investigation will lose its controversial post-9/11 powers to obtain vast amounts of business records relevant to terrorism or espionage investigations. Those are investigative authorities the USA Freedom Act leaves largely untouched.

Section 215’s demise can happen through sheer incompetence, a feature – not a bug – of a House of Representatives controlled by Do-Nothing Republicans.

“Senators obstructing passage of the USA Freedom Act risk losing Section 215 altogether,” Congressman James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican and Freedom Act co-author – Chief NSA butt-kisser

The FBI has for years argued that its Section 215 powers, which permit the bureau to collect “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism or espionage investigation at standards lower than probable cause, are critical for protecting the US against shadowy threats.

If the USA Freedom Act, already criticised as an insufficient reform, cannot be passed, “falling back to the fourth amendment is not a bad outcome,” Democrat Zoe Lofgren said…

Lawyer-think argues the provisions allowing a touch of habeus corpus before the FISA Court, the kangaroo court that pays lip-service to diminishing constitutional rights, will be lost. In practice, they generate nothing more than set decoration for the rule of government police.

Do I hold any hope for papier-mache reform? I doubt even that bit of play-acting will happen until after the mid-term elections. I do not expect any success at returning to standards of constitutional government until and unless a Progressive backbone can be rebuilt inside the Democrat Party. The Republican Party remains as it has since neo-cons took it over in the run for George W Bush’s first campaign. Their amalgamation with America’s racist and reactionary underbelly is complete.