Journalist/developer. Interactive editor @frontlinepbs. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
1622 stories

‘The Tragedy of the American Military’ Remains

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On November 11, known as Remembrance Day through the countries of the British Commonwealth, the public honors those who died in the military service of their nations.

The same date is observed as Armistice Day in France and Belgium, in observance of the armistice ending the “Great War,” the First World War, 101 years ago today.

In the United States, November 11 is Veterans Day, to honor all those who have worn the nation’s uniform. (Memorial Day, in May, is the U.S. counterpart to Britain’s Remembrance Day, to honor those who died in service.)

On this day, most public presentations in the U.S. include the line, “Thank you for your service.” In a long cover story for The Atlantic nearly five years ago, I argued that the real way today’s American public could honor the tiny fraction of its members in military service would be different.

(For perspective on the “tiny fraction”: At the time that I wrote that article, a total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent of the population, had served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once. These days America’s total active-duty forces, in all branches, number less than 1.5 million, or well under one-half of 1 percent of the population. This is a different concept of “the 1 percent” than references to the economic elite.)

The article was called “The Tragedy of the American Military,” and the opening page summarized its argument this way:

The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military except take it seriously. The result is a chickenhawk nation in which careless spending and strategic folly combine to lure America into endless wars it can’t win.

After that article came out, I received thousands of responses from service members or their families, a number of which you’ll see quoted in the posts in this thread. The vast majority were “positive,” in discussing the military’s keen awareness of its status in a “chickenhawk” era—one in which the country was constantly in battles, but only a handful of its people were directly exposed to the costs.

Some circumstances have changed since that time; most have not. The phenomenon of “honoring the troops,” but then skating on to other matters, has, if anything, grown all the stronger over the years.

The article is here.  I hope you will find a chance to read it; if there is further response, I’ll revive this discussion thread.

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8 days ago
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2019 was a rocky year for superheroes — until ‘Watchmen’ raised the bar for the genre

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"Watchmen” and “Joker” illustrate the difference between art that actually challenges its audience and art that simply plays at provocation.
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9 days ago
Boston, MA
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If You Care About Earth, You Should Watch The Expanse

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After a close brush with death before Amazon swooped in to save it, The Expanse is officially back for a fourth season in December. Which means that if you’re not already obsessed with the space opera that blends interplanetary politicking and battles with alien monsters, you’ve got a few months to catch up. But it’s not just science fiction fans who can find a lot to love in this show—so can anyone concerned with the habitability of humanity’s homeworld.

The Expanse is set several centuries from now in a future where humans have spread across the Solar System. It focuses on the crew of the Rocinante, a rag-tag group of former ice haulers who get swept up in the biggest scientific discovery of all time, one that threatens to shift the balance of power between Earth, Mars, and the “Belters” eking out a living on asteroids and the moons of the outer planets. There are cinematic space battles, political intrigues, and Alien-esque horror elements. But in a pop culture landscape seemingly obsessed with superpowered humans and dragon-fueled destruction, the thing that makes the The Expanse truly stand out is how often it gets the science right, including showing how ill-suited bipedal primates are to life in the vacuum of space. And by addressing that reality head on, the show—whether intentionally or not—makes a powerful case for protecting the Earth.

To be sure, there are signs we’ve already screwed Earth up pretty badly. While we don’t get a ton of backstory on how the geopolitical landscape of The Expanse came to be, from the books (co-written by Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey) we know Earth’s 30 billion inhabitants are governed by a muscled-up version of the United Nations which appears to have consolidated power in the wake of some major environmental disasters in the 21st century.

In a poignant shot from the show’s intro, we see that New York City—the seat of this supranational government—is surrounded by a giant seawall, suggesting that catastrophic climate change was one of the history-altering events. And while it’s possible the UN government has the climate situation under control by the events of the show, the planet is still buckling under the burden of its outsized population. Chronic resource scarcity manifests itself both in Earth’s economic structure (a huge percentage of people are jobless, living in overcrowded housing on Basic Assistance from the government) and in the fact that Earthers are deeply reliant on resources extracted from the Belt, fueling a colonialist power dynamic that undergirds much of the show’s drama.

No doubt environmental woes and overcrowding on Earth are one reason people began colonizing space in the first place. And yet, while the culture of the Belt is steeped in ideals of personal liberty and opportunity, these swashbuckling space pioneers face a host of survival challenges of their own that stem from a different environmental issue: Simply put, there is none.

Instead of a planetary environment, Belters have cramped, uncomfortable living spaces inside cargo ships and asteroids. They breathe recycled air, shower in recycled water, and eat endless meals of textured fungal protein. Things that we take for granted on Earth, like fresh produce and abundant oxygen, Belters value more than gold, and they’re often on the verge of running out.

And bare necessities aside, there are the more insidious challenges of spending a lifetime outside of Earth’s gravity well. Belter bodies are stretched and weakened to the point that mere moments on a planet’s surface can be torture, something that U.N. Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala exploits in a memorable scene from the show’s first episode. They’re prone to strange diseases, like the immunodeficiency afflicting some children who’ve grown up on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. While the disease is an invention of the show, the possibility that a lifetime in space will cause our immune systems to go haywire is very real. So is the fact that we’d have to live deep inside rocks like moles to avoid becoming riddled with cancers from all the radiation exposure—and contend with whatever psychological idiosyncrasies, like extreme agoraphobia, such a lifestyle could cause.

By thoughtfully exploring the harsh realities of life in space, The Expanse reminds us that no matter where we go, we remain creatures of the Earth, dependent on a very narrow set of environmental conditions in order to survive. As the series’ multi-generational terraforming project on Mars reveals, those conditions are going to be incredibly hard to replicate. And even future humans’ best attempts to do so, like the farms on Ganymede station, are far more precarious and vulnerable than their Earthly counterparts. That’s not to say Earth’s environment isn’t vulnerable—the very premise of The Expanse tells us that it is, and if you read further along in the books, you’ll see just how much worse we humans can screw it up. But it’s telling that even after several centuries of life in space, Earth is still the only place that truly supports our existence. I suspect that whatever the crew of the Rocinante face in season four when they step foot onto a new alien world will only serve to reinforce that point.

Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons have an alluring beauty in the show. But for soil and seeds, for a protective atmosphere and a (relatively) stable climate, Earth is still home. And since that’s liable to be the case for as long as we’re eating carbon and breathing oxygen, what The Expanse tells me is that we better damn well protect it.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

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14 days ago
Amazon's Expanse Is a Good Lesson in How to Take Care of Earth
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Americans must make following the news and learning facts their patriotic duty

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The impeachment hearings, which that day had offered riveting testimony from diplomat Marie Yovanovitch? He merely shrugged: Didn’t know, didn’t care.

That plenty of Americans share this apathy about what’s happening in their government is appalling, but hardly shocking.

Many clearly do care, as the movement of public opinion favoring impeachment suggests, but there’s a whole category that pollsters and pundits call “low-information voters.”

“You have to go in and really research it,” she said, and she doubted that many people cared enough to do that.

David Roberts, writing in Vox this week, explored “tribal epistemology” — the idea that “what’s good for our tribe” has become more important than facts, evidence, and documentation. He identifies a crisis that “involves Americans’ growing inability, not just to cooperate, but even to learn and know the same things, to have a shared understanding of reality.”

Roberts, the Times article and Florida Man all point to the same thing: A lot of Americans don’t know much and won’t exert themselves beyond their echo chambers to find out.

This is the way a democracy self-destructs.

And what’s more, it’s not that difficult for American citizens to do much, much better.

Granted, the flow of news is unending — exhausting, even. And granted, there’s a lot of disinformation out there.

But apathy — or giving in to confusion — is dangerous.

“I’m terrified that the idea that it is all too much and it is okay to tune out is getting socialized as an acceptable response,” said Dru Menaker, chief operating officer of PEN America, the free-expression advocacy organization.

“Our country is being challenged to its very core, and we have an obligation to pay attention precisely because things are so overwhelming,” she told me by email.

I couldn’t agree more. And it’s not really all that hard to develop some constructive news habits.

It doesn’t take a research project into every claim and counterclaim.

If every American did any two of the following things, the “who knows?” club could be swiftly disbanded.

Subscribe to a national newspaper and go beyond the headlines into the substance of the main articles; subscribe to your local newspaper and read it thoroughly — in print, if possible; watch the top of “PBS NewsHour” every night; watch the first 15 minutes of the half-hour broadcast nightly news; tune in to a public-radio news broadcast; do a simple fact-check search when you hear conflicting claims.

For those who can’t afford to subscribe to newspapers, almost all public libraries can provide access.

“Whatever the president wants us to believe, there are tested and reliable news sources,” Menaker noted. “There are even more firsthand sources than ever where you can judge yourself — links to documents, video clips, hours of televised testimony.”

I would also offer this small list of things to stop doing: Stop getting your news and opinions from social media. Stop watching Fox News, especially the prime-time shows, which are increasingly untethered to reality.

If every American gave 30 minutes a day to an earnest and open-minded effort to stay on top of the news, we might actually find our way out of this crisis.

As Walter Shaub, former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, noted Tuesday on Twitter, it was on Nov. 19, 1863, that President Lincoln challenged his fellow citizens to rise to a “great task.”

Americans must dedicate themselves to ensuring, Lincoln urged in the Gettysburg Address, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

So, too, in this historic moment.

After all, authoritarianism loves nothing more than a know-nothing vacuum: people who throw up their hands and say they can’t tell facts from lies.

And democracy needs news consumers — let’s call them patriotic citizens — who stay informed and act accordingly.

Flag-waving is fine. But truth-seeking is what really matters.

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15 days ago
Boston, MA
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Wildfires threaten Redding homes near dense vegetation. Here's where

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Shawn and Claudia Hazeleur used to feel safe from wildfire because they lived in town.

Wildfires happened “out there” in the forest, but not in Redding where there are sidewalks, streets and backyards, Claudia Hazeleur said.

But last year’s Carr Fire changed all that when it burned into Redding and surrounding communities, destroying 1,614 buildings and killing eight people on its way to burning nearly 230,000 acres.

Since the Carr Fire, Hazeleur and her husband Shawn wonder what will happen if another fire threatens the west side of Redding and their neighborhood. The sense of security is gone.

The canyons surrounding the Hazeleur's home on Blue Bell Drive in southwest Redding are thick with brush and trees and that worries them, Shawn Hazeleur said.

“If any kind of fire starts back there, I think our house would go,” Shawn Hazeleur said. “If it got into the canyon there, I don’t think they could stop it.”

The Hazeleurs' concerns reflect Redding's reality.

Hillsides covered in thick brush surround the city and wind their way through it in wide greenbelts. As the Carr Fire demonstrated, it's that low vegetation that fuels hot, fast-moving fires.

Residents throughout Redding’s north, west and south areas are surrounded by wildfire threats they don’t control — large plots of undeveloped property choked with vegetation that, a new analysis shows, looks very much like the dense brush and dry trees that provided the Carr Fire its fuel. 

Three landowners — the city of Redding, the federal government and the McConnell Foundation — own 22 percent of land in the Redding sphere of influence, according to an exclusive analysis by the Record Searchlight and ENPLAN, a Redding-based firm that specializes in geospatial analysis and environmental planning. 

The city, by far the largest of those landowners with 1,790 acres of open land that isn’t part of its maintained park system or other facilities, is taking a go-slow approach to addressing the issue.

It faces lawsuits in the wake of the Carr Fire, including one class action suit that also names the California Department of Transportation. 

City Manager Barry Tippin, when shown the ENPLAN/Record Searchlight analysis, said it shows nothing new. He suggested the federal land in the county, not the city’s own holdings, should be the focus of concern.

And he offered nothing in the way of new plans to address the 1,790 acres of dense, dry vegetation on the city’s property.

Nonetheless, he did say the fire department is getting a boost with the hiring of 18 more firefighters, 12 of whom will be apprentices assigned to fire-fuels management.

"The definition of management is to the eye of the beholder, but it's natural forestland," Tippin said. "It's a more complex conversation than people make it." 

Dangerous vegetation surrounds the city, 'presents a very high fire hazard'

The partnership between the newspaper and ENPLAN stretched over five months of data analysis and reporting.

Using public records and airborne laser survey data (LiDAR) collected in 2016, ENPLAN created a map of Redding and its immediate surroundings that, for the first time, allows anyone to see the actual patterns of woody vegetation — especially where it’s of low-to-medium height indicating chaparral brush, the fuel of greatest fire risk according to experts. 

LiDAR data applications have been a specialty of ENPLAN since 2004 when the firm collected over 800 square miles of it covering the Shasta-Tehama County region. 

The ENPLAN map, built using the online software platform the company has created, MapPort, combines that information with property lines and ownership, allowing for a clear picture not only of where the hazards exist but who owns that land. 

"What stood out the most is there's so much continuity of vegetation fuel surrounding the city and feeding into the city. That's something very concerning for the future," said geospatial technologist Catalina Llanos, one of the firm’s employees who helped create the map under the direction of Randall Hauser, the firm's CEO. 

Click on the arrows on the blue bar of the map below for more options. The most dangerous vegetation, where it’s medium height and dense, is marked on the map in red. For a breakdown of the data, click here.

Story continues below. If you are on mobile, click here.

Hauser said the map shows how over the past 20 years, subdivisions were built on the west side of Redding along ridge tops, giving many homeowners backyard vistas of the surrounding canyons.

But those canyons also pose a grave threat. Many of them are choked with dense brush that hasn't burned or been thinned in decades, creating a fire hazard, Hauser said.

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt. Nick Wallingford said ENPLAN's map corresponds with the maps his agency produces that warn of fire hazards and it accurately represents vegetation heights, particularly for west Redding.

"Those vegetation heights do correlate to what Cal Fire classifies as a very high-fire hazard severity zone, which is our highest and most severe level of fire hazard severity zone," Wallingford said.

For example, Cal Fire's latest such fire map shows Land Park and Stanford Hills in the thick of the very high-fire severity zone that burned in the Carr Fire. 

"The areas, especially to the north and to the west of Redding, and then to the east have significant, significant fuel loading. That presents a very high fire hazard," Wallingford said.

Unmanaged woodland can fuel wildfires:  This map shows where it is, who owns it

Redding Fire Marshal Craig Wittner said those canyons that appear a deep orange-red on the ENPLAN map are filled with the kind of thick mix of brush, grass and trees that burn the most intensely.

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Because most of Redding proper has not burned in recorded history, unmanaged vegetation in the city built up largely unabated, a dangerous fuel for future wildfires.

'It's just a tinder box': A dozen neighborhoods at high wildfire risk

Those orange-red colored canyons surround subdivisions like Country Heights, White Hawk Estates, Stanford Hills, Land Park and River Ridge Park. At the north end of Redding, the Buckeye district backs up to tracts of undeveloped land on the west.

In all, about a dozen neighborhoods stand out for their high exposure to large tracts of dense vegetation.

Wildfire-risk map: Here's how the project came together

The west side subdivisions are on ridges. Hauser pointed out that fire often burns faster uphill, "putting houses along those ridges at significant risk, especially if vegetative fuel is not cleared back extensively. Embers and fire brands regularly travel half a mile ahead of the fire and houses are about the most flammable fuel in the environment," Hauser said.

Like their neighbors, Tina Maravelias and Mike Rowe bought a house in White Hawk Estates to enjoy the ridge-top view and the lush greenbelt of trees and brush that grow up a steep hillside right up to their backyard fence.

But Rowe and Maravelias said the Carr Fire has made them more aware of how the greenbelt surrounding their home can be dangerous unless it is kept thinned.

The city of Redding sent a crew out over the summer to clear out some of the undergrowth behind the couple's home on Dream Street. But Rowe said the crew left behind the piles of limbs that would become fuel if a fire burned through the area.

The crew also thinned out the undergrowth but left behind the taller gray pines and thick oak trees. Many of those trees were damaged in a historic February snowstorm that left behind broken branches that are now a fire hazard, he said.

He pointed to a gray pine branch hanging dead on a tree, the needles brown and dry.

"Those needles right there, if you just breathed hot air on them they would go up," Rowe said.

Carr Fire recovery: Volunteers plant trees to help Carr Fire restoration efforts

Most of the chaparral vegetation in Redding’s 1,790 acres of land designated as open space (1,430 acres) or unused public land (360 acres)  — where the city prohibits building — shows up on the laser imaging as densely vegetated.

The map's Carr Fire boundary gives a look into how the chaparral vegetation helped form a path of flames that led into Redding's westerly neighborhoods — and how much that vegetation looks like other areas of the city that haven’t yet burned. 

Wittner said the city plans to burn up those piles during the winter.

In 2018 the city of Redding had sent crews out to thin about 150 acres, Wittner said.

Wittner said crews did work on parcels that totaled 150 acres, but not all of that was thinned. Rather the perimeter of the parcels, 100 feet from the property lines, was thinned, he said.

He said the city has about $25,000 a year for thinning, which is used to pay the cost of hiring crews from the Sugar Pine Conservation Camp.

If the city kept up the pace of thinning 150 acres annually, it would take about 12 years to thin the perimeters of all of its 1,790 acres of unmanaged land, by which point vegetation in the perimeters thinned at the beginning of that 12-year period will have substantially regrown and the fuel content re-established.

Wittner said the city isn't attempting to tackle all of its open space holdings. Instead, the city is thinning the first 100 feet from along property lines, he said.

"I don't know what the end result is going to be for the remainder of those untreated fuels," Wittner said.

The city has not received state grants to pay for its thinning projects, limiting the amount of money it can spend on thinning projects, he said. He said the city did not apply for any grants to pay for thinning because the city doesn't have a grant writer.

Many grants require matching funds, which the city may not have, he said

Betty Cochran said she often wonders what would happen if fire broke out in the mass of overgrown brush and trees that line the sides of Teton Drive to her home in White Hawk Estates in southwest Redding.

"We know what fire can do, and it can do more than we think," Cochran said.

Many open spaces around town are now filled with dead and dying trees and brush from the Feb. 13 snowstorm, Tina Maravelias said. The open space along Buenaventura Boulevard is a prime example, she said.

"The snow hit that so hard. Whole trees are just laying there. It's just a tinderbox," she said.

Snowstorms, wildfires leave dead trees in need of clearing

With 2,036 acres, the federal government is the third largest landowner in the city's sphere of influence. Much of that land burned in the Carr Fire.

Large swaths of land along the Sacramento River northwest of Redding is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The rest is under the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM has worked on several hundred acres in the wake of the Carr Fire clearing trails and unstable trees from along trails. The agency then returned to many of those areas after the snowstorm brought more trees to the ground.

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The BLM in Redding recently has been focused on clearing dead and dying trees and brush in the Swasey Recreation Area west of Redding, which also burned in the Carr Fire.

Jeremy Strait, a BLM fire mitigation and education specialist, said the agency's main concern was making the area safe for the hikers and others who use the trails off Swasey Drive.

A secondary concern, he said, was the danger the dead trees and brush posed if another fire burned through the Swasey area.

In 2018 before the Carr Fire, the BLM had at least 600 acres identified for clearing. Even though last summer's blaze burned into some of those projects, work still was needed to clear the scorched vegetation and trees.

The BLM is thinning brush and trees on 276 acres in the Redding area, including 42 acres in the Yankee John Mine area, a 192-acre plot just south of Placer Road in west Redding.

To see which landowners own the largest parcels of unmanaged land, click on the blue sections of the map below

Story continues below. If you are on mobile, click here.

Property-owner McConnell eyes large-scale project to reduce wildfire fuel

One morning in mid-July, homeowner Carl Davis was happy to have a McConnell crew outside weed-eating the straw-brown grass that sits between his home just west of Lake Boulevard and a 77-acre parcel belonging to the foundation.

"They've been good neighbors. McConnell has been vigilant about keeping a fire break between our property and all the other residents here," Davis said. "They've been pretty prompt and outgoing."

The foundation does the fuel-reduction work with its own four-person crew and has three brush- and tree-mulching masticators. Their focus is on McConnell land next to residences and other developed land.

"When I first got here five years ago, I'd lose sleep over the condition of our property," said Alex Carter, McConnell's director of land management.

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"Now I feel actually fairly comfortable," he said. "Our crews have been hard at work pretty consistently."

The foundation is backing a county-wide effort. Earlier this year, it obtained a $12.7 million grant from Cal Fire to help coordinate projects beginning in 2020 at an elevated risk of burning in Shasta County. The works must be done by mid-March 2022.

Crews will work to treat some 2,000 acres of roadside fuel and more than 700 acres of ridgeline. The areas that will be treated are Trinity Mountain Road northwest of Whiskeytown Lake, Keswick, Rock Creek Road and other roads north of Highway 299, and from Swasey Drive to Whiskeytown.

Last summer's Carr Fire burned over much of the property slated to be cleared and thinned. Carter said it's important to go back in and remove the dead trees scorched by the fire and stop the regrowth of fire-prone, invasive vegetation because if left untreated the area could burn even more intensely in the next big fire.

The goal of McConnell's $12.7 million project is to treat the land so when fire happens again there, it will be a lower-intensity burn.

Crews are doing the work in an era when wildfires are burning bigger and the season is longer.

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One year later: Areas scarred by the Carr Fire

Photos and interviews show what has changed and what hasn't one year since the Carr Fire hit the Redding area.

Matt Brannon, Redding Record Searchlight

National Interagency Fire Center figures show the amount of acres that burn has doubled since 1990, and in the Western U.S., the season is nearly three months longer than it was in the 1970s.

For example, last year's Camp Fire and the 2017 North Bay fires that devastated California's wine country happened in November and October, respectively. 

Carter talked about the challenges in these extreme wildfire conditions.

He held up a printed Google Earth image taken in June 2017 — four months before the Tubbs Fire — of the Fountain Grove Club community in Santa Rosa. The homes back up to a well-manicured 18-hole golf course.

Then he shows another Google Earth image of the same neighborhood taken in February 2018, four months after the Tubbs Fire. Vacant lots sit where homes once stood, though green fairways still surround the properties. The homes were among more than 1,500 in the Fountain Grove community destroyed in the Tubbs Fire, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Wind-whipped embers from the Tubbs Fire flew over the golf course, igniting homes in the Fountain Grove neighborhood, Carter said.

A hail of embers also drove much of the destruction in the Carr and Camp fires.

"Even if we get rid of all the fuel, is it going to save these houses in neighborhoods if (residents) don't have their homes 100 percent defensible?" Carter said.

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Too, Carter pointed out that the Carr Fire ripped through acreage burned previously by the Motion Fire in 2008.

"You want to catch the fire at the ridges, you want to catch the fire at the roadway" before it gains more momentum and gets into surrounding neighborhoods, Carter said.

"Both the Carr and Camp fires burned through 2008 burn scars and picked up energy."

While Carter doesn't downplay the importance of managing the more than 4,000 acres the McConnell Foundation owns within the city of Redding's sphere of influence, he said the best use of its resources is to work with other agencies on large-scale fuel reduction projects, or big-landscape strategies, to help reduce the probability of the next high-intensity large-scale wildfire.

"So we're doing what we can on our property," he said. "But if that's the only strategy we deploy in Redding — concentrating on the 100 largest parcels — it might not prevent the next Carr Fire."

Carter acknowledges the Carr Fire was a phenomenon, fueling winds of more than 150 miles per hour, equal to an EF-3 tornado. The plume it spawned was about 40,000 feet in height — cruising altitude for commercial airliners — with a diameter the size of more than three football fields at the base. 

"The Carr Fire happening in the same condition, how effective our work would be, it's unknown," Carter said.

Read more on the impact of the Carr Fire:

Art from the ashes: Local artists made art from the ruins of the Carr Fire

Impacts: Carr, Camp wildfires shift student population at these Shasta County schools

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22 days ago
Boston, MA
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Time to say goodbye? In the wake of the Kincade fire, some in Sonoma County are saying yes

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That’s not how they roll in Ohio, which is one of the reasons the Erwins are loving their new home.

“Every time I go out to dinner,” he said, “I look at the check and think, ‘Where’s the other half?’ ”

“We wish all our friends in Santa Rosa the best,” Erwin said, “and pray the last few months are not the ‘new normal’ for them.”

Choosing ‘positive action’

Carrie Brown is an author, artist, caterer and proprietor of Jimtown Store in the Alexander Valley, renowned for its world-class wines. In the days during and after the Kincade fire, she also was a grief counselor.

“We’ve had people coming in here in tears, people who lost homes, who lost everything,” she said.

While she gets why some people would find themselves wanting to move, Brown isn’t going anywhere. She refuses to accept the current state of affairs as the “new normal.”

“I’m a native Californian,” she said. “I love our state, I love this community, and I’m not giving up. I choose hope. I choose positive action and resistance. This is a call to arms.”

That call, as she hears it, is a summons to ditch PG&E in favor of smaller, community operated, utility-busting microgrids, and to lean more heavily on renewable sources of energy, such as solar.

But that’s a campaign that will take years, if not decades, to play out. Some people can’t wait that long for the situation to improve.

Frances Kern is 81 and in good health. But she found those six days in late October without power “incredibly stressful and exhausting.”

By the end of the most recent PG&E blackout, Kern, who lives in the retirement community of Oakmont Village, said she was down to eating soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She slept poorly, awakened by constant alerts from PG&E and law enforcement agencies.

The annual wildfire drama will result in Californians leaving the state “in droves,” she predicted. Were it not for her age, she said, “I would be among the first to go.”

“Is this the way I want to spend every October,” asked the recently retired John Hirsekorn of Rincon Valley, “wondering if my house is going to burn down?”

“If it continues and PG&E doesn’t get its act together, then, no, I don’t want to do this every year.”

He might consider following the example of Sebastopol’s Rocky Daniels, who coined the term “firebird.” Similar to “snowbirds,” retirees who migrate south from New England to escape cold, firebirds leave the Golden State to escape the flames.

After putting his valuables in storage, said Daniels, in a brief phone interview from Mexico, where he’s spent the past few fire seasons, “you grab the cat and leave the country until November.”

“If you’re retired and don’t want to entirely uproot your life,” he said, “being a firebird makes perfect sense.”

Fires weakening resilience

After his Larkfield-Wikiup house burned in the Tubbs fire, Santa Rosa engineer Francois Piccin became a block captain. He poured his energy into helping his neighbors rebuild.

His focus and optimism went missing as the Kincade fire bore down on his burned lot, threatening to scorch it a second time. Two weeks before the blaze, he’d signed a contract with his builder. As the inferno churned south, “I was really reconsidering,” he said. He shared with his wife, Christine, that he didn’t know if he could feel safe again, in that place.

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22 days ago
Boston, MA
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