Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wildfire news, September 18

FCC fines TV station over wildfire coverage

The Federal Communications Commission upheld a $25,000 fine against KUSI-TV San Diego for failing to provide adequate visual warnings to hearing-impaired viewers during its coverage of California wildfires.

It was running up against a five-year statute of limitations since the incident occurred in October 2003.

In response to a complaint and subsequent investigation, the FCC initially proposed the fines in 2005, but the station challenged it.

"I think the FCC has gone crazy with fines thinking this is their sole purpose in life," station owner Michael McKinnon told B&C at the time, arguing that the station had been understaffed as it was, with one-half of the employees at home trying to save their property, including the general manager, who was on his roof with a hose. "This was a disaster, not an inconvenience.”

"People with hearing disabilities have a right to the same timely emergency information as stations provide to their hearing audiences," then-FCC chairman Michael Powell said at the time. "The commission remains committed to strong enforcement in this critical area.” The Kevin Martin commission agreed.

In releasing the final order for the fine Thursday, the FCC said it was not persuaded by various arguments, including that the station was exercising editorial judgment about what of the emergency information was sufficiently crucial and credible to make visually available given that visuals had more impact and authority than words.

The fine could have been much more. The FCC pointed out that it found 22 separate violations, each potentially warranting an $8,000 base fine, which would have added up to $176,000.

"We determined, however, that a strict application of $8,000 for each of the 22 apparent violations would result in a total proposed forfeiture that is excessive in light of the circumstances presented," the commission's Enforcement Bureau said in the order. "Furthermore, in determining the total number of apparent violations, we took into consideration the circumstances facing KUSI in providing emergency coverage during the wildfires."

McKinnon had not returned a call at press time for his response to the finding.

Oregon: Fire on Mt. Hood comes back to life.

The resources on the Gnarl Ridge fire were downsized to a "smaller Type 3 incident management team" on August 23 after the fire had been knocked down at 516 acres. The August 23 InciWeb update, the last update until Sept. 17, included this:
Recent rains have definitely dampened fire intensity, but down logs and snags continue to hold heat. In the event of an extended drying period, the fire may come back to life.
It did.

The Sept. 17 update:
The Gnarl Ridge Fire was started by lightning on Thursday night, August 7, 2008 and is currently burning on the north flank of Mt. Hood. An incident management team was assigned to the fire and contained the fire to an area within the Mt. Hood Wilderness last August. However, fire officials outlined the need for a fire season ending event of precipitation to totally extinguish the fire.

Three inches of rain, and daily monitoring has occurred since release of the incident management team until 9/16, when unusually hot and dry conditions coupled with a persistent thermal belt during the night caused the fire to make a major run in the early hours of 9/17 shortly after midnight. The fire has threatened Cloud Cap Inn and Tilly Jane. Cloud Cap Inn remains intact. Due to heavy smoke, the condition of structures at Tilly Jane is unknown.

The fire is currently estimated at 2,000 acres. It is burning in mixed conifer stands with significant amounts of dead lodgepole pine and subalpine fir.

Effective at 6 a.m. on Thursday, September 18, the Northwest Oregon Interagency Incident Management team will assume managment of the fire. An Incident Command Post is being established the Hood River County Fairgrounds at Odell, Oregon.
More information from NWCN.com
Crews evacuated people on Mount Hood Wednesday after a fire broke out near Cooper Spur ski area.

An evacuation order was issued for the Gnarl Ridge fire, including the Cooper Spur Ski area and about 60 homes. The fire was also threatening historic buildings at Tilly Jane and Cloud Cap.

Mt. Hood National Forest spokesman Rick Acosta said the fire crossed over Polallie Creek and Elliot Creek, moving North to Northwest. A shelter was set up at the Mt. Hood Town Hall on Highway 35.

Fire coordinators said that blaze made a big run after midnight because of the unusually warm and dry conditions, growing to about 200 acres.

Helicopters and planes were called in, but the planes couldn’t get close enough to do an effective job of dropping retardant.
Photo courtesy of NWCN.com

San Diego City helicopters to fight fire at night for Cal Fire

Leading up to this fire season, the "Superscoopers" are in place, Navy and Marine helicopters are now on board and air tankers are stationed. If all goes according to plan, San Diego County firefighters will have the ability to fight fires from the air at night from virtually anywhere.

Copter One arrived after the Cedar Fire in 2003. Copter Two was a result of the 2007 wildfires.
But within a week or two, there will be a monumental change as to how both could be used.

"This is huge. This is history; this is literally history," said Deputy Chief Brian Fennessy.

San Diego Fire-Rescue crews have been training with night-vision capability for years. What will be history is an agreement that would allow aerial firefighting at night in Cal Fire's jurisdiction.

"This is really setting up a model for the rest of the state. This partnership we have with Cal Fire extends well beyond this agreement. It's a result of the fires we've had over the last five years," said Fennessy.

During the 2007 wildfires, Copter One made water drops day and night, but only within city limits. The agreement changes that, and much more.

"Absolutely; having the ability to stop the threat before it comes into the city is a huge advantage," said pilot Chris Harnett.

While the goggles allow pilots to fly at night, conditions will dictate whether they could drop water.

"Once the 375 gallons is released from the helicopter, the wind will blow it away and it will not hit the target," said Harnett.

Flying lower in high winds raises the risk for aircraft and crew. However, the new agreement at least allows for the possibility. The agreement is scheduled to be signed Monday and go into effect Oct. 1.

The Sheriff's helicopter program is working on procedures to be allowed to do the same thing.

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