Tragedy struck Paradise, California with the most devastating fire in the history of the state. In this tragedy, there is a hopeful note about how government works and works well. In spite of high winds and a five year drought, CalFire was able to move the fire away from people and up into the mountains.
My wife and I were in Paradise the afternoon before the fire started. The name matched the beauty of this small town in the foothills. The morning of the fire, we were on our way south to San Francisco. 60 mile an hour winds pushed the fire out of control before CalFire could get assembled and start working on containing it.
Have you ever wondered how fire fighters attack fires? What strategy and resources they use?
My interest led me to a local writer in Minnesota, Cary Griffith. He wrote a great book about fire fighters called, Gunflint Burning. In 2008 one of the most destructive fires in the history of the state broke out. It raced across the boundary waters next to Canada. Conditions there matched the present-day Paradise, California fire: dry tinder, high winds, and no rain.
Mr. Griffith researched for eight years. He interviewed hundreds of people and reviewed the official logs of the fight. He put together a thrilling book about how fires spread. And more importantly, the humans who risked their lives to fight the fire.
Here are three things that particularly impressed me about Gunflint Burning.
- The intricate planning that state and federal agencies do in preparation for an outbreak. They spend years brainstorming possible scenarios in order to have the resources ready if a fire starts.
- The technology used to fight fires is fascinating. Special cargo planes drop water on the perimeters of a fire. In order to fill-up with water, they simply fly low over open water, like a lake, and scoop up a plane-full. One of the strategies for stopping the advance of a fire is to start a second fire in front of the first one. It’s called a “controlled burn.” When the first fire moves forward, it reaches the burned area, is deprived of new fuel, and stops. In order to start the controlled burns from the air, planes fly over and drop a series of small explosives (about the size of ping pong balls) to start the second fire.
- The cooperation between county, state, and federal agencies to fight the fire is impressive. As the seriousness of a fire increases, more resources are called-up from all over the country. The Paradise, California fire fighters accessed resources from other states already.
Read the book for all these reasons and even one more: At a time when everything and everyone in Washington seems to be incompetent, the Paradise, California fire fighters (and all others) are not. At all levels of government, these people work together, accomplish something important, and make us all proud of how our governments are supposed to run.