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Tahoe Nugget #141

California Ablaze
July 4, 2008

Independence Day is here and many Americans across the country will celebrate the Fourth of July holiday with barbeque and fireworks. And this year, like in years past, Californians will be setting off fireworks purchased legally from vendor stalls located at street corners and in shopping mall parking lots. The sale of these specially designated "safe and sane" fireworks has always seemed risky to me since July through September is prime fire season in the Far West, and especially this year with more than 1,000 wildfires raging up and down the state.

Safe and sane fireworks do not include flying rockets or products like cherry bombs that explode. California is one of 39 states where some form of consumer fireworks is allowed. In most communities, legal pyrotechnics are limited to sparklers, fountains, spinners, smoke bombs and noisemaking devices.

This "safe and sane" policy assumes that people will deploy them in the street in front of their house or on a similar paved area away from dry weeds and brush. In my opinion, that's expecting a lot from celebrants with stockpiled fireworks whose critical thinking processes have been impaired after the second beer. (Fireworks in any form are absolutely prohibited in the Lake Tahoe Basin.)

An unusually potent cold front that swept through the state on June 20, 2008 caused the current fire crisis. The Pacific front dropped little rain, but unleashed nearly 8,000 lightning strikes over the northern part of the state and started more than 800 wildfires. After the driest spring in 150 years, the landscape is tinder dry and ready to burn. Governor Schwazenegger had already declared a statewide drought in early June.

Since the storm blew through, there have been 1,781 wildfires statewide with more than 790 square miles burned so far (nearly 40% the size of Delaware). State highways and local roads are closed throughout California due to wildfire activity and more than 20,000 personnel have been committed to the battle. Despite the scale and number of the conflagrations, only 31 residences have been destroyed so far. Nearly 800 of the current fires are now contained.

Firefighting efforts have cost hundreds of millions of dollars so far and a pall of smoke has covered much of the state for nearly two weeks. Air quality in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys is the worst it's been in more than a decade and health care professionals are reporting waiting rooms full of people with sore throats, itchy eyes and sniffles. Last weekend's Western States Endurance Run, an annual 100-mile, ultra-marathon race over the Sierra, was canceled for the first time in its 35-year history because of the health risks associated with the wildfires.

Photo #1: Safe and Sane fireworks legally sold in Sacramento.
Photo #2: Current map of largest fires in Northern California.
Photo #3: Lake Tahoe smoked out on June 25, 2008.
Photo #4: Westerly winds aloft blow smoke over the Tahoe Basin.
Photo #5: Ready to burn and it's only July.

Nugget #141 A Fireworks vendor

Nugget #141 B Fire Map

Nugget #141 C Tahoe smoked in

Nugget #141 D Smoke Drifting overhead

Nugget #141 E Fire Danger Extreme

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