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Dr. Kanner Asks: July 3, 2013

By July 3, 2013February 21st, 20202 Comments

Here are two unasked and unanswered questions of the day, actually now for about 2 days.

Egyptian Crisis as of 9:30 a.m.

The generals 47 hours ago gave Morsi 48 hours to meet the demands of the opposition, who have been out in the Cairo streets by the millions. We all heard his defiant speech and the generals’ rejoinder about protecting the country from “terrorists” and “fools.” But I found no reference to any negotiations going on between Morsi and the opposition, nor any commentary about whether anyone even knew whether there were such negotiations, or expected them to occur. I would have thought talking to the opposition might have been central to working toward a political solution.

Isn’t the news reporters’ and commentators’ job to highlight such a major gap even if they can get no direct data on it? I checked the NY Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, TV news and multiple websites. Just seems sloppy to me.

Arizona Fire Tragedy

The fire near Prescott that just killed 19 young men was clearly a terrible loss. Was it also profoundly stupid? Some questions that linger for me:

  • Were there no firebreaks already cut through the forest? I thought firebreaks were routine, carved out by clearing wide paths with large machinery, and designed to contain blazes to a given area and slow down if not prevent spread? I heard no discussion of firebreaks on any network or website.
  • If there were no firebreaks, why not? Economic issues? Sloth? We certainly have firebreaks in New England forests.
  • If firebreaks, done in advance by heavy machinery, were present and failed, or were never installed because they were felt to be ineffective, why in the world would 19 men with shovels be able to clear enough brush and small trees under pressure of time and conflagration to make a whit of difference in the outcome of the fire?
  • In this regard, does anyone really know the effectiveness of such firefighting teams in major conflagrations such as the Prescott fire, which covers roughly an area equal to 4 miles x 4 miles (about 10,000 acres)?
  • Shouldn’t the public discussion of this tragedy include consideration as to whether any such teams should be involved? Looking at the immensity of the blazes, it seems to me a delusion that small teams of men could make any difference.

If you have any information or answers to these questions, please comment. I would love to learn. Or just comment so I feel less idiosyncratic in raising these ignored issues, which seem to me to be obvious and important in each of these cases.


  • Alex Belote says:

    Dr Kanner,

    These are excellent questions and concerns. I would like to try to answer your questions and provide some information on Wildland Fire Fighting.

    I spent 3 seasons on a Hotshot Crew in Alaska, and most recently worked for an environmental non-profit in Massachusetts as a Fire Management Specialist where I worked to reduce the amount of burnable fuels in the forest and create habitat for rare and endangered species.

    There are firebreaks cut through the forests and shrub lands of the country, but these are not designed to stop an oncoming fire. A wildfire under the right conditions will throw firebrands long distances in front of itself and start new fires. These firebrands can travel for miles. The breaks are designed as places for firefighters to try to control the large fires, often by igniting the unburned vegetation between the fire break and the oncoming wildfire.

    The Hotshots are some of the best trained, most physically fit firefighters in the fire service. Like all the other wildland fire personnel they have a relatively low accident rate because of the culture of safety and learning from mistakes.

    Fire crews will engage fires of any size. In difficult terrain heavy machinery cannot remove the fuels and air support can only hope to slow a fire down.

    Here in the east major fires are fewer and farther between, but they do happen. In Plymouth a fire burned 15,000 acres in a single day. In 1947 over 200,000 acres burned across Maine, including about a third of Mount Desert Island.

    The vast majority of fire funding is for suppression and not for prevention. My opinion is that more should be spent on prevention than the current level. More firebreaks, fuel reduction and controlled burning could reduce the scale and intensity of the current wildfires in our country.

    If anyone would like to to learn more about this subject, or if anyone has any questions, I would be happy to answer them.

    Again thank you Dr. Kanner for asking about this.


    • DrKanner says:

      Thanks for the clear explanation of what the fire crews do and why fire breaks are not a sure solution. I also imagine getting bull dozers up steep or rocky hills could be more than a bit of a challenge. Still, of course, amazingly sad that 19 men died. Houses aren’t worth that.

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