Saturday, July 31, 2010

Random Green Thoughts

There's plenty of discordant stuff rattling around inside my head this morning.

Fire Season seems to have started in earnest in SoCal.

Last night's BBQ cheeseburgers featured a sublime, organically grown heirloom tomato slice that we both agreed was the season's best to date.

This morning's application of the decidedly not-organic wasp killer to the yellowjacket nest buried in the front yard's landscaping was far from the results stings, no dead nest either...

The Reno Gazette Journal tweeted a Bio-Diesel Explosion and Fire in Sparks, NV

There's more digging to be done out back in the Ancestral Diggins.

Happily, I found a favorite old radio voice is back on the air in Sacramento.

He asked, so I explained corduroy to Brad at the Unemployment Insurance Call Center...and the PDO, La Niña, the Solar Minimum, and I even foolishly ventured a guess as to when this season might start.

Brad said I sound like I studied meteorology in college...nope, I replied...I'm just a weathergeek with a curious mind, and plenty of time to use it as I grind around my mountain laying down acres of corduroy!

And Politics...Summer Recess can't come too soon!

Thank God there's baseball! The Dodgers visit the Giants this come I've got Golf on the brain today?

I don't play golf, I don't watch golf on TV, and I think golf is dangerous to one's mental health. I've lost more friends to golf than to accidents, murder, drug addiction, natural causes, and disease combined. I see it as an insidious addiction...and an expensive time suck.

Golf on TV does have it's uses...turn on golf when you need to get some sleep...safer than sleeping pills...and definitely not habit-forming!

My afternoon errands are finished, so I looked to see if there was any more info on the Sparks Bio-Diesel Fire. Nothing concrete from the Reno media yet. I imagine that there was a spill, and the spill was vaporized enough for flash fire once an ignition source was added.

Lots of people think diesel fuel isn't explosive. That's only relatively true. Relative to gasoline, diesel isn't very explosive, however get your diesel frothed up enough, and mix those vapors with air in the proper mixture, and you've got the recipe for an explosion to rival a gasoline explosion.

I remember an accident over at Squaw Valley several years ago...This groomer was driving a Pisten Bulley with a fuel gauge that didn't work. Now PB's have a big flat utility deck behind the cab and engine cover, and the fuel filler is a big six inch pipe centered in the middle of the deck. The story goes that the groomer opened the door and the filler cap and lit his BIC lighter to look into the fuel filler to see how much fuel he needed. Well, you can imagine his surprise when the diesel fuel vapor, atomized with the air in the nearly empty tank flashed and burned all his facial hair off in a hot second! He probably believed that diesel isn't explosive...I think he knows better now...

What about Bio-Diesel (B-D) you ask? Well, Bio-Diesel isn't all that different from garden variety petro-diesel from a BTU/liter standpoint. The major difference is in it's source (vegetable oils vs petroleum), and it's lubricity.

Lubricity is a measurement of how "slippery" the fuel is. Bio-Diesel is much more slippery than petro-diesel...especially the ultra-low sulfur boutique blends demanded by CARB in California. Fleet operators love B-D because it's high lubricity gives their diesel injection pumps very long service lives, much longer than the petro-diesel does. A happy injection pump makes for a happy, long-lived diesel engine, and happy bean-counters with their eyes on the bottom line. The neat thing is you get the benefit from as little as 5% B-D in the fuel mixture.

Rudolf Diesel's original engine ran on peanut oil. Today's modern, computer controlled diesel engines are very efficient, and have far less soot in their exhaust gasses. Most passenger cars in Europe are diesels today.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Random Thoughts

It was a good streak. The SF Giants baseball club has been on fire. They're proud owners of the best record in Major League Baseball for the month of July.

Rookie phenom, Catcher Buster Posey hit for a 21 game streak that ended Thursday. The rookie streak was second longest in SF Giants' history behind Willy McCovey who hit in 22 games in a row in his rookie year, 1959.

The Giants have been winning by playing great "Small Ball" ...great defense paired with workmanlike, clutch hitting, and just putting the ball in play. There are no Big Sluggers like in the Barry Bonds Era.

It's been the most fun I had watching the Giants since 1962 when the Giants won the pennant in a playoff against the Dodgers and went on to lose the World Series to the New York Yankees. The first time I ever cut classes was to go with my Dad to Game One of that World Series at Candlestick Park. I think I was in 4th Grade.

It was 6-2 Yankees with Whitey Ford pitching for the Yankees, and Billy O'Dell for the Giants. Roger Maris and Willy Mays both got key hits along with Giants' left fielder Felipe Alou. Yankees' 3rd baseman Clete Boyer's 7th inning home run sealed the Giants' fate.

Seven players in that World Series went on to be enshrined in Baseball's Hall of Fame:

3 Yankees: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle.

4 Giants: Willy Mays, Willy McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda

The joy that America's Pastime has brought me has almost outweighed the misery our Ruling Classes in Washington DC and Sacramento have been dishing up of late.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi famously said "we're going to drain the swamp"...yet today, the swamp is deeper, more fetid and smelly than ever. Our Elites are ruling against the will of the People.

I can't bear to enumerate the "long train of abuses and usurpations" today.

I take solace in the fact that the Tea Party Movement polls better today than the Democrats and the Republicans combined!

The Ruling Class has certainly awakened the Grassroots. Clearly we need some Public Servants in the Halls of Power who care more about the Republic than their Parties and their Power. It's past time that we started putting millions of overpaid Civil Servants into unemployment lines, and cut the size of our bureaucracies State and Federal down to a size where they can't suck all the oxygen out of the room ever again.

The trouble we find ourselves in did not happen because there isn't enough regulation of the markets. The heavy hand of Government upset the apple cart, and more government regulation is only exacerbating the current slowdown of the economy. Trillions of dollars are sitting on the sidelines, investors are afraid to venture a penny in this hyper-regulatory anti-business climate.

The rest of the Western Civilization's economies are back on track, ours will further falter when our taxes go up in January, and if President Obama's Gulf Oil Drilling Moratorium goes forward and raises gasoline back to $4/gal or worse.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lightning Fire By The Numbers

Monday Morning
I'm fighting a scratchy throat today, so I'm just takin' it easy...but I spent some time lazing about with the laptop, trying to find some info on a wildfire from 2001.

The 2010 Fire Season's first Sierra Wildfires happened just in time for the Local News to benefit from the story. With Congress nearing their August Recess, Lindsay Lohan off the streets of Tinseltown, and the Gulf Oil Gusher capped, there's room for some Fire Video to fill the void from those missing Soundbites.

Sunday night, KCRA3 TV covered the Sierra wildfires at the top of their newscast. No video, they used their weather map instead to illustrate the wide coverage of the Red Flag Warnings, with the radar and lightning strikes layered on top. Here in the Inland Valley, the Bay Area TV Stations covered the fires too. Covered as an adjunct to their weather segment, I suspect there wasn't any Fire Video available for broadcast yet.

On Monday's Noon Newscasts, the TV stations had the video to fluff up their coverage. It must be a slow news day or something, every NWS website, every Forest Service Fire Info website, and every Wildland Fire website I tried to visit was very slow to load...their servers must be getting hammered with traffic to cause such profound slowdowns. My local Newsweekly, the Sierra Sun was up and at 'em with their fire story, though. The paper had the numbers...63 lightning strikes regionally, 5 working fires, 6129 lightning strikes statewide! And that's just for Sunday!

I spent more than an hour online trying to find a Historical Wildfire Database where I could get the Big Picture Overview of the 2001 Gap Fire. This fire stays front and center in my Wildfire Worldview because I drive by it's remnants whenever I travel between the DaveCave and the Ancestral Digs.

I remember passing by the Gap Fire Helitack Base set up in Boreal's Parking Lot on my way to a remodeling job I did that summer up on Donner Summit. There was quite the assortment of choppers working out of the base, including some "oldies but goodies" that I built plastic models of as a kid but never actually saw in the flesh until then. I searched the web for was a Kaman HH-43 Huskie. It flew for the US Military from the late 50's until the 70's

Thanks to the miracle that is CableTV and the Internet, I watched the 6 O'Clock News on Oakland's KTVU, the Fox Affiliate, and the 6:30 Newscasts on Sacramento's NBC station KCRA3 and Reno's ABC Outlet KOLO Channel 8 Monday evening. They all had video of the firefighting ops, as well as expanded Fire Weather segments.

Our cool regime summer returned to the Inland Valley Monday, along with a serious Delta Breeze. Truckee's afternoon high temperature was 82F...Sacramento at 80F was 9F cooler than Sunday's high, and down in Fairfield, the Delta Breeze kept things cool at only 73F for their afternoon high.

Tuesday Morning
Still with the scratchy throat. No fever (thanks Mom) My curiosity is fine, so I perused the web for the latest fire intel...Reno's AFD has been quite active, they've upgraded the watch to a Red Flag Warning for Tuesday night. More winds and dry lightning, farther North than Monday's action.

Tuesday Afternoon
I've been laying about all day listening to the radio and trying to convince my mother that I don't have West Nile Virus Fever...I don't have a fever! The Congress is still in session back in DC, so I've been keeping an ear to the rail via my Political Twitter feed. The DISCLOSE Act failed to get the cloture vote by only three votes! DISCLOSE is another assault on our 1st Amendment Free Political Speech...another Protect the Incumbents Act. The Sierra Sun tweeted another Fire Story too: "86 lightning strikes in region start 5 fires Sunday, Monday"

These fires have begun to show up on InciWeb the Inter-agency clearing house of fire reports maintained by NIFC the National Inter-agency Fire Center.

There's two fires down south now, the Potato Fire near Bridgeport, and the new one, the Mono Fire in the Inyo NF, 5 miles southeast of Lee Vining near Hwy 395 and Hwy 120

To the North, another new one, the Modoc Lightning Complex is many lightning fires 20 miles southwest of Alturas.

Time for the 6 O'Clock News...hey, I'm startin' to feel like myself again.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More On Fire

Sunday afternoon I watched some Bay Area Local News. KTVU the Fox affiliate, closed their 5PM Newscast with a Sierra Fire Update tease for their 10 O'clock News. After watching my Niche Sports (and MLB baseball) from 9AM until 4PM, I streamed KKOH 780AM to listen to the Kim Komando Show and to hear their Top of the Hour Fire News. At 4PM and again at 5PM they reported 10 fires in the greater Reno area for a combined acreage of 800 acres. Inexplicably, this included the Potato Fire near Bridgeport, far south of metro Reno, closer to Mono Lake.

I guess it's the "Weekend Radio Wasteland Effect" wherein radio stations are minimally staffed, and newspaper web guys are on call and not in touch with what passes for the Newsroom these days. I noticed the effect around 9:30PM when looking around the web for the latest fire news...reports are all over the place now...the Constantia Fire in Lassen County, reported to be 400 acres at noon, was reported to be 1700 acres at 7:30PM Checking with Reno's ABC TV affiliate, they report that down near Bridgeport, the Potato Fire was at 543 acres as of their Sunday 1AM post...Confusion may reign..or not.

I know I'm confused...while surfing for fire news I found a related story: "Official: Nevada wildfires behave differently than 10 years ago" Seven paragraphs in, it was revealed that the Official, "the chief of the US Forest Service" made the remarks back in April addressing a conference of wildfire experts in Reno.

My confusion began Saturday when I read: "no significant trend in Sierra snowfall since 1916" according to Dr John Christy of University of Alabama's Earth System Science Center.

Over the past 25 years, I've spent a fair amount of time out in the Sierra Bush, and I've noted an overall increase in exotic plants (read non-native invasive species), and increased fuel loads. I've heard a lot of belly aching about fuels reduction efforts being thwarted by environmental crusaders, and witnessed forest management "strategies" especially in subdivisions, that increase fuel loading to the ridiculous.

Every year, when Fire Season gets into full swing, invariably I'll see a "Fire Behavior Expert" look into the TV camera and say "We've never seen such extreme fire behavior" Every Fall, I get the feeling that I could set my watch by the fire behavior experts' remarks. I've been boring people in conversation about wildland fire with this nugget for a decade at least.

The Gap Fire was a genuine eye-opener for me, as it burned in two different National Forests...the El Dorado NF, and the Tahoe NF. The different post-fire outcomes were instructive. The El Dorado side of the fire zone was salvage logged quickly after the burn. The Tahoe NF side was never salvage logged, though I'm not sure weather the Salvage Sale was ever offered, or if lawsuits tied the sale up in court. Salvage logging must be done soon after a fire because timber is perishable once it's suffered fire damage. All the burned dead trees still stand on the Tahoe NF acreage of the Gap Fire, but they have a new name on the books...they're Fuel now.

They are unsightly, too. The next time you're headed East on Interstate 80 towards Reno or Truckee, pay attention as you head uphill from Nyack to Immigrant Gap. Look to your right and those dead trees standing tall are from the Gap Fire back in August of 2001. Nine years later they are waiting to become part of the next fire's "Extreme Fire Behavior" When it burns, and the Fire Behavior Expert du jour tells the TV reporter: "we've never seen such extreme fire behavior", I'll think about my watch, and about institutional memory...or maybe institutional blinders...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Crow For Dessert

9PM Saturday
We have family in town little sister K and her husband DW are in town for the weekend. I made K's favorite chicken dish, that became a family favorite after I moved out and started my own life. "Chicken Thing" was a recipe that my cousin's 3rd Grade Teacher made famous in the neighborhood. Chicken dredged in flour and browned and simmered in Dry Marsala with mushrooms, onions and a passel of herbs, served over a rice pilaf.

After dinner, we hurried back into the family room to watch the end of the Giant's/Arizona Diamondbacks game. While dinner was cooking, we watched in horror as a line drive foul ball found it's way into the Giants' dugout, hitting Eugenio Velez in the head. Frustrated that we weren't getting any news once Velez was stretchered away to the hospital, and when there was news, I was busy with dinner preparations and missed the latest update... I grabbed my iPod Touch and fired up Twitter to catch the latest.

That's when I saw @RGJ tweet: "Severe Thunderstorm Warning issued" After the game, I headed for the internet and found the news..."Lightning Strikes Lead to Numerous Brush fires"

So, I'm Eating Crow for dessert instead of my Peach much for my "Low Fuel Moisture" opinion.

Fires near Verdi, Boomtown, Silver Springs, and a 25 acre fire near Hallelujah Junction round out the Reno Area fires. To the South, near Bridgeport, 350 acres are burning away from town. To the North, 200 acres and two structures burned in Lassen County. A busy night ahead for the Sierra Front Firefighters.

I looked at my Twitter feed again, and there's good news from Phoenix! SF Giants' utility player, Eugenio Velez' CT scan was negative, he's in good condition with a concussion, and will spend the night in the hospital for observation. Good news indeed.

Next, I reviewed the latest AFD from Reno's NWS Office, and we're in for another bumpy night Sunday evening...their Red Flag Watch has been upgraded to a Warning, and they discussed Dry Lightning and gusty winds associated with the thunderstorms. My crow is looking well done.

Saturday 11:05PM
The 11O'clock News from Reno's KKOH 780AM said the fire near Verdi was 10 acres. The KCRA3 TV News had webcam video of the thunderstorms forming over Lake Tahoe and scudding north towards Verdi, Red Rock, and Hallelujah Junction.

KCRA cut from the video to their Weekend WeatherDude, who cited Sunday and Monday's Red Flag Warnings. I'm getting tired of Crow already...