Well dear readers, I set out to put together my Wildfire Toolbox on Saturday, and despite my best intentions I got sidetracked listening to the radio traffic from the Robbers Fire over the internet. I'd totally forgotten that almost all Public Service radio services are now streamed online somewhere!
So bear with me, I'll get her done before Fire Season ends!
By all early indications, Fire Season 2012 is gonna be a rough one. Two seasons ago I wrote about Wet Winters and Summer Fire Seasons: "Monday Extra: Fire Weather Redux". With last Winter's wimpy water production, we're surely looking at the flip side of the fire season coin.
We certainly seem to be coming into the meat of fire season earlier that usual...though it could be that in the Twitter Age more news reaches us faster depending on our interests and how well tailored one's Twitter "follow list" is. Still there's an awful lot of fires in California and The West right now. I've already heard the "extreme fire behavior" meme from the fires near Reno, NV and from the Waldo Canyon Fire outside of Colorado Springs, CO
So what's the best way to keep abreast of Fire News and information in your area? In a word, Radio. I've been a radio junkie since I can remember. Born in the early 50s, radio was my information superhighway growing up. My love of baseball can be tied directly to radio, because in those days one listened to the game...televised baseball was rare until World Series time.
Growing up a San Francisco Giants fan I was blessed to listen to the best announcing team in the business, Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons. Does "Tell it Bye Bye Baby!" ring a bell? That was Russ Hodges' signature home run call. "The Shot Heard 'Round The World" was Hodges' call too. It's the October 3, 1951 tie-breaker game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. When Giants' outfielder Bobby Thompson hit a three run walk off homer to beat the Dodgers, Hodges screamed "The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant,..."
Broadcast Radio AM/FM: That's radio to most people, or music radio. AM News radio is the easiest place to start your search for meaningful Fire News. Most News/Talk Stations will go wall to wall fire coverage if there's a fire in their service area. Most stations have a website where you can stream their signal. This is really handy if you want to keep tabs on a fire near distant friends and family. An internet search with the Town's name and Radio in the search field will yield results a-plenty. Notice I didn't say "Google It"...Ixquick It, I say!
Ixquick is like Google in that it's a metasearch engine just like Google, but Ixquick doesn't record your IP Address which saves on future popup clutter, and your cookie counts.
Television: I spent more time than I'd like to admit watching the Waldo Canyon Fire online when Colorado Springs was in danger. Same search strategy...Town and TV. Two Colorado Springs TV Stations streamed LIVE around the clock during the worst part of the firestorm. When things calmed down enough for evacuees to begin returning to their homes, the stations continued with the LIVE online streaming after they returned to "regular programing" on the air.
NOAA Weather Radio: The National Weather Service broadcasts 24/7 over VHF radio stations. Forecasts, local observations and warnings are all on the menu. Small inexpensive receivers are available. The 2-way radios in my snowcat has a dedicated channel to listen to NOAA Weather Radio. Each station across the country is linked to the nearest NWS Forecast Office. On My Mountain, the service is priceless during big storm periods.
When there's Fire Weather, the WX Radio will let you know. If there's an active fire in the area, fire info may be broadcast as well. (WX is a radio abbreviation for weather)
There's a whole "Other World" of radio out there. We're talking 2-way radio. Everyone's heard of "Ham Radio" Ham is sorta short for Amateur Radio. Hobbyists around the world play with radios and related technology. In America Ham Radio is making a comeback now that the Morse Code Requirements have been eliminated.
Business Radio: On My Mountain 2-way radio is essential. Each groomer has a multi-channel 2-way radio, all the management carry handi-talkies, ski patrollers all carry 2-ways, and most departments have a base station radio at their HQ. Every ski resort works this way.
Public Safety Radio: Police, Sheriffs, CHP, College Police Depts and Fire Departments all use 2-way radios. CalFire, US Forest Service, Municipal FDs and even Volunteer FDs are all on the air.
Scanner Radios: So how do you listen to the Firefighting Agencies and the Law Enforcement radios? Get yourself a Police Scanner! These radios scan banks of preset frequencies that you key into the radio's memory. The scanner runs through the freq. list over and over until it finds an active signal and stops to monitor the signal until the traffic ends..then it resumes scanning. If you don't know what freqs to monitor, scanners also have a search scan function to help you find the active freqs in your area.
Scanners are handy in Wintertime when you live in snow country too. I monitor CalTrans snowplows, Truckee Police, Town of Truckee snow removal, CHP, local ski resorts and Search and Rescue during storm periods.
Scanners come in handheld, mobile and base station configurations. I have a handheld, and I bring it along when I go out to the Reno Air Races, or the racetrack to listen to the drivers talk to their crews. A scanner really adds texture to the action, and there are vendors at most big-time motorsports events where you can rent a pre-programed scanner for the day or weekend. Vendors usually offer a print out of all the weekend team/car freqs for free.
There's much more on scanner radios at DXing.com They cost anywhere from $50 to $5000 depending on how many bells and whistles you're willing to pay for. I have an AOR AR-2700 that I bought new in 1996. I'm sure it didn't cost much more than $100. I have a power supply that it mounts on at the DaveCave so it's like a base station. I have a nice discone antenna on a mast that plugs into the scanner when you take the "rubber duckie" antenna off. I monitored the Russian MIR space station on the 2 Meter Ham Band with this setup.
If you're unlucky enough to have a fire chase you from your home, the handheld scanner would be worth it's weight in gold. If you don't want another noisy gadget in the house, you can listen to scanner traffic on the internet.
Internet scanning will kick off the next installment of the CorduroyPlanet Wildfire Toolbox