Sunday, February 22, 2009

National Day of Mourning - 2009 Victorian bushfires

Today, February 22nd, has been declared a national day of mourning in Australia due to the 2009 Victorian bushfires. 210 people dead, 1900 homes burned to the ground, 7,500 people homeless and hundreds of thousands of acres burned.
In the midst of a long warming trend coupled with drought conditions the weather took a turn for the worse with hotter than normal temperatures and windy conditions. Both natural fire starts and arsonists caused ignitions and the situation soon exceeded the capacity for firefighters & other emergency responders to control. The results are disastrous.
Fire threatening houses west of Bendigo Australia.

While there are still many details from Australia's worst fires on record to come in I reflect on the times in NE Washington when the conditions line up against us firefighters. Exceptionally hot summer days, with high winds and unstable atmospheric conditions forcasted. It is under those conditions we have seen fires like Hangman Hills, Castle Rock & Rockey Hull fire ravage our area. Another, Fire Storm '91 spread across NE WA with 92 fires ignited in a single, dry afternoon when winds hit 50+mph. 911 Centers were getting a call every 60 seconds. More than 3,000 calls came into the centers overwhelming them all. Alarms were dispatched in "triage" fashion with only life-threatening or structure threatening fires receiving resources reassigned from other incidents or fires. One hundred and fourteen homes were destroyed that afternoon and one fatality occurred. Some people would say "we were lucky". But from the trenches, I'll tell you this, which I know to be true - each fireline that holds, each engine company that accomplishes it's mission, each air drop hitting it's target and every hot, gritty, shovel full of dirt a firefighter uses to knock down a small bite of flames is the foundation of that "luck". These are the reasons firefighters are dedicated to training, committed to responding and willing to go the extra mile when the situation gets so bad that others flee to save their own lives. While I am deeply proud to be a member of the world-wide firefighting community, my hard-hat is off to the firefighters and citizens of Australia in this dark & painful hour.
Photo above of Australian homes threatened - photographer unknown. All the rest of the following photographs are from my personal collection.
A forest fire rapidly spreading through mixed pine & fir timber stand. This is what we refer to as a fire "going vertical" where it spread into the forest canopy.
A very intense forest fire threatening trees in northeastern Washington state. Available fuel on the ground combined with brush below the timber allows
large amounts of heat to develop during dry conditions.

Resulting fires can be difficult to contain and do significant damage to forest, soils and homes within it's path.

As the main fire grows in intensity & size burning embers carried aloft and landing in front of the main blaze start new spotfires. If not controlled these spotfires multiply the problem of containment, increase the fire size and result in very difficult problems for firefighters.
To see actual images of the 2009 Victorian bushfires
Australian Red Cross
For info on FIRESTORM '91

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hillbillies in Javaland

This is a long winter in the Pacific NW. And here, in NE Washington, it feels even longer. So it was with pleasant anticipation we recently packed our bags for a westbound trip over the Cascade Mountains and onto the snowless, coastal plains to visit the village of Seattle. Okay, I’ll concede that for the most part Seattle, with over 582,000 folks, passed the village mark sometime ago. Still there are village like qualities to Washington’s most populace city.

While we may think of the founding of Seattle as the the arrival of the Denny Party in 1851 the area has been inhabited since the end of the last glacial period approximately 8,000 years ago. When nautical explorers first arrived the indigenous peoples now called the Duwamish Tribe were living in several villages scattered over the coastal plains where Seattle is located. There is a very active native culture the current mosaic of peoples in Seattle.
One of the things making this trip to the coast special is that a friend arranged for Catherine, Clementine & I to spend our week in residence at a downtown condo located on Alaskan Way overlooking Elliot Bay. As sailors this was a near perfect match of shore-side accommodations with fantastic access to the waterfront.
This sailboat fetching the downtown marina photo is from the balcony of our cozy condo.
Seattle is a unique community. Here are some interesting facts about the Emerald City...
Seattle is ranked the most literate city by Central Conn. State Univ. Everybody reads here. The Seattle Public Library system has the highest percentage of library card-holders per capita in the country.

Seattle was the first American city to put police on bicycles. Seattle has the highest percentage of people riding bikes to work compared to other US cities its size.

In 1961, the restaurant atop the
Space Needle became the country's first revolving eatery.

Seattle's total land area? 53,718 acres of which 6,189 acres are parks and open areas. That's 11.52%! The
parks in Seattle rock. The Port of Seattle parks in town are hidden gems awaiting discovery.

And last but not least...
The Farmer's Market at Pike Place Market is the longest continuously operating farmer's market in the US (1907). So speaking of the Pike Place Market...
My first visit to the market was in 1969, not long after my arrival in Washington State. What a delightful experience the Market was then and remains so now. The market is a destination unto itself. And our temporary abode was just four flights of outdoor stairs below the market. It was a fun experience hiking up to this unique landmark each day.
Pike Place Market overlooks the waterfront in downtown Seattle. Its a place of business for many small farmers, merchants, craft folks, street musicians and peddlers. Also known as the Public Market it remains one of Seattle's most popular destinations and sees 10 million visitors annually.
Built on the edge of a steep hill the Market consists of multiple levels located below the main street entrance. Each layer features a variety of unique shops and stalls. Antique dealers, family-owned cafes, pubs & restaurants and vendors of the unusual and sometimes arcane give a somewhat third world feel to this unique market.
One of our day visits to the Market was on a cold & blustery late January afternoon. It was fun to lose ourselves in the multi-layered depths of the Market and explore the unexpected shops we discovered. The pungent aromas of an Asian food noodle stand; the rich, visual treats of an African gift shop; the thick smell of fresh tobacco at a Middle Eastern vendors stall. At one point I was walking behind the girls on a lower level of the Market, passing an older Asian man I noted a distinct smell of spiced tea. I stopped and looked at the small cup held cradled in his hands while he savored the heat and nectar. He smiled and nodded to a near by tea shop. Soon all of my party shared in the sweet, hot spiced tea. Here is a nearly below ground musicial instrument vendor who encourages people to stop in and play the instruments, which are for sale.
Our visit to Seattle was not limited to the Market, but it looks like this blog posting will be. We took in the Travel Show where Catherine & Clementine staffed a booth for Stonerose; the Boat Show where we met a good friend and enjoyed touring several million dollar vessels; a fantastic Italian dinner Buca di Beppo restaurant (thank you Bret!); a dinner in Chinatown on the Chinese New Year; fresh seafood in many other venues; an intimate jazz cafe; coffee, coffee, coffee... and much more.
Seattle, a unique village in an unusual area with so many interesting points of note. We look forward to our next visit.
The above "Pepper Vendor" photograph by Catherine Brown all others by yours truly...

Seattle Facts
History of Seattle

Buca di Beppo Italian restaurant