Jerry Martin: A letter to billionaires
We need your help. There’s a major problem, wildfires, that you can solve. Remember Andrew Carnegie, the wealthy American who gave millions to establish more than 2,000 libraries all over the USA? You, too, could be so legendary and revered.
When combating fires, we humans are good in urban areas but are failing with rural fires. In towns and cities, we have adequate fire stations, all with trained permanent staffs and modern equipment, including trucks capable of delivering large quantities of water from multiple fire hydrants. They are built for speed, understanding that all fires start small and, given time and fuel (mostly buildings and plant life), will grow. In urban areas, we can arrive at new fires soon enough to extinguish fires before they grow out of control. Speed is paramount.
This is not true in rural areas, where wildfires grow large because it takes us too long to arrive and extinguish them. We too often arrive too late by land, allowing fires to spread to a size out of control. Getting there by air is much quicker. Fighting rural wildfires with an aerial force would work, but now we lack an adequate number of firefighting helicopters and planes.
We spend energy with prevention, usually by removing trees near power lines, clearing yards to provide defensible spaces and PG&E shutting off power during times they determine are most susceptible. These are fine, but prevention won’t work with the huge forests we have here. We need to concentrate more efforts on rapidly extinguishing, once fires start. Recent history shows that more fires are likely, given future climate change.
Here’s the physics to a clear solution:
1) Water falls;
2) Every fire can be extinguished, given adequate amount of water;
3) Every wildfire starts small, be it from lightning, a power line or unattended camp fire;
4) Every wild fire will grow in time until all fuel is burnt;
5) The sooner an adequate amount of water is dropped, the easier it will be to extinguish;
6) Water can be delivered through the air much faster than by land.
This is where your generosity is necessary. The largest helicopter today is a Chinook, capable of carrying enormous quantities of water. One used CD47-D Chinook costs between $2 million and $3.5 million. If we had 200 Chinooks strategically placed around California in groups of 10, we could hit any new wildfire quickly and repeatedly with enough water to extinguish it before it grew out of control. Two hundred retired military Chinooks, originally built for warfare but unused now, could be retrofitted to fight fires. They were paid for with our tax dollars, so should be used for a needed purpose now.
Of course there will be other expenses, including equipment maintenance and the hiring, training and housing of pilots, probably retired military.
We have satellites that can detect beginning fires day and night. We have adequate water supplies in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, etc., to supply these Chinooks with water. And we have technology to coordinate copter flights so they could, with practice, drop a large load every 30 seconds after first arriving within 20 minutes after the fire started.
This could begin here in Nevada County. Ten or 20 Chinooks stationed at our local airport could set a prime example which California and other Western states would follow. But it will take the efforts of many of us to persuade the powerful and wealthy to make this happen.
Eventually, possibly by 2025, very large drones capable of delivering large quantities of water can be designed and built. They would be better than Chinooks, not having the smoke and visibility restrictions of pilot operated Chinooks. And night flight would not be a problem.
True, it’s not cheap, but think of future expense of loss of life, forests, homes and buildings if we continue our current firefighting capabilities. Think of the increase of insurance for everyone. How about the loss of forests that absorb CO2 and mitigate climate change? And consider the worry of those of us fortunate enough, so far, to escape total destruction of our lives. We humans are paying a huge price while losing to this continuing and growing cataclysmic threat.
If a billionaire won’t do it, maybe a progressive federal government (Kamala Harris?) would solve this huge and increasing threat.
Please wake up. Together we can solve this massive problem.
Jerry Martin lives in Grass Valley.
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Is that how I wanted to spend my birthday? Yes and no. The original plan was to take a weekend trip to the coast for a few days of relaxation.