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Celebrating Fiascos

Do we fight forest fires with the same, repetitive stupidity we fight wars?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 03, 2013.

So, today is the 150th anniversary of Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was a Confederate disaster, broke the Army of Northern Virginia, which never again was on the offensive in any meaningful sense, and it shattered the aura of Robert Lee for invincibility, both in the North and South. It was a long charge on foot, uphill on open ground, against greater numbers with much artillery. But, very gallant and inspiring, and all that. At the same time, a cavalry battle was fought to the East, all rather pointless. Cavalry could not face infantry anymore, and could only fight other cavalry. But it had always been done, so....do it again.

Failure was an inevitability. Absent divine intervention, there was no way the South could win that war. And like all losers, the South soon found refuge in magical thinking, of a religious nature, and again like all losers, found inspiration in fictional heroes whose exploits were being or soon to be re-enacted by their own soldiers. There is a bizarre tendency in people everywhere to cherish defeats and look upon them as moral victories and something to be not only avenged, but re-enacted in reality to justify the previous loss.

It's not just the military that grows sentimental and masochistic about defeats.

In Arizona this week, 19 Hot Shot firefighters were rapidly vaporized as an immeasurably hot wildfire swept over them, huddled in their ineffective fire repellent body bags. This produced the usual amount of justified praise and sorrow. And since the West seems to be drying up in large measure, we can be looking at many more years of this. I expressed hope in the Daily Camera message board that Boulder, both City and County, was spending time looking at this, because the city has come very close to losing large swaths of houses in recent years with dry fuel to the west and 50 knot winds in supporting roles. Only good luck has prevented here what happened - happened twice - in Colorado Springs, recently the victim of the Black Forest Fire and the loss of 500 plus homes, and this atop the Waldo Canyon lesser horror of the previous year.

In the discussion and the praise for firefighters, someone with the user name BBolder and who was a fire crew vet, posted a somewhat shocking entry. He said that "Slurry bombers, helicopters, and D-7's might be able to control fires, but ground crews cannot." He came to the conclusion that they "...were there for the TV camera's - it was to look like "something was being done", even though ground crews aren't effective in the forest." He didn't think ground crews should be deployed near fire lines in a forest fire, because the 18 inch wide fire line, which apparently is what the crews struggle to provide with their Pulaski tools, is going to have zero effect on stopping crown fires, and puts the crews at great risk.

If indeed that's the training and plan, if makes no sense whatever to put people in soft wood, sap laden forests out west when the wind is blowing and fires catch and burn from the top down in a hurry, setting off the ground fuel behind lines of folks. Killing them rarely but way too often. It was stated so plainly and - if true - so starkly it makes no sense at all to me.

It reminds me of the WTC firemen in 9-11 immortalized running up 100 floors with heavy equipment, yet few even yet realize that there was no point to it at all: the water mains were shattered by the airplanes, and there was no electricity, and what exactly were those heavy hoses and all to do? They were re-enacting the public image of what firemen are supposed to do in circumstances that made no sense whatever. And they had to know it. As stupid as any melodramatic cavalry charge for glory against machine guns.

What exactly were these soon dead heroes to reasonably accomplish with their presence in the existing conditions with the tools they had? Or the ones on Storm King Mountain twenty years back? I'd hate to think we have created this image template of near pointless expensive and dangerous action that must be played out for the same stupid reasons that's led to ridiculous and mortal military fiascos, one of which we celebrate today.

Happy Fourth.