Beat Guide for Wildfire Coverage
With massive droughts set to roll across the United States after unseasonally dry winters, IRE and NICAR have compiled resources including stories and tipsheets to aid journalists covering related issues.
After Disaster Strikes: Be A Recovery Watchdog
Cervantes details how the Union-Tribune covered the wildfires that ravaged San Diego in October 2007. The city and county governments offered "free" demolition and debris removal for destroyed properties. "We got a tip contractors were charging outrageous rates, so we decided to investigate and analyze the public records and data to see what was being done with taxpayer money."
Tracking a Wildfire
The authors discuss how to quickly build maps that will enhance coverage of wild fires. They discuss where to find shapefiles of the affected areas and how to acquire incident command structure reports which include valuable information about how fires were started and fought. The authors then describe how to use those two pieces of data (shapefiles and ICS reports) to create a time line of the fire. The tipsheet ends with a list of other resources that might be useful for reporters covering fires.
The author discusses how to prepare for covering wildfires. She lists websites to visit before fire season starts, in order to know what resources are available for covering the disasters in your area. Some of the websites include the National Interagency Fire Center, and the Wildland Fire Assessment Program.
Wildfires Tip Sheet
Watson compiled a list of online resources for the reporter covering wildfires. His websites included those who offer mapping and photographs, private companies who work with fire authorities, drought analysis information, the California Forestry and Fire Protection site, and tracking contributions.
Tons of Questions
After wildfires destroyed 365 homes in San Diego, the city rushed to enter contracts with two companies to haul away mounds of potentially toxic debris. The Union-Tribune investigated and found that the contractors, A.J. Diani Construction C. of Santa Maria and Watsonville-based Granite Construction Co., claimed to haul far more rubble than privately hired companies did from comparable lots, failed to provide accurate documentation of how many tons they removed and billed the city millions more than stated in their contracts.
Wildfires' Echoes: Developing in the Danger Zone
The authors looked at where new single-family home building permits were issued in the wake of the 2003 wildfires in San Bernadino and Riverside counties. The investigation revealed that several thousand permits were issued in areas considered a high fire threat.
'Red Zone' Residents Feel Heat
Wildfires in Colorado are posing a larger threat to people in recent years. In the 1990s, so many people moved into the dense forests of the state that it now holds almost 1 million people. The amount of people in this dangerous region makes it more difficult for fire fighters to do their job.
A CBS News investigation discovers that "the US Forest Service had consistently ignored calls to revamp its standard-issue fire shelter," which had contributed to the deaths of several fire-fighters in recent years. The story reports on the efforts of a fire shelter designer, whose brother firefighter died inside a shelter, to convince the federal authorities to try out a new superior shelter. A major finding is that one of the deceased firefighters from the 2001 Thirty Mile Fire in Washington state died from inhaling fumes produced in result of the melting of the interior of the fire shelter.
Thirty Mile Fire
Seattle Times investigates the death of four firefighters who "were trapped by wildfire in a pinched valley in north-central Washington State" on July 10, 2001. The series reveals that "despite obvious evidence of danger, front-line bosses misjudged the explosive conditions present that day ... [and] pushed firefighters to battle a blaze even though the fire threatened no homes or businesses." Numerous safety rules were ignored, and officials knew that firefighter fatalities follow a pattern, the Times reports. The main finding is that "a fire-fighting culture in which extinguishing fires - not safety - remains the top priority."