ROSE (roz) n. One of the most beautiful of all flowers, a symbol of fragrance and loveliness. Often given as a sign of appreciation.
RASPBERRY (raz’ber’e) n. A sharp, scornful comment, criticism or rebuke; a derisive, splatting noise, often called the Bronx cheer.
We hereby deliver:
• RASPBERRIES to state legislators and Gov. Kate Brown, for muffing what looked like a relatively easy opportunity to show leadership on the issue of wildfires.
As the Medford Mail Tribune recently reported, the Legislature was considering a proposal to allocate $6.8 million to thin forests around communities in Jackson County. You might recall that southern Oregon has been particularly hard hit in recent summers by wildfire and last year was particularly brutal, with communities like Ashland and Medford suffering through weeks after weeks of smoky conditions — conditions that had real implications for the region's economy and the health of its residents.
Rep. Pam Marsh, a Democrat from Ashland, was spearheading the proposal to allocate the money for forest-thinning work — work that might, over the long run, help prevent fires from turning into the destructive infernos that we've seen throughout the West in recent years (and will continue to see in the future). Marsh's proposal enjoyed bipartisan support from other legislators from southern Oregon, including Rep. Kim Wallan, a Republican from Medford.
It could be that part of the reason why Marsh's proposal didn't pass the Legislature was that lawmakers wanted to wait to see what kind of recommendations come from the governor's recently convened Council on Wildfire Response. Now, it's possible that the council will come up with worthwhile recommendations — but even if it does, we won't see those until the fall, too late to make much difference in this summer's fire season. It also could be that lawmakers contented themselves with a 12.7% increase in the budget for the state Department of Forestry, but that money (welcome as it is) likely will be spent on fire suppression.
But Wallan hinted at another possible reason, saying that lawmakers from the northern part of the state don't understand how wildfires can wreak havoc throughout the state. Have they forgotten the Columbia Gorge fire so soon?
Speaking of fire season:
• ROSES to the cooler temperatures and even occasional rain that have marked the mid-valley's summer thus far. The potential downside here is that these conditions could prompt unusually lush growth among the grasses that sometimes provide fuel for fires, especially after they dry out. In the meantime, though, enjoy these mellow summer nights.
One more fire-related note:
• ROSES to Pacific Power, for announcing in advance its plans to potentially shut down power lines in fire-prone areas if conditions require that this summer. The utility made the announcement months after authorities said a power line caused the deadly Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, California. The owner of that power line, PG&E, apparently delayed maintenance on the line and now faces bankruptcy. (Interestingly, PG&E planned to shut down the power line before the fire, but customers objected to losing electricity.)
The Mail Tribune reported that Pacific Power officials apparently have learned from that horrifying example, and have gone to lengths to explain their plans in the event a shutdown becomes necessary.
• ROSES to the return of da Vinci Days this weekend in Corvallis. We love seeing those human-powered vehicles (they go by the official handle of kinetic sculptures) wending through the city's streets — and it's always fun watching them face off against the tests that the organizers of the Graand Kinetic Challenge have planned for them, including the dreaded mug bog Sunday morning.
Organizers have worked hard over the last few years to reinvent the festival, which was suffering from chronic budget woes. They've gone back to the festival's origins by trying to emphasize the fascinating intersection between the arts and the sciences. Let's hope this year's festival marks another step forward in its reinvention.
• RASPBERRIES to the Gazette-Times, for some artless phrasing of a Raspberry last week about the apparent demise of Mad magazine. We noted that the target audience for the magazine appeared to be middle-school boys. While we think that's true, we never meant to suggest that girls didn't read the magazine — and we heard from some female readers who told us how much they loved the magazine as they grew up. We should have found a different way to phrase this point, but our conclusion to that item sadly remains true: The world is a little less funny without Mad magazine. (mm)
Power lines and wildfires
A version of the following editorial, on electric utilities planning shut-offs to reduce wildfire risks, ran June 26 in the Medford Mail Tribune.
Pacific Power is doing the right thing by announcing in advance that it may shut off electricity in fire-prone areas if conditions warrant this summer. The company's plans are reasonable, and it is making every effort to limit inconvenience to customers.
A power line was the cause of the Camp Fire last year that killed more than 80 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, California. PG&E, the utility responsible for that line, now faces bankruptcy and billions of dollars in damages.
After the fact, a newspaper investigation found the company had delayed a safety overhaul of the century-old line. Also, PG&E had planned to shut off the line before the Camp Fire erupted, but customers objected to losing power.
Pacific Power has taken that lesson to heart, and is explaining its plans now in detail, so customers are prepared should it become necessary to interrupt power. That would likely happen during drought conditions if high winds threaten to blow trees and other debris into power lines.
Shutting off power would be a last resort, and power company officials say data from the past decade showed conditions would have prompted only one shut-off for about one hour. Shut-offs ideally would be announced 72 hours in advance.
If shut-offs do occur, the company will offer air-conditioned tents for residents who must leave their homes during a power outage.
Pacific Power's regional business manager told the Mail Tribune the company has a strong maintenance program. The company is also increasing its efforts to clear vegetation from around power lines and poles and ramping up inspections.
None of these measures will prevent fires igniting for other reasons. Lightning remains the biggest risk factor, along with human causes such as carelessness in dry forests and sparks from vehicles.
But planning to shut off power at the right time will remove one potential ignition source, helping keep residents as safe as possible in high fire risk areas. Rural residents should be prepared, and sign up for the county's emergency citizen notification system on the county's website.