The Epistle of Q — Chapter 123

Not again…ready for another rant?

Last evening some neighbours and I engaged in a conversation around the inadequacies of today’s news media. It started with reaction to a comment that Andrew Scheer made to a CBC interviewer who was asking why the Conservatives weren’t doing more to publicize the black woman running for leader. Andrew’s comeback was the talking point because he returned the question and asked why the CBC and other mainstream media were spending more time on Ms. Harris (the USA Democratic nominee for Vice-President) than on Ms. Lewis. The interviewer immediately went to another topic. We decided that this is in part due to the lack of in-depth inquisitive capacity of many in the media today. Laziness has crept into the profession such that observational reporting has replaced investigative journalism.

Let me give you an example: one of my grandson’s has just entered the Cronkite School of Broadcasting at Arizona State University. This kid is a walking encyclopaedia of sports information, particularly hockey. Last winter he was given an special internship while in high school with the local NHL broadcaster (Arizona Coyotes). Among the tasks was one whereby he had to interview a NHL Player – one of his first questions: When did you know that you were really capable of being a professional hockey player? The player in question was caught off-guard and said: Wow, that is the best question I’ve ever faced and then got into an interesting conversation on how he perceived himself developing as a hockey player. After the interview was aired, the network play-by-play guy said to my grandson: Keep it up and you’ll have my job sooner than I’d like; that was deep! He was not content to simply ask to usual pedantic stuff; he wanted to know things to help the viewer understand the player and the game.

Now I am doubtless partial towards my grandkids; after all, they are my only real hope for a productive society to overcome all the stuff & spending we are doing these days. But let me link this to this week in the Okanagan. On Tuesday as you already know, a major forest fire broke out southeast of Penticton. It quickly became a threat to Heritage Hills, a high-end community of homes along Skaha Lake (in fact, eventually one home was lost) – an actual evacuation order was issued. There was a great deal of smoke, a good number of hot spots and the bombers were in the air quickly. Wednesday morning I cycled into the mountains north of town so that on my return ride I would be able to see what was happening on the fire front. As I came back I could see that the winds had shifted and the fire was being blown back in on itself. Moreover, instead of billowing smoke, it was wisping more or less upwards and then dissipating both to the east and the south. As I came into the canyon I was stopped and told our neighbourhood was under an evacuation alert. I was stunned. Why? There were two canyons between the fire and me and the fire was moving southward.

I began to keep more serious tabs on the various news feeds and every reporter said this was a seriously dangerous situation. By Thursday morning, even though the winds were pushing things more southerly, there was no let-up in the alert and the weather was predicted to see major shift in the winds and they would be coming from the south and with gusts to over 60 km/hr. The media picked up on this and made it sound like Penticton was about to undergo an experience like Fort McMurray. By this time most of my neighbours were packing their vehicles and plotting their escape or had already gone to friends on the other side of the river (and thus the valley) to stay. Most looked at me with a mixture of sadness and disbelief as I was doing neither except to say I knew where my passport was and should a real (i.e. serious) alert be issued, I would save my scotch, some fine wines and my kilt along with my computer and simply go up to the ski hill condo we share with friends.

Friday came and the winds came up. I knew that sparks could be carried some distance and since the yard is covered in mulch, perhaps I (like a couple of neighbours) should soak it – and I did, twice. As for the Wildfire Service, they had brought in many fire departments from throughout the province and were deploying them to wet down the neighbourhoods that they saw as being in need of protection. Good move.

So why am I annoyed? This was the first obvious move by people in the know to lay out a real alert (there had not been anything issued on our cell phones at any time). Moreover, they came no where near our canyon – in fact they were on the south side of the next canyon over. And even then they were simply notifying those people to be ready and not to panic because they (the fire crews) were laying down protective systems (watering grounds & bushes, installing temporary sprinkler systems, etc.). How do I know all this? The print media finally covered it on Saturday. Even then the tv/internet media were trying to describe the fire as being a major issue when they couldn’t even show major hotspots on the screen at night.

Here’s the problem: a good reporter on Wednesday should have been asking what the differences are between coastal forest fires, northern Alberta/BC forest fires and southern interior forest fires. They would have then learned that because of the sparseness of the trees, interior fires tend to explode many of the trees, leaving others untouched. Furthermore these fires often burn rapidly moving from crown-to-crown (top of the trees) in an incomplete fashion leaving considerable fuels behind should the winds reverse the direction. Thus a spot on fire on one day, then somewhat calmer the next, can re-ignite as the fire is pushed back. So frequent bursts of flame or the reappearance of fire doesn’t mean the fire is getting worse, it could mean it is simply burning up more of the forest within the fire’s perimeters.

Secondly, with the world already in a panic over the covid-19 pandemic, it would behoove both the media and local politicians to tone down the rhetoric and keep the focus on the probable more than the possible. A good reporter after learning about the differences in forests and their fires, could then explore what the difference is between an evacuation order & an evacuation alert and an fire information type warning. The reporter might then have combined this new insight into a report that would have validated the evacuation of the Heritage Hills area and then indicated the alert should be just for the areas where the fire crews actually would be going to set up potential protection procedures and practices. The rest of people in the possible path of the fire (should a wide variety of factors come into play) would only need to keep their radios or tv’s, or computers on as announcements would be made in plenty of time for them to start acting. Suddenly the world would be a little less panicked and those in need of serious attention would realize they need to be focussed.

The Wildfire Service is already sending home today a number of the units that were called in from throughout the province. The Wildfire specialists know what they are dealing with, and they have pretty well from the beginning. However sloppy media coverage during this time panicked a large number of people who have done a great deal of needless packing and even more needless worrying. One-third of Penticton is over 65 – many of these are unnecessarily spooked by Covid-19 management and now are even more uncertain and uneasy. Media need to get their act together and start learning and investigating instead of simply observing and surmising. Why? If for no other reason than reducing heart attacks, high blood pressures and too frequent calling wolf (and I hope I don’t have to explain this reference).

In case you’re wondering, skies are blue, bombers are parked, helicopters are doing occasional sorties to drop water on troublesome hotspots, and many embarrassed and questioning folk are unpacking their cars, RV’s and what-have-you… others are simply asking their doctors to increase their heart medicine or for extra valium. As for me, well I still had retained enough strength to type this out…

have a good day, stay happy…

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