California forest fires

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California forest fires

This October California suffered two major forest fires. The two fires started quite far from each other, but somehow joined together to make one giant fire, which has destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, burned down thousands of homes, and tragically killed a number of people.

It appears from what we read that a hunter inadvertently started one of the fires. Lost and fearing for his life, he set off a flare. The flare unfortunately set his forest on fire.

We have a problem with people burning down large amounts of forest by accident when there were other alternatives available. While we recognize that the fire could just as easily been started by lightning, or, for all we know, by a smoking deer, in this case it wasn’t.

How could this particular fire been avoided? Obviously, an inexpensive handheld GPS system would have allowed him to find his way out. But what if it was a real emergency and he was injured, and couldn’t walk out? In the October 2003 ÆGIS ( we reviewed Personal Locator Beacons, which are GPS-equipped electronic devices that, within about a minute, make it known both that you are in trouble and where you are located. While PLBs are more expensive than flare guns, I’d bet that right about now the man who accidentally set the fire, and who is trying to avoid prosecution, would consider that, had he purchased the world’s most expensive PLB it would have been, in retrospect, a bargain. It also seems likely to us that probably many of the people who died in the forest fire, or whose homes were destroyed, or who simply don’t like seeing hundreds of thousands of acres of charred wasteland, would have cheerfully chipped in to buy him a PLB.

While it is too late in this case, it might not be a bad idea for the California legislature to be looking at PLBs. PLBs cost as much as they do because so few people buy them. If, under the impetus of the California legislature, some incentive was provided for hunters, and others at risk, to provide them – an incentive perhaps aided by other states that have trees, or hikers and boaters and pilots who sometimes need to be rescued – the increased volume of sales would force down the price of PLBs, and future needless accidents would, in fact, be avoided.

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