Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fire and Water: 2 Stories

Water
As global warming erodes their world, the residents of Kivalina battle the elements — and now one another.


By Alan Zarembo
Los Angeles Times
KIVALINA, Alaska — Beneath a moonlit Arctic sky, Joe Swan Jr. and most of his 12-person crew were taking a cigarette break when a dump truck arrived and emptied another load of black sand at their feet.

The backhoe driver, who happened to be his wife, gunned the engine, spewing a diesel haze into the air as she dug into the pile and filled another 2,500-pound sandbag for the sea wall shielding the island from the Chukchi Sea.

The crew has been repairing the $3-million wall almost since the day it was completed in October 2006.

They bring more sand. The ocean takes it away.

Kivalina is disappearing, the victim of a warming world and a steady natural erosion that probably began long before the Eskimos settled here 100 years ago.

"You see the white water out there?" Swan said, pointing to some ripples a couple
hundred feet offshore. "That's where the beach used to be."


Fire
Malibu fire season now year-round


Officials say there is little doubt that the hills will burn again, and perhaps sooner than later because of the extremely long drought.
By Hector Becerra, Sharon Bernstein and Jean-Paul Renaud, Los Angeles Times
Realtor Brian Merrick stood on a high ridge in Malibu, looking out at the smoke Saturday.

His livelihood depends on the chaparral-covered hills. But even now, in a year when three large brush fires have destroyed dozens of Malibu homes, he isn't worried.

"As soon as we get some rains and the burn turns green, everybody forgets," Merrick said. "And they come back. It's not the first fire, and it won't be the last one."

Last month, just after much of Malibu burned, Merrick said he closed a deal to sell a home in the Big Rock area.

The buyers "had a little bit of panic," he said, but "as soon as the fires were out, and everything was clear and beautiful again, they realized why they wanted to be there," Merrick said Saturday as water-dropping helicopters buzzed overhead. "They had a massive ocean view."

Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, said that Malibu is a classic case of people being willing to balance risk against benefit.

"There's the two Ds: desirable and dangerous," he said. "The places that are most desirable are usually the most dangerous."

Most years have a definite fire season, experts note. But in this year of extreme drought, the danger has persisted all year. Meteorologists say next year is very likely to be another dry one.

"We don't have a fire season anymore," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Saturday. "We have a year-round fire season, and it has profound implications for how policymakers and firefighting professionals are going to plan for the future, because you can no longer just plan for a September-through-November fire season."

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