Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Horse Fire X

We got a bit of new satellite data last night, and with this data alone you would now think that the major part of the fire is the part nearest our home. Yikes!

On the upper map, at right, the green splotch is where our home is, and the hand-drawn orange areas are where the verbal CDF reports say the fire is. For the southwest flank (the part nearest our home) and the southeast flank (the part nearest Lake Morena), the verbal reports jibe well with the satellite data. For the northern flank, all we have are the verbal CDF reports — in a dozen or so satellite passes, we’ve never seen a single pixel of data concerning heat or flares in Secret Canyon. This makes me wonder if the verbal CDF reports are just plain wrong, and the fire is actually south of Secret Canyon, where those black MODIS paints, and the two active WF-HMS red dots are…

CDF reported late last night (after we went to bed) that the fire was now 15% contained and had burned 16,384 acres. I’m not sure how they estimate containment. My guess would be the percentage of the perimeter that they have a secure firebreak around, but that’s just a guess. The burned acreage jumps right out at a geek like me: 16,384 is an even power of two (2^14, or 128^2) — a frequently encountered number in the world of a programmer who’s familiar with machine-level operations. It seems somehow unlikely that the estimated acreage accidentally came out as such a number. More likely is the estimation algorithm is being exposed here, somehow…

The lower map is really just for your interest. It’s the NOAA near-realtime map with every reporting option turned on (and a legend visible). The red dots are the results of human analysis; all the other dots are automated systems — algorithms running on sensor data.

Until yesterday, CDF was reporting that the cause of the Horse Fire was “under investigation”. Early lamestream media reports said it was an illegal immigrant’s campfire, but they soon backed off of that statement. Now the CDF is reporting the cause as an “escaped campfire”. So far as I know, the area where the fire started doesn’t have any campgrounds. It’s definitely an area subject to heavy illegal immigrant traffic. So I’d say the odds are that the initial report was correct — an illegal immigrant had a campfire that got out of control. But I can’t be 100% sure; I suppose it could be some loon back there camping in the National Forest, legitimately.

We’ve had a fair number of forest fires and brush fires started by illegal immigrants' campfires in recent years — I’ve even found the remains of such fires on my own property, which is kind of frightening (I’ve never seen an illegal immigrant on my property).

Have to wonder though, what anyone was doing with a campfire at 6 AM that particular Sunday. My weather system recorded the temperature at that moment as 90 F — more like air conditioner weather than campfire!

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