The failure by the American government to prepare for the shuttle’s inevitable retirement, and to articulate a plan for what was to come next, is for Chris Kraft an unmitigated disaster.
He just might know. As America’s first flight director, he is the man for whom mission control is named.
During his nine decades Chris Kraft has observed the entire arc of U.S. and Russian history in space, from the early days of desperately trying to catch the Soviets in space, to beating them to the moon, to now hitching rides to the space station on Russian capsules and being threatened by Russian officials.
“The cancellation of the space shuttle may be the biggest blunder ever made by the United States,” Kraft said. “It’s fairly obvious that no one in the government thought through what they were about to bring about when they made that decision.”
Kraft isn’t alone. A Houston scientist who studies the moon, Paul Spudis, served on a Presidential Commission tasked with implementing President Bush’s vision in 2004. What has happened since then, he said, is appalling.
“I’ve never seen such a screwed up mess in my life as the way NASA is right now,” he said.
Our near-empty sledges still felt heavy and the energy that carried us up the Beardmore, and indeed to the Pole itself in record time despite dragging more than anyone in history, started to wane dramatically in the last few days. What’s more, we’ve been running lower on food as we failed to meet our mileage targets. Six days ago we started to eat half rations, and I’ve felt shattered every day since, aware that I was depleting my body at a rate that might have been reckless. My stomach growled permanently, my ribs became more prominent by the day, my legs were painfully weak and my mind and thoughts and decision-making grew foggy and dim. On our second day of half-rations I got dangerously cold when I had to remove my outer jacket in the middle of a storm to add more insulating layers, and it was only Tarka’s help -zipping up my jackets like I was a toddler while my cold hands hung useless by my side- that got me out of trouble and through a very dark day indeed.
I’ve been reluctant to say so (sorry mum!) but we’ve both been on the ragged edge for a while now, and on New Year’s Eve, we set out on what was to prove the hardest day of the expedition. It was Tarka’s turn this time to struggle, and I’d reached a state where I was barely able to realise it. The windchill was -45 degrees centigrade when I recorded it, and we stayed outside for more than 13 hours, on fifty percent of the food I’d intended and wearing almost all the clothes we had with us. At breaks we would eat halved energy bars and our normally-sweet drinks tasted like lukewarm dishwater with a hint of lemon. Towards the eighth or ninth hour Tarka’s normally rock-steady metronomic pace started to become erratic and he seemed to stagger and stumble more than usual on ridges and divots in the snow surface. He stopped mid-session, in a howling blizzard, to remove his outer gilet (the Primaloft-insulated Mountain Equipment Compressor vests that have served us so well here) and flipped back his hood as if he were too hot. I know -as a professional leader of expeditions to the coldest places on the planet- that these are tell-tale signs of hypothermia, yet I was on the limit myself and failed to react. All I can remember from that afternoon that drifted into evening, with the dim sun slowly wheeling around us and the horizon erasing itself and reappearing again in the whirling fog of spindrift, was being unable to think of anything more than the battle raging in my head against the part of me that wanted so desperately to stop. Just to lean my shoulders on my ski poles and slump forwards against the resistance of my harness and rest, and to hell with the consequences. I wondered at times if I fell over whether I’d have the strength to stand up again, the energy to yell for Tarka, or whether he’d even notice me calling over the noise of the wind.
When I took over the lead I kept turning back to see Tarka -normally right on my heels- drifting further behind me. I stopped a few times to let him catch up, but it was too cold for me to wait for more than a minute or two before I started shivering, so I raised a single ski pole, he raised his in reply -a signal we’ve often used here- and I shuffled on. After doing this a few times, with Tarka receding as if the horizon was sucking him backward like quicksand, he stopped raising his pole. I waited, but by now he was a tiny dark speck in the white that took forever to grow. I unclipped my harness and started to put the tent up, feeling dizzy and breathless myself, and taking what seemed like ages to match the poles to their corresponding fabric sleeves, like a drunk taking some sort of coordination test. “Sorry I’m late”, said Tarka as he arrived, but it sounded like someone else entirely, his words mumbled and slow.
As we finished slowly setting up camp, I saw he was fumbling in his giant outer mittens with the plastic buckles that strap our sledges closed. “I can’t feel my hands”, he said through a mask encrusted with ice, his shoulders slumped forwards. As we zipped ourselves into the porch of the tent to take our boots and outer layers off before climbing into our sleeping bags, we saw that the tips of his thumbs were at least badly frostnipped, if not lost entirely to frostbite. I remember feeling a mixture of fear and anger, both at him and at myself for letting this happen. I pulled up my jacket and fleece so he could warm his hands in my armpits, and to my relief the colour and circulation started to return. We ate our watery half-dinners in near-silence and fell asleep exhausted and cold, knowing we would have to match the same distance the next day.
Our depot was still 74km away and we had barely more than half a day’s food to reach it; eight energy bars each, half a breakfast and half an evening meal. 16km into the following day Tarka started to slow again as he led, before stopping entirely and waving me forward to talk. “I feel really weak in the legs again”, he said. “OK. What do you want to do?” I answered snappily, before realising this was on me. I came here to be challenged and tested, to give my all to the hardest task I have ever set myself and to the biggest dream I have ever had. And here was the crux. This was the moment that mattered, not standing by the Pole having my photograph taken, but standing next to my friend, in a howling gale, miles away from anyone or anything. “Let’s put the tent up”, I said, “I’ve got an idea”.
My idea was to call for a resupply. To have more food and fuel flown to our position so that we could rest and recover before finishing this journey. A decision that changes the status of this expedition from “unsupported” or “unassisted” or whatever semantics you wish to choose to the opposite. Part of me also feels it inevitable that we and this journey would face critics even if we’d done it in period clothing eating pemmican and pony meat. Yet in an instant I realised that my and Tarka’s lives are not something I wanted to gamble with, and that we had given our all. We were lucky that neither of us had collapsed the day before, and I knew we couldn’t possibly have hoped to recover on our meagre rations from the physical holes we’d dug ourselves into.
At the other end of the world, on the other end of a crackling and hissing satellite phone line, our expedition manager Andy Ward sprang into action, and things happened incredibly quickly, with a ski-plane carrying eight days’ of rations landing twelve hours later. The weather worsened as we waited and I feared the flight would be aborted, or that a bag would be air-dropped at speed and lost in the blizzard, but in a beautiful twist of what some might call fate, the pilot was Troy, the same man that picked me up from the Arctic Ocean after my 72-day solo expedition nearly ten years ago, and in my eyes the finest polar pilot in the world. The Twin Otter appeared through a tiny hole in the rolling cloud and swang over us once before landing on the ridged and uneven snow surface and taxiing right up to our tent, its wing-tip almost above our roof. The wind was still blasting and the plane’s skis were almost hidden under the blowing snow. “I’m sorry about the weather”, I said to Troy, amazed that he’d been able to land. “Oh, it was fine”, he replied modestly.
The hours we spent waiting were, I fear, dark ones for Tarka. He seemed a broken man. “It’ll look like my fault”, he said, “and that’s a good thing for you.” This was Tarka through and through. Weeks ago he said humbly, “If there are media at the airport when we get back, I’m happy to help with the bags while you talk to them.” He finally admitted last night that when I was struggling (and if I’m honest now, on the verge of wanting to quit) a few weeks ago he’d taken food bags from my sledge while I was in the tent to help lighten my load without telling me, so he’d been pulling more weight than me for weeks.
Tarka is the hero here, and the irony of our situation is that I would never have made it to this point without his herculean efforts; his giving everything he has to this goal. I’m proud of how deep we have each dug, and I am amazed and humbled by Tarka’s sacrifice. He has pushed (or indeed pulled) himself until he dropped, and I’m also as exhausted as I’ve ever been. For weeks now I have slept fitfully and woken up cold. We are both alarmingly lean, and we have both struggled for a while to maintain trains of thought or decent conversations. I suspect my writing has been going downhill too.
And now we are lying here resting, like two new men after ten hours’ sleep, full-bellied and warm again for the first time in weeks, before we move north again to complete this unfinished journey. Our status has changed, but how little that means to me now. Scott didn’t wear his harness until the Beardmore and would have been “supported” in modern polar parlance. I don’t think we made any mistakes, and I don’t think we could have done anything more, or pulled any more food up here. We travelled 5.6km per day at the start with 200kg per man, greater loads than each of Scott’s weakest ponies hauled.
Heck of a trip regardless of the outcome. Make sure you read the entire post.
A well-travelled friend once told me that Saskatoon and northern Saskatchewan were the greatest places on Earth to be in the summer and the world’s worst places to live in the winter.
How much I agree with him depends on the wind chill.
Winters here are long and dreary, and they last from October until May some years. Not only does the snow linger, for many of us, the winter mindset dominates our thinking on all sorts of policies and decisions even during the heat of summer.
We argue about new ideas for the city all of the time. “We can’t have bike lanes because it snows half the year.” “The winter is too long to waste money on a pedestrian bridge.” “Money on parks is wasted because they never get used in the winter.”
There is much we don’t do because of this white stuff – even when we are complaining about the heat in the summer.
Other cities aren’t held captive to winter in the same way.
Many Nordic cities with far worse winters than ours have excellent bike infrastructure and keep the trails cleared year-round.
Edmonton struck a committee last year to help manage winters better.
I am not sure if I agree with the approach that Winnipeg and Calgary have taken with elevated walkways, but I was able to walk all over Winnipeg in -40 C temperatures with only a light jacket.
A report prepared for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region mentioned that nine of the 10 happiest American states are ones that feature cold winters, and listed examples of cities that do winter really well.
In Germany, Austria, and France, people look forward to outdoor holiday markets where they can find a festive atmosphere along with holiday decorations, seasonal gifts, and warm food and drink.
New York City has imported the idea and has set up massive outdoor markets across Manhattan. Before you scoff at the idea, look at the large crowds that come out in any weather to Wintershines. People will come if you give them reason to do so.
December is easy, but we have to make February tolerable. Winnipeg is doing an excellent job. The city pays a lot more for winter snow and not only can you drive around, the sidewalks are cleared. Imagine being able to drive and get around on foot. It can happen.
Winnipeg has also installed heated bus shelters at a growing number of stops. Even in -40 C with a brutal wind, I was able to take off my tuque, gloves, and unzip my jacket while waiting for a bus.
The city has slowly added winter warming shacks as attractions along its rivers. It started as a local idea, and now gets international attention from architects and designers. Those shacks get you out of the wind and give you an excuse to brave the elements.
No matter the weather, thousands of people are having fun all winter long.
Adding a few warming huts each year would make a cold and windy Saskatoon riverfront a lot more tolerable. It would also help connect the different business districts which are spread out because of our river.
Holiday seasonal markets would also be perfect in the Saskatoon Farmers Market. Who knows? It could even one day expand into something other than a weekend destination.
The first step is not warming huts or outdoor markets, however – it is to convince council to get serious about residential snow removal. And our business improvement districts must get serious about keeping sidewalks clear.
Then it relies on everyone figuring out ways to make winters more enjoyable.
Maybe it’s a restaurant opening its deck on milder days, or community associations holding outdoor parties in the winter, like they do in the summer.
It requires the city looking at ways of making our parks winter-friendly, perhaps with more fire pits, or ensuring bike lanes are cleared all season long.
It’s bus shelters that actually do keep us warm. Once we figure out how to shed the shackles of a cold winter and enjoy it, we will find out that even our summer months can get better.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
It’s that time of year again when people start searching the web for Christmas gifts for loved ones. For the last several years I have published a gift guide of what to get for your husband on JordonCooper.com and this year is no different. So without further ado (and I know how much we all hate ado), here is my Christmas gift suggestions for your husband/boyfriend/father (and all of the other men in your life). If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments – Wendy.
Sony RX-100 II
If you are looking for the world’s best point and shoot compact camera, here it is; the Sony RX-100 II.
- It has a huge one inch sensor (which means better low light performance and more vibrant photos)
- It features an extremely fast F1.8 Carl Zeiss lens which again will mean excellent low light photos and action shots.
- Connection to your smartphone via Wi-Fi or if you have a new Android powered phone, NFC.
- Purchase from Amazon.com | $748
- Purchase from Amazon.com | $549
- Purchase from Amazon.com | $120
GoPro Hero 3+
You have probably seen one of the hundreds of amazing videos that have been posted to the GoPro YouTube Channel or seen one of the many thousands of more videos that have been posted over the last couple of years with these amazing cameras. While GoPro has competitors, none match the features that GoPro offers or any of the many mounts that GoPro has to secure the camera to your car, head, chest, poles, floatation devices, or bikes with ease. For $20-$30 you can literally mount a GoPro on anything.
The camera itself is a lot fun with a super wide angle view, HD video, slow motion video, and time lapse features that allow you to film your ideas. Jordon has one and has had a lot of fun over the years with it. Your guy will as well. An added bonus is that GoPro has released a free video editor so you can easily edit and upload your adventures.
- Purchase the Black Edition from Amazon.com | $399
- Purchase the Silver Edition from Amazon.com | $299
- Whatever edition you choose to get, you’ll need a Micro SD card. You can get a high speed card from Amazon.com for $23.
The bright f/1.8 lens lets you capture quality pictures not normally possible with a compact camera. Noise is kept to a minimum without boosting sensitivity, while camera-shake and subject motion are prevented due to high shutter speeds. And thanks to the large aperture, you can also create attractive "bokeh" blurred background effects.
With it’s retro styling, it’s also a camera guaranteed to be noticed even before you take those great photos.
- Purchase at Amazon | $249
Electronics is cool but so is writing stuff down with pen and paper and nothing beats a Moleskine notebook and a quality pen to do that with. You can find really nice Moleskine notebooks in any bookstore but for about half of that, you can find journals at your local Staples or office supply store.
- Purchase Moleskine notebook at Amazon | $29
- Purchase Parker Metro Fountain Pen at Amazon.com | $17
- Purchase Cambridge Business Notebook at Staples | $12
I purchased Jordon a pair of Bose IE2 in ear headphones last year. He put them in his ears and could not believe the difference between them and the $20 headphones he had used forever. As he said, "It’s like hearing my music for the first time again". For Father’s Day, I got him a pair of Bose AE2 headphones that go over the ear and the sound was even better. It’s easy to dismiss high end headphones as not being worth the money but I can really say that these are. Both are incredibly comfortable and bring a bit of luxury to your world no matter where you are listening to them at. Everyone needs a retreat and this does that. I can’t recommend them enough.
If you are looking for a less expensive option, check out JVC’s Xplosive Xtreme headphones. $16 gets you an attractive bass booming set of in ear headphones that are great for everyday use.
- Purchase from Amazon.com | $16
For over the ear comfort and sound at a great price, check out Sony’s MDR-ZX100 headphones. We have a couple of pairs around the house and they are much loved and oft used.
- Purchase from Amazon.com | $15
Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff | Jordon grew up with Detroit cable television and for many in our city, they have a close affinity with Detroit. This is the story of what went wrong and is told from a personal perspective. Back in his broken hometown, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charlie LeDuff searches through the ruins for clues to its fate, his family’s, and his own. Detroit is where his mother’s flower shop was firebombed in the pre-Halloween orgy of arson known as Devil’s Night; where his sister lost herself to the west side streets; where his brother, who once sold subprime mortgages with skill and silk, now works in a factory cleaning Chinese-manufactured screws so they can be repackaged as “May Be Made in United States.”
- Purchase from Amazon.com | $21
The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006- by Paul Wells | This is the book that every one of our friends is reading or wants for Christmas. In The Longer I’m Prime Minister, Paul Wells explores just what Harper’s understanding of Canada is, and who he speaks for in the national conversation. He explains Harper not only to Harper supporters but also to readers who can’t believe he is still Canada’s prime minister. In this authoritative, engaging and sometimes deeply critical account of the man, Paul Wells also brings us an illuminating portrait of Canadian democracy: “glorious, a little dented, and free.”
- Purchase from Amazon.com | $20
Samsung 2.1 Channel 100-Watt Dual Audio Dock | If the guy you are shopping for is a music lover, you will want to consider this amazing Samsung wireless speaker dock. Incredible sound and rich, warm styling makes the Samsung DA-E750 wireless audio dock the perfect addition to your home. The unique vacuum tube amplifier technology lets you hear music the way it was meant to be heard. Compatible with both Samsung and Apple phones, this device lets you stream music using either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology, or load it from a USB memory stick.
- Purchase 100-Watt Dock from Amazon.com | $459
- Purchase 40-Watt Dock from Amazon.com | $249
- Purchase 10-Watt Dock from Amazon.com | $85
If your husband is a fan of the radio (nothing better than baseball on a summer’s night over the radio), check out the SANGEAN WR-11 AM/FM Table Top Radio. Elegant simplicity combined with state-of-the-art performance sets the Sangean Model WR-11 AM/FM Table Top Radio head and shoulders above the competition. In true Sangean tradition, AM/FM reception is excellent providing clear and static free listening. Rotary dials adjust the volume, selects AM/FM bands, and precisely tunes your station selection displayed in a softly lighted analog display. An LED tuning eye assures you’re achieving the best reception for your selected station. In addition, a stereo headphone jack and provision for an external AM and FM antenna is also provided. An AUX-In jack for playing your favourite MP3 music from your portable devices is available as well as a Record-Out jack for routing to your recording equipment or external devices.
Plus baseball just sounds better played on one of these radios.
- Purchase from Amazon | $85
X-Mini II Portable Capsule Speaker | Jordon gave me one of these last year and I thought it looked cute and didn’t think much more about it but they work fantastic. The big difference with the X-Mini II speakers is that you can link them together to create better sound as well as more volume. We take ours with us everywhere and its nice at the cabin or even in a hotel room on a vacation. There are some other two speaker options as well but you can find the X-Mini’s almost everywhere and they are about the same price.
- Purchase from Amazon | $20
Keep your belongings, and yourself, stylishly organized with Kenneth Cole’s lovely messenger bag. Contrast stitching accents its rich leather body, while a short handle and long, adjustable strap keep your carrying options open. The flap closure opens up to reveal a roomy main compartment, complete with a full-length zipper pocket for your smaller necessities. Front gusseted pockets include a cell phone pocket to keep it handy and within reach.
Soft, Columbian full-grain leather and casual, but polished styling make this messenger the perfect bag for work and everyday. The interior is simple, but versatile enough to carry a laptop, papers, books, etc. There is even a cell phone pocket plus organizer features in the front gusset pockets.
- Purchase from Amazon | $68 (you save $180)
- Purchase from Red Canoe | $24.99
- Purchase from Red Canoe | $149.99
RCAF Dopp Kitt | Unlike many women who require a small suitcase for their toiletries, a traveling man needs only a few essentials to be happy. Nevertheless, a man needs a place to stow these items. Enter the Dopp kit. Now you can get a $5 shaving kit from Wal-Mart but that has no class What you want is something with personality and I think we can all agree, this dope kit has personality. Not only will it keep you guy’s stuff organized, it will be something he holds on to for years and years.
- Purchase from Red Canoe | $45
Sipping Stones is the aficionado’s choice for chilling a drink. It eliminates a common problem for all connoisseurs of fine whiskey: it cools your drink perfectly without the dilution from melting ice. Now all your favorite drinks are able to be served the way they were intended to be, perfectly pure and precisely chilled. Sipping Stones are non-porous meaning there is no odor or taste to tarnish your drink. And unlike ice, Sipping Stones provides a smooth chill that does not overwhelm the character of your beverage. Each set of Sipping Stones comes with nine finely crafted cubes made from soapstone, a safe alternative to ice. Sipping Stones is a great gift for anyone who loves the perfectly chilled beverage. Or you can use it as a conversation starter at your next party. Simply keep the Sipping Stones in your freezer until you are ready to chill your next glass of whiskey.
- Purchase from Amazon | $15
Finally, how much fun would any guy have playing with an AR Drone 2.0 quadcopter. It’s easy to fly, records in HD video and if he does crash it (you know he will), there is a large stock of replacement parts.
That being said, the automated features of the AR Drone 2.0 make it almost impossible to crash making it stable platform to fly, do stunts with or film video with. Take a look at the video below to see how it performs
Purchase at Amazon.com | $299
Netatmo Urban Weather Station
The Netatmo Weather Station contains a unique set of sensors to monitor your living environment and wirelessly transmits all your data to your Smartphone. The Netatmo App displays your Station’s indoor and outdoor measurements into clear and comprehensive dashboards, graphs and notifications. All of your data is recorded online and made permanently accessible for you, on your Smartphone or PC. Seamlessly measure, track and monitor your Weather and Environment, indoor and outdoor, at any time and from anywhere. The Netatmo App is available for free at the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store. With the app you can:
- Connect multiple Stations to your Smartphone or computer
- Check the your Stations from any Smartphone or computer
- Share the info on your favorite social networks
We spend 80% of our time indoor, resting, playing with the kids or at the office. The Netatmo Station monitors your indoor air quality (CO2 concentration), and reminds you to ventilate, at the right moment. The Netatmo Weather Station allows city dwellers to monitor indoor air quality, get real-time updates on local Air Quality Index report and pick the best moments for outdoor activities.The Netatmo Weather Station also monitors noise pollution and measures home or office acoustic comfort.
- Purchase at Amazon | $180
Bushnell 10×42 Binoculars
Bushnell Powerview Roof Prism Binoculars are designed to provide high-quality optics in a versatile and durable format at an affordable price. Constructed with a rugged, shock absorbing rubber armor for a comfortable, non-slip grip and equipped with the roof prism system for increased durability, Powerview Binoculars are suitable for multiple applications from sports to nature viewing. The 10×42 Powerview Binoculars offer powerful 10x magnification with larger, light-gathering 42-millimeter objective lenses that will perform well anywhere you use them–from a bird watching hike to a stadium. Meanwhile the BaK-7 prisms and multi-coated optics provide high-level image resolution and clarity. Additional user friendly details include a center focus knob for easy adjustments, fold down eye cups, and a tripod adaptable base. Bushnell Powerview Binoculars carry a limited lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship for the original owner.
Purchase at Amazon.com | $69
Give the gift of great coffee. Tonx sources the best beans from exceptional coffee farmers who are as fanatical about tasty coffee as we are. To make the best cup, you have to start with the best ingredients. Tonx has years of experience finding and working with the best farmers in the world.
They then ship that amazing coffee to your house. It costs you $19 per 12oz shipment and you have a new shipment coming every two weeks. That’s right, fresh coffee beans coming to your house every second week. How awesome is that?
Purchase from Tonx | Prices vary according to plan
He Likes Black Coffee | This is a mug for Jordon. Over the years I have given some cool (and not so cool) gifts but his eyes light up every time he sees a cool coffee mug. Of course there are some limitations. Your guy has to like black coffee but if he does, he will love this gift.
Purchase from Indigo | $10
I am biased because Jordon has been selling some amazing photographs of shots he has posted to The Daily but have you considered the gift of art this Christmas? Image Kind has hundreds of incredible artists selling amazing art on archival quality paper. Not only are you supporting local artists but you are getting someone you love something that they won’t get at your local big box store. Check out his Saskatoon, rural, and travel galleries. You may be surprised at what you will find there.
Am I missing anything? Do you have some great ideas I should be thinking of? Let me know in the comments.
You can also find all of the rest of the 2013 Christmas Gift Guides online here. There is a lot of great ideas for all of the important people in your life. Good luck with your shopping and have a great holiday season!
On Sunday I decided to take the family along the backroads to Prince Albert. We explored the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Ascension, Fish Creek Church, and eventually the La Colle Falls Hydroelectric Dam east of Prince Albert. Mark shot some video footage while there which you can see below.
Wendy wrote a little more about the day on her blog.
Apparently it’s name is Oliver.
Yesterday afternoon I was trying to get some work done when Oliver and Mark decided to go to A.H. Browne Park. As a change, I suggested that they walk to Ashworth Holmes Park and check out the paddling pool. They did and three hours later they came home with some video that Mark had shot on his camera. The next thing I knew he had his SD card out and was uploading it to my Mac rather than his PC.
So after dorking around for a bit, he found the movie trailer feature in iMovie and I know I wasn’t getting my Mac back anytime soon. After an hour of them arguing over which clips to use, Mark came up with this. Now I have to just sign him out of Twitter, Gmail, and figure out else he has done to my MacBook.
Scientists are injecting Crown of Thorns starfish with dry acid to kill them before they can kill the reef. Now they are using bile from the stomach of ox’s to do the same thing. Fascinating video.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said that the 19 firefighters were a part of the city’s fire department. The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.
“By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly,” he said.
He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when “something drastic” occurred.
“One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective … foil-type fire-resistant material — with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it,” Fraijo said.
“Under certain conditions there’s usually only sometimes a 50 per cent chance that they survive,” he said. “It’s an extreme measure that’s taken under the absolute worst conditions.”
THE NIGHT AFTER I leave the Mill Fire, the hotshots begin a controlled burn on the north side of the canyon. But then the winds pick up: 15-mile-per-hour gusts start blowing downhill, threatening to carry the flames onto the canyon’s southern slopes. By this point, the fire is at 25,000 acres.
Cowell and Eric Rice, one of Cowell’s two foremen, leave the crew to scout a corner of the canyon where the winds are particularly volatile. Above, a helicopter launches napalm-filled pellets into the brushy draw between the road and the main fire, an attempt to coax a fuel burnout before the winds get stronger. Ten engines are parked on the road, ready to hose down any sparks that blow across the stream into the southern side of the canyon.
That’s when things go haywire. Around 7:30 P.M., a gust sends the fire down toward the line, blowing burning leaves over the engine crews. Some land on the exposed necks of firefighters, sizzling in their sweat. Others float into the dry chamise thickets at the base of the canyon’s southern slopes. A strap of fire begins running up from the creek bed.
Cowell grabs his radio and barks to Moschetti, the other foreman, “Get ’em up, Brad. We’re going after the west flank.” The spot fire runs from bushes to gray pines: one, two, four acres. In the creek bed, the crew members are boot deep in the stream’s tepid water, waiting for three guys from an engine crew to drag a hose up the cut bank that separates them from the flames.
Rojas and a swamper scramble up the cut bank and, with another hotshot crew, use chainsaws to bore a three-foot-wide hole in the brush—just big enough to drag a hose through. The engine crew follows behind, shooting a beam of water over Rojas and into the 15-foot flames roaring ahead. It’s steep, 45 degrees in places, and covered with stones the size of a baby’s head. Rojas yells “Rock!” when he knocks them loose; they come tumbling down the mountain at the other hotshots, who are widening the break.
Alicia Miller brings up the rear, using a rake to sweep away the leaves lodged in the scree. Between her and Cowell, who’s up front with Rojas and the sawyers, some 40 hotshots and engine-crew members are working on the line at a frantic pace.
At 11 P.M., the crew hooks over the top of the spot and starts building line down the eastern flank and back toward the creek. Rojas is mowing through the brush when a flare-up sends a wash of embers overhead. Behind him, Cowell yells, “RTO! RTO!” It stands for reverse tool order, which basically means get the hell out. The crews power through the brush to the top of the spot, where they pause to catch their breath.
Burning mountains surround them, and Cowell has to make a decision. They either gamble and try to put out the spot fire by building a firebreak directly on its eastern edge, or they back off and take the line up to the ridge top. Option two is safer, but it gives the fire a chance to gain momentum. Cowell sends Rice downhill to scout. The foreman climbs a tree, sees emergency lights flashing 500 feet below, and hears another hotshot crew’s saws screaming in the night. The fire looks manageable. “We can do this,” Rice radios to Cowell.
“Tirso, you’re on,” Cowell says to Rojas, who fires up his saw and starts building line downhill. Not long after midnight they finish. The spot’s contained, and the Mill Fire won’t grow another acre.
As the drama of the Bounty’s final hours unfolded on CNN and the Weather Channel, seamen and landlubbers alike were asking the same question: what was a square-rigged ship doing in the middle of a hurricane—a storm that had been forecast for days? Sailors pointed fingers at the captain, Robin Walbridge, insisting that his poor judgment and bravado were to blame. It’s true that Walbridge had tempted fate before. In each instance, some combination of skill and luck had returned the ship home safely.
But the full answer to why the Bounty sank was much more complex than a captain’s rash decision. It was a story decades in the making, a veritable opera of near misses and fantastic schemes involving a dogged captain, a fiercely loyal crew, and an owner who was looking to sell. And in the ship’s last act, an unlikely new character had emerged: a young woman with Down syndrome who, perhaps inconceivably, held the key to the Bounty’s future.
Leaking antiquated broken down sailing ship sails into Hurricane Sandy. What could go wrong?