Readers write: Fire management, a little wordplay, and more

Letters to the editor for the Nov. 30, 2020 weekly magazine. Readers discuss how fire management differs from region to region, and more.


Fire management

Thank you for the article “Setting ‘good fires’ to reduce the West’s wildfire risk” in the Nov. 9 Monitor Weekly. But no thanks for missing important contrasts between the choices of forest managers in Florida and California. 

The need for more preventive prescribed fire was a core part of curriculum when I was in forestry school 50 years ago in Minnesota, so the story isn’t news from that perspective. But climate and terrain are so different between Florida and the West that it makes comparisons almost meaningless. 

Florida has no mountains, and rain is common there. Virtually no point in Florida is more than 200 feet from water (straight down into the earth, if nothing else). At my home near Sacramento in California, the total rainfall between May 19 and Oct. 12 – more than 140 days – was 1 millimeter. That’s a typical dry year. 

The fuel gets a lot drier here than it ever does in Florida, so fire burns a lot hotter. You can prescribe gentle fires in Florida where the fuel is somewhat moist, and you can also be sure that enough rain will blow in from the Atlantic or the Gulf to put them out in a few days. In California, periods of strong wind make the fuel even drier. I’ve seen a grass fire run a mile in under 10 minutes on flat ground before a strong wind – far faster than firefighters can defend. The only thing that stopped that one was a four-lane freeway. 

And then there are mountains. Fire runs up a mountain like it runs before the wind, and there aren’t any concrete firebreaks on top of mountains. Combine dry fuel, high wind, steep slope, and an ignition source and you have conditions that never occur in Florida. 

Incidentally, 57% of California forestland belongs to the federal government (which underfunds preventive fire), while 3% belongs to the state and 40% is privately held. Fold in the joy of owning a home in the forest. That puts an uncomfortably large human population in the fire danger zone and forces firefighters to prioritize life safety above all else. 

In sum, your story missed some important points. It’s not all about wise and unwise land managers.

Jim Eychaner
Carmichael, California 

A little wordplay

I always enjoy Melissa Mohr’s “In a Word” column. I have found that usage is not consistent when it comes to adding suffixes like -esque and -ian to the names of well-known people and places. The adjectival form of Dickens and Chaplin are Dickensian and Chaplinesque, if I can trust my American Heritage Dictionary. Rubens, ending with an “s,” oddly turns into Rubenesque when it should be Rubensian, if usage goes by logic. Boston is peopled by Bostonians, but across the Charles live, well, the Cantabrigians, right?

Peter Dreyer
Edgartown, Massachusetts

Books into films

Regarding Peter Rainer’s column “Home theater: Movies that live up to the books that inspired them” in the Aug. 31 Monitor Weekly: In order to take a “deep dive into the psychology of its characters,” as Mr. Rainer wrote, a play must employ speech, cadence and tone, pose and gesture, and even occasionally the aside. Thus “The Member of the Wedding” had an easier path to its successful translation from page to screen than some of the other filmed literary works cited by Mr. Rainer. 

I watched “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” again recently and found myself amazed at the number of things its actors did with body and voice to suggest their thoughts and inner monologues. May I add this film to the list of those recommended?

Michael Orend
Woodland Hills, California

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