Thursday, April 23, 2009

Worrying about South Carolina wildfires

   There's something unnerving about arriving in a city halfway across the country (Albuquerque, in this case) and learning that something awful is happening back home.  Reportedly, a wildfire has by now destroyed 70 homes, damaged more, and affected a considerable swath of coastal Horry County.  The distress experienced by those families is significant, and there are other reasons for concern about fires.
   While Horry County may not technically be rural, it is an important employer for rural persons in South Carolina, who often commute long distances to work in the huge coastal tourist industry.   South Carolina's unemployment rate at its highest levels since the early 1980s and the economy leads experts to predict shortfalls in pleasure travel for the coming tourist season. Overall human costs could spread beyond those families unfortunate enough to have been in the direct path of the fire.
    There is also a "critter cost."  Not many people outside of South Carolina know about the "Carolina Bays," mentioned in the news feeds as a source of peat and other vegetation that kept the fire burning and make it difficult to extinguish.  The Bays are not offshoots of the ocean, but shallow depressions scattered across the landscape that form mini-wetlands; a rich and unique feature of the Carolina landscape.  [For more information, see]  While the Bays evolved experiencing periodic fires, bulldozers creating firebreaks are not something the trees & critters are prepared for.  

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