Our Masters of Disasters reconvene to ponder this question: is the worst type of hazard this summer season...us?
We’ll be having fun all summer long ... or not. Hazards are everywhere this season — in the bonfires we set, the trash we leave behind, the sunburns we get. Today, our Masters of Disasters talk about all the hazards out there, including us. Read the full transcript here.
Host: Gustavo Arellano
Guests: L.A. Times earthquake reporter Rong-Gong Lin II, L.A. Times wildfire reporter Alex Wigglesworth and L.A. Times coast reporter Rosanna Xia
In California’s high-risk fire country, Airbnb offers guests no warning or escape plan
Where are California’s dirtiest beaches? This list might surprise you
First suspected cases of monkeypox in Riverside and Santa Clara counties reported
Gustavo: Summertime. And the living is… hot fun in the summertime…hot town, summer in the city.
OK, OK. Enough singing. Get ready, though, for fireworks, bonfires, camping. Carne asada Sundays. So much fun, but wait, all that fun is hazardous to the environment, to your health, to the world.
I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to The Times, daily news from the L.A. Times. It's Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
Today, we'll be having fun all summer long -- or not, because hazards are everywhere in the coals. You burn the trash, you leave the tides that want to drag you to the depths of Poseidon. When all you wanna do is catch a wave, man. It's times like these, where we fall back on our monthly panel of peril, my colleagues of catastrophe, those roomies of Ragner rocks, who try to give us solace in these very, very dark and hot times.
Yep. It's time for our masters of disasterssssss.
In the wildfire chair. We have Alex Wigglesworth. Alex, if a bro falls into sand during volleyball, does he make a sound?
Gustavo: What's the sound?
Gustavo: That's a good sound. Covering earthquakes is Ron Lin. Ron, do you wear white after Labor Day?
Ron: Only my cat bus T-shirt.
Gustavo: Damn. And finally our Cassandra of the coast, Rosana Xia. Knock knock.
Rosanna: Oh boy. Who's there?
Rosanna: Summer who?
Gustavo: The summer wind came blowing in from across the sea. I get a laugh. I made Rosana laugh. That makes me happy. Welcome, all. Alex. But we're gonna start with you when I think of summer, I think of fireworks. My favorite remain smoke bombs, and my wife likes those weird, warm things that pop up. I don't get them, but she loves them. But California again is in the worst drought in 1200 years right now. So how dangerous are fireworks this summer in terms of causing wildfires?
Alex: So the national fire protection association estimates that fireworks start more than 19,000 fires each year nationwide. We all remember the El Dorado fire near Yucaipa. A couple years ago, when a pyrotechnic device at a gender reveal party started a fire that burned almost 23,000 acres and killed a firefighter.
The grass was one fire behind us and the hillside had come down to the bottom here. It’s just a mess
But it's not just fireworks. There's campfires, power lines, lawn mower blades dragging muffs in 2019, the ranch fire in Mendocino county, which was then the biggest fire in state history at 410,000 acres, which seems almost quaint now, was started by a rancher who tried to plug the entrance of a wasp nest with a hammer and a stake.
When those big pine trees take off. Man those were huge flames
Research has shown that across the country, nearly 85% of wildfires are started by humans in one way or another. And so in summertime we tend to have more human activity that could start fires because people are out enjoying our wildland areas. But what really makes us fire season is the weather and the condition of the vegetation in California, It's always hotter and drier in the summer and into the fall. But what we're seeing is that with the drought and with climate change, that's exacerbating the drought. It's especially hot with multiple prolonged heat waves, and it's historically dry. That goes for the vegetation, the soil and the air. And so if there's any kind of spark, it's much more likely to start a fire that spreads rapidly, grows large and threatens people and their properties.
Gustavo: That wasp thing, I think they call it an Alabama firework.
Gustavo: I know every year safety officers are always releasing videos of them blowing up dummies or holding a firework, but maybe they should light one and contain grass just so these firefighters can show how quickly just one spark can turn into an inferno?
Alex: Yeah. Contra Costa county fire up in the bay area actually did this last year. They had a demonstration where they set a hillside on fire with a sparkler,
Alex: You can look it up on YouTube. There's a video from a local CBS affiliate that shows this fire spreading through dry grass in seconds.
NEWCAST TAPE: In approximately a minute, the fire can get outta control to where it's probably leaving your yard, getting into a neighbor's yard, getting into open space and putting other structures and, and people in danger.
Rosanna: Oh my God. And if I can jump in here, fires aside and that gender reveal party will go down in history forever. When I hear fireworks, I think of all the chemicals that get released into the air, tiny pieces of metals, toxic particles, the levels do get pretty hazardous, especially for people who live farther inland, where the air gets trapped. And there's already immense air quality issues from freeways and industrial pollution. And every year, the day after July 4th, you always see the health warnings, people with heart and lung problems being worn to stay inside. Parents being advised to keep their children inside all because of this intense spike in air pollution. So don't get me started on fireworks.
Gustavo: So let's just stay away from trees and grass and cities. Let's go to the coast. There's air, there's clean air in the coast, I would think. And we have some surfers in our newsroom, including our senior producer, Denise Guerra. What should she and other folks keep in mind when they do head to the beach this summer?
Rosanna: Yeah, it's actually not the surfers that I'm worried about. They know what's up. They tend to know how to read the ocean. What I usually notice every summer is the increase in people who are not as familiar with the huge forces of the Pacific ocean. And obviously the risks go way up when there are more people going to the beach. What immediately comes to mind is getting caught in a rip current, which is when the waves hit the shore or with each other. And they do this in a certain way that causes the current to flow away from the beach. So imagine this super intense current pulling you farther and farther out into the ocean. Your gut instinct is to panic. And to try to swim against the current, to get back to land, but you can literally drown from the fatigue and people have drowned from just trying to do so. So for the record, you should not do this. The trick is to swim parallel to the shore and to swim back to land at an angle. Lifeguards are also superheroes when it comes to spotting and saving people who get caught in a rip current. And the other thing I'll mention is we call them sneaker waves. There are waves that can sneak up on you. It's scarier when you're on a remote beach with no lifeguards. So always keep your eye on the ocean. Even if it looks calm, don't turn your back from the water. Don't leave your children// unattended. You never know when a huge wave could come right up and pull you into the ocean.
Gustavo: A sneaker wave. We should call it a creeper wave.
Rosanna: Yeah, but it doesn't really creep. They're scary. And very sudden. Sneaker waves tend to form way out in the ocean when a bunch of smaller waves combine their energy and become a single gigantic wave. These smaller waves just build and build on top of each other until they reach the shore. And they're super unpredictable, it can come up with a lot of power and sudden speed. So it could be a completely normal beach day, the ocean could look totally calm. And then suddenly this giant wave could come right up and pull you into the water.
Gustavo: Well, true story. I almost never go to the beach because my mom, when I was four years old, she said never go to the ocean because if you go in the ocean, you'll drown and specifically because of all those waves. So Rosana, thank you for just confirming my worst fears. I'm gonna stick just to water inside this, you know, the city. So pools, Ron, you know, spraying people with a hose, turning onto sprinklers and just running around them. Like Homer does all the time with the Simpsons, but oh wait, we have a drought now.
Ron: Yeah, and we're doing a bad job of saving the water. In fact, Metro Southern California actually increased our use of water. It's up 26% more this past April compared to what it was in April of 2020. And you know, this is bad. In the previous droughts back when we had a previous governor, it seemed like we kind of took the drought more seriously. And now I feel like there's a lot of us that are kind of over the drought. And if you kind of put this in perspective, if you think about like what it's like for a 25-year-old Californian, the last big rain year that we got relatively speaking was like back in '98 when 25-year-olds were born. And since then, two-thirds of their lifespan have brought us winter seasons where it's been dry in California. And I defined winters as January, February, and Marches. Even worse, the droughts have become more intense over the years. So when these kids were in elementary school, like in 2007, a bad drought year was like being short five inches of rain. This past winter, we basically almost got nothing and we were short 10 inches of rain. And get this: The state on average is supposed to get 11 inches of rain just over the winter months.
Rosanna: Ron, you talk like an old man. "These kids who are 25 years old."
Ron: I'm almost 40.
Gustavo: We'll be right back.
Gustavo: Rosanna, you mentioned increased visitors to the beach. And that means one thing, just a bunch of trash piles all over. So we talked about Earth Day in a previous episode, and I'd hope that we've seen all of us too many photos of poor birds caught in six pack containers to make sure to always clean up after ourselves. But are people cleaning up after themselves when they go out to the coast?
Rosanna: I'm really glad you made this point. It's always worth reminding people to not litter because once you put trash out into the world, especially plastic, it's really hard to take back. And a lot of this trash ends up in the ocean. And I do think when we travel or vacation, we do tend to let loose a little bit more on how much plastic and single use things we're using. I'm sure Alex is seeing those two in our forests and state parks.
Alex: Yeah. And this is something we saw really increased during the pandemic. When some places were getting record numbers of visitors, there were a bunch of trails that were temporarily shut down because they were just getting trashed.
Ron: Do you do that thing where you actually cut up the six pack plastic rings? Is that something you guys do?
Rosanna: A thousand percent, Ron
Alex: Doesn't everybody do that?
Ron: I didn't know this. I only knew this recently.
Rosanna: Oh my God.
Gustavo: Ron is getting shamed in real time.
Ron: Was I a bad person?
Alex: It was on like Sesame Street.
Rosanna: There was no Sesame Street when Ron was a child because he was born in 1849.
Gustavo: Yeah. He was reading like hieroglyphics back then. And like, they were cutting stuff up as well. But Ron, we will stop the shaming on you because you have even something darker to talk about. Speaking of tourism, we have a new summertime problem COVID and now monkeypox wants in on this pandemic game. Oy vey. How much of a downer are they gonna be?
Ron: So I'm more concerned about COVID than I am about monkeypox. I mean, the deal with COVID is that lately it's been like really hard to kind of figure out the trend. It goes up, it goes down, but it is still something to be super aware of because you can get COVID multiple times, and each time there is some risk of long COVID. Although it's reduced if you get vaccinated. Monkeypox is indeed something to be worried about. Think of it as smallpox's less scary cousin. It's nowhere near as deadly, but it's something that can cause you to have sores and put you at home for weeks. It wasn't a thing in the U.S. for a long time, but it was noticed in central and west Africa for decades. And the reason why it's getting more attention is because of an outbreak in countries where it's usually not seen. So think Europe and North America, although there are cases worldwide, it's nowhere near as contagious as COVID-19. So no one thinks it's gonna be the next pandemic, but it can be transmitted through skin to skin contact, sharing contaminated items like bedsheets, and it can be super unpleasant. I don't wanna get too graphic, but you can get those pus filled sores and it sometimes starts in the genital area and it can cause so much pain that it can cause patients to need prescription drugs.
Gustavo: Ron ever the charmer when it comes to disasters. Meanwhile though, there's all sorts of super hot heat waves are projected for the summer. So snap on the air conditioner, everyone. Oh, wait, that messes up the air too; the environment. Alex, come on. How can we have fun this summer?
Alex: Um, go to the movies?
Gustavo: But there's air conditioning in the movies.
Alex: But it's like carpooling. I mean, it's like air conditioning for a bunch of people at once. So maybe that's more eco-friendly than having a personal air conditioner.
Ron: Yeah I mean it used to be that those of us who were inland could head to the coasts and enjoy the June gloom or the no-sky July, or maybe even the fog. This is the type of time of year where we get those low-grade clouds over the summer. And it kind of shocks people from the East Coast that it can be cold in Southern California and people call it our natural AC. Sometimes we can't even rely on that anymore. There was a study that recently showed that these low-level clouds have actually declined by 20% to 50% since the 1970s. And who's responsible for that. It's us. More urbanization, more greenhouse gases.
Gustavo: But I asked you about fun. So where's the fun, man?
Alex: You can always go swimming.
Gustavo: Yeah. Swimming.
Alex: Like in a natural body of water.
Ron: Yeah. And there's also hikes in like places where there's lots of trees. If you're up north, if you go to Big Sur. Or even farther north, you could go see the redwoods. Any place with shade is a good bet.
Gustavo: One thing I'm noticing in all this, though, we're talking about all this, like, danger during the summer Rosanna. And is it even ethical to have fun in nature anymore? I'm being serious for once. Like part of why I don't like going to the beach besides what my mom told me, but even wanna go to our national or state parks is because I don't wanna contribute to all the problems we put on places and critters. They're already feeling so much stress from all this tourism. Like aren't humans the ultimate hazard?
Rosanna: Two things. One, I would first point out that being able to go to the beach or camp in a national park or go to the redwoods is a privilege that not everyone has equal access to. You have to have a car, be able to afford expensive parking and camping gear and raincoats. And just knowing how to get to the beach is something a lot of us take for granted. Public access to the coast and access to nature continues to be something that isn't equitably distributed. So it's really important to not lose sight of the fact that not all communities have access to clean. Or even a day at the beach and the hotter our summers get, especially inland as Ron noted, you know, more people will need to go to the coast for cooler weather and better air. Even without the fog, the coast is still so much cooler than the more than 100-degree weather that we're starting to see more and more often during the summer. So this should really be core to any discussion that we have about being in nature. Two, there's a quote that I've been thinking a lot about by the poet Gary Snyder: “Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” The more we can shift away from thinking about people as separate from a pretty park or pristine piece of nature that we've set aside to visit, the more I hope we can see how we also belong to this greater ecosystem and how all of our actions are interconnected.
Gustavo: So we need to stop thinking like all hipster and think humans are parasites
Ron: Yeah. And I also think that, like, it does a number for our health, right? If we're out on the coast or in parks, it helps our physical health and our mental health. And it also can inspire us to think optimistically about conservation.
Alex: I agree with Ron. If I had to stay inside all the time, I would go crazy.
Gustavo: I think I found the most ethical way to have fun. Find a tree, be in the shade. Stand on one foot and hop around in a circle. Is that ethical? Does that work out?
Rosanna: Oh my God.
Gustavo: All right. I found fun. We'll be back after this break.
Gustavo: And as is our tradition with Masters of Disasters, after all the talk of doom and gloom, we have to end with joy. Alex, what's bringing you joy this month?
Alex: I've been really into stargazing. It's been pretty hot to go outside during the day. Right now my thermometer says 108 degrees.
Alex: I've been going outside at nighttime, just looking at the stars. I have an app on my phone that you can like point at the sky and it tells you what the constellations are, which always give me a big laugh, because like, I don't know who looked up and thought like, oh, that looks like a crab, 'cause like it doesn't at all to me. Um, but I've been really enjoying, especially as it gets later in the summer, you can start to see the Milky Way. It's pretty cool.
Gustavo: Ron, what's bringing you joy?
Ron: So today's conversation brought me to think about the joy of contact lenses and lifeguards. So a number of years ago, when I was learning how to surf, I was pulled out to sea, and the lifeguard saved me and it also inspired me to get contact lenses because now I know what happens when you can't see, and you're being drifted from the shore.
Gustavo: Oh, wow. I never thought contact lenses would be a source of joy, but that's Ron for you. And Rosanna. What brings you joy? This.
Rosanna: Sorry, I'm still processing that Ron's joy for this month is contact lenses.
Gustavo: It’s so Ron, I love it.
Ron: It took me such a long time to learn how to put them in. I was like stabbing my eyes for like six months, but it finally worked.
Rosanna: You are an old man. I very -- OK. My joy, I was reminded of a joke recently that I heard years ago. So this one might be a throw. Gustavo. Why do seagulls fly over the sea?
Gustavo: So they can see goals?
Rosanna: Because if they flew over the bay, they would be bagels.
Gustavo: That is actually a clever one. It's groan-inducing, but Ron gotta laugh. I say it's clever.
That's it for our Masters of Disasters.
Ron Lin, Alex Wigglesworth and Rosanna Xia. Thank you, masters. See you at the pool while pools still exist.
ALL: Thanks. Thanks. Thank you.
Gustavo: And that’s it for this episode of The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times.
Shannon Lin was the jefa of this episode.
Our show is produced by Shannon Lin, Denise Guerra, Ashlea Brown, David Toledo and Surya Henry. Our engineer is Mario Diaz. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Shani Hilton and Jazmin Aguilera. Our theme music is by Andrew Eapen.
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I’m Gustavo Arellano. We’ll be back tomorrow with all the news and desmadre. Gracias!