Thursday, August 14, 2003

France is admitting it: there are more than 3000 dead officially recognized by the French government due to the heat wave. That means you gotta figure a couple thousand each in Spain and Portugal. They finally stopped the fire near Terrassa and that one's under control, but there's another one broken out up near Massanet, up the coast from Barcelona. That one's caused 4000 evacuations.

Most of these fires seem to be springing up in exurbs. I imagine this has something to do with the reason that tornadoes always hit trailer parks. What really happens, of course, is that when a tornado hits someplace that's solidly constructed, the damage it does is pretty minimal and people don't get killed, well, maybe one or two if they get real unlucky. It's quickly forgotten. But when a tornado hits a trailer park, where the alleged buildings are just boxes bolted to a concrete slab, everything gets blasted to hell and gone and a lot of people die and it sticks out in our memory.

Same with these fires. There are a lot of subdivisions (called urbanizaciones here) within, say, fifty or sixty kilometers of Barcelona. They're often built in foresty areas with a lot of the local vegetation, white pine and scrub oak (encina), all over the place. But those urbanizations get all dry, almost as dry as just plain forested land, when it's hot and parched like it is right now. So the area around them catches fire and everybody has to be evacuated just in case. Those are the fires that get on the news. Now, there's not enough dry vegetation to catch fire in Barcelona or its inner suburbs, and nobody ever hears about the fires out in the middle of nowhere. The news-making fires happen in these exurbs, rural enough to catch fire.

God only knows what causes them; I suspect either Catalonia's decades-old electricity grid infrastructure of sparking most of them off, or the occasional farmer doing something dumb like burning off his fields. There seems to be a mass conspiracy theory going on here, though, because I just don't believe that these fires (there will be the odd exception) are started by pyromaniacs, as so many reports state. Almost always the fire department's verdict is that it could have been caused by firebugs, but it could have also been caused by everything from a trail bike's sparking off or some picnic barbecuers who didn't put out their charcoal to the typical moron who tosses his cigarette out the car window.

Yesterday the Vanguardia printed a letter to the editor from some paranoid who thinks the fires were started because there are significant hidden money interests behind it. Yeah, right, if I'm a developer I want to torch forest land so my urbanization will consist of houses intersperced with charred tree trunks. This guy's probably thinking some really devious people like Jews and Masons and the Trilateral Commission are behind the whole thing for dark, obscure reasons that will only become clear centuries after.

Prediction: within days somebody will come out with a story saying a) the heat wave is due to global warning b) global warming is all the United States's fault c) the US is to blame because it rejected the Kyoto Protocol d) therefore the fires here in Southwestern Europe are the United States's fault e) the Americans are all murderers because their energy consumption is causing the climate change that is causing all these French people to die.

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