Summer of the (Flaming) Shark

Give me a quick answer - are forest fires above average this year?  Is this an unusually bad fire season?

You could be forgiven for saying "yes".  In fact, it is an unusually quiet fire season.  Via Real Science

ScreenHunter_241 Jul. 26 22.14

source:  National Interagency Fire Center

It is such a disconnect with news reporting that you may have to click the source link yourself just to make sure I am not having you on, but 2013 is an unusually quiet fire season (2012 was worse but still under the 10 year average).  This tendency to judge trends by frequency of the media coverage rather than frequency of the underlying phenomenon is one I have written about before.

let’s take a step back to 2001 and the “Summer of the Shark.”  The media hysteria began in early July, when a young boy was bitten by a shark on a beach in Florida.  Subsequent attacks received breathless media coverage, up to and including near-nightly footage from TV helicopters of swimming sharks.  Until the 9/11 attacks, sharks were the third biggest story of the year as measured by the time dedicated to it on the three major broadcast networks’ news shows.

Through this coverage, Americans were left with a strong impression that something unusual was happening — that an unprecedented number of shark attacks were occurring in that year, and the media dedicated endless coverage to speculation by various “experts” as to the cause of this sharp increase in attacks.

Except there was one problem — there was no sharp increase in attacks.  In the year 2001, five people died in 76 shark attacks.  However, just a year earlier, 12 people had died in 85 attacks.  The data showed that 2001 actually was  a down year for shark attacks.



  1. sean2829:

    What brought this to the fore front was obviously the firefighters that died in Arizona early in the fire season. From what I understand, the radios they use don't work very well and its hard to relay information to those on the front line from a command center or a look out. But if they addressed that issue, someone would have to take responsibility for not fixing the problem sooner because its a known, recurring problem.

  2. norse:

    Warren! Are you not paying attention? With more than 25,000 forest fires a year, it is clearly high time for a coordinated war on fires! We could have a federal fire fighting agency, with unlimited powers and budget dedicated to coordinating airstrikes and covert operations against forest fires worldwide. Many even say they'd like to see this agency operate unconstrained by constitutional limits. I say find the traitors in our midst who possess such firestarting devices as lighters, wood or gasoline and fix this problem once and for all, with determination. Think of the children!

  3. AnInquirer:

    Perhaps it is so obvious that no one is saying it: humans are expanding their concentrations of populations into more vulnerable areas. Even before the tragedy in Arizona, national media was fixated on forest fires in Colorado because of the homes that now populate heavily wooded -- areas that were fires are hard to contain. We will get more stories of weather & nature effects on humans -- not only because of enhanced telecommunications, but also because more humans are now living in vulnerable areas.

  4. mesaeconoguy:

    And the stimulus reconstruction programs!

    -P. Krugman

  5. ErikTheRed:

    So this is the journalistic equivalent of that "Sharknado" movie. Got it.

  6. Sam L.:

    Our wonderful betters in the press/TV are careful to present no historical comparison, unless it be false or misleading.

  7. obloodyhell:

    You mean like condos built in 20-story buildings that face the ocean with 10 feet of beach between them and the high tide mark?

  8. obloodyhell:

    LOL, I was just discussing Sharknado with someone. We were trying to figure out what the sequel would be -- "Bearricane" or "Eaglequake".

  9. obloodyhell:

    Not to mention the Reconstimulus programs that are required to make sure the stimulus reconstruction programs have plenty of time to work!

    Note: I just made that word up. I claim rights to it. Y'all owe me a thousandth of a penny every time you use it. Go ahead. You know you can't resist. Small checks are acceptable forms of payment.

  10. LarryGross:

    so , regardless of whether it is a "high" or "low" season, should the fighting of the fires be left to the private sector and get the nasty govt out of it? You'd have these private fire fighting companies that contract with property owners when fire strikes their area?

  11. Harry:

    How many alternatively powered buildings in California would it take to "conserve" the CO2 emitted from one 8.000 acre California fire, counting not just the burned vegetation, but also the joists, beams, mattresses, and the plastic in the recycling bins of environmentally PC California houses? (Including the cedar Swedish waterless toilets.) Not that I am concerned about carbon dioxide, but they are.