Dry winter heightens wildfire dangers

California is bracing for what officials fear could be an unprecedented winter fire season fueled by record dry conditions that show no signs of letting up.

January is typically a time when forest-fire camps and air bases are closed and seasonal firefighters go home. But not this year. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to 150 wildfires. During the same period last January, there were none, and the historical average is 25.

Fire officials pointed to coastal blazes in Humboldt and San Mateo counties in the past two weeks as examples of the conditions they’re facing. The Humboldt fire spread across 333 acres in four days, shocking firefighters because the region is usually damp with rain at this time of year.

Forecasters say there is little relief in sight. The National Weather Service last week released a forecast for the southwestern United States calling for unseasonably dry and hot conditions.

William Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, said California’s historically wet months of February, March and April look bone-dry, and that is going to heighten the fire danger.

— Los Angeles Times

New York
Cuomo announces airport upgrade plans

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that the state is taking control of an ambitious $3.6 billion construction project that envisions a new central terminal at LaGuardia Airport, with vast open spaces, restaurants, shopping plazas, new parking garages, free WiFi and other amenities common in other airports. Cuomo also wants to develop a plan to upgrade cargo operations at nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“We are going to redevelop those airports the way they should have been redeveloped many, many years ago,” Cuomo (D) said in his annual State of the State address.

Cuomo, who is running for reelection and has been mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, said that he became frustrated that talk of such renovations has been going on since the 1990s with little progress.

— Associated Press

Couple pick up ‘Batkid’ tab: San Francisco is being rescued from paying the cost of staging the “Batkid” fantasy that captured the nation’s imagination. Philanthropists John and Marcia Goldman are picking up the city’s $105,000 tab for allowing Miles Scott, 5, a Northern California boy with leukemia, to fight villains and rescue a damsel in distress as a caped crusader on Nov. 15. Maria Kong of the John and Marcia Goldman Foundation confirmed a San Francisco Chronicle report Sunday about the couple’s gift. City officials say most of the $105,000 in public money went toward renting a sound system, video screens and other equipment to accommodate the surprisingly large crowds that turned out to see Batkid. The fantasy was arranged by the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

— From news services