Saturday, March 31, 2012

Smarter Than a 4th Grader?

It’s that time again when wildfires spring up around Colorado and journalists mangle the news coverage of these events.

The people who have lost homes and loved ones face a long road back to life as usual. At the very least, their stories deserve some dignity – not the buffoonery that’s been exhibited on newscasts and the Internet. Here are three samples of what we’ve had to put up with lately.

1. The hijinks began with this headline and first sentence of a story on a local news station’s web site:
High Winds Cause Fires Across Southern Colorado 
A combination of strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures caused several fires across southern Colorado on Monday.
Back in school, we learned about the fire triangle as illustrated by this diagram from a kid’s page on the Mt. Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Fire Department web site:

It seems that even 4th graders know that fuel, oxygen, and heat are necessary for a fire to burn. (For you advanced fire buffs, yes, there’s also a chemical chain reaction involved, but I’m not teaching a fire dynamics class here…)

The news story describes five different fires that day – one caused by a person burning trash on a windy day (doh!), and no cause given for the other four. Clearly, high winds (or even wind, low humidity, and warm temperatures) did not cause these fires. Weather conditions certainly contributed to the ease of ignition and fire spread, but they did not cause the fires.

Apparently, this reporter wasn't smarter than a 4th grader.

2. The Lower North Fork fire burning in Jefferson County reportedly began as a rekindle of a prescribed burn conducted by the Colorado State Forest Service – not to be confused with the U.S. Forest Service, except by one anchor who called it the:
Colorado National Forest Service”
3.  Then there was this mathematically-challenged gem.
Lower North Fork Fire Burns 900 Acres 
The fast-moving fire burned at least 4 ½ square miles, and residents of more than 900 homes were ordered to evacuate.
Four-and-a-half square miles equals about 2880 acres, so there’s definitely a disparity between the headline and the story. My guess is the reporter had a brain cramp and confused 900 homes with 900 acres.

I bet a 4th grader with a calculator could have figured out that one.

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