Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wildfires as Weapons

We had a wildfire up on Popp Road last week. It burned about 50 acres and threatened our friends' home and farm. In the end, with all county fire crews responding, it was contained and our friends lost only their woods and a row of peach trees. I didn't think that the fire danger was that extreme, but the source of the fire, a brush pile, seems to have smoldered for a week or more until the wind shifted to the east and whipped it up again.

I can't imagine how it feels to live in dry country when the wildfires come up and move fast. This was the terror that the Japanese wanted to turn on the US during WW II, using a simple, ancient, but remarkably effective technology -- paper balloons capable of drifting across the Pacific on the jet stream and then igniting wildfires when they hit the dry land. The fire balloons were kept secret by the US government, both to prevent fear in the US and to deny the Japanese any evidence that their plan was working. But it did work surprisingly well -- over 300 fire balloons landed in the US, one nearly reaching Detroit.

My brother Tim found this WW II training film in the National Archive and posted it with comments about the research for his new novel. Red Rain, based on the stories of the fire balloons. He first heard of the fire balloons while working on a fire crew when he was in college, and he incorporates some of his fire fighting experiences into the story.

Getting the film from the National Archives was, in Tim's words, "Another adventure."

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