January 22, 2014

The June 30 Yarnell Hill fire killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot     Photo: odina/Thinkstock

Yarnell Fire Claims Denied

Prescott, Arizona, rejects $662 million

Following the deadly Yarnell Hill fire in June 2013, more than 100 damage claims were filed by property owners and relatives of the 19 firefighters who lost their lives. Yesterday, the small town of Prescott, Arizona, where the firefighters were dispatched from, turned down each claim.

A law firm representing the city of Prescott stated that the claims were without merit, and that the city "is not liable to claimants because it didn't act intentionally, recklessly, or negligently." However, filing these claims preserves the individuals’ right to sue, and many are expected to lead to possible lawsuits, according to reports from the Associated Press.

The families of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died on June 30 filed 17 of the claims; 91 others were filed by affected property owners. A dozen of the claims filed by the firefighter’s relatives seek some $220 million. They also requested new safety techniques, improved standards and equipment, and a new program that would use analysis of the deaths to educate other wildland firefighters. The 108 claims seek $662 million in damages.

The claims, which allege the firefighting techniques were negligent and reckless, are filed against several entities including the state of Arizona, and the Central Yavapai and Yarnell fire districts.

Thirteen of the fallen hotshot members were seasonal firefighters, meaning by law their families will not receive full-time employee benefits in the wake of the tragedy. Prescott has been both supported and heavily criticized for this decision.

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Just try to say no to this face.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

2013 Was Terrible For Manatees

Record number of deaths

Manatees have it hard. They might be the world's most adorable aquatic mammals, but they're soft targets in the wild. They're basically deaf to boat engines (their chief nemeisis), they can't tolerate cold, and they're not really great swimmers as much as they're just aggressive floaters.

Still, it was surprising to see them die off in such drastic numbers in 2013. There were 829 recorded manatee deaths last year, the highest known total since scientists began tracking the species. Up to 450 of Florida's manatees will die every year from natural causes, but some unusual conditions in 2013 led to a drastic spike in deaths.

Two hundred seventy-six manatees were killed by a high concentration of the toxic marine algae known as red tide. During especially voluminous blooms, underwater plant life, the manatees' primary food source, became contaminated, poisoning the creatures. More than 100 manatees also died of unknown causes in the Indian River area of east-central Florida. Necropsies have yet to turn up any evidence.

"It started out pretty baffling, and to this point they still have no clue," research biologist Bob Bonde told National Geographic.

Increasingly frigid winters have also been a problem for the highly temperature-sensitive mammals. Cold waters were a big factor in 2010, when manatee deaths hit their previous high of 766. Nonetheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is still considering downlisting the manatees' status from "endangered" to "threatened."

Now, stem your tears with these videos of manatees being insufferably adorable.

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Couch potatoes are more at-risk for high blood pressure and heart damage due to neuron oversensitivity.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sitting Still Is Bad For Your Neurons

Leads to high blood pressure and cardiovascular damage

A sedentary lifestyle can be alarmingly harmful, according to a new study published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology.

Researchers gathered a dozen rats and split them between two types of cages: enclosures with running wheels and enclosures without. After three months, scientists injected the rats with a type of dye that colors specific brain neurons.

According to The New York Times, the neurons of the active rats looked relatively similar after three months, but the neurons of the sedentary rats had changed drastically, sprouting more branches than the average neuron.

Too many branches make neurons oversensitive to stimuli and more likely to overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system–a known cause of high blood pressure and cardiovascular damage.

As an example, a well-regulated sympathetic nervous system that allows blood vessels to widen or contract as needed prevents you from fainting when you stand up from your desk. An overstimulated nervous system could be overwhelmed by these types of basic physical activities.

The study's authors included the caveat that despite the neurological similarities between rats and humans, the investigation was short-term and animal-based.

But the scientific research against sedentary lifestyles seems to be growing; just yesterday researchers announced that an inactive lifestyle kills us at about the same rate as smoking.

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A yoga instructor strikes a pose during a nude yoga session.     Photo: Getty Images

Coed Naked Yoga in NYC

Downward dog just got a lot more awkward

If you were offended by the transparency of the yoga pants Lululemon recalled last March, stay away from Bold & Naked, the first coed naked yoga studio in New York City.

Owners Joschi Schwarz and Monika Werner believe that naked yoga allows participants to find a deeper connection with the world around them. When the popularity of Schwarz’s all-male naked yoga classes in Le Male Yoga in Chelsea rose, he opened Bold & Naked with Werner.

The studio offers various combinations of clothed, naked, same sex, and coed classes. And regarding the naked sessions and Tantric Yogassage offered: “If you are looking for an orgasm, you are in the wrong place,” the Bold & Naked website states.

“By shedding their clothes and practicing yoga in the nude, students literally drop the masks and labels they hide behind all day,” the website says. "Practicing yoga naked frees you from negative feelings about your body and allows you to be more accepting of your physical imperfections.”

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New York City commuter bikes from the CitiBike bike-sharing program, whose supply company went bankrupt this week.     Photo: NYDOT/Flickr

Public Bike System Co. Goes Bankrupt

But bike-sharing not doomed

A Canadian company that equips and supplies bike-sharing systems in major cities around the world sought bankruptcy protection on Monday.

According to NPR, Public Bike System Co., which owns the BIXI bike-sharing system, cited almost $50 million in debt. Bike-sharing, however, is not doomed. In fact, this method of transportation has more than doubled in the last year in the United States. 

"I don't think that [the news of the bankruptcy] is necessarily the death knell of bike sharing systems," says professor of urban planning at Rutgers University John Pucher. "If you look at public transport systems, [a lack of profit] certainly has not been the death knell of public transport in the U.S."

In the short-term, bike-share users with memberships should not be worried about seeing their stations disappear. Alta Bike Share, which operates most of the PBSC's American bike-share stations, said in a statement that operations will continue without interruption.

According to The Gazette, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre assured residents that the BIXI will still be in operation this summer.

"I just see this as a chance for cities to learn—we can't run our transportation systems like a business, it doesn't really work that way because then we run the risk of not serving the people that need to be served," Elly Blue, author of Bikenomic, told NPR. "I don't see this as being a very big bump in the road for bike share."

See the map below to see if the bike-sharing program in your city is supplied by PBSC.

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