December 16, 2013

New video captures last radio call from Granite Mountain Hotshots.     Photo: Creatas Images/Thinkstock

Watch: Firefighters' Final Words

Clip sparks debate over response time

This weekend, a new video posted on YouTube features helmet-cam footage from the Yarnell Hill Fire that claimed the lives of 19 firefighters. The video captures the final radio conversation between the Granite Mountain Hotshots and the fire’s air attack plane circling overheard.

Much of that conversation has already been documented in the two investigations that have been released after the fatalities (read about the first here, and the second here). However, the most recent video, captured by another firefighter at the edge of the blaze near Yarnell, contains new details, including the verbatim exchange between the Granite Mountain team and the air attack plane—and the time that transpired between calls and response.

The dialogue during their final moments is horrific and heartbreaking. But as disturbing as the audio can be, it has raised larger questions: Why did it take Granite Mountain four calls to raise Air Attack on the radio? And why did it take so long for Air Attack to react?

The simple answer may be that Air Attack, which oversees all of the aerial firefighting operations and directs helicopters and tankers to targets, was overwhelmed. On a typical fire, one that isn’t threatening to burn hundreds of houses, they can field literally thousands of radio transmission in a day. During the most hectic moments of a firefight, they may be monitoring five or more radio frequency.

The second point to consider: Would an earlier response (more than two minutes elapsed before Granite Mountain heard from Air Attack) have made any difference? Was it possible for Air Attack to redirect a helicopter or a tanker over Granite Mountain’s position. And, if so could, that response have saved 19 lives?

It's possible, but also highly unlikely. In order for the water or retardant drop to work, the aircraft would have needed to be within a couple of minutes of their location, and more importantly, they would have needed to know the crew’s exact location, which was unclear at the time. And yet even with that information, more variables would have come into play, like the ground wind speed of nearly 50 miles per hour, that may have blown the retardant off target.

The new video provides more insight into the tragic events of June 30. But it still doesn’t answer the most fundamental question: Why did Granite Mountain leave an established safety zone and put themselves in harms way in the basin where they were killed? We may never know for sure, but this is another piece of the puzzle that helps us reconstruct, as near as possible, what happened that fateful day.

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    Photo: Getty Images

Will Grizzly Bears Unlock Secret to Obesity?

Researchers at WSU hope to find out

Most medical research is done on lab rats or in test tubes, where the genes are easily manipulated by scientists. Larger animals, such as grizzly bears, are rarely subjects because they pose a few challenges—their claws, for example. But researchers at the Washington State University Bear Center in Pullman, Washington think we’ve got a lot to learn from the 1,000-pound Ursus arctos.

"When I thought about obesity, I thought about Yogi Bear," says WSU researcher Kevin Corbit.

Grizzlies, like our animated, pick-a-nick-basket-stealing friend, can eat 58,000 calories in a day, gain up to 100 pounds during hibernation, and lose it all with nary an artery clogged. Unlike humans, their health doesn’t suffer from the weight fluctuation. Corbit and other scientists from the drug company Amgen Inc., began research two years ago when the study was launched by Amgen research exec, Alexander Kamb.

"I want to learn how the grizzly bears work their magic," Kamb says.

So far, research has shown that the bears seem to adjust their response to insulin, the hormone that controls how much sugar and fat are stored for energy. When gaining weight pre-hibernation, the bears are more sensitive to the hormone, eventually shutting off their insulin responsiveness completely, the Wall Street Journal reports.

However, until more information is gleaned from this study, eating another Christmas cookie just because you’re “going into hibernation” is probably not backed by science.

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An American sled at the Olympics in Vancouver.     Photo: Familymwr/Flickr

U.S. Bobsled Team Torches World Cup Events

Americans sweep all three medals, twice.

For the first time in 13 years, the U.S. bobsled team swept the medal stand in a World Cup Race. Americans took all three spots on the World Cup podium twice in the last two weeks, reports Sports Illustrated

All three American podium teams finished the track in under 1:51, with the fastest time of 1:50.19. The all-star driver Steven Holcomb, who is undefeated this year, took the top spot with his partner Chris Fogt.

“I think that's really going to help bring that motivation and confidence into Europe. It's definitely going to be harder over there," Holcomb told Sports Illustrated. "We had to take advantage of our North American experience and capitalize on it here because trust me, it's going to get a lot more difficult."

The World Cup season comes to an end with a lot of momentum behind both the men and women’s bobsled teams. "To sweep the podium, it's obviously something you always want to achieve...Not every nation even gets three sleds," says U.S. Coach Brian Shimer. "To put all three of them on the podium is pretty special. I've seen it a lot of times in my career, but with the Swiss flag flying or with the German flag flying."

On the women’s side, Lauryn Williams, a past 100-meter world champion, is a rising star who has medaled in each of her World Cup events. With an impressive rookie resume, Williams will compete with Lolo Jones and Emily Azevedo for an Olympic team spot.

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Ligety training hard in 2012.     Photo: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, LLC

Bad Weekend for U.S. Ski Team

Ligety and Miller out after first run.

For Americans Ted Ligety and Bode Miller, this weekend's World Cup race in Val d'Isere, France, was one to soon forget.

For the first time in nearly five years, Ligety didn't qualify for the final of a World Cup giant slalom race. The winner of two giant slaloms this season, Legity took a gate on his opening run too wide and went down on his hip. Miller fared no better. Miller tripped over his skis at near the conclusion of his first run and toppled over.

Neither skier qualified past the first round of the slalom race on Sunday, either.

Both skiers attribute the mishap to bad luck and Val d'Isere's notoriously difficult course.

U.S. men's head coach Sasha Rearick wasn't concerned about Ligety's performance. "It was tough conditions where it was very hard snow but very grippy," Rearick said in a statement. "We've been training on ice getting ready for Val d'Isere and we didn't make that transition very well today."

Next, both Ligety and Miller will head to Italy to prepare for downhill at Val Gardena in Alta Badia, which starts December 22.

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