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tv   1962 Documentary Design for Disaster  CSPAN  December 6, 2014 1:30pm-2:01pm EST

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>> you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule, programs, and to keep up with the latest history news. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2014] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> each week, "reel america" brings you archival films that help tell the story of the 20th century. on november 6, 1961, a fire broke out near bel air, los angeles. it destroyed 484 homes, damaged 190 others. it burned over 16,000 acres. disaster" is a 1962 documentary that tells the story of the fire, examines the causes and proposes actions to prevent such destruction in the future.
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this 30-minute film is narrated by actor william conrad. >> design for disaster, the story of the bel air conflagration. santa ana, indians named it santana, the devil wind. when it blows, trees and brush become crackling and dry. the atmosphere grows tense, oppressive. people tire easily, argue more. even the suicide rate rises during the months of the santa ana. warm, dry. this climate attracts 300,000 people a month to the city of los angeles who become permanent residents. they settle into hotels, apartments, homes along the coast, inland throughout the central residential sections to the far reaches of the valleys.
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some move up to the scenic, secluded hill area. lush vegetation softens the ridges and valleys and breezes blow clean. increasingly strong during a -- the late fall months of the santa ana and dangerously dry when there has been no rain. it is during this unstable period, firemen most fear the potential of thick dry oak, all within the city boundaries of los angeles. classed by experts as the fastest-burning groundcover in the western hemisphere. nestled in the cover, one of the greatest concentrations of high valued homes in america. a serious problem in fire protection under even the best of conditions. on the morning of november 6,
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1961, fire department dispatchers find conditions far from the best. santa ana winds are strong, humidity and moisture content rock-bottom, fire danger extreme. 8:03, a condition of high hazard is declared throughout. standby companies are moved up from stations near brush areas. they strengthen the circle of protection. even as they move, trouble strikes. at 8:15 a.m., an alert of fire is relayed. >> all units concerned, a reported brush fire in the mountain area. 3600 block, stone canyon. >> the division chief responds immediately. the chief calls for additional companies. the fire is starting from its point of origin north of mulholland on stone canyon, it
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spreads out in three directions. the first arriving unit succeeds in stopping it before it reaches several homes. but there is no stopping it on the south. the winds are driving the flames fast and hard. the chief declares the condition a major emergency. support from air tankers requested. additional engine companies rollout. all key personnel are alerted. deputy and division chief move up to take command. messages crackle in. >> the fire is heading straight down stone canyon. >> 31, 45, 66, and 67, move directly into the fire. >> the fire has jumped mulholland and headed toward bel air. to these men, brushfires are
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routine, but this one is pushing them hard. the flames take a run the canyon slopes, heading uphill. firemen with high-pressure hose stream knock the fire down as it tries to make the jump as it did over mulholland. in the canyon between, there lies the problem. rough terrain impedes fire crews in meeting the flames head on. fire fans out to sweep up canyon walls, threatening residential areas ahead. chief engineer william miller arrives at command post headquarters to take charge of fire operation. he is prompted to order everything available. time is vital, the fire is spreading, growing by the
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minute. air tankers sweep in. fire danger is compounded by the santa anas, driving through at 50 miles per hour. 100, 200, 300 feet ahead, spot fires appear from nowhere. all off-duty firemen are recalled to hold back what may come if the wind plays tricks. and the wind does. embers fly ahead of the fire. fire is west, part of stone canyon. fire officers alert the command post of the new outbreak. >> i can see the fire on the west side. it jumped at least 500 feet further south. >> it is now out of control. >> defense forces are split once
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again to handle the two additional fronts and equipment and manpower. flames begin spreading at the rate of 13 acres per minute. active change from offense to defense. fire crews are directed to positions between structures. the approaching fire to begin the necessary techniques of hit and run firefighting. get ahead of the fire, take a stand, knock it down, move ahead again, always stay ahead of the fire. the firemen almost in the dark fight to keep flames confined to a single home. the fire is below them, sweeping south.
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going up ahead with the wind dropping out of the men. they are no longer ahead of the fire. commanders request more and more help as the flames spread. >> unless we have companies that can lay into these individual houses, we are going to begin losing more houses. toward sepulveda. >> there are about 15 houses. >> we are dispatching everything we have. >> everything is not enough. badly needed help coming from county firefighting units. 22 of the engine companies. 10 more are on the way. operators work ahead of the flames. 23 surrounding municipalities.
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they cover for city companies that moved into the fire. fire officials decide where residents may remain and where they may not. decisions are based on the prime consideration of any fire, safety to human life. ahead of the fire, police officers are hard-pressed to control the evacuation of residents. while they work, radios send messages. >> we need police assistance to evacuate these people. >> there is a lady having difficulty breathing. she has been sick. >> we have a school bus trapped. the children are trapped. >> we have people trapped on foot. we need help from the police department. >> we need an ambulance.
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>> there is a house on fire. there is a lady trapped. >> congestion blocks fire trucks. everyone must use the same narrow streets, no crossroads connect the steep canyons. fire easily jumps the ridges. firefighters must drive miles to go around it. sightseers add to the problem. police are forced to arrest many who move in to get a ringside view of disaster. disaster it is. canyon on the hillsides, , on the ridges, houses are burning. smoke blacks out the sun. firemen worked in close, driving into crevices through windows, , ventilators. wind ben's high-pressure hose streams.
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wind whips roof fires into the bellows of flames. the men have water to fight with and they are holding their own. without warning, some don't have water. the pressure, then the water itself recedes. fire companies are battered by waves of flames. the situation becomes one of scattered running battles as fire crews individual targets. -- fire crews take individual targets. water is drafted from strength -- from swimming pools wherever possible. where water is limited, homes that are furiously burning must be passed by. hundreds of others are threatened. a difficult choice must be made. which to fight? houses with combustible roofs and those too close to brush our -- are poor risks.
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once they extinguish, they catch fire again and again. nevertheless, the firemen try. air tankers come in low and often despite collision hazards. the biggest loads will not affect the huge fires. they do their best work in conjunction with ground crews to prevent fire spread. more equipment is moved in as fires sweep south at incredible speeds. every burning thing is hurled ahead. the fire leaps from wood roof to wood roof. spot fires appear everywhere. they spread and fused together. the blaze is no longer just a major brush fire, just a group of burning buildings. it is a full-scale conflagration. on the move, headed for the
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thickly populated areas of every residential section north and south of sunset boulevard. there is one chance, every piece of equipment not actively involved in saving structures is being ordered north of sunset. head off the flames. homes disintegrate into white-hot embers, carried high into the atmosphere. there is no clearly defined fire. it is as if an enemy force suddenly launched a paratrooper attack. the sector chief work to maintain order where sectors no longer exist. there are scores of homes on scores of streets. smoke-imposed darkness
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throughout the fire areas. some have no water. in their concentration on the jobs at hand, none can know that new crises are taking form. sa miles northwest in the nta inez canyon, a second major brush fire has broken loose, destroyed nine homes, and is racing toward the main fire to blacken 10,000 acres. companies are pulled from upper stone canyon to fight the new blaze. canyon, another brush fire is deliberately set. ground crews respond, and air tanker is directed ahead of their arrival to delay progress of the fire. in brentwood, a third crisis. a mile and a half west of bel air a completely unexpected
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, phenomenon takes place. thousands of firebrands are dropped from the skies in residential areas and hills above. the embers spread. 60 to 70 fires blaze up. vitally needed equipment must be pulled from critical areas. at the same time, a fourth emergency hits. clouds of sparks soar high over the san diego freeway. canyon.ulveda fire in the space of a few minutes sweeps the largest man-made firebreak. everything possible is being thrown into the path of the conflagration that will not stop. the county civil defense in neighboring municipalities are
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in this fight against time. 20-mile perimeter of sweeping flame. men do not know where the fire stops or where it begins or how far it will go or how much longer. too many streets, too many homes, too many fires. only 3000 men to fight. to these men, the whole thing seems unreal. the wind will not stop. this is a fire that simply will not be whipped. in late afternoon, they get their first break. the santa ana diminishes. the racing fire slows to a run. those still left in the burn areas get a look at the path it has traveled. there is no time for
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contemplation. on the burning heavily south and west flanks, still moving. the wind changes, brings it west and northwest. in its path lies one of the most heavily populated, most exclusive, most hazardous canyons. apparatus is withdrawn from the burning. firemen stand in their lines as they watch a sky full of smoke turn red from embers and reflected flames. the fire, once again, is on a rampage. like devils running before the wind flames began their climb to , the top. and gooot skyward downward on a direct run to the homes below. and the fight begins. firemen try to keep their
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positions. within minutes, the canyon is smothered in a maelstrom of smoke, cinders and fire. , below, firefighters take beatings in their stand between homes and fire. painted blisters. fire coats are charred and endurance tested. the lines hold and the men hold. the homes still stand. the flames blacken the canyon walls. as the fire swings north, a great concentration of ground forces moves against its line of advance and the city's most disastrous fire is finally beaten down to a smoldering containment. on november 7, the morning sun reveals the ruins.
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yesterday, they were homes, trees irreplaceable possessions. fireplaces now stand as tombstones on a row of dead streets. fire proved its efficiency by incinerating what families had taken years to acquire. 6090 acres of blackened hills, canyons, and neighborhoods. over 3000 men, 240 fire vehicles, and 16 aircraft try to -- tried to stop it. did stop it. but only after the hard-driving santa ana died down and gave them a chance. they broke the fires back in 12 hours. saved over 2200 homes, a major college. not one single life was lost, not one critical burn case reported. the firemen had set a new record.
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still people wonder, fire victims and those who read about the fire asked the same question -- >> how can a brush fire get so far out of control within a well protected city? >> let's analyze this fire and see what did happen. some phases are difficult to explain. why is a framework of bare wood left unharmed? a furnace of heat crumbles masonry around it. why does a roaring fire suddenly stop and heavy brush as of cut by a knife? why do flames spare one house and consume identical dwellings on both sides? a general pattern of fire behavior can be explained. when a brush fire is traveling downhill, it is most receptive to extinguishment. a wide clearance around the house gives firemen a break.
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combustible roofs do not ignite from falling embers. the fire pre-heat's canyons to ignition temperatures. flames move uphill and the reaction can be almost explosive. a parallel to this is demonstrated with a branch from hillside brush. slowly. travels reverse the situation. place it above the fire. fire, burning brands carry over the top to start brush fires on the opposite side. where they merged with the original blaze, you see fire that leaves only chimneys and brick. no amount of wetting down can stop it. let's take another look at fire in action. brush fires create their own wind. turbulence and he'd bring winds of tornado velocity.
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erratic, twisting, unpredictable. even the seasoned news cameraman can be trapped. byse are further compounded the santa ana. results can be disastrous. 6,the morning of november the santa ana winds were moving in a southwesterly direction from desert to coast. at the same time numerous ridges , of the santa monica's were channeling ground winds due south. so it was that winds were traveling in two directions. when the fire reached bel air and consumed homes, heat lifted burning shingles 2000 to 3000 feet in the air. caught in the upper-level wind currents to be carried well over
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a mile. scores of spot fires began spreading to present a new crisis. this action is demonstrated in these pictures taken by ucla. now the same picture increased , to many times its original speed. deep within the smoke, burning shingles carry a mile and a half and start new fires. the main fire is approaching from the east. this leapfrog phenomenon coupled with powerful ground wind created a unique fire problem. as one of the nations foremost conflagration experts puts it -- >> no one has ever faced this problem before, no definite plan of defense could be found. when a chain reaction of this type occurs a fire department , can do nothing more than pick out individual houses and try to save them.
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>> even in the fight to save individual homes, there is the lack of water. how can a modern water system properly designed to meet emergency fire conditions fail to function? let's look at this simplified diagram of houses on the hill. they are supplied by a water tank above. when thousands of outlets are opened below the hill, water pressure is lost. that is regardless of the amount of water above the houses. when the water supply comes from a distant location, unnecessary use of too many outlets below the fire area simply drains the water from the upper system. we have considered water, wind, and weather. now there is the problem of how a house is constructed and where.
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suppose we live in a house above the congestion of the neighborhood below. or in a house built over the brush. or the typical home with a combustible roof. wide, low eaves to catch sparks of fire. a big picture window to let the fire inside. under any such conditions, not much of a chance. there was a survey of los angeles. combustible-roof houses were serviced by narrow roads. they called this a design for disaster. they predicted the bel air fire. others are sure to come unless citizens and city officials work together on a plan of fire
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defense. a prediction was nothing new to firemen. they have their own ideas about people who don't like water pumping stations in their neighborhood because they feel they are unsightly. or homeowners who refuse to cut brush away from their homes. those groups who maintain to the last glowing ember that combustible roofs are not hazardous and fire areas, despite the fact that over 600 cities have outlawed them. firefighters are thankful that such is not the thinking of -- it does not take a majority to start a fire. or, to feed a conflagration. you are only as safe as your neighbors. if you live in a hazardous area, you are gambling that a fire will not start up ashes, -- start from hot ashes, cigarettes, children with matches, a faulty chimney, auto
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accident, a firebug, fallen wires, or lightning. these are the odds. if you win, you get to keep what you already have. if you lose, fire, the winner, takes all. ♪ >> the c-span cities tour takes book tv and american history tv on the road, traveling to cities
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to learn about their history and literary life. we partnered with time warner cable for a visit to waco, texas. >> as we began to receive the vinyl to be digitized, to be saved, we began turning over the .esides of the 45s gospel music was not widely heard in the white community. if it was, it would be the hits, if that. two ba -- to hear a flip side would be even less. what we discovered is how many of the b side songs were directly related to the civil rights movement. since there are very few of gospel music, we did not know that. we did not know the sheer number of songs that had overt tones, like "there ain't no segregation in heaven" type of songs. singing was a dangerous thing in the deep south. you could get killed for a lot of things in the deep south, but
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singing that sort of song out loud, that is a risk. >> the texas ranger hall of fame was setup in 1976 for the 175th anniversary of the rangers and honors, at this point, 30 rangers who made major contributions through service or gave their lives under her rohit circumstances. we have paintings or portraits of all those rangers. austingin with stephen f . he was very successful with his rangers. only, managed to make the area reasonably safe for settlement from indian raids, but when the texas war for independence broke out, the rangers played a major role in texas gaining its independence by a staving off the mexican army long enough to allow the colonists to build their own army and develop a strategy. as a result, texas became its own, independent nation, the about 10of texas, for
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years. >> watch all of our events throughout the day on c-span2's booktv and sunday afternoon on c-span3. >> you are watching american history tv. like us on facebook. each week, american history tv visits historical places. up next, we take you inside the u.s. capitol's house where matthew wasniewski and curator farar elliott use photographs to trace the history of women in congress. this is the first of a two-part program. >> the story of women in congress begins with jeannette rankin, who is elected to the house in 1916 from montana. she is elected to the house four years before women have the right to vote nationally, and in a way, she is really a bridge from the suffrage moveme

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