California Fires: Why doesn't cable news cover them as much as East Coast hurricanes?

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I’ll bet a big part of why is the whole “It’s coming… it’s coming… it’s HERE… look what it DID!” process hurricanes go through, as well as the speed in which they cause their devastation.

AFAIK, wildfires can affect just as wide an area, but do it in slow motion by comparison, which doesn’t make for good TV.

I know up here with the recent fires, there was a lot of reporting as the fires began to encroach on large cities (and the evacuation taking place), but once it hit, there was very little to report on (“Still burning…”).

I’d argue that a west-coast hurricane that slammed into a large city would get the same airtime as an east coast one, they’re just way less common.

TL;DR: IMHO, Hurricanes speed and short timeframe between buildup-effect-aftermath make for better TV.


That’s part of it, for sure. I think another part is general bias against the state of CA, because it’s a “liberal haven.”


East Coast hurricane coverage is obnoxious and is probably desensitizing some people into not fleeing. I’d hate for that to happen in the case of forest fires anywhere.

FYI The Weather Channel is expending the same Hurricane level of effort with their disaster visualizations. You may remember their classic hit about Storm Surge now they have one called “How Wildfires Spread”.

(Ludacris Speed! :slight_smile:)


Fires last too long for our shortened attention span.


And too lazy to even rake our own forests.


News Cycles are the quintessential definition of stupidity spoon feed to the masses.


News that fits the news cycle is always better covered. It’s almost as if hurricanes were designed around today’s 24 hour continuous news cycle demands. But nothing much actually happens for long periods of a widfire.

  1. A fire brigade could potentially stop a fire from moving.

2)There is no equivalent service for hurricanes.

  1. Therefore hurricanes are scarier

the Camp Fire took out an entire town in 24 hours, though. it was moving at a rate of a football field every minute for awhile. if that’s not “hurricane speed” enough for the media, then i don’t know what to say.


I personally believe it’s because you can get plenty of reporters stupid enough to stand in front on a camera in a hurricane.

No reporter is stupid enough to stand in front of a fire storm - at least, not more than one time.


I was going to correct you and say 8 per minute, but I found this instead:

IF we go one-dimensional for ease of calculations, and totally ignore lateral spread and total volume, we get a fire spread rate of 327 miles per hour, which leads me to think that perhaps the story may be overstating things.

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wow, augh! i heard one per minute, but then that CNN video above says 1 per second, and i guess the reality is that it was mind-blowingly fast and we’re still wrapping our heads around it all.

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why doesn’t cable news cover them as much as East Coast hurricanes?

Is this a trick question? I know that many cable channels no longer have ANY content even vaguely related to their names. Do the news channels still carry news?

Yeah, but it’s not just the speed, it’s the dynamics. There’s no build-up - it’s just suddenly there, doing damage. And it continues to do damage once it’s started, but it’s unpredictable - it could be houses, it could be open space. It’s chaotic. News channels can’t get the same kind of traditional narrative structure (and climax) out of it.


You’re conflating distance and area. By going “one-dimensional for ease of calculations” you’ve come up with a number (327 mph) that’s meaningless.

  1. Better forestry management practices could reduce fuel load, create fire breaks, and use controlled burns to reduce risk.

This is likely less of an issue as time goes on; but it could be too much speed.

Hurricanes are dangerous and fast enough to avoid falling into the ‘too slow for visuals; someone will write a “long read” about it in a decade’ bucket; but slow and predictable enough that it’s not terribly difficult to get your talking heads and camera crews and whatnot in(and, if necessary, out) to film whatever destruction and/or human interest seems most likely to draw those sweet, sweet, ratings.

Fires are slightly less cooperative. The ones that are slow enough for convenient filming tend to be pretty slow; leaving you to cut between ‘yup, still kind of orange in that direction’ and ‘let’s find some shocked survivors and feed on their emotions’; while the really dramatic fast ones are difficult(and stupid) to get a film crew on scene with.

I imagine that the improving capabilities of drones and the average phone camera will help mitigate this; but ‘fast’ starts being more logistically problematic than it is interesting after a point.

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Meanwhile – not to miss an opportunity to make money off the public’s property – Tre45on and the right wing media keep making it sound like the California fires are forest fires, which they are NOT, so they can promote “better management” (ha!) via corporations harvesting timber from actual public forests. The fires are almost entirely NOT in forests (especially harvestable/managed ones), but most people do not know that – so lies are called for in the name of profit at the public’s expense.


Floods and hurricanes also tend to leave a lot of recognisably human-built structures behind. So, you can get those dramatic shots of someone canoeing down mainstreet, say.

Tornadoes, which also don’t get covered the way hurricanes do, and fires tend to leave behind very little that is recognisable. That’s why a lot of the shots that we do have are of burned-out vehicles. They are recognisable things that almost everybody has and can imagine losing. A foundation where a house used to be quite often doesn’t carry that same visceral shock. Hectares of trees/brush/prairie burnt to a crisp is even harder for most to relate to, especially on a TV screen.

Throw in the fact that tornadoes are found mostly in flyover country and wildfire has a west-coast bias while all the big reporting orgs are based in the east, and to some, it’s like they are barely worth the space/time.