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<i> Snapshots of life in the Golden State.</i> : Old Flames, New Flames--What’s in Their Names?

Fortunately for the press--we being simple creatures--there are obvious connections between the names given to the state’s recent fires and their locations. The Farnham fire in El Dorado County was named for Farnham Ridge. The Rainbow fire in the Inyo National Forest is for nearby Rainbow Falls.

And that devastating Fountain fire in Shasta County was named for a nearby monument, too--the drinking fountain from which a passerby spotted the flames.

What luck for history that it wasn’t a latrine.

Back in the 1970s, says Frank Mosbacher of the California Department of Forestry, air tankers and helicopters made an all-out assault on the Paper fire in the Los Padres National Forest. It was started by a hiker who had read--erroneously--that the good outdoorsman is supposed to burn his used toilet paper. So he did. Along with an awful lot of foliage.

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(The truth is one letter off: better to bury than to burn.)

Hot fashion, cold cash: Beyond the standard, dreary “I survived the (disaster of your choice here)” T-shirts comes this offering. Some firefighters turned out in shirts with the legend, “All This for an IOU?” State budget head-butting has meant that firefighters were paid in registered warrants, which many retailers wouldn’t cash. But firefighters with IOUs burning a hole in their pockets can thank Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, which announced that it would redeem state vouchers from restaurants and gas stations that cash them for firefighters.

Everywhere, one might presume, but at Baskin-Robbins.

Four for taxes: The California Conservation Corps has set its own record: handling four disasters simultaneously, sending its minimum-wage volunteers to fight fires, clean up oil spills, help in earthquake recovery and strip Medfly-host fruit from trees. Should they go for five? Maybe take on the state budget disaster? Alas, their motto is, “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions . . . and more!” Now, does that sound like a legislator to you?

MEDIA WATCH

Don’t touch that dial: The only really popular thing coming out of Sacramento these days is on the airwaves: The re-christened California Channel (you knew it as Cal-Span) is getting watched. Paul Kiplin is president of the channel, which is so small it doesn’t get ratings, but it is recording the most viewer interest in its two-year life. It may not be scientific, but it’s gratifying when people are “calling up yelling and screaming, ‘Why aren’t you putting (certain) budget conferences on?’ ” says Kiplin.

It’s on from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. weekdays, and if anything important happens while it’s off the air, the California Channel will show the tape later. But of the 5.5 million California homes with cable, fewer than half are served by companies that carry the channel.

“I don’t believe we’re in competition with ‘Cheers’ yet and I doubt we ever will,” says Doug Stone, director of the Assembly’s TV project. “But there’s a sense as some of the problems get more severe, more people want access to what’s going on inside the building.” Like, oh, the Bastille.

Death on the Highway

Labor Day drivers beware: A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that traffic fatalities are 35% higher on Labor Day Monday s than on other Mondays in September.

In California last year, 4,649 people died in traffic accidents. The CHP keeps a tally of the type of obstruction involved in most fatal or injury accidents. They are ranked below :

OBSTRUCTION TOTAL VICTIMS FATALITIES INJURIES Other vehicle 250,386 1,769 248,617 Fixed object 41,720 1,278 40,442 Pedestrian 17,551 843 16,708 Non-collision* 17,091 491 16,600 Bicyclist 15,235 108 15,127 Parked vehicle 7,911 69 7,842 Movable object 2,334 44 2,290 Vehicle on 1,763 18 1,745 other road Animal 473 7 466 Train 216 21 195 Not described 37 1 36 in accident report TOTAL 354,717 4,649 350,068

* Accidents in which the car rolls over

Compiled by Times researcher Tracy Thomas

SOURCE: California Highway Patrol Office of Public Affairs, Sacramento

FULL PORTIONS

California culture: Around these parts, people take their yogurt seriously.

The New York-based Dannon company recently took its lumps, agreeing to a $103,042 settlement because some of its eight-ounce yogurt cups sold in California were short by something under a third of an ounce.

And Rick Jensen, the hunger-striking supervisor of Madera County who (we read his lips, remember?) said he’d fast until there was a state budget, dropped out after two weeks and 15 pounds. The cattleman’s son broke his fast with granola and yogurt.

EXIT LINE

“When the drought got the worst, that’s when his theft became the most flagrant.”

--San Diego County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Valliant, speaking of alleged water rustler John W. Smylie, 57, of San Marcos, who is facing trial for grand theft water--accused of stealing more than $2,500 worth to irrigate his avocado grove.


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