Texas Tinderbox

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Because of the late news of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke Wednesday night, we had to be ready to cover the breaking news. Of course we did not know if he would get better, worse, or remain the same. We only knew we must be ready in the event more news broke.

We did have FOX News Channel's Greg Burke at the hospital — and he did a live report — but we needed to have more in case the story changed. Ambassador Marc Ginsberg — a very good friend to this show — agreed to come to our bureau and stand by throughout our entire show. That meant also that he had to be camera ready (make up, etc.) To say he was a good sport understates it — it was much, much, much appreciated. He remained in our newsroom waiting throughout our hour.

In the event of a change in the prime minister's condition, we wanted to bring you the most in-depth information and analysis. We did not want to short change you in any way — we wanted to have the best for you. Ambassador Ginsberg knows a great deal about Israel and was my first choice for help. In addition to knowing much about the region, Ambassador Ginsberg explains history and current politics in the region very well. (As an aside, we also put others on call... including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who I was told had shoulder surgery. I am not sure if he was available to us by phone or not, but he was one I also turn to on issues involving Israel.)

Every night it is always a hard decision to figure out how much to do on what topics. Of course each viewer has his or her own idea of what we should be doing for the hour. We are mindful of the fact that we are last in prime and that most of our viewers have been watching news shows prior to ours. We try to do the stories differently and we also try to bring you different topics.

I have posted — as usual — some viewer e-mails below. You might find it interesting that several viewers thought I was rude to Beth Holloway Twitty and the last e-mail is from my colleague Laura Ingle. The pictures posted today are taken by Laura and are explained in the text of her e-mail to me.

Now for some randomly selected e-mails:

E-mail No. 1

How many "blazers" do you have, and do you ever wear anything else? You are an attractive woman and a great reporter. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE get a fashion makeover and drop the ''blazers." Do you ever watch, "What Not To Wear"? Stacy could really help you. I am looking forward to seeing you in your new duds.
Tammy McDonald

E-mail No. 2

Dear Greta,
I followed the West Virginia miners' story closely for two reasons. My husband is from West Virginia and still has family members mining there and because I too am the wife of a coal miner. Though my husband works on the ground and not under it, I still sit and pray at night that he returns home to me and I do not get the dreaded phone call or knock on the door.
I am a FOX news fan, but my stepmother is a subscriber and sent me your page, I read the e-mail from an individual by the name of Everett Reed and I was saddened by the comment that was made about mine safety regulations being brought up. Yes, my heart does go out to those families and my deepest prayers are with them. But in regards to what Everett said, it is very critical for the mines to have these regulations and if these violations were not made then these miners would still be alive. I do not consider it throwing fuel on the fire. West Virginia is full of "outlaw mines." Had this mine been up to code, the possibility of the collapse and chemical intoxication would have been slimmer. To many chemicals can be dangerous as we all know.
So in regards to the e-mail in question I have this to say, knowing that my husband works for Peabody and they are as up to code as can be, allows me to sleep at night. Also, knowing that the mines are not making life threatening violations lets me know that my husbands chances of being injured or killed are slim to none, but I always have the feeling in the pit in my stomach that when my 30-year-old husband (but mine veteran) leaves for work that something will happen. So to Everett Reed, what may not be important to you is important to others. And this is just my opinion.
Thank you for reporting the truth!
Megan Cisco
A coal miner's wife

E-mail No. 3

Having been through multiple changes in ownership while working in a manufacturing environment, it has been my experience that there are an increased number of audits, or inspections, prior to and following the takeover. Each inspector must justify his time and expenses and there are always problems identified by the auditor. I am wondering if this is part of why there is such a disproportionate number of safety violations for this mine. Could someone compare the stats for this mine with others that have gone through similar changes and see if this is common during these transition time or is there really a red flag that was somehow overlooked?
Mary Anne Dunlap
Mt. Sterling, KY

E-mail No. 4

I feel the pain for the West Virginia coal miners' families and friends. I am at a total loss how in this century we can have a tragedy of this magnitude of senseless lack of foresight into the respect of human life. We can build submarines to go down thousands of feet in the ocean to rescue submarines, yet where is the intelligent thinking that we cannot build an underground safe room with ventilation, meals ready to eat and ventilation to sustain human life. What is the value of the poor working class that corporations cannot afford some concrete and bulkheads for an underground bunker? New Orleans was not a loss due to race, but a loss due to the poor and this is now seen in the loss of life in West Virginia.
Tim McGinn
Rochelle, IL

E-mail No. 5

I am a former Federal Mine Inspector and Certified Mine Foreman. If these questions are answered, it may trip "red flags" as to the cause of the recent tragedy and future prevention of such.
1. With the working mine two miles in, did a required alternate escape way and ventilation exist? If not, why?
2. Were there anonymous calls or write ins (whistle blowers) complaints to MSHA or State about this operation? (often more truth than not to these)
3. Is there evidence of improper Fire Bossing? (i.e. lack of times and dates of inspections written on mine walls corresponding to permanent ledgers above ground)
4. Is there a history of WILLFUL neglect or action on part of management violations?
5. Is there a history of Imminent Danger Closure Orders?
6. Is there a history of Cease Operations at Location violations?
7. Violations of Roof Control Plan which, when approved, becomes law (escape route blockage).
8. Is there a history of ventilation violations? (methane contributor to blast?)
9. Is there a history of explosive storage and handling and electrical maintenance violations? (possible ignition sources of blast)
10. Was there adequate positioning of Emergency (include barricade) Supplies? ( to provide air tight separation between good and bad air)
11. Was there a violation history of coal dust and combustible material accumulation? (which could contribute to propagation of combustion)
12. Is there history of inspectors giving verbal requirements to management to fix specific violations noted at the time in order to avoid the written record of citation? (these can be a substantial source of history when honing in on the source problems and thus their prevention.
Thank you for taking time to consider asking these question as only you would know how to get at the facts and the truth behind this tragedy!

E-mail No. 6

Yes, we all were heartbroken/exhilarated/then heartbroken again last night. I woke up at 3 a.m. Mountain Time and turned on FOX News hoping to see the miners at the church. That's when I found out the horrible news and mistakes that were made.
I do not blame anyone for this however. The reporters I saw on FOX last night were so caught up in the moment with the families and the emotions, but at the same time I heard them keep asking, "Where did you hear that? Who made that statement? etc. The one FOX reporter who came back from his hotel when the "good news" hit thought it odd that there was no "official" press conference or announcement. I know in the professional journalists minds the lack of "the source" made them uneasy in reporting. But we are all human and we all wanted the miracles. I hope the journalists keep their human side, even if mistakes are sometimes made. We all came together last night as a country and across the world. We need that sometimes. The families will go on with their lives with the country's prayers supporting them. The time to talk about safety issues at mines is now while we are thinking about it. Be fair to both sides though. If safety costs are so unrealistically high and it is no longer profitable the mine will close and the miners will be out of work. We need a safe place in between.
Sharon Kendzie
Tucson, AZ

E-mail No. 7

My brother-in-law is a retired federal mine inspector in WV he was very strict on any violation. The mine officials hated to see him coming, but the miners knew when he came all would be fixed that needed to be fixed and he returned to inspect if all was repaired they had the go ahead if not they were written up. Some inspectors turn their head the other way as favors. The union mines are stricter because of the union, but non-union pays better, but are not as safe they don't have to answer to anyone but the inspectors and they may be paid off. All of this does need to be looked into. It is a very dangerous job which they elect to do, but is much needed throughout the whole U.S. as fuel for many different uses. It is much better today than in yester years when the company demanded they spend their money at the company store and live in company houses. The pay was not good and they were treated like lesser human beings by the company. You can do research on this and see how far they have come in the last 50 years. Remember the song, "I Owe My Soul to the Company Store," well, he had it right.
A Fox Fan

E-mail No. 8 — Note: I eliminated this e-mailer's name. I am not sure he wanted this to be posted and thus removed his name.

Go Greta!
I work in a profession tied to mining. One of the common problems is a real and true fear of being fired for locking-out dangerous equipment or insisting on repairs or corrections before continuing. Many people are also ordered to falsify records to continue operations; then ordered to sign their own names, not that of the ordering supervisor!
Keep hollering out there. Many hard-working people do like their jobs and just need a boost for safety — not "NEW" rules or laws, but simple compliance of existing ones.
Apalachin, NY

E-mail No. 9

I think the tragedy at the mine is one of the most horrible stories there has been, I wonder why they waited so long to get in there, and how a company could possibly let the relatives believe the miners were alive for three hours! Just watching the relatives reactions when they heard the miners were living, the screams, people breaking out in praises and song, and then to be so devastated! What a horrible thing to do to people, what a discouraging time for that community! I hope you and other shows really push to find out if there were problems with this mine, they should not be able to get away with it if it is their fault.
Karen Brown
Rapid City, SD

E-mail No. 10

I admit I'm naive about the subject, but I find it hard to believe that in 2006 we are in such need of coal that this is the only way to get it? Sending men and women to dig in the earth/mountains, risking lung diseases and death. Rush Limbaugh summed it up today, "No more blood for coal." There has GOT to be a better way!
Love your show,
Alice Mason
Charlotte, NC

E-mail No. 11

I'm surprised it wasn't you that gave the bad information on the miners. You are the worst journalist I have ever had the misfortune to lay eyes and ears on.
Brian Yocum

ANSWER: I think Brian means "who" and not "that." It is a common grammatical error.

E-mail No. 12

What a tragedy in the mine in West Virginia. It should never have happened, but unfortunately things like this do happen. I understand the families being so grieved and upset right now and by all means they have the right to sue the mine company as they wish, but it seems like it always goes back to "personal responsibility." There may have been violations and problems, etc., but EVERYONE knew about them. Why would anyone go into a mine they KNOW isn't safe? That's like getting on an airplane someone just said couldn't pass an inspection. I CERTAINLY WOULDN'T DO IT! Again, it's a terrible tragedy, and my prayers go out to all the victim's families, however, they knew better than anyone else the dangers and the problems that may or may not have existed there.
J. Hill
Formerly of West Virginia

E-mail No. 13

The mine disaster was devastating, of course, to the families and to all of us who have trust that our family members, friends and associates are all working under the strictest of safety standards. I believe that this was a disgrace to those standards that we as Americans believe in and practice on a daily basis. If the agencies in charge cannot guarantee a safe working environment for our workers then they should be terminated and individuals that will ensure safety brought in to manage those companies with violations. Well, now it is too late, at least in this case. What a horrible way to learn how deficient some of our agencies are in protecting us. They should be ashamed of their sloppy work and horrified at the result.
In addition, the "rescue" seemed entirely too slow and obviously not effective. I would think we should be capable of much more when it comes to rescue. The entire process seemed much to slow and, in my opinion, mismanaged. Might want to review some of those antiquated procedures that delay rescue and resulted in the loss of twelve lives. In addition, could be the right time to maybe update the equipment used? If cost of effective equipment was a factor then not only should fines be imposed, but the mine shut down. If you can't run it properly, then shut it down. If your profits aren't high enough then too bad. Find a way to protect your employees. The entire event was again a disgrace to this country of so much and yet not provided to those who work so hard in difficult jobs. Sadly,
J. Diacovo
Chicago, IL

E-mail No. 14

Great coverage on the mine accident, that brings tears to my eyes. I am from WV and as a child I can remember several incidents of mine accidents that were very bad. My grandfather lost both legs to a mine accident in WV and had an uncle that worked underground without incident. This would have been in the '50s. I worked in open pit mining here in Arizona from 1968 till 1988 and lost several people that I knew and worked with. Miners are a very close group. When you work around equipment that can suck you in and kill you in a second it is a risk.
If you want to experience a visit to a very large open pit mine here in Arizona I can make that happen.
Cecil C. Cillitto
Cochise, AZ

E-mail No. 15

My husband is not a coal miner but his older brothers were, as well as his father, grandfather and great grandfather. Trust me, they do it only because the families in the coal mining regions of Appalachia, have almost no other means of making a living. In present times, the miners make what they consider a "good living," unlike in the past. They are good, kind, decent people just trying to have a little of what most of the rest of America has and they have accepted that in order to do that, they must put their lives on the line everyday. This area is the land of America's roots, and yet the people are stereotyped, and almost forgotten, unless there is a tragedy like this that gets the attention of the media.
Thank you for caring about them.
Maria Miles
St. Louis, MO

E-mail No. 16

Tonight you briefly interviewed Beth Holloway Twitty and the segment was cut off before you said good-bye. Beth deserves more care. Interviewing deserves more class. Please take more time.
Ann M. Schurman

E-mail No. 17

Dear Greta,
After seven months, you finally have Beth on your show with interesting and provocative information and you ditch her without even saying thank you and goodbye... rude.
Greta, shame on you....
Carole Baier

ANSWER: The segments you saw were taped earlier in the week.

E-mail No. 18

Dear Greta,
I have now changed my mind. I do not think Joran killed Natalee. Apparently he was not drinking or drugs, but being a gambler myself as he was, you do not find any gamblers that would kill anybody. They always live in hope. I think he may have walked off and left her at the beach and lied as he knew he should not have done this, but young people do not think anything ever happens to them. I think somebody was watching or she may have sat down on the sand near the hotel and an opportunist came along and took advantage of her. I do not think the police think Joran is guilty. They are trained in this sort of thing. What about the gardener that was out roaming around at that hour and said he saw her? I don't know about the Kalpoes, but looking at that Joran I do not think he is guilty.
All the best for the New Year and lets hope the murders are down as I think you had enough by the end of the year!
Bye for now,
Judy Alsop

E-mail No. 19 — This next e-mail is from my good friend and colleague, Laura Ingle. It chronicles her time in Texas covering the dangerous wildfires. I have also posted a photo essay of the pictures she took that relate to the text of her e-mail/blog below:

Texas Fire Hero

The Lone Star state is under siege. Red and orange flames have ripped across not just Texas, but Oklahoma and New Mexico as well, leaving thousands of acres torched, hundreds of buildings burnt to the ground, and several people dead.

This drought-stricken area is like a tinderbox. The grass on the ground is so dry and brittle, it just takes a spark, and there is suddenly a raging inferno racing like a tidal wave towards shore. It may have just been Christmas, but it was 83 degrees here the other day... the humidity is very low, and it's windy too. It's the perfect storm as far as fire conditions go. I used to live in Southern California where we would have the "Santa Ana" winds that caused a lot of fires... that is what it feels like here.

Firefighting efforts have been heroic. Fire crews from all over the country have been here on the front lines, rescuing those who have been trapped, defending homes and putting their own lives on the line. And then there are the people like Penny Snow — a Texan with wings — a real life angel who left her home unattended as flames approached to save the life of her elderly neighbor, Elizabeth McMinn.

Penny has lived next to Elizabeth for years. She bought the home from Elizabeth's family decades ago, and has since "adopted" her as her grandma. Penny lived in the house with her husband of 22 years — six years ago he passed away. Everything she had of his was in that house: his work uniform, letters, photos, his wedding ring, the paperback book he was reading when he was battling cancer. Sunday, a wicked grass fire began to spread near Penny and Elizabeth's home. Penny told me that she looked out her window and it was hundreds of yards away. Within three minutes it was just feet away from her home. She thought of defending her home with a garden hose, but knew there was no time, and ran next door to grab Elizabeth. Her "grandma" took naps everyday around this time, and Penny knew she might not wake up and get out in time. After waking her up and telling her, "We gotta go NOW" they tore out of the neighborhood and escaped. The women returned separately to find that Penny's home was completely destroyed, but firefighters were able to defend Elizabeth's home. You can see by this photo I took, that the flames came within inches of her home, and barely missed the propane tank on the side of her house.

It's amazing to see how much was destroyed at Penny's place standing in Elizabeth's driveway. That's "Scooter" the dog that Penny is holding by the way — it's Elizabeth's pet. All of Penny's dogs died in the fire.

As our "At Large" crew was taking some video of Penny's house, something amazing happened. Penny spotted her husband's gold wedding ring in the ashes! She grabbed it and cried and couldn't believe she found it.

I was very moved by these two women's story. They looked into each others eyes as they recalled their nightmare to our team, describing a sky so black, they couldn't tell how high the flames were around them because the smoke was so dense. It's hard to imagine thinking about what it might be like to burn to death, but that's what they went through together.

Their story is what firefighters call a "teachable moment" in time. If you think a wild fire might be getting close to your house, don't risk your life and wait. Many people do, and often times, they don't get out alive. I interviewed Justice Jones, with the Texas Forest Service, one of the many agencies battling the fires. He offered up some tips to homeowners who may have property that could be at risk: Create a Defensible Zone.

Trim grass 30 feet around your home, and on a regular basis. Rake leaves and remove all dead plants, trees, and shrubs in the zone. Remove leaves and debris from under structures and dispose of them properly. Cut back all tree branches that hand over the house or are lower than 6 to 10 feet from the ground. And, stack firewood at least 50 feet away from your home.

I hope that the story of Penny and Elizabeth will stick with everyone who reads this and watches tonight on the show. Penny and Elizabeth are ok, but Penny has to rebuild her entire life again. She fled without her ID, without money, or a change of clothes. It's all gone. Hopefully her insurance will kick in soon, and her community will rally for her and the others who lost everything.

Be sure to check out Laura on her new show, "Geraldo at Large" on your local FOX Broadcast station.

Send your thoughts and comments to: ontherecord@foxnews.com

Watch "On the Record" weeknights at 10 p.m. ET