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Wildfire

Wildfire Safety

Oct 14th 2017

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — With towering flames bearing down, one victim delayed escape in hopes of saving his new truck — but he could not find the keys. An elderly couple slept as danger erupted, not waking until it was too late to flee down their one-lane road. Another couple, who barely missed their chance to drive away, huddled in a pool, surrounded by fire and choking smoke; he survived, but she did not.

As widely varied stories emerged of how people died in the wind-driven fires that have ravaged Northern California, the element common to each tragedy — and to many of the tales of people who got out alive — was how quickly it happened. Advance warning was measured in minutes or seconds, or never came at all. Hesitation was lethal.

“My dad’s best friend was calling and calling my parents, but they were completely asleep,” said Trina Grant, whose parents, Arthur and Suiko Grant, died at their hilltop property just outside Santa Rosa. “By the time my dad finally picked up and his friend said ‘You’ve got to get out,’ it was probably already too late.”

The confirmed death toll reached 35 on Friday night, making this the deadliest wildfire outbreak in California history, and the figure is likely to climb. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed, hundreds of people who have been reported missing remain unaccounted for, and emergency workers have barely begun the grim work of combing through the blackened, smoking ruins of houses, cars, forests and businesses.

On Sunday night and Monday, 50-mile-per-hour winds propelled the fires faster than people could run. Embers leapfrogged hundreds of yards, even jumping across Highway 101, six lanes wide, which ordinarily would have served as an ideal, built-in fire break.

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RELATED COVERAGE

·      

California Fires Leave 32 Dead, a Vast Landscape Charred, and a Sky Full of SootOCT. 12, 2017

 

·      

California’s Wildfires: Why Have They Been So Destructive? OCT. 11, 2017

 

·      

‘Thank God We Left’: Californians Describe Escaping Wildfires OCT. 11, 2017

 

·      

Opinion Op-Ed ContributorIn California’s Wine Country, Reckoning With an Inferno OCT. 13, 2017

 

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Search and rescue teams from around Northern California converged on the incinerated remains of Journey’s End on Friday, a mobile home park for seniors in Santa Rosa. They came with shovels, rakes and a cadaver-sniffing Australian cattle dog named Seven.

They left with bone fragments.

These were among the first steps in a painstaking process of finding the missing and the dead, under unusually difficult conditions. The fires were so hot that car wheels made of aluminum — which has a melting point of 1,221 degrees Fahrenheit — turned into puddles.

“People have been cremated, for lack of a better term,” said Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, which has more than 40 experts helping in the forensic investigation. “Any DNA that was on the bones is gone — it’s consumed,” Sergeant Kelly said.

At Journey’s End, technicians in bright orange and lemon yellow jackets raked through ash and fragments of household items. In the debris were the frame of a bed, the wire covering of a fan and magazines and books turned to ash that disintegrated when touched.

“This will be without a doubt the most complicated identification process this area has ever seen,” said Jim Wood, an expert in forensic dentistry who was helping identify bodies through dental records. Mr. Wood, who now represents the area in the State Assembly, also helped identify victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Officials have released names of about half of those confirmed killed; most were elderly, but not all. Christina Hanson, 28, who was disabled and used a wheelchair, died in her apartment in Santa Rosa. Kai Shepherd, 14, was killed in Mendocino County, trying to run from the fire.

By Friday morning, more than 221,000 acres statewide had burned in the spate of fires that started on Sunday, said Ken Pimlott, chief of Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, including more than 150,000 acres in Sonoma and Napa Counties, north of San Francisco. The causes of the fires are still unknown.

Some survivors told of being roused Sunday night or early Monday by friends, or by police officers or sheriff’s deputies driving down their streets, honking or shouting through loudspeakers. But many said they got no official warning, or that one came too late.

Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of emergency alert systems in telling people to evacuate. Sonoma, Napa and other counties have alert systems that send text messages to mobile phones, but those warnings generally go only to the people who have signed up to receive them, and the fires knocked out cellular service in many areas.

The more aggressive “Amber alert” system, with text messages and screeching alarms, can reach nearly every mobile phone in a region, but it was not activated on the night the fires broke out. Officials have said that they were concerned about setting off a panic and jamming roads.

The authorities described a chaotic scramble to evacuate residents from Santa Rosa amid thick smoke and flying embers.

“There wasn’t time to map out anything. There wasn’t time to make a plan,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, one of a dozen officers on duty on Sunday night.

Sergeant Crum said he and his fellow officers drove up narrow driveways, blaring horns and sirens. He remembers repeatedly screaming, “Get out of here now!”

Some residents resisted. Some were in wheelchairs; he lifted them into his patrol car. “I said, ‘You are going to die if you stay here,’” Sergeant Crum recounted. “We did the best we could with the time we had.”

The sheer speed at which the fire spread and jumped that first night also made it impossible to keep track of what was burning.

One of those killed, Michael J. Dornbach, 57, who lives in Southern California, was visiting relatives and friends who live in the rugged, wooded hills near Calistoga, in Napa County. “He was saying how beautiful it was and how he wanted to move here,” said his sister, Laura Dornbach, who was with her brother an hour before the fire, and then drove to her own home.

When the fire came Sunday night, “he didn’t want to leave without his brand-new pickup truck, and he couldn’t find the keys,” she said, her voice catching. “They were searching frantically, and everyone was begging him to get out. My son said ‘Uncle Michael, this is serious, we have got to get out, please!’ But my brother was a stubborn man. I’m just so confused that he wouldn’t leave. And I don’t understand why everyone else didn’t just drag him out.”

The others drove away, but minutes later, she said, her son, Robert M. Lee, 18, “drove up the mountain again to get him, but he got stopped by authorities.” The next day, Ms. Dornbach got word that her brother was dead.

Farther north, Sara Shepherd called her parents at 1 a.m. Monday to say that nearby hills were burning, so she, her husband, and their two children were evacuating their house in a remote area of Redwood Valley. “They didn’t think their lives were in danger,” said Mindi Ramos, Ms. Shepherd’s sister.

But the conflagration advanced so fast that they could not make it down their mile-long driveway before the flames closed in. They abandoned their car and fled on foot, scattershot, unsure where to go. The Shepherds’ son, Kai — a shy 14-year-old who liked baseball, wrestling and playing saxophone — died.

Ms. Shepherd, her husband, Jon, and their daughter, Kressa, were all seriously injured and still hospitalized on Friday, Ms. Ramos said. It was unclear whether they knew that Kai was gone.

Carmen and Armando Berriz, Southern California residents, had rented a house just outside Santa Rosa for a wine country getaway with their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter. Awakened by noise, the group ran out in their nightclothes and piled into three cars to flee through blinding smoke.

The Berrizes, in the third car, never made it, their escape apparently blocked by a fallen tree, a family member said. They returned to the house and took refuge in the swimming pool, the flames raging around them for hours. Ms. Berriz, 75, died; Mr. Berriz, 76, suffered burns and smoke inhalation.

Ms. Grant, the daughter of Arthur and Suiko Grant, said her father, 95, and mother, 75, apparently got into their car and tried to leave, but it appeared that a fallen telephone pole and downed power lines blocked the sole, narrow route to or from their home. They hid with their dog in their wine cellar, where they asphyxiated as the fire, which burned their house to its foundation, consumed all the available oxygen.

“The only thing that makes me feel any better is that they didn’t burn alive,” Ms. Grant said. “And they were at least together.”

Doug and Tracy Hugill, of Santa Rosa, woke to the smell of smoke around 1 a.m. on Monday, and got an alert on their phones at 1:37 a.m. warning of fire. The alert did not say to evacuate, but they loaded their children and some belongings into their car.

At 2:09 a.m., another alert came, saying “EVACUATE THAT AREA NOW.” By then, the house behind them was ablaze, the streets were thick with smoke, flaming embers were landing around them, and neighbors were banging on doors, telling people to leave.

“By the time we got the push alert, the fire had crossed the freeway to our house,” said Mr. Hugill, a systems engineer. “We had barely enough time to get out.”

On Friday more than 9,000 firefighters, using more than 1,000 fire trucks, more than 100 bulldozers and more than 100 aircraft — many of them supplied by other states and the federal government — were battling the fires, Chief Pimlott said.

Though crews made some progress containing the blazes on Thursday and Friday, they continued to spread, with new neighborhoods added each day to the list of evacuation orders. Officials warned that dry, windy conditions expected over the next few days meant the flames could blow out of control again.

“Everyone needs to be thinking right now,” Chief Pimlott said, “‘What is my evacuation plan? What am I going to take with me? How am I going to get out?’ And be prepared to do that literally on a moment’s notice. Not a half-hour, not an hour — you need to be thinking about that in minutes.”

 

Oct 11th 2017

'Unprecedented' Wildfires Break Out in Northern and Southern California

California is on fire. Multiple major fires broke out in many parts of the state, burning more than 100,000 acres.

More than a dozen wildfires ravaged across Northern California as of Tuesday morning. At least 11 people have died100 have been injured, tens of thousands evacuated, and more than 1,500 homes and businesses were destroyed. In Sonoma County, fire officials fielded 100 phone calls about missing persons.

350.org founder Bill McKibben tweeted that the Napa firestorm left the city looking like it had been bombed.

 

"We often have multiple fires going on, but the majority of them all started right around same time period, same time of night—it's unprecedented," Amy Head, the fire captain spokesperson for Cal Fire, told theGuardian. "I hate using that word because it's been overused a lot lately because of how fires have been in the past few years, but it truly is—there's just been a lot of destruction."

Head added that the fires were probably linked to a warming climate: "It has been hotter, it has been drier, our fire seasons have been longer, fires are burning more intensely, which is a direct correlation to the climate changing."

The flames spread quickly due to powerful winds and high temperatures.

"We also had really gusty winds and really warm temperatures," National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Mehle told the Los Angeles Times. "This time of year it does happen quite a bit. For the San Francisco Bay Area, our summer is late September to early October; that's when we have our warmest and driest conditions."

In Southern California, more than 5,000 homes were evacuated because of a Monday brushfire in the Anaheim Hills area in Orange County. The inferno, dubbed Canyon Fire 2, has destroyed 24 structures and burned at least 6,000 acres.

Smoke from the fire inundated the skies above nearby theme park Disneyland.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange County Monday afternoon after issuing emergency declarations for the affected areas in the northern part of the state earlier that day.

The governor's Office of Emergency Services tweeted that the state is "fully engaged in response efforts for NorCal fires" and "all hands on deck."

The Governor also requested a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to support the state and local response to fires burning in Northern California.

 

 


April 7th 2017

Aircraft N2UW has flown through all kinds of weather. The twin-propeller plane is sleek, petite, and so packed with scientific gear for studying the atmosphere that there’s barely room for two passengers to squeeze into its back seats. Monitors show radar reflections, gas concentrations and the sizes of cloud droplets. The plane has flown through tropical rainstorms in the Caribbean, through the gusting fronts of thunderheads over the Great Plains, and through turbulent down-slope winds that spawn dust storms in the lee of the Sierra Nevadas. But the four people on board Aug. 29, 2016, will never forget their flight over Idaho.

The plane took off from Boise at 4 p.m. that day, veering toward the Salmon River Mountains, 40 miles northeast. There, the Pioneer Fire had devoured 29,000 acres and rolled 10 miles up Clear Creek Canyon in just a few hours. Its 100-foot flames leaned hungrily into the slope as they surged uphill in erratic bursts and ignited entire stands of trees at once. 

But to David Kingsmill, in the plane’s front passenger seat, the flames on the ground two miles below were almost invisible — dwarfed by the dark thing that towered above. The fire’s plume of gray smoke billowed 35,000 feet into the sky, punching into the stratosphere with such force that a downy white pileus cloud coalesced on its underside like a bruise. The plume rotated slowly, seeming to pulse of its own volition, like a chthonic spirit rising over the ashes of the forest that no longer imprisoned it. “It looked,” says Kingsmill, “like a nuclear bomb.”

Undaunted, Kingsmill and the pilot decided to do what no research aircraft had done: Fly directly through the plume.

Orange haze closed around them, then darkened to black, blotting out the world. Kingsmill felt his seat press hard against his back as the plane lifted suddenly, like a leaf in the wind. Then the black turned back to orange. The plane jolted and fell. Pens, cameras and notebooks leaped into the air and clattered against windows. A technician slammed headlong into the ceiling. A moment later, N2UW glided back into daylight.

According to the plane’s instruments, it had been seized by an 80 mph updraft of hot, buoyant air, followed by a turbulent downdraft. It was “the strongest updraft I’ve ever flown through,” says Kingsmill, a precipitation and radar scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Even stronger forces were at work several thousand feet below: The plane’s radar waves, reflecting off rising smoke particles, had registered updrafts exceeding 100 mph.

Hundreds of miles away, Kingsmill’s research partner, Craig Clements, a fire meteorologist at San Jose State University, watched the plane’s flight path creep across a map on his laptop screen. The unfolding drama offered a tantalizingly detailed glimpse into the anatomy of an extreme wildfire. “It’s amazing,” says Clements. “We’ve never seen this kind of structure in a fire plume, ever.” For decades, scientists have focused on the ways that topography and fuels, such as the trees, grass or houses consumed by flames, shape fire behavior, in part because these things can be studied even when a fire isn’t burning. But this line of inquiry has offered only partial answers to why certain blazes, like the Pioneer Fire, lash out in dangerous and unexpected ways — a problem magnified by severe drought, heat and decades of fire suppression. 

A mere 1 percent of wildfires account for roughly 90 percent of the land burned each year in the Western United States. Some of these fires “really are unprecedented,” says Mark Finney, of the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory. Their behavior “is particularly threatening because we don’t have a good way to anticipate or predict (it).” So Finney, Clements and a handful of others are increasingly turning their gaze to fire’s invisible and diaphanous incarnations: the hot, roiling gases and smoke swirling among the flames, and the rising plumes they coalesce to form. 

There, they believe, lies the key to understanding the way a wildfire breathes — roaring into conflagration with bigger gulps of oxygen or sputtering along more slowly on little sips. How it moves, spawning lethal fireballs or hurling burning logs ahead of the flames. The way it grapples with the upper layers of the atmosphere, sending embers in unexpected directions to propagate itself across the land. Even, perhaps, the role its elemental opposite — water —plays in driving its explosive growth.

Nailing those connections could provide new tools for monitoring fires and predicting their behavior. This could give firefighters precious minutes of advance warning before potential catastrophes, and better inform the difficult decision to order an evacuation. 

But it won’t be easy. “The plume is orders of magnitude harder to study than the stuff on the ground,” says Brian Potter, a meteorologist with the Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory in Seattle who sometimes works with Clements. Indeed, it took a global conflagration much darker than any forest fire to even begin laying the foundations of this work. Kingsmill’s observation about the bomb, it turns out, isn’t far off.

Dec 3rd 2016

The death toll from a devastating blaze in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee rose to 11 on Thursday, the highest loss of civilian life from a single U.S. wildfire in 13 years.

Investigators have determined the so-called Chimney Tops 2 fire, which laid waste to whole neighborhoods in the resort town of Gatlinburg earlier this week, was caused by unspecified human activity, officials said.

Total property losses from the fire have been put at more than 700 structures, with most of the destruction in Gatlinburg, known as the "gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains," in eastern Tennessee, about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Knoxville.

A total of 11 people were killed in the fire, up from seven deaths reported Wednesday, according to Dean Flener, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

That made Chimney Tops 2 the nation's single deadliest wildfire since 2013, when 19 firefighters died near Prescott, Arizona.

It also ranks as the largest civilian death toll from a U.S. wildfire since 15 people, including a firefighter, were killed in Southern California's Cedar Fire in 2003, according to Jessica Gardetto, a spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

None of the Tennessee victims has been publicly identified, but all were presumed to be civilians, officials from the fire command center told Reuters. As many as 45 people have been reported injured.

The blaze erupted on Nov. 23, Thanksgiving eve, in a remote area of rugged terrain dubbed Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, authorities said.

Fed by drought-parched brush and trees and stoked by fierce winds, the flames spread quickly days later, igniting numerous spot fires and exploding on Monday into an inferno that roared out of the park into surrounding homes and businesses.

"The wildfire was determined to be human-caused and is currently under investigation," according to a bulletin released on Thursday by fire commanders and the National Park Service. It gave no further details.

Aerial television news footage showed the burned-out, smoking ruins of dozens of homes surrounded by blackened trees in several neighborhoods.

Steady rains on Tuesday night and into Wednesday helped firefighters slow the blaze, but by Thursday morning officials were still reporting no containment around a fire zone that spanned

"The fire is not out; it is just knocked down," fire operations chief Mark Jamieson said in the bulletin.

Some 14,000 people were forced to flee their homes at the height of the fire, and most of Gatlinburg, a city of nearly 4,000 residents, remained under mandatory evacuation on Thursday.

Evacuation orders were lifted on Wednesday for the nearby town of Pigeon Forge, home of country music star Dolly Parton's theme park, Dollywood.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

 

Aug 17th

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A new wildfire spread Tuesday at a staggering pace in every direction through drought parched canyons east of Los Angeles, growing to 14 square miles in a matter of hours and forcing the evacuation of more than 82,000 of people from mountain communities.

The blaze in Cajon Pass caused serious problems for a swath of mountain communities. About 82,500 people from some 34,500 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders, San Bernardino County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin said. Some structures had already burned but it wasn't yet clear whether they were homes.

 Evacuated areas included the ski-resort town of Wrightwood, where some 4,500 people live.

 The flames also forced the shutdown of a section of Interstate 15, the main highway between Southern California and Las Vegas.

 As that fire surged, a major blaze north of San Francisco was fading and some 4,000 people in the town of Clearlake were allowed to return home.

 Their relief, however, was tempered with anger at a man who authorities believe set the blaze that wiped out several blocks of a small town over the weekend along with 16 smaller fires dating back to last summer.

 The wildfires were the latest in a weekslong stretch of heat- and drought-driven fires across California that raged well before the official start of wildfire season in early autumn.

 Blue Mountain Farms, a horse ranch in Phelan, was in the path of the fire about 60 miles east of Los Angeles — just as it was for another fire in the area a year ago.

 "Breathing smoke again, just like last year," Shannon Anderson, a partner in the ranch, said as she panted into the telephone. "It's raining ash."

 Ranch hands used hoses to wet down fences and anything else that could burn.

 Six firefighters protecting homes were briefly trapped by flames and in serious danger before they took shelter in a safe structure, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said in a statement. Two sustained minor injuries and were quickly treated and released from a hospital.

 Investigators in Northern California said Tuesday they had been building a case against the suspected arsonist, 40-year-old construction worker Damin Anthony Pashilk, for more than a year but did not have enough evidence to make an arrest until the weekend blaze ripped through Lower Lake.

 Nearly a decade ago, Pashilk was an inmate firefighter while serving time on drug possession and firearms charges, according to California corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters. He was completing a five-year sentence when he was assigned to fight wildfires for four months in 2007.

 The fire destroyed 175 homes, Main Street businesses and other structures in the working-class town of Lower Lake.

 "What I'd do to him, you don't want to know," said Butch Cancilla, who saw his neighbor's home catch fire as he fled on Sunday. Cancilla still doesn't know the fate of his own home and spoke at a center for evacuees set up at a high school.

 "A lot of people want to hang him high," his wife, Jennie, added.

 Pashilk has not been implicated in any of the three huge blazes that destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Lake County last summer. Little was known about him, other than his history of drug and driving offenses dating back a decade.

 "I'm hoping, I'm praying that the man has mental illness — because if it's not mental illness, then it's evil," said Diana Bundesen, who was at the evacuation center after fleeing Clearlake.

 The town was near the site where the fire began.

 Neither the California Department of Forestry, which led the investigation that resulted in Pashilk's arrest Monday, nor the Lake County sheriff or district attorney would discuss what led authorities to him.

 "Arson investigations are complex and difficult. The evidence standards are stringent," forestry department spokeswoman Janet Upton said. "They have to build a case that is going to be successful, it's complex."

 An attorney listed as representing Pashilk did not return a call requesting comment. Pashilk is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday.

 Roughly 1,600 firefighters were making progress on the blaze as it burned through wilderness. It was 20 percent contained.

In central California, a wildfire near Lake Nacimiento destroyed 12 structures, damaged others and threatened 200 homes. It was 10 percent contained after growing to 10 square miles and forcing authorities to evacuate some residents by boat.

Aug 10th

MADEIRA: -- More than 400 people have been forced to leave their homes on the Portuguese island of Madeira because of wildfires.

 Around 200 people needed medical treatment, mostly for smoke inhalation.

 The island’s dense woodland and steep hills made it hard to put out the flames, which were kept fuelled by high winds.

 Neighbours worked together to try and beat back the fires, but for many they could only stand and watch as their homes went up in flames.

 One woman described her experience tearfully: “It was very complicated. Everybody was fleeing. There were too many flames all around.

We ran away and them we came back. We took the cars away from here. And then we started to help each other. Everybody is cooperating now.”

 At least 27 homes have been destroyed by the fires.

 Officials say that a wildfire getting close to the capital Funchal is now under control.

 On the Portuguese mainland, wildfires have been raging for several days and seven large blazes are still out of control.

June 19th

PALERMO: -- Firefighters in Sicily are battling more than a hundred wildfires on the Italian island, some of which may have been started deliberately.

Strong winds have helped spread the flames, forcing dozens of residents around Palermo to flee their homes.

50 children were reportedly hospitalsed in the capital, suffering smoke inhalation.

‘‘We were evacuated via the emergency exits by the police. Once we were outside, we came here to the evacuation centre, which also has some minibuses,’‘ said one resident of a building in Palermo.

Several parts of northern Sicily have been affected, including Palermo, Messina and Collesano.

The sudden and the simultaneous nature of the fires has led to suspicions of arson. Authorities have launched an investigation into whether the blazes were deliberately begun with the aim of destroying land to release new building areas.

Two main roads linking Palermo to the rest of the island have also been cut off, while some 15,000 homes are said to be without electricity. PALERMO: -- Firefighters in Sicily are battling more than a hundred wildfires on the Italian island, some of which may have been started deliberately.

Strong winds have helped spread the flames, forcing dozens of residents around Palermo to flee their homes.

50 children were reportedly hospitalsed in the capital, suffering smoke inhalation.

‘‘We were evacuated via the emergency exits by the police. Once we were outside, we came here to the evacuation centre, which also has some minibuses,’‘ said one resident of a building in Palermo.

Several parts of northern Sicily have been affected, including Palermo, Messina and Collesano.

The sudden and the simultaneous nature of the fires has led to suspicions of arson. Authorities have launched an investigation into whether the blazes were deliberately begun with the aim of destroying land to release new building areas.

Two main roads linking Palermo to the rest of the island have also been cut off, while some 15,000 homes are said to be without electricity. PALERMO: -- Firefighters in Sicily are battling more than a hundred wildfires on the Italian island, some of which may have been started deliberately.

Strong winds have helped spread the flames, forcing dozens of residents around Palermo to flee their homes.

50 children were reportedly hospitalsed in the capital, suffering smoke inhalation.

‘‘We were evacuated via the emergency exits by the police. Once we were outside, we came here to the evacuation centre, which also has some minibuses,’‘ said one resident of a building in Palermo.

Several parts of northern Sicily have been affected, including Palermo, Messina and Collesano.

The sudden and the simultaneous nature of the fires has led to suspicions of arson. Authorities have launched an investigation into whether the blazes were deliberately begun with the aim of destroying land to release new building areas.

Two main roads linking Palermo to the rest of the island have also been cut off, while some 15,000 homes are said to be without electricity.


May 18th

CANADA -- Firefighters in central Canada are struggling to control a huge, 285,000-hectare blaze, provoking fresh fears it will reach major oil sand facilities.

As the wildfires spread north, a further 4,000 people were evacuated from work camps on the outskirts of Fort McMurray in Alberta. This, almost two weeks after the city’s entire 90,000-strong population was forced to flee.

Alberta Premier, Rachel Notley assured the public that safety precautions were in place.

“Both (oil companies) Syncrude and Suncor have emergency plans in place, which they are operationalising, and firefighters in place as well. Officials are confident that should additional trigger lines be crossed that people can be evacuated safely if necessary.”

Firefighters say the blaze has been travelling as fast as 30-40 metres a minute in some places, prompting officials to give precautionary evacuation orders to a further 8,000 people.

Authorities say the air quality in Fort McMurray has greatly deteriorated. Normally measuring from 1-10 on the air quality health index, the city was at 38 on Monday (May 16).

Most of the city remains intact, but hotspots burning in the vicinity are preventing residents from being allowed to return home.

Latest news

Environmental scientists from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) predict that by 2050, wildfire seasons in the US will be three weeks longer, twice as smoky, and will burn a larger portion of the West per year. Concurrently, the US Geological Survey and the Forest Service have recorded that since 1999, the acreage burned by wildfires in the US has tripled from 2.2 million to 6.4 million annually, meaning that much more of the US will be up in flames in the near future.

What has led to this dramatic increase in the US wildfire risk? The answer, according to SEAS, is gradual climate change, which has raised the Earth’s temperature, creating conditions that spawn bigger and fiercer wildfires. Dr. Loretta J. Mickley, a senior research fellow in atmospheric chemistry at SEAS, stated that temperature will be the biggest determiner of future fires. The hotter it is, the more likely it is that a fire will start. Ironically, the problem has been exacerbated by the “Smokey the Bear” and Park and Forest Services campaigns to stop all forest fires, halting the natural fire cycle that clears the underbrush out of the forests. With 30,000–50,000 wildfires predicted to occur annually, the US might soon be experiencing its own version of Hell on Earth.

This prediction came true within a few weeks of it being made.

Wildfire is the name given to any fire that rages across open countryside, burning the grass or on the other extreme it can be consuming trees and even houses, when the countryside is very dry it is easy for a wildfire to spread once ignition has started, there are many reasons for the initial flames, these range from natural causes to deliberate acts of arson.

Once a burn is reported the authority’s spring into action to try to prevent it getting out of control, the weather conditions play a big part in determining how dangerous each situation is, the worst case is very dry and windy conditions which can spread the burning very quickly.

It is not only humans that suffer when it burn happens, if they are fortunate enough to be close to their burrow and have time to protect themselves, they will probably survive the passing of the flame front, some of the larger animals can run away as soon as they smell the smoke approaching move there are many others that suffer a horrible fate.

Smokejumpers are true heroes, they are usually the first means of attacking the blaze, and they do this by being airlifted to the site and parachuting into action, if they can get the burning under control before it spreads, they will prevent a much larger area being consumed, as you can imagine this is a very dangerous job and we should offer our sincere thanks to these brave people.

There are some bizarre causes for the initial ignition, such as the sun shining through the bottom of a broken bottle which acts like a magnifying glass, or an animal chewing through the insulation on an electrical cable, lightning is a frequent cause as this massive discharge usually sets something alight, careless discarding of cigarettes, camp cooking which get out of control, and the use of machinery account for many a blaze.

Then there are the mentally ill individuals who set things ablaze irrespective of the consequences for reasons that are hidden deep within their twisted brains, of course there are arsonists who act out of revenge or for reasons of financial gain, finding the initial cause of ignition is a science that is well practiced and usually shows excellent results.

There is little you can do to save your property if a blaze like this surrounds you, there are precautions you can take, you can clear a space around your property of all combustible materials such as long grass, bushes and other vegetation.

But the main purpose should be to save the lives of you and your family, there is much information on this site about preparing your vehicle, fire precautions in your own home, evacuation drills and of course preparing your grab-bag.

Fortunately with modern communication systems these dangerous situations can be monitored easily and warnings issued by local government, civil defense, police, local radio and television, or maybe you haven’t got those devices on or you may be away from home.

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