Categories
California wildfires

2020 wildfires in California and west: Everything we know and how to help – CNET

An unprecedented fire season is wreaking havoc across the Western US, with nearly 100 major wildfires tearing across multiple states and air quality plummeting. At least 23 people have died, with dozens more missing and over 3,000 homes, and entire neighborhoods, destroyed since the season began. By Friday in Oregon, which has declared a state of emergency, half a million people were under evacuation orders as two fires threatened to merge and continue rapidly advancing toward Salem and Portland’s suburbs. Oregon fires have burned more than 1 million acres, said the state’s governor, Kate Brown. 

The 2020 fire season has been record-breaking, in not only the total amount of acres burned at just over 3 million, but also 6 of the top 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred this year. pic.twitter.com/CmmhH5wTVX

— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) September 10, 2020

California’s wildfires, driven by extreme blazes in August and September, have already burned more acres than any year on record. As of Thursday, there are blazes burning in at least 10 western states, according to the interagency incident information system.

From the lab to your inbox. Get the latest science stories from CNET every week.

The images and stories coming out of the US west are eerily reminiscent of those experienced by Australians in early 2020.

In January, vast swaths of Australia burned. The skies turned orange, and smoke blanketed the country’s largest cities. Entire cities were flattened. Now, across the Pacific, this grim history is repeating. San Francisco skies turned an eerie orange last week, with smoke blotting out the sun. 

There are glimmers of hope, as a freak blizzard slowed fire growth in Colorado. But in a sign of things to come, the fire season is yet to peak, and more of Washington state burned in a 24-hour period last week week than in 12 of the last 18 fire seasons.

Here’s what we know about the ongoing fires and how you can help from the US or afar.

If you’d just like to find out where to donate or how you can help, you can skip to the end of the page by clicking here

Why is the West Coast on fire?

Fires can start in a variety of ways. Human activity, like carelessly discarding a cigarette, poorly maintained infrastructure or even gender reveal parties with pyrotechnics can spark fires. Some of the wildfires currently blazing across California are the result of accidental ignition. 

Fires can also be deliberately lit, though arson has not been linked to the current conflagrations. Rumors have circulated through social media that some of the fires may have been intentionally set by either right-wing or leftist activists, leading some officials to mount social media campaigns of their own to dispel the myths. 

Nature also conspires to begin fires, with lightning strikes a major concern. In California, intense thunderstorms kicked off a number of large blazes in August. Prolonged periods of drought and mismanagement of national forests may also play a role in helping these fires start. With the fire season getting longer, the window to perform critical hazard reduction burns has decreased, giving fires a chance to really take hold. The risk of the wildfires burning across western US was well-known to scientists and, regardless of the origins, fires are fueled by a dizzying number of factors.

A lack of rain and low soil moisture can help enable small fires to grow in size, and coupled with the high temperatures and fierce winds, small fires can quickly become huge infernos. This all feels extremely similar to anyone familiar with the bushfire crisis confronted by Australia in January. Environmental factors contributed significantly to the unprecedented fire season down under and they are playing out again in the US — partially driven by the negative effects of climate change.

What is the connection to climate change?

Wildfires aren’t started by climate change, but they are exacerbated by the effects of global warming. The Climate Council, an independent, community funded climate organization, suggests fire conditions are now more dangerous than they were in the past, with longer bushfire seasons, drought, drier fuels and soils, and record-breaking heat in Australia. The link between fires and climate change has become a political football, but experts agree climate change explains the unprecedented nature of the current crisis. 

Wildfires are getting worse in the US. According to data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity program, on average, there are more wildfires, and they are burning more land each year. A study published in July 2019 concluded that “human-caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California … and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades.”

There’s no question that 2020 will be one of the hottest years on record for the planet, and a 75% chance it will be the hottest ever, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Increased temperatures allow fires to burn more intensely and also cause forests to dry out and burn more easily. The heating is unequivocally caused by climate change. 

“The debate is over around climate change,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters on Friday, standing in a charred landscape. “Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes. It’s not an intellectual debate. It’s not even debatable.” 

There is also a horrifying feedback loop that occurs when great swaths of land are ablaze, a fact the globe grappled with during the Amazon fires of 2019 and the Australian bushfires of 2020. Huge fires release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The gas, which makes up only a small percentage of the total gases in the atmosphere, is exceptionally good at trapping heat. 

Andrew Sullivan, a fire research team leader for CSIRO, an Australian government research agency, examined how technology may help predict and fight against fires. In September, he told CNET that “changes to the climate are exposing more areas to the likelihood of fire.” 

What areas are affected?

Fires are burning across the western US, but the greatest conflagrations are across California and Oregon. 

More than 3.5 million acres have burned in California, with over 2,500 more fires than at the same point in 2019. One of the largest fires during the Australian season, the Gospers mountain megafire, burned through around 2.2 million acres. “Unprecedented” is the word again being used by officials, weather services and media to describe the size and severity of the blazes. The dust and ash from the fires have turned the skies orange across California.

Blazes in Oregon have been increasingly destructive, driven by heavy winds. “I want to be upfront in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and human lives,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said during a briefing Tuesday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.” 

Washington has also experienced significant fires, with almost 350,000 acres burned in a 24-hour period in early September. Two large fires broke out on Sept. 8, and Gov. Jay Inslee said “more acres burned … than in 12 of the last 18 entire fire seasons in the state of Washington.”

The New York Times has an informative fire map that can help you track where conflagrations are burning.

Who’s fighting the fires? 

In California, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, heads up the wildland firefighting effort, but actually beating back the flames on the ground is a massive collaboration that also involves local, county and federal resources. Teams of National Forest Service and other agencies’ “hotshot” teams travel from as far as New Mexico to fight fires on the ground. 

California also employs a controversial “conservation camp” program in which prison inmates are trained to fight fires. Prisoners can earn time off their sentences and work towards continue in a career en emergency services upon their release. But the program has been criticized for the dangerous work that comes with meager pay. 

Many conservation camps have been sidelined in the wildfire fight during this record-breaking season due to outbreaks of the coronavirus. But as of Thursday, inmate crews were out on the line fighting the out-of-control Creek Fire near Fresno. 

Do I need to wear a mask?

The smoke and ash from wildfires can irritate the respiratory tract and make it harder to breathe. During Australia’s bushfire season, there was a stark increase in the amount of calls to ambulance services and researchers have demonstrated there may be a significant health burden on those exposed to smoke. Respiratory distress sees more people entering hospitals in the US during a typical wildfire season.

Fine particles in the air can cause damage to the lungs and increase inflammation in the short-term. What is less certain is the long-term effects of exposure to smoke.

We have become intimately familiar with the use of masks over the last six months, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but you may be wondering whether you need to use one to protect against smoke from wildfires. The short answer is: You probably should, but filtering smoke and ash out of the air requires an N95 or P100 mask — and public health officials suggest these should be reserved for health care workers. They also cannot completely filter out some of the gases present in wildfire smoke. 

Cloth masks and other coverings we have become familiar with during the pandemic will not be effective at protecting against smoke. The US Environmental Protection Agency says remaining indoors and limiting your time outdoors is “the most effective way” to protect yourself during wildfire emergencies. 

You can find current air quality data from AirNow for your ZIP code, city or state.

How you can help

Other things you can do

  • Raise awareness! You can tweet and share and post this story — and dozens of others — all across the web. More eyeballs means more help to those who need it.
  • Run your online searches through Ecosia, which uses profits to plant trees where they’re needed most. Trees help reduce the carbon dioxide load. It can be added to Chrome.
  • In the US, if you want to contact elected officials and make your voice heard about climate change action — you can do that here



Read More

Categories
California wildfires

2020 wildfires in California and the west: Everything we know and how you can help – CNET

An unprecedented fire season is wreaking havoc across the Western US, with wildfires tearing across multiple states and air quality plummeting. At least 15 people have been killed and over 3,000 homes destroyed since the season began. By Friday in Oregon, half a million people were under evacuation orders as two fires threatened to merge and continue rapidly advancing toward Salem and Portland’s suburbs.

California’s wildfires, driven by extreme blazes in August and September, have already burned more acres than any year on record. As of Thursday, there are blazes burning in at least 10 western states, according to the interagency incident information system.

From the lab to your inbox. Get the latest science stories from CNET every week.

The images and stories coming out of the US west are eerily reminiscent of those experienced by Australians in early 2020.

In January, vast swaths of Australia burned. The skies turned orange, and smoke blanketed the country’s largest cities. Entire cities were flattened. Now, across the Pacific, this grim history is repeating. San Francisco has turned red and orange, smoke blotting out the sun. 

There are glimmers of hope, as a freak blizzard slowed fire growth in Colorado. But in a sign of things to come, the fire season is yet to peak, and more of Washington state burned in a 24 hour period this week than in 12 of the last 18 fire seasons.

Here’s what we know about the ongoing fires and how you can help from the US or afar.

If you’d just like to find out where to donate or how you can help, you can skip to the end of the page by clicking here

What caused the fires?

Fires can start in a variety of ways. Human activity, like carelessly discarding a cigarette, poorly maintained infrastructure or even gender reveal parties with pyrotechnics can spark fires. Some of the wildfires currently blazing across California are the result of accidental ignition. 

Fires can also be deliberately lit, though arson has not been linked to the current conflagrations. Rumors have circulated through social media that some of the fires may have been intentionally set by either right-wing or leftist activists, leading some officials to mount social media campaigns of their own to dispel the myths. 

Nature also conspires to begin fires, with lightning strikes a major concern. In California, intense thunderstorms kicked off a number of large blazes in August. Prolonged periods of drought and mismanagement of national forests may also play a role in helping these fires start. With the fire season getting longer, the window to perform critical hazard reduction burns has decreased, giving fires a chance to really take hold. The risk of the wildfires burning across western US was well-known to scientists and, regardless of the origins, fires are fueled by a dizzying number of factors.

A lack of rain and low soil moisture can help enable small fires to grow in size, and coupled with the high temperatures and fierce winds, small fires can quickly become huge infernos. This all feels extremely similar to anyone familiar with the bushfire crisis confronted by Australia in January. Environmental factors contributed significantly to the unprecedented fire season down under and they are playing out again in the US — partially driven by the negative effects of climate change.

What is the connection to climate change?

Wildfires aren’t started by climate change, but they are exacerbated by the effects of global warming. The Climate Council, an independent, community funded climate organization, suggests fire conditions are now more dangerous than they were in the past, with longer bushfire seasons, drought, drier fuels and soils, and record-breaking heat in Australia. The link between fires and climate change has become a political football, but experts agree climate change explains the unprecedented nature of the current crisis. 

Wildfires are getting worse in the US. According to data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity program, on average, there are more wildfires, and they are burning more land each year. A study published in July 2019 concluded that “human-caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California … and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades.”

There’s no question that 2020 will be one of the hottest years on record for the planet, and a 75% chance it will be the hottest ever, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Increased temperatures allow fires to burn more intensely and also cause forests to dry out and burn more easily. The heating is unequivocally caused by climate change. 

On Sept. 9, California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted a short video by Bloomberg’s QuickTake in which he said “climate change has profoundly impacted the reality that we’re currently experiencing.”

Over 2 million acres have burned this year — SO FAR. We haven’t even hit “peak” fire season.

We do not have time to deny the reality of climate change. pic.twitter.com/kPb11yXprh

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 8, 2020

There is also a horrifying feedback loop that occurs when great swaths of land are ablaze, a fact the globe grappled with during the Amazon fires of 2019 and the Australian bushfires of 2020. Huge fires release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The gas, which makes up only a small percentage of the total gases in the atmosphere, is exceptionally good at trapping heat. 

Andrew Sullivan, a fire research team leader for CSIRO, an Australian government research agency, examined how technology may help predict and fight against fires. In September, he told CNET that “changes to the climate are exposing more areas to the likelihood of fire.” 

What areas are affected?

Fires are burning across the western US, but the greatest conflagrations are across California and Oregon. 

More than 3.5 million acres have burned in California, with over 2,500 more fires than at the same point in 2019. One of the largest fires during the Australian season, the Gospers mountain megafire, burnt through around 2.2 million acres. “Unprecedented” is the word again being used by officials, weather services and media to describe the size and severity of the blazes. The dust and ash from the fires have turned the skies orange across California.

Blazes in Oregon have been increasingly destructive, driven by heavy winds. “I want to be upfront in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and human lives,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said during a briefing Tuesday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.” 

Washington has also experienced significant fires, with almost 350,000 acres burned in a 24-hour period in early September. Two large fires broke out on Sept. 8, and Gov. Jay Inslee said “more acres burned … than in 12 of the last 18 entire fire seasons in the state of Washington.”

The New York Times has an informative fire map that can help you track where conflagrations are burning.

Who’s fighting the fires

In California, the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, heads up the wildland firefighting effort, but actually beating back the flames on the ground is a massive collaboration that also involves local, county and federal resources. Teams of National Forest Service and other agencies’ “hotshot” teams travel from as far as New Mexico to fight fires on the ground. 

California also employs a controversial “conservation camp” program in which prison inmates are trained to fight fires. Prisoners can earn time off their sentences and work towards continue in a career en emergency services upon their release. But the program has been criticized for the dangerous work that comes with meager pay. 

Many conservation camps have been sidelined in the wildfire fight during this record-breaking season due to outbreaks of the coronavirus. But as of Thursday, inmate crews were out on the line fighting the out-of-control Creek Fire near Fresno. 

Do I need to wear a mask?

The smoke and ash from wildfires can irritate the respiratory tract and make it harder to breathe. During Australia’s bushfire season, there was a stark increase in the amount of calls to ambulance services and researchers have demonstrated there may be a significant health burden on those exposed to smoke. Respiratory distress sees more people entering hospitals in the US during a typical wildfire season.

Fine particles in the air can cause damage to the lungs and increase inflammation in the short-term. What is less certain is the long-term effects of exposure to smoke.

We have become intimately familiar with the use of masks over the last six months, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but you may be wondering whether you need to use one to protect against smoke from wildfires. The short answer is: You probably should, but filtering smoke and ash out of the air requires an N95 or P100 mask — and public health officials suggest these should be reserved for health care workers. They also cannot completely filter out some of the gases present in wildfire smoke. 

Cloth masks and other coverings we have become familiar with during the pandemic will not be effective at protecting against smoke. The US Environmental Protection Agency says remaining indoors and limiting your time outdoors is “the most effective way” to protect yourself during wildfire emergencies. 

You can find current air quality data from AirNow for your ZIP code, city or state.

How you can help

Other things you can do

  • Raise awareness! You can tweet and share and post this story — and dozens of others — all across the web. More eyeballs means more help to those who need it.
  • Run your online searches through Ecosia, which uses profits to plant trees where they’re needed most. Trees help reduce the carbon dioxide load. It can be added to Chrome.
  • In the US, if you want to contact elected officials and make your voice heard about climate change action — you can do that here

Read More

Categories
updates wildfires

Wildfires Live Updates: Helicopter Rescue Missions and Power Shutoffs in California – The New York Times

Extreme weather is battering the Western United States, with fires raging along the Pacific Coast and snow falling in Colorado.

Right Now

Helicopter flights by the California National Guard brought at least 148 people to safety on Tuesday as a fire burned in the Sierra National Forest.

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Wildfires wreaked havoc in states including California, Washington, Colorado and Oregon over the weekend.CreditCredit…Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Wildfires, winds and extreme temperatures are battering several Western states.

Raging wildfires, windy conditions and a heat wave with temperatures reaching upward of 100 degrees converged in a dangerous combination over the weekend, as extreme weather continued to batter much of the Western United States on Tuesday.

In California, helicopters battled smoky skies overnight in an attempt to rescue dozens of people trapped in the fiery depths of the Sierra National Forest and at least 148 people had been flown to safety by Tuesday morning.

In Oregon, whipping winds and dry conditions have helped fuel fire outbreaks. South of Portland, officials in Marion County implored some residents to “please leave now” as fires that have burned through more than 27,000 acres approached more densely populated areas.

And in Washington State, officials said that 80 percent of homes and structures in Malden, a town of 200 in the eastern part of the state, had been destroyed by fire. Deputies began going door to door and announcing evacuations, but officials said many buildings, including the fire station, post office, city hall and the library, were completely burned to the ground.

“The scale of this disaster really can’t be expressed in words,” said Brett J. Myers, the sheriff of Whitman County, Wash. “I pray everyone got out in time.”

From California to Colorado, the dueling threats left millions of people in the West grappling with dangerous weather conditions on Tuesday, adding to the devastation of a year marked by illness and job loss during the coronavirus pandemic.

A gender-reveal celebration gone wrong ignited a wildfire that consumed thousands of acres east of Los Angeles, and utility companies were shutting off power for more than 170,000 customers in Northern California, where record amounts of land have burned this year.

In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert said that the State Capitol building would be closed on Tuesday because of “high winds and dangerous conditions.”

And in Colorado, fiery conditions and 101-degree weather are giving way to another extreme: a rapid cold front. Snow was falling in Denver on Tuesday morning.

[Sign up for California Today, our daily newsletter from the Golden State.]

Helicopters have flown dozens of people to safety as the Sierra National Forest burns.

As the fires rage on in California, almost 150 people were rescued on Tuesday morning in the Sierra National Forest, according to the state’s National Guard.

A video posted to social media showed dozens of people, some with their dogs in tow, dressed in hiking clothes and big backpacks, as they stepped off a California National Guard helicopter after being rescued.

More than 360 people and 16 dogs have been rescued in recent days from the Creek Fire, which has grown to almost 144,000 acres and is still zero percent contained.

After several rescue attempts were thwarted by thick smoke Monday night, the weather cooperated enough for the National Guard to access some remote areas and complete rescue missions overnight, said David Hall, a Colonel in the California National Guard on the “Today” show on Tuesday morning.

Earlier in the weekend, roughly 200 people were rescued from the Mammoth Pool Reservoir Area after being trapped by the Creek Fire, crowding into California National Guard helicopters as embers rained down. Two people were in serious condition from burns.

Even as the greatest concern was focused on the Creek Fire, some two dozen other fires were burning up and down the state, prompting warnings that more residents in some places could be forced to evacuate. The Bobcat Fire is raging in the Angeles National Forest, east of Los Angeles, raising fears that it could get worsen with predictions of high winds Tuesday evening and threatening communities in the foothills.

Also in Southern California, the El Dorado Fire burned over 10,000 acres in San Bernardino County. And closer to San Diego, the Valley Fire churned through more than 17,000 acres and forced some communities to evacuate.

The fires burning now are adding to an already brutal toll for California in 2020. As of Monday morning, Cal Fire reported that eight people have died and more than two million acres have burned across the state this year, destroying more than 3,300 structures and narrowly edging out a 2018 record for most acres burned in a single year.

Malden, Wash., is ‘pretty much devastated throughout.’

A wildfire has destroyed about 80 percent of homes and structures in the town of Malden, turning the eastern Washington town into “a kind of moonscape,” Sheriff Brett J. Myers of Whitman County said Tuesday as officials surveyed the damage.

The fire ripped through the town of about 200 people within three to four hours on Monday, Sheriff Myers said, devouring many prominent buildings and between 75 and 90 homes.

“It’s pretty much devastated throughout,” Mr. Myers said in an interview on Tuesday.

Authorities believe the fire originated on a nearby road in Spokane County, and was fueled by extremely high winds, standing timber and dry fields.

There were no reported injuries or deaths yet, Mr. Myers said on Tuesday, but he noted that an urban search and rescue team would be arriving from Spokane to verify that there were no casualties from the fire.

“The fire will be extinguished but a community has been changed for a lifetime,” Mr. Myers said in a statement on Monday. “I just hope we don’t find the fire took more than homes and buildings.”

Local news images posted on social media showed thick smoke as flames devoured buildings, cars and homes. The little that remained of some structures, such as the post office, was badly charred and building debris was scattered across the surrounding area.

The town of Pine City, about three miles from Malden, was also severely damaged by the fire, officials said.

Chelsea Atchison, who lives in Rosalia, a town northeast of Malden, said that she was working at the Harvest Assembly of God Church in her town, offering food, water, clothes and other necessities to evacuees from Malden and Pine City.

“We’ve seen a lot of people who have been visibly upset and emotional over what they’ve lost,” Ms. Atchison, 22 said.

About 15 people have come into the church looking for help, she said, and a few have stayed the night. Some had lost their homes, she said. “As long as we’re needed we will be open,” Ms. Atchison said. “We are here and we want to help our community.”

Wildfires stretched across about 400,000 acres in Washington State as of Tuesday morning, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

“We’re still seeing new fire starts in every corner of the state,” the state commissioner of public lands, Hilary Franz, said in a statement on Monday evening. “My heart is with all of these families through this tragedy.”

In Colorado, ‘We switched from summer to winter in a day.’

On Monday, the scorched skies around Denver were thick with haze, smoke and ash from a wildfire roaring through the dried-out forests near Rocky Mountain National Park. By Tuesday morning, there was snow on the ground and temperatures had plunged more than 50 degrees.

“We switched from summer to winter in a day,” said David Barjenbruch, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in Boulder. Outside his office, an inch or so of snow already sticking to hillsides and tree branches on Tuesday morning offered a preview of a daylong snowstorm that was expected to dump more than a foot in the foothills and mountains and three to six inches around Denver.

Mr. Barjenbruch said the weather had rolled in from north of the Arctic Circle, traveling along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. Some of Colorado’s ski resorts, which have been preparing for a socially distanced ski season, were expected to get an early dump, though probably not enough to last till they open around Thanksgiving. Live cameras showed that mountain passes were already a blur of white.

Across Denver, people were hauling potted herbs and flowers indoors and wrapping their bushes in burlap and plastic. Mr. Barjenbruch said one of the biggest threats posed by the storm was that overloaded tree branches, still leafed out for summer, could snap and tumble onto power lines.

Forecasters and fire crews were hoping that the snow might damp the Cameron Peak fire in Northern Colorado, a blaze that exploded to more than 102,000 acres and forced a round of evacuations on Monday. Sheriff Justin Smith of Larimer County said the respite from a record string of 90-degree days and punishing drought across Colorado was “certainly not going to stop this fire,” the Colorado Sun reported. It remains to be seen whether fire conditions bounce right back to hot, windy and dry, but Mr. Barjenbruch said snow was already falling on the fire on Tuesday.

“It’s going to hang on trees and give the fire no fuel to burn, and give firefighters a chance to catch up,” he said. “This is the best thing that could’ve happened for this fire.”

PG&E has shut off power to tens of thousands of customers over wildfire fears.

Image

Credit…Etienne Laurent/EPA, via Shutterstock

The strong winds, hot temperatures and dry conditions along the West Coast sent utilities scrambling to keep the lights on, even as California’s largest electricity provider cut power to 170,000 of its customers to prevent wildfires.

Utilities in Oregon and Washington State reported that tens of thousands of their customers were without power on Tuesday. But nowhere has the power grid been more under siege than in Northern and Central California, where more than two million acres have burned and scorching temperatures have prompted calls by the system managers for federal assistance.

Late Monday, Pacific Gas & Electric began the largest safety power shutoff of the year in 22 counties across Northern and Central California. Some customers could remain in the dark for as long as two days.

PG&E, the state’s largest power provider, just emerged from bankruptcy this summer, after amassing $30 billion in liability from wildfires in 2017 and 2018, including the devastating Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise. The utility pleaded guilty to manslaughter for all but one of the deaths and for starting the fire, sparked by the failure of a 100-year-old tower.

Since the Camp Fire, PG&E has worked to improve its safety and prevention measures, including use of intentional safety blackouts. The widespread use of the tactic a year ago left millions in the dark for as long as a week, angering residents, business owners and government officials. Regulators ordered PG&E to limit cutting power to a measure of last resort.

A heat wave last month led the manager of the state’s electric grid to order rolling blackouts to customers throughout the state because of fear of electricity shortages, though some experts argued that the problem was planning and management of the system.

PG&E officials said extreme weather conditions this week forced the company to use the program, again.

Southern California Edison, the state’s second largest utility, experienced record electricity demand Saturday and Sunday, as days of temperatures above 100 degrees tested the electricity grid’s ability to keep up.

There is a strong link between California’s wildfires and climate change, experts say.

While California’s climate has always made the state prone to fires, the link between human-caused climate change and bigger fires is inextricable, said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “This climate-change connection is straightforward: warmer temperatures dry out fuels. In areas with abundant and very dry fuels, all you need is a spark,” he said.

“In pretty much every single way, a perfect recipe for fire is just kind of written in California,” Dr. Williams said. “Nature creates the perfect conditions for fire, as long as people are there to start the fires. But then climate change, in a few different ways, seems to also load the dice toward more fire in the future.”

Even if the conditions are right for a wildfire, you still need something or someone to ignite it. Sometimes the trigger is nature, like the unusual lightning strikes that set off the L.N.U. Lightning Complex fires in August, but more often than not humans are responsible, said Nina S. Oakley, a research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Whether it is downed power lines or the fire ignited last weekend by smoke-generating fireworks as part of a gender-reveal party, humans tend to play a part — and not just in the initial trigger of a blaze, she said.

“You also have the human contribution to wildfire,” which includes the warming that has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions and the accompanying increased drying, as well as forest policies that involved suppressing fires instead of letting some burn, leaving fuel in place. Those factors, she said, are “contributing to creating a situation favorable to wildfire.”

‘We lost our home’: A small California town was hit hard by the Creek Fire.

Image

Credit…Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

It was an old company town tucked away in the Sierra Nevada, where life revolved around shifts at the Edison hydroelectric plant. Neighbors visited at the post office and had coffee at a general store that smoked its own meats. And every wildfire season, the threat of destruction loomed like the granite rock faces towering over their town.

On Monday, residents of Big Creek, Calif., population 200, began coming to grips with the reality that this time much of their tiny community in the Sierra National Forest northeast of Fresno had burned.

“We lost our home,” said Nettie Carroll, 40, who taught science and has lived in the area for 16 years. “It looks like everything is completely gone.”

.

Big Creek residents who fled the galloping Creek Fire over the weekend said that more than a dozen homes had been incinerated. The Creek Fire had burned 135,000 acres by Tuesday and was zero percent contained, according to Cal Fire, the state fire agency.

From hotel rooms in Fresno and Modesto or family members’ spare bedrooms where they had fled, Big Creek’s evacuees spent Monday sending one another photographs of flames and char and comparing notes on what had survived and what had not.

The school, which has just 47 students, appeared to suffer some damage but was still standing, residents said. They said the community church, volunteer fire department and post office all apparently survived.

The fire also forced workers to evacuate the 1,000 megawatt Big Creek hydroelectric project, which can power 650,000 homes and was America’s first large-scale pumped hydro plant of its kind with the ability to produce power and store electricity. There was no immediate indication the plant had been damaged.

One fire in California was caused by a gender-reveal celebration.

Image

Credit…Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

An elaborate plan to reveal a baby’s gender went disastrously wrong when a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” ignited a wildfire that consumed thousands of acres east of Los Angeles over the holiday weekend, the authorities said.

The device ignited four-foot-tall grass at El Dorado Ranch Park on Saturday morning, and efforts to douse the flames with water bottles proved fruitless, Capt. Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said Monday. The family called 911 to report the fire and shared photos with investigators.

By Monday, the fire had burned more than 7,300 acres and was only 7 percent contained, the authorities said. Evacuations were ordered, including in parts of Yucaipa, a nearby city of nearly 54,000.

No injuries or serious structural damage were immediately reported.

Criminal charges were being considered, but would not be filed before the fire is extinguished, Captain Milloy said. Cal Fire could also ask those responsible to reimburse the cost of fighting the fire, he added.

Gender-reveal celebrations became popular about a decade ago as a way for new parents to learn the sex of their child, often in the presence of family and friends. Simple versions of these celebrations often involve couples cutting open pink or blue cakes, or popping balloons filled with pink or blue confetti.

In April 2017 near Green Valley, Ariz., about 26 miles south of Tucson, an off-duty Border Patrol agent fired a rifle at a target filled with colored powder and Tannerite, a highly explosive substance, expecting to learn the gender of his child.

When placed with colorful packets of powder and shot at, Tannerite can fill the air with colorful residue for gender-reveal parties: blue for boys or pink for girls.

The resulting explosion sparked a fire that spread to the Coronado National Forest. It consumed more than 45,000 acres, resulted in $8 million in damages and required nearly 800 firefighters to battle it. The border agent immediately reported the fire and admitted that he started it, the United States Attorney in the District of Arizona said in September 2018.

Reporting was contributed by Tim Arango, Jack Healy, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Sarah Mervosh, Christina Morales, Ivan Penn, John Schwartz, Kate Taylor, Lucy Tompkins and Allyson Waller.

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Zombie wildfires are blazing through the Arctic, causing record burning – Live Science

Siberian wildfires 2src2src seen from above

A view from above of wildfires burning across Siberia this summer. This was the worst wildfire season on record for the Arctic.

(Image: © Annamaria Luongo/Getty)

“Zombie” wildfires that were smoldering beneath the Arctic ice all winter suddenly flared to life this summer when the snow and ice above it melted, new monitoring data reveals.

And this year has been the worst for Arctic wildfires on record, since reliable monitoring began 17 years ago. Arctic fires this summer released as much carbon in the first half of July than a nation the size of Cuba or Tunisia does in a year. 

That’s according to monitoring by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, the European Union’s Earth-monitoring organization. More than 100 fires have burned across the Arctic since early June, according to Copernicus. “Obviously it’s concerning,” Copernicus senior scientist Mark Parrington told the BBC. “We really hadn’t expected to see these levels of wildfires yet.”

Related: In photos: Devastating look at raging wildfires in Australia

Zombie fires

The “zombie fires” tracked by Copernicus were likely smoldering beneath the ice and snow in the carbon-rich peat of the Arctic tundra. When the ice and snow melt, these hotspots can ignite new wildfires in the vegetation above. 

“The destruction of peat by fire is troubling for so many reasons,” Dorothy Peteet, a a senior research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told Earth Observatory. “As the fires burn off the top layers of peat, the permafrost depth may deepen, further oxidizing the underlying peat.” 

The fires then release carbon and methane from the peat, both greenhouse gases that further contribute to the warming of the planet. 

But zombie fires aren’t the only cause for the rough wildfire season; lightning strikes and human behavior are also causing conflagrations. 

Parrington and his colleagues had previously tracked the vicious wildfire season of 2019, but were surprised at how the fires intensified this year over the course of July, Parrington told Earth Observatory.

Siberia wasn’t the only wildfire hotspot in the Arctic this summer. Northern Alberta, Canada has also been particularly impacted. The Chuckegg Creek Fire in northern Alberta, for example, burned more than 1,351 square miles (350,134 hectares) and took three months to contain, according to Global News Canada.

Fire season

The Arctic fire season runs from May to October, with the worst fires usually occurring between July and August. The 2019 fire season broke records for the number of fires and carbon released, with Copernicus reporting that in June alone, the fires released 50 megatonnes of carbon dioxide.

The 2020 fires are already outpacing 2019’s conflagrations. All told, Copernicus estimates that between January and August, the fires released 244 megatonnes of carbon. That’s more than the entire nation of Vietnam released in 2017. The fires also release other pollution that has worsened air quality in Europe, Russia and Canada, according to Copernicus. Earth scientists are expecting similar conditions for 2021 and beyond.

“We know that temperatures in the Arctic have been increasing at a faster rate than the global average, and warmer/drier conditions will provide the right conditions for fires to grow when they have started,” Parrington said in a statement released by Copernicus, adding, “Our monitoring is important in raising awareness of the wider scale impacts of wildfires and smoke emissions which can help organizations, businesses and individuals plan ahead against the effects of air pollution.”

Originally published on Live Science.

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Bay Area wildfires: Firefighters fear dry lightning, erratic winds could drive blazes – The Mercury News

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Firefighters throughout Northern California raced to get a better grip on the massive wildfires burning around the Bay Area on Sunday. But the predicted evening arrival of erratic winds and dry lightning  threatened to spark new blazes, and propel the massive existing fires on multiple fronts, toward homes and communities across much of Northern California.

Forecasters warn the dangerous weather that arrived Sunday evening, a remnant of a hurricane that hit the coast of Baja California, will be much like the line of thunderstorms that sparked California’s current wildfire crisis a week ago. It was the latest way that weather conditions have confounded efforts of fire crews in the Bay Area, who had just started to make progress containing the three major fire complexes burning in the region.

“We make a gain in one place and we have a loss in another,” said Chad Costa, a battalion chief with the Petaluma Fire Department charged with holding a nine-mile line to keep the Walbridge Fire in Sonoma County from sweeping into Healdsburg.

The storm system’s winds from the southwest threatened to push the Walbridge Fire down from the coastal mountains and into more densely populated areas of Sonoma County, including Healdsburg and Geyserville, prompting evacuations west of Highway 101. Elsewhere in the North Bay, authorities worried those winds would expand the massive Hennessey Fire across vast stretches of territory north of Lake Berryessa.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, wind-driven fire threatened to over take the communities of Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond, whicht have been under assault from the CZU Complex Fire for days. Crews were also preparing for the potential of a devastating run down the San Lorenzo Valley, setting up three fire lines meant to protect Felton, UC Santa Cruz and the city beyond it.

And in the South Bay, authorities ordered new evacuations Sunday in southern Santa Clara County as the SCU Complex continued to burn in the mountains east of Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

Over the past week, firefighters have faced one challenge after another in containing the blazes — winds that pushed flames in unpredictable directions, rugged and hard to access terrain, heavy smoke that limited air support and, most crucially, a shortage of firefighters with nearly two-dozen major blazes burning all throughout California.

Costa said he had about 20 hose crews for those nine miles west of Healdsburg. In a normal scenario, one in which fires weren’t burning all over the state, there might be 20 crews on each mile of the fire line.

“All you can do is save as much as you can,” Costa said. “We’re trying to keep the fire within our box.”

Normally, when forecasts call for red flag warnings and other dangerous fire weather, departments staff extra engines and have crews ready to deploy to quickly knock down fires, said Daniel Potter, a Cal Fire CZU spokesman. Cal Fire’s stated goal is to put out 90 percent of fires before they grow to 10 acres.

But that’s not an option when you’re already pouring everything you’ve got into fighting massive fires threatening tens of thousands of homes.

“We’re maxed (out) on equipment that we can cover with our staffing,” Potter said. “Pretty much every hand crew we have available has been deployed.”

Some took a more optimistic view — the active fires mean hundreds more firefighters are in the area than might be there under normal conditions.

“The fortunate thing is we have everybody in place already,” said Fire Chief Rebecca Ramirez of the Yocha Dehe Fire Department, which serves tribal land belonging to the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, as well as the broader Capay Valley and Yolo County. “So if we had new lightning strikes, we have crews all over the place that can quickly respond.”

Calm wind and cooler temperatures in the early part of Sunday helped crews working the CZU Complex Fire limit its spread into Boulder Creek, while clearer skies allowed for water drops and other air support to protect Bonny Doon. Despite the progress, authorities announced the grim news Sunday night that a person was found dead at a home along Last Chance Road outside Davenport. The person, whose remains were recovered Sunday, is the first fatality in the fire. Four more people have been reported missing, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.

And still, more houses were going up in flames even before the more intense fire weather arrived; officials said 163 structures have been destroyed, as of Sunday evening.

Flames were encroaching on Boulder Creek from the west and the north, tongues of wildfire flaring down from the main body of the blaze and torching homes within a few hundred yards of the historic downtown strip along Highway 9. The situation for Boulder Creek and the towns south of it along the San Lorenzo Valley on Sunday was “critical” and fire crews were racing against time, said Battalion Chief Rich Durrell, leading a California Office of Emergency Services strike team in Boulder Creek.

While in previous days fire crews took a defensive approach, playing “whack-a-mole” to save homes as the fire erupted in one area after another, and ensuring residents got out, Durrell said, “We’re more offensive than defensive today.”

Boulder Creek resident Gordon Rudy had evacuated to his boat in the Santa Cruz Harbor, but snuck back to his home just above town because of a premonition, he said. “I woke up at 1 a.m. and I drove here,” said Rudy, 61, a real estate agent. Flames reached to within 100 feet of his wooden house, built in 1937 and used as a vacation home by original Oakland Raiders owner Wayne Valley. But fire crews put them out. “I’m very relieved,” Rudy said.

Saturday night was fairly quiet in Sonoma County, and firefighters succeeded in keeping the Walbridge Fire — part of the the LNU Lightning Complex from making any significant new pushes toward Healdsburg, CalFire officials reported Sunday, and did the same with the Hennessey Fire to the east. High on a ridge west of the town, two inmate work crews marched out of the brush about 4:30 p.m., many of the men collapsing to the ground after working on the fire line most of the day with hand tools.

Because of the coronavirus and early release programs, the number of crews and the size of them are down as California faces the worst fire crisis in its history, said Calfire Capt.Tim Erinse, a crew commander. Crews normally have 27 members, he said, a number that has now dropped to 24.

Nearby Kelly Dicke looked out from Chamise Road across a ridge line where smoke rose into the air. The home where she’s lived for 30 years -“a 120-year-old logging shack” was below under a canopy of trees. Each night for nearly a week, she said she’s assumed it would be lost.

“Every evening you go, “she’s gone,’ but it isn’t.”

On the eastern side of Lake Berryessa, most members of Ramirez’s 33-person fire department are taking turns rotating on and off the fire line, building a decent containment line on their side of the ridge, and few structures have been lost on tribal land, Ramirez said.

Still, Ramirez said the lightning expected to arrive late Sunday was her top concern.

“We’re all very wary because we are spread so thin right now,” she said.

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California wildfires

California Wildfires Spread As Governor Appeals For Other States’ Help – NPR

Northern California’s LNU Lightning Complex fire burns on Thursday.

Noah Berger/AP


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Noah Berger/AP

Northern California’s LNU Lightning Complex fire burns on Thursday.

Noah Berger/AP

Wildfires ignited by nearly 12,000 lightning strikes over the past three days continue to spread havoc across a heat wave-baked California, with little relief in sight.

“Just a day ago, I announced that we are struggling to address the needs of suppressing some 376 fires in this state,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a Friday news conference. “That number has grown to about 560 fires in the state of California.

“Seven-hundred and seventy-one thousand acres has already been burned in the state of California, the equivalent to the size of the state of Rhode Island,” the governor added. “We simply haven’t seen anything like this in many, many years.”

Newsom pointed to two fires that have been blazing in Northern California as ranking among the 10 largest in the state’s recorded history: The so-called LNU Lightning Complex burning in five wine-producing counties north and east of San Francisco covers 219,000 acres and is the 10th largest and 7% contained, while the SCU Lightning Complex is scorching 229,000 acres east of San Jose. It is the state’s seventh-largest recorded wildfire and 10% contained.

Newsom said five people have died in the fires, while Reuters reported that “43 fire fighters and civilians have been injured, and over 500 homes and other structures destroyed.”

“These fires again are stretching our resources, stretching our personnel,” the governor lamented. “We have over 12,000 firefighters now actively working to suppress these larger complex fires.”

Newsom expressed gratitude to fellow governors in states ranging from Texas to Washington who have sent equipment to help battle the blazes.

“We now are engaged formally with mutual aid from 10 different states. We’ve been on the phone with governors all throughout the United States, not just the Western states, trying to reach out as far as the East Coast to see if we can get resources here into the state of California,” he added. “And not one governor has not been responsive.”

Still, Reuters reported that — according to a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known better as Cal Fire — of the 375 out-of-state fire crews California has requested, only 45 have arrived.

Newsom blamed the manpower shortfall on increasing fire conditions in neighboring Western states.

“It’s a consequence of that heat dome impacting the Western United States,” he said. “And as a consequence of that, our mutual aid that goes outside of the state of California has also been stretched.”

The first-term Democratic governor of the nation’s most populous state said he had just received a call from Sen. Kamala Harris of California, the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. It was to update Newsom on efforts that she and a bipartisan group of other members of the state’s congressional delegation are making to have the federal government declare a major disaster in California.

“We are here with an open hand, not a closed fist,” Newsom said of such efforts to persuade the Trump administration to come to the aid of his beleaguered state. “Right now we have 40 million Americans that live in the great state of California. There’s not one of them that wears red versus blue at this point — we are here to save lives because everybody deserves to be protected.”

Newsom did not offer hope, however, for any immediate relief from the scourge that’s incinerating the parched Golden State.

“We are not naive, by any stretch, how deadly this moment is,” he said. “While the hots are getting a little less hotter this week, we are looking at weather conditions over the course of the next number of days where you can have some monsoon-type weather conditions that led to some of those dry lightning strikes. That will certainly stretch our resources and challenge us.”



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California wildfires kill at least 4 people as some evacuees weigh coronavirus risks at shelters – CNN

(CNN)Even for a state prone to natural disasters, California’s had a catastrophic week.

At least four people have died as a result of wildfires fueled by a heat wave and a blitz of lightning strikes in the state’s northern areas. The clusters of fires merged into orange infernos that are creeping up on residential areas, turning neighborhoods into ash and smoldering ruins.
And as tens of thousands of people evacuate to shelters, they’re weighing the risk of coronavirus infections after California became first state to surpass 600,000 cases last week.
“Not only are we dealing with Covid, but with also the heat and now the fires,” said Cheryl Jarvis, who evacuated to a community center in Vacaville but refuses to go inside for fear of coronavirus infections. She has been sleeping in her Toyota Prius, and has no idea whether her house is still standing.
Vacaville, a city of 100,000 people between Sacramento and San Francisco, is one of the hardest-hit.
“We are experiencing fires, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many, many years,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

Fires have scorched more acres than last year

Statewide, there have been more than 360 recent fires — most of them sparked by lightning. Several of those fires spread due to high temperatures, inaccessible terrain and limited resources.
The 22 major blazes still burning have scorched a total of 660,000 acres across the state, said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire. They have destroyed or damaged 660 structures.
They include two major fires — the LNU Lightning Complex and the SCU Lightning Complex — both a combination of several blazes burning in the same area. By early Friday, they had torched 215,000 acres and 157,475 acres, respectively.
California wildfires have caused more deaths and destruction so far this year than all of 2019. All of last year, they charred a total of 260,000 acres and killed three people in the state, according to Cal Fire.
Several global air quality monitoring websites show that the air quality levels in the Bay Area of California are worse than anywhere else, including locations generally regarded as having the poorest air quality such as India and eastern China.

Deaths reported in various counties

At least four deaths were reported Thursday as a result of the LNU fire — the largest burning in the state. It consists of at least 11 smaller fires stretching across five counties in Northern California.
Three of the deaths are from Napa County and one is from Solano County. In addition to the fatalities, four others were injured, Cal Fire said in a statement Thursday.
On Wednesday, a helicopter pilot who was making water drops on the Hills Fire in Fresno County died in a crash. It’s unclear whether the pilot’s death was included in the four fatalities. CNN has reached out to officials.

More evacuations are underway

More than 28,000 people in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties have evacuated because of the enormous CZU Lightning Complex Fire, according to Cal Fire. That fire has burned 48,000 acres
The nearby University of California, Santa Cruz, is calling for a voluntary evacuation.
“We have been encouraging those who live on campus to proactively leave if they have a safe place to relocate outside of the area,” it said in a statement. “It is critical that we continue to do so to decrease the number of people on campus that will have to be evacuated if and when a mandatory evacuation is issued for our campus.”
Fire officials have said they don’t have an exact number on how many people have been told to leave their homes.
The top priorities are the safety of the firefighters and the public, evacuation planning, and the protection of structures and infrastructures, Cal Fire Operations Chief Chris Waters said.

Governor slams power blackouts

As if the pandemic, wildfires and scorching heat wave weren’t bad enough, some Californians have lost electricity as the state’s power grid struggles to keep up with demand.
Rolling blackouts were implemented over the weekend when an intense heat wave caused record-setting temperatures across the state, including a high of 130 degrees in Death Valley on Sunday.
Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded an investigation into the power outages, which he said are unacceptable.
“These blackouts, which occurred without warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,” Newsom wrote in a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission.

The wildfires are a result of climate change

Experts have warned that wildfires fueled by the climate crisis will be the new normal in California. Warm-season days in the state have increased by 2.5 degrees since the early 1970s, according to a study published last year in the journal Earth’s Future.
“The clearest link between California wildfire and anthropogenic climate change thus far has been via warming-driven increases in atmospheric aridity, which works to dry fuels and promote summer forest fire,” the report said.
“It is well established that warming promotes wildfire throughout the western US, particularly in forested regions, by enhancing atmospheric moisture demand and reducing summer soil moisture as snowpack declines.”
Park Williams, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said human-caused warming of the planet has caused the vapor pressure deficit to increase by 10% since the late 1800s, meaning that more evaporation is occurring.
By 2060, he expects that effect to double.
“This is important because we have already seen a large change in California wildfire activity from the first 10%. Increasing the evaporation has exponential effects on wildfires, so the next 10% increase is likely to have even more potent effects,” he told CNN last year.

Dozens of fires are burning nationwide

Over 11 million people are under an excessive heat warning in the Southwest, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said. Triple-digit temperatures are possible in all these areas with temperatures still above average, he added.
While the West is suffering record-breaking heat, wildfires are ravaging many parts of the US — with red-flag warnings issued from the Northwest into the Rockies.
At least 86 large wildfires are burning in 15 states nationwide this week — almost a third of them in California, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The fires have burned a total of 879,039 acres. In addition to California, some states with multiple fires include Arizona with 12, Alaska with seven, and Colorado with five.

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