Tag Archives: wildfire

Then and now: One year after devastating Paradise California wildfire

Then and now: One year after devastating Paradise California wildfireIt has been one year since the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise, Calif., charring over 150,000 acres, killing 85 people and destroying more than 18,000 homes and businesses.

After the fire, which was the deadliest in state history, the population of the town fell from roughly 26,000 residents to just over 2,000 and left many who still lived in nearby communities wondering how safe they really are.



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New Threats Put Wildfire Fighters' Health on the Line

New Threats Put Wildfire Fighters' Health on the LineSANTA ROSA, Calif. — As fires spread across Northern California last year, Capt. Matt Alba and Strike Team 2253A found themselves wading through a smoldering jungle of plastic and metal in search of bodies.As they worked through charred auto shops and trailers, Alba kept thinking about the poisons they were kicking up and that they did not have a single mask or hazmat suit among them.Wildfire fighting had changed.For generations, firefighters fought mostly in desolate forests, where most of the dangers were fatigue and falling trees. But a confluence of modern factors — namely America's rapid suburban expansion into the wilderness, combined with the growing ferocity of wildfires — is posing a host of new health threats to the men and women who fight these blazes.While burning wood poses some threat to lungs, man-made products and the gases and particles they produce when burned are far more dangerous.In the last three years, California has seen a record number of devastating fires, and thousands of firefighters have been exposed to chemicals they had not previously encountered in such high volumes.Unlike urban firefighters dealing with structural blazes, these wildfire responders do not wear heavy gear that filters air or provides clean air because the gear is unwieldy and too limited to allow the kind of multihour, high-exertion efforts demanded on the front lines of these large outdoor infernos.But some think more needs to be done to keep wildland firefighters safe.Alba, who has been with the San Francisco Fire Department for 18 years, spent 11 days working in Paradise, California, last year, in a smog so thick it burned his lungs. As he picked his way through the wreckage, he said, his crew began to fall sick: severe headaches, brutal coughs."I was just thinking about 9/11," he said of the many firefighters who fell ill after the 2001 terrorist attacks. "I asked myself: Is history repeating itself here?"On Thursday, California's fight against fire continued. More than 7,000 firefighters were battling blazes up and down the state, including new wildfires in the heavily populated areas of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, fueled by rushing winds that for days have pushed flames through brush and dry fields and up the sides of homes.The fires began just as winds eased in the north and firefighters wrangling the state's largest active blaze, the Kincade fire, managed to contain more than half of its 76,800-acre footprint for the first time.About 5,800 people remained under a mandatory evacuation order, a small fraction of the 180,000 who had been ordered to leave their homes Sunday. Residents and firefighters were beginning to survey the damage Thursday as many in Northern California and parts of Southern California began to return home.Several studies have examined the health of firefighters who battle structural blazes in urban areas. The largest, a look at 30,000 people by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, acknowledged that urban firefighters may be exposed to carcinogens like formaldehyde, benzene and asbestos, and found that firefighters have higher rates of several types of cancers than the population as a whole.This has led some health advocates to declare an "epidemic" of cancer among urban firefighters and to call for better equipment and health care.Less is known about the health of wildland firefighters. Though that is changing.After the 2017 Tubbs fire that whipped through the Santa Rosa area, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, working with the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, analyzed blood and urine samples of about 150 firefighters. They found that in their blood many had elevated levels of mercury, as well as perfluoroalkyl substances, human-made chemicals known as PFAS, which have been linked to cancer.Researchers said the chemicals may have come off the buildings, or even the firefighters' gear. PFAS, an increasingly controversial class of chemicals that are used as fire retardants, are often present in firefighter uniforms.The exposure is compounded by dangers that firefighters have faced for years.In Northern California this month, more than 5,000 firefighters and support staff gathered to fight the Kincade fire, turning the Sonoma County fairgrounds into base camp, a sea of white tents and dirt-smudged firefighters taking breaks from their 24-hour shifts.The morning briefing included tips on avoiding exhaustion and falling trees — and a warning to watch out for the region's abandoned mercury mines. (For decades starting around the 1870s, mercury was pulled from the ground and used to separate gold from other rocks. Many of those mines were never fully cleaned up.)A flyer handed out to firefighters said the mines posed "no health or inhalation hazards" if they were exposed to fire, as they had been capped with soil. But officials at the federal Bureau of Land Management said that was incorrect — that at least three of the mines had exposed waste that could be dangerous if hit by heat. (Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, later issued a corrected version of the flyer.)More modern threats come from the growth of the country's wildland-urban interface, a term increasingly used to describe the area where homes and forests meet.As cities have become more expensive, these areas have become increasingly attractive places to settle, and more than 12 million homes were built in this liminal space between 1990 and 2010. With more people in the woods, there are more structures to defend.More than 80 people died in the Camp fire near Paradise last year; most lived in areas that were basically wilderness. Firefighters now have to contend with protecting people who live in areas that some consider uninhabitable and the fallout of homes burning in these isolated locations.At base camp in Sonoma, many said they were aware of these expanding chemical dangers. Cal Fire has a research and development team that is working to develop better gear for firefighters, said Eric Castellanos, a captain with the department.But there is division among firefighters about exactly what should be done to protect them. Alba, the firefighter who was in Paradise, is calling on fire agencies to remove PFAS from their uniforms and for officials to come up with a solution that protects them from noxious threats.But Scott Ross, a firefighter from Shasta County, said he worried that more restrictions — heavier gear, for example — would make it harder for them to do their work."This is not a safe job," he said. "You can't make it safe. And the more you try, the more you tie our hands."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2019 The New York Times Company



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The Latest: Shifting winds fan Southern California wildfire

The Latest: Shifting winds fan Southern California wildfireShifting winds are causing problems for firefighters trying to contain a Southern California wildfire. Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen says the Maria Fire about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles has grown to just under 14 square miles (36 square kilometers) as of midday Friday. County Sheriff Bill Ayub says the fire is threatening 2,300 structures and about 8,000 people are under evacuation orders.



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PHOTOS: New wildfire threatens Reagan Presidential Library and surrounding communities

PHOTOS: New wildfire threatens Reagan Presidential Library and surrounding communitiesA fresh wildfire is burning on a ridge near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Southern California’s Simi Valley city, forcing officials to order evacuations of the library and nearby homes and close schools.



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The Latest: Man accused of arson in California wildfire

The Latest: Man accused of arson in California wildfireAuthorities say a man was arrested and accused of arson after a crew responded to a report of a wildfire in Northern California. A CalFire statement said engine crews were able to quickly contain the small fire in the Sonoma County community of Geyserville and identified a potential suspect. Authorities reported progress Wednesday in battling the Kincade fire in Sonoma County that started last week outside of Geyserville and forced the evacuation of the entire community, home to about 900 people.



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Here's What California's Kincade Wildfire Looks Like From Space

Here's What California's Kincade Wildfire Looks Like From SpaceThe Bay-area's Kincade wildfire has grown so large that a satellite can record the plumes from 23,000 miles away in space.



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'Need to be vigilant': New blaze by LA drives more wildfire evacuations throughout California

'Need to be vigilant': New blaze by LA drives more wildfire evacuations throughout CaliforniaResidents who evacuated a sprawling Northern California wildfire were rocked by another slap from Mother Nature – a 3.3 magnitude earthquake.



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California state-wide emergency declared as wildfire forces 200,000 to flee and leaves millions without power

California state-wide emergency declared as wildfire forces 200,000 to flee and leaves millions without powerCalifornia‘s governor has declared a state-wide emergency, ordering nearly 200,000 people to flee from the threat of wildfires fuelled by ferocious winds.Millions of people were left without power as hurricane-force winds whipped through the state.



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180,000 evacuated as wildfire and electricity blackout hits California wine country

180,000 evacuated as wildfire and electricity blackout hits California wine countryA total of 180,000 people have been ordered to evacuate from a huge swath of northern California's wine country as the state was hit by a destructive wildfire and the biggest electricity black out in its history. The Kinkade fire covered an area of 40 square miles and predictions of high gusts, known as the "diablo winds," fueled fears it could spread further. Some 77 buildings, including 31 homes, had already burned to the ground, and the fire was only 10 per cent contained. The blaze encroached on wineries in Sonoma County, a region full of internationally renowned vintners. Thousands of firefighters were battling the fire and a state of emergency has been declared. Dominic Foppoli,mayor of the town of Windsor, said: "This is a life-threatening situation and a danger to our entire town." Pacific Gas & Electric, the energy company, decided to shut down power as a precaution to 2.35 million people. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California gov, called the black out "infuriating and unacceptable." He said: "We are going to do our best to get through these high wind events and get these lights back on, and do everything in our power to make sure PG&E; is never in a position where they're doing this to us again." The Democrat governor has blamed the bankrupt utility for lackluster investment in its infrastructure. A winery on fire in Healdsburg, California Credit: AFP According to the US National Weather Service the area was facing an "historic wind event" which could lead to "erratic fire behaviour" and send embers for miles. Warnings were issued that the gusts could knock down power lines and spark more devastating wildfires. A total of the 24 lives lost when a wildfire swept through the region two years ago. Sheriff Mark Essick, in Sonoma County, pleaded with residents in the evacuation zone to leave immediately. He said: "I'm seeing people reporting that they're going to stay and fight this fire. You cannot fight this. Please evacuate." Prisoners and hospital patients were among those evacuating. Jon Robinson, 52, a resident, said: "Before this, we planned on staying. But I'll tell you what, it's just too nerve-racking." Scott Paris, a cafe owner, said the electricity shutdown would lose him tens of thousands of dollars in business. He said: "We're scrambling to get enough generators. If this is the new normal, it's going to drive up a lot of costs. It drives up stress." Florida was sending 100 electric workers to help PG&E; restore power to areas with outages caused by the wildfires. What sparked the current fire is unknown, but PG&E; said a 230,000-volt transmission line malfunctioned minutes before the blaze erupted, amid bode-dry conditions, on Wednesday. Flames engulf a building in Sonoma County Credit: Bloomberg Its chief executive Andrew Vesey said: "Any spark, from any source, can lead to catastrophic results." Last year, 85 people died in the fire that destroyed the California town of Paradise, the deadliest US blaze in a century. Officials concluded that a PG&E; transmission line sparked that fire. The Kinkade fire was burning along steep hillsides in rugged terrain north of San Francisco. A separate fire, the Tick Fire, has been raging in suburban Los Angeles. Nearly all the 50,000 residents ordered to evacuate were allowed back home after winds began to ease. Marcos Briano, 71, a resident who found destroyed homes on his street, said: "I'm thankful that nothing happened to my house, but I feel bad for my neighbours."



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UPDATE 1-Northern California wildfire evacuation orders rise to 180,000

UPDATE 1-Northern California wildfire evacuation orders rise to 180,000The southward march of a Northern California wildfire toward the more populated areas above the San Francisco Bay led officials on Sunday to raise the number of residents ordered to leave their homes in the area to 180,000. The increase, from 130,000 earlier on Sunday, came as wind gusts pushed the Kincade Fire down from the rolling hills and wine regions of northern Sonoma County and threatened communities as far south as northern Santa Rosa, officials said. Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick, defending the evacuation orders which he said had been criticized by some as overly cautious, increased the police presence in evacuation zones.



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