California, USA wildfires, inadequate warnings


This video from the USA says about itself:

11 October 2017

California wildfires are devastating everything in their path. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, the hosts of The Young Turks, show you footage of the aftermath from the fires.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The deadly wildfires devastating Northern California continued to spread across dry hills and vineyards Wednesday, prompting more evacuations from a menacing arc of flames that has killed at least 21 people, destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and battered the region’s renowned wine-growing industry.

Officials expect the death toll to rise as crews begin to reach heavily burned areas. Hundreds in flame-ravaged Sonoma County remain missing, and higher winds coupled with low humidity and parched lands could either hamper efforts to contain the fires or create new ones.

“We’re not out of the woods, and we’re not going to be out of the woods for a number of days to come,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said at a news conference Wednesday. “We’re literally looking at explosive vegetation. These fires are burning actively during the day and at night.”

What makes these fast-moving fires particularly dangerous, Pimlott said, is that they “aren’t just in the backwoods. . . . These fires are burning in and around developed communities.”

Nearly two dozen large fires have been raging in the northern part of the state, sending thousands of residents to evacuation centers and burning roughly 170,000 acres — a collective area larger than the city of Chicago. That size is likely to grow.”

Read more here.

By Rafael Azul and Eric London in the USA:

Why didn’t Northern Californian county governments use Wireless Emergency Alerts to warn residents of breakout wildfires?

16 October 2017

Over a week has passed since the most devastating fires in California history ignited Northern California. The death toll is still climbing, reaching 40 as of Sunday night. One hundred and seventy two people are still missing in Sonoma County, the hardest hit of the four affected counties, and another 74 are unaccounted for in neighboring Napa County.

Neither Napa nor Sonoma counties alerted residents of the fires through Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) systems. Despite the fact that such technology is readily available, many of the dead and injured were caught sleeping, completely unprepared for what was coming. In some cases the victims did not hear horns or the desperate knocking of neighbors. Many rural residents beyond the reach of local police departments were left with no warning at all, their limited escape routes quickly engulfed by flames.

But the Washington Post reported yesterday that in neighboring Lake County, due north of Sonoma, local officials did send out an emergency blast that activated all cellphones, “turning them into the equivalent of squawking alarms.” Untold lives were saved by this activation of the WEA. Lake County is the only affected county that has reported zero fire deaths.

According to the Post:

“Of the four counties in Northern California where residents were killed in fires this week, two—Sonoma and Mendocino—had agreements in place with FEMA that enabled them to send alerts. Yuba and Napa counties did not, according to federal records.”

In Sonoma, local officials justified their failure to activate wireless notification on the grounds that it would produce mass panic and “because the warning is not targeted,” a county spokesperson said, adding, “to keep everyone safe we chose not to use a mass alert that would have reached areas not affected by the fire.”

The result was a nightmare. In Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, the smoke and heat of approaching flames woke people in residential neighborhoods shortly after 1:00 AM. “Something told me, death, go, leave,” Julie Pilacelli, a resident of Santa Rosa’s Hemlock Street told the Los Angeles Times.

By 1:30 AM, most of the of Pilacelli’s neighbors were waking each other up and fleeing their homes. There had been no warning, no phone calls, no alarms. Eventually a lone patrol car with a megaphone but no alarm sound drove up Hemlock telling people to leave. “We were left high and dry,” said Jimmy Warren, also of Hemlock Street. “No one was there to help.”

County officials claim that warning the population would have clogged roads, but they have offered no explanation as to why emergency services did not have a county-wide evacuation plan in place to prepare for the inevitability of large fires, a common occurrence in rural and semi-rural parts of Northern California.

This week’s fires have far surpassed previous fires in death and destruction because unlike previous rural wildfires, these were able to approach densely urban areas. In this case, entire residential neighborhoods were left sleeping without warning as flames swept down from the hills despite the fact that they are situated right next to highways and would have been easy to evacuate with proper warning.

A FEMA spokesperson told CNN on Saturday that contrary to Sonoma County government claims, agencies sending emergency notifications do have “the option of providing geographic coordinates defining the area where the alert is to be targeted” with basic information like the location of cell phone towers.

In response, another Sonoma County spokesperson gave residents cold comfort then she told CNN on Sunday, “It’s something we’ll absolutely be looking into as part of our after-action plan.” Sonoma County already has WEA capabilities, unlike Napa, which has reportedly not used WEAs.

Even those who did sign up for the alerts often received notice several hours after the flames had enveloped their neighborhoods. A reader of the World Socialist Web Site reported that his family in Sonoma County was only alerted of approaching fires by a call from a neighbor and barely made it out alive. Three hours after the family evacuated, they received their cell phone evacuation notice from the county.

Many elderly people were evacuated from residential nursing homes with just minutes to spare and without public warning. The San Francisco Chronicle’s growing list of the dead includes many elderly or infirm people who may have been able to survive had they been warned and evacuated in a timely manner.

Different levels of local and state government have responded with a blame game. Governor Jerry Brown also has the capacity to activate the warning system, but administration officials sought to pass the buck on to local officials: “From the state level we wouldn’t do that,” said Kelly Houston, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “Alerts and warnings happen on a local level…They decide what are the appropriate alerts for their population.”

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano in turn blamed residents for failing to sign up for an emergency alert system that sends out texts in emergencies. “If you don’t sign your cellphone up, you don’t get that service,” Giordano said. “So the message is, sign up for SoCoAlerts if you live in this county.”

On Friday, a Sonoma County spokesman said that only 2 percent of the county’s 500,000 residents signed up for the emergency warning system, an indication of how little was done by the government to advertise the system.

Lake County officials explained their decision to activate the WEA system was simple: “We had folks that were in immediate danger, and wanting to notify them of the situation,” Police Lt. Corey Paulich said. Lake County regularly sends out WEAs for weather and criminal alerts. The county also uses an app called CodeRed which notifies residents of impending disasters. In short text messages, Lake County residents were told where the fire was and where their assigned evacuation center was located.

According to the federal government’s Ready.gov emergency preparedness website, WEAs “look like text messages, but are designed to get your attention and alert you with a unique sound and vibration.” They “are no more than 90 characters, and will include the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, as well as the agency issuing the alert.” They are simple, cheap, and effective, often used to send “Amber alerts”, warning drivers to be on the lookout for child abductors.

Sonoma County’s decision not to activate the WEA for fear of causing panic is not a justified “spur of the moment” judgment call. It betrays the government’s incompetence and its lack of confidence in its own evacuation emergency plans. Moreover, the county’s fears of causing panic indicate that county officials and police feared that social tensions in the county—and particularly in the working class and immigrant neighborhoods of Santa Rosa—have reached the point that a panic would produce riots or looting.

There is no telling how many lives would have been saved had the county governments flicked the switch and activated their warning systems. There is a telling difference between the lack of emergency preparations for natural disasters and the massive degree of government preparation in response to peaceful demonstrations against police violence, for example.

As in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, the task of saving lives and property falls to the working class. Thousands of firefighters have converged from all over the country into a veritable army that is combatting the flames in multi-day shifts. These firefighters continue to risk their lives to control the flames and have contained several of the fires. Despite the firefighters’ best efforts, high winds Saturday whipped up new fires like the large one that has now engulfed the Mayacamas mountain range, threatening the small towns of Kenwood, Glen Ellen, and Oakmont.

Reports indicate that up to one-third of all those fighting the flames are prisoners, paid just $1 per hour for the extremely dangerous job. Residents of the affected towns greet firefighters with massive rounds of applause wherever they are sighted in public and have even gathered to keep residents quiet in areas where firefighters are sleeping. Fire departments have had to issue public statements asking that the public cease donations of food and drink on account of the already overwhelming showing of public support.

CALIFORNIA FIRES EXPOSE FLAWS IN EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM 65 percent of U.S. counties reportedly do not have the authorization to send advisories via wireless emergency alerts. And wine country isn’t the only thing that’s been destroyed — just ask the cannabis growers. [HuffPost]

Advertisements

California, USA wildfire survivors interviewed


Air quality in California

This picture shows air quality in California as wildfires rage on Thursday 12 October 2017 (red is unhealthy).

From the World Socialist Web Site in the USA:

Evacuees speak about devastating California fires

By our reporters

13 October 2017

The fires in Northern California continued to spread Thursday with little sign of diminishing. By the afternoon the death toll reached 31, making it the deadliest outbreak of wildfires in the state’s history. Nearly two dozen major fires have burned almost 200,000 acres since Sunday, causing rapid evacuations and widespread devastation.

Many of the largest fires continue to burn out of control with strong dry winds expected to continue to fan the flames today. The Atlas fire, which has burned over 40,000 acres near Napa, is only 3 percent contained. The Tubbs fire, which scoured Santa Rosa and threatens nearby Calistoga, is only 10 percent contained.

Most of the fires are currently burning in rural areas with a lower population but thousands of people are under mandatory evacuation orders.

The fires tore into the city of Santa Rosa, population 175,000, Sunday night and have forced the evacuation of Calistoga in the Napa Valley. At least 3,500 buildings have been destroyed across Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Yuba counties. Roughly 400 people remain missing and the death toll is expected to rise well past the 29 people killed in Southern California’s Griffith Park fire of 1933.

Air quality across the state has deteriorated with the Air Quality Index affecting the 7 million people of the entire San Francisco Bay Area officially declared “unhealthy.” Many schools across the area closed.

The majority of deaths came from the initial burning of the northern part of Santa Rosa on Sunday night. Many people had to flee their homes after waking up in the middle of night to smoke before hearing of any evacuation orders.

A burned truck in Santa Rosa

The lack of modern emergency infrastructure became apparent in the early hours of the fire when emergency officials decided not to send out a mass cell phone alert because they could only send it to the entire county and not just those affected. Old methods of notifying evacuees like radio, auto-dialers, and door-to-door canvassing left many residents completely unaware of the fast approaching fire.

Details of those killed in the fires are starting to emerge—many of the victims were elderly or disabled and living in trailer homes. Sara and Charles Rippey, 98 and 100, died just a few months after their 75th wedding anniversary in their Napa home. Christina Hanson, 27, was confined to a wheelchair and died when her house burned.

Kai Sheperd, 14, died as his family tried to flee the Redwood Valley Fire. His family of four initially tried to escape the fire in two cars down a dirt road but proceeded on foot after the fire cut them off. Kai’s sister and parents suffered severe burns and remain hospitalized.

Nearly 8,000 firefighters have been trying to divert the fires from urban centers, and many are reaching the breaking point from constant work. “We’ve got guys who have been working 80 hours straight,” Captain Sean Norman, deputy head of operations for the Sonoma Valley fires, told the Los Angeles Times. Roughly a third of California’s firefighters are prisoners who work in these dangerous conditions for approximately $1 a day.

Satellite view of the California fires (Credit: European Space Agency)

Reporters with the World Socialist Web Site traveled to evacuation centers in Sonoma County Thursday to speak with some of those affected.

Ed and his daughter Jasmine were at the Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa, after having to flee the nearby city of Calistoga. The fire reached their house in the middle of the night and they had to leave at 1 a.m. on Monday, before any official evacuation order was put in place. Ed worked as a mechanic but had to stop due to blood clots and Parkinson’s disease. Jasmine is a student and works at McDonald’s.

“We only took a few things with us, like our phones,” Jasmine said. “We’re not people who can afford electronics a lot of the time.” They went back to find everything they had left destroyed. “I don’t really know how we’ll recover,” Ed added.

“I’ve been here most of my life and I haven’t seen the government do much to prevent fires,” Ed continued. “Congress is paid a lot of money to do nothing.” Jasmine added, “The government should have recognized the danger sooner.”

Ed and Jasmine

Both noted the impact of rising housing prices and growing social inequality in the area. “Out here, there are a few expensive cars, but a lot of homeless people too,” Jasmine noted. “How can anyone make a living anymore when all their money goes to rent?”

While housing speculation has been a boon for real estate developers and financiers, infrastructure has been allowed to decay. State investigators are looking into whether the current fires were caused by poorly maintained power lines owned by the local utility monopoly Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).

Around the same time the fires broke out Sunday night, dispatchers in Sonoma County received a spate of calls about downed power lines and sparking transformers, as PG&E’s outdated infrastructure faltered under heavy winds.

Chris, a volunteer at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, had sharp words for the utility company: “PG&E does not have a good track record; that’s a fact! Why do we still have electrical wires above ground? That’s old infrastructure. The poles are around material that’s instantly combustible. Really the city should own those wires.”

In April PG&E was fined $8.3 million for failing to maintain a power line that sparked the 2015 Butte Fire in Amador County. In 1994, state regulators fined the company $30 million over its power lines in the Sierras and prosecutors claimed the company had diverted $80 million from its tree cutting program to profits.

CALIFORNIA FIRES NOW DEADLIEST IN STATE HISTORY At least 31 people have died, and experts believe the death toll will climb. The satellite and aerial photos capture the scope of the tragedy. And this haunting video shows a U.S. postal worker delivering mail to scorched shells of homes. [HuffPost]

Among the victims of the fires that have ripped through California’s wine country this week are thousands of undocumented workers, who make up the work force of vineyards, wineries and in tourism: here.

Wildfires in California, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

As Deadly Wildfires Rage in California, a Look at How Global Warming Fuels Decades of Forest Fires

11 October 2017

In California, powerful winds and bone-dry conditions are fueling massive wildfires. A state of emergency has been declared in northern areas as the fires have left at least 17 people dead, destroying whole neighborhoods and forcing 20,000 people to evacuate their homes. The wildfires come after the U.S. Forest Service warned last year that an unprecedented 5-year drought led to the deaths of more than 100 million trees in California, setting the stage for massive fires.

Climate scientists believe human-caused global warming played a major role in the drought. We speak with Park Williams, bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of a 2016 report showing that global warming is responsible for nearly half of the forest area burned in the western United States over the past three decades.

By Kevin Martinez in the USA:

At least 23 dead as reports point to electrical infrastructure as possible cause of California fires

12 October 2017

Officials have raised the death toll in one of the most destructive wildfires in California history to 23 people. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Chief Ken Pimlott called the fires “a serious, critical, catastrophic event.” An estimated 8,000 firefighters are battling the blazes as fierce winds fan the flames that are devouring extra-dry vegetation.

Around 25,000 people have been evacuated from seven counties north of San Francisco and have set up in dozens of shelters. In Sonoma County alone, 5,000 people are taking refuge in 36 shelters according to officials. Many evacuees were unable to bring anything with them from their homes and have been told it may be weeks before they are able to return to check on what remains of their possessions.

The fires have left at least 180 people injured and have destroyed more than 3,500 homes and businesses. The number of dead and injured is expected to rise as emergency responders begin searching the wreckage of evacuated areas. Sonoma County officials said 670 people are still listed as missing from the fires in California wine country.

Exactly what caused the fires that have burned 170,000 acres since Sunday is not known. Cal Fire Chief Pimlott reported that the chance of a lightning strike sparking the fires was “minimal” and 95 percent of wildfires are started by people, intentionally or not.

However, as is the case with many “natural” disasters in the United States, such as the hurricanes which wreaked havoc over the last several months in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, the criminal neglect of infrastructure in the interest of profit is a likely factor in the unfolding catastrophe in Northern California.

Reports have emerged that emergency dispatchers in Sonoma County received calls on Sunday night about multiple power lines falling and [electrical] transformers exploding.

According to a review of emergency radio traffic by the Bay Area News Group, Sonoma County dispatchers sent out fire crews to at least 10 different locations over a 90-minute period after receiving reports of sparking wires and other problems because of high winds.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), based in San Francisco, issued a statement acknowledging equipment troubles in the area but said questions about maintenance were “highly speculative.” As required by state law, the company must cut back trees from power lines to reduce the risk of lines being brought down by falling branches sparking fires. However, the company admitted in a statement that they found “wires down, broken poles and impacted infrastructure,” indicating that proper maintenance had not been carried out.

If PG&E were found to be responsible for the wildfires because of inadequate maintenance of power lines, it would not be the first time. Last April, the company was fined $8.3 million by the state Public Utilities Commission for failing to maintain a power line which started the Butte fire in Amador County in September 2015. That fire raged for 22 days and killed two people, destroying 549 homes and burning 70,868 acres.

PG&E was found guilty of 739 counts of negligence and fined nearly $30 million in 1994 for a fire near the town of Rough and Ready in Nevada County sparked by high voltage wires. State regulators found that the company had diverted almost $80 million from tree-cutting programs into profits.

In 2010, PG&E’s failure to maintain its natural gas lines led to the 2010 San Bruno explosion, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. The company was fined $1.6 billion and a federal jury last year convicted the company on five charges of violating federal pipeline safety regulations, and one charge of obstructing an official National Transportation Safety Board probe.

Last year, Cal Fire announced it would force PG&E to pay $90 million in firefighting costs. In addition, more than 1,000 lawsuits relating to fires are pending against the company. However, these fines have amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist for a company which has seen annual profits surpass $1 billion in recent years.

Many of those reported missing from the fires are presumed to be staying with somebody else and have not checked in as safe on the official registry for missing persons. Concerned family members and friends have used social media to search for loved ones who have been impacted by one of the 22 fires currently burning in Northern California.

The fires regained momentum on Wednesday pushing flames through hills and vineyards as officials scrambled to evacuate some 2,000 residences in the city of Calistoga in Napa County. Deputies in neighboring Sonoma County were “running toward the fire, banging on doors, getting people out of their house,” Misit Harris, a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman reported. “It’s rapidly changing, it’s moving quickly, it’s a very fluid situation,” she said. “The fire is growing.”

The worst of the fires, the Tubbs fire, which burned down portions of the city of Santa Rosa, has already killed 11 people since it erupted on Sunday, making it the deadliest wildfire in the state in 14 years. Together with the Atlas fire in Napa County, they had torched a combined 70,000 acres by Wednesday morning, according to Cal Fire.

Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director for Cal Fire said, “This has been one of the deadliest weeks for fires that we’ve experienced in recent time.” Evacuation orders remain in place for areas which have been burned and have already resulted in three arrests. Residents have been warned not to return for at least another week.

The past two days have seen fires engulf heavily populated neighborhoods prompting residents to flee in the middle of the night having only minutes to grab their belongings.

Intense northern Diablo winds are expected to fuel and spread the wildfires until Thursday according to the National Weather Service. Firefighters have struggled in the face of the intense winds to contain the flames from threatening populated areas.

President Donald Trump responded to the disaster by approving inadequate federal emergency assistance to California, agreeing to an earlier request by Governor Jerry Brown. The assistance provides immediate funds for clearing debris and supplying evacuation centers.

For Governor Brown this will be the 10th time he has declared a state of emergency for wildfires this year alone. Already, 8 million acres have been burned as a result of almost 7,500 fires that have flared up across the state.

CALIFORNIA AUTHORITIES: WILDFIRES ARE ONLY GETTING WORSE At least 23 are dead and hundreds are missing. Horrifying drone footage shows the scale of the devastation in Santa Rosa. And here’s how you can help. [HuffPost]

California Fires Now Deadliest In State’s Recorded History. The death toll ticked up to 31 people Thursday, and it’s likely to climb still higher: here.

Young California condor almost fledging


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

25 September 2017

At nearly six months after hatching, this California Condor chick (#871) is primed to fledge at any point within the next 30–40 days. Watch the 20-pound nestling show off her impressive wingspan as she clumsily rambles around the Devil’s Gate nest in Southern California.

Who says Mondays aren’t any fun! Watch California Condor chick #871 burn off some energy while jumping around and flapping her wings in front of the camera. She gives us a great look at her blackish-gray colored head and down covered neck. #871 won’t be resembling her parents any time soon; it takes five years for a condor to fully obtain the reddish orange head coloration of an adult!

Watch Live 24/7, with highlights and news updates, here.

The California Condor cam is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

California condor chick fed by father


This video from the USA says about itself:

Dad Returns To Feed Chick, 9/20/2017, Devil’s Gate Condor Nest

Watch live 24/7, with highlights and news updates, at http://allaboutbirds.org/condors.

The California Condor cam is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Thanks for watching!

This condor nest, known as the Devil’s Gate nest, is located in the Los Padres National Forest, near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. The parents of the chick in the Devil’s Gate nest are mom #513 and dad #206. Dad #206 hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1999 and mom #513 hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise Idaho in 2009. This is their third nesting attempt together but they have yet to successfully fledge a chick.

California condor chick fed by its father


This video from the USA says about itself:

Male Condor #206 Arrives For Long Feeding Event – August 20, 2017

Watch highlights of a nearly 15-minute-long feeding session for condor chick #871. The visit starts with a flashy entrance by the adult male #206 and is complete with everything you’d expect from a condor feeding event: plenty of wing-begging, grunting, regurgitation, and head rubbing!

Watch Live 24/7, with highlights and news updates, at

http://allaboutbirds.org/condors

The California Condor cam is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Thanks for watching!

About the Nest

This condor nest, known as the Devil’s Gate nest, is located in the Los Padres National Forest, near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. The parents of the chick in the Devil’s Gate nest are mom #513 and dad #206. Dad #206 hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1999 and mom #513 hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise Idaho in 2009. This is their third nesting attempt together but they have yet to successfully fledge a chick.

In 2003, Northern California’s Yurok Tribe initiated efforts to reintroduce California condors on their lands. While wild condors have not existed in the region for more than a hundred years, a new study suggests that hunters transitioning from lead to non-lead ammunition may allow these apex scavengers to succeed there once again: here.

Young California condor prepares for flying


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Active Condor Chick Flaps Wings and Nibbles Plant – July 6, 2017

Watch the Devil’s Gate condor chick exercise its wings atop a rock and nibble on the stem of a nearby plant. As chicks gets older, they spend more time exercising. Watch for more wing flapping, leaping about, and capturing and carrying away objects found around the nest.

Watch Live 24/7, with highlights and news updates, at http://allaboutbirds.org/condors.

The California Condor cam is a collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Santa Barbara Zoo, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Thanks for watching!

About the Nest

This condor nest, known as the Devil’s Gate nest, is located in the Los Padres National Forest, near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge. The parents of the chick in the Devil’s Gate nest are mom #513 and dad #206. Dad #206 hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1999 and mom #513 hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise Idaho in 2009. This is their third nesting attempt together but they have yet to successfully fledge a chick.