wildfires

New research on avian response to wildfires

New research explores the effects fire has on ecosystems and the wildlife species that inhabit them. Scientists examined the impacts of fires of different severity levels on birds and how that changes as the time since fire increases. Scientists looked across 10 fires after they burned through forests in the Sierra Nevada. A key finding was that wildfire had strong, but varied, effects on the density of many of the bird species that were studied.
Latest Science News — ScienceDaily

What’s Making California’s Wildfires So Dangerous?

The Southern California wildfires spreading through Ventura and Los Angeles counties are among the devastating wildfires residential communities have seen in the decades since developers have expanded further and further onto land prone to natural disaster.

But in several ways California’s fires are unusual. They come late in the year when weather conditions typically stifle potential fires and some have sprouted up in the middle of dense urban areas typically far from fire zones. California’s unusual wildfire activity comes largely thanks to dry conditions in the region and the state’s Santa Ana winds.

The Santa Ana winds are a common occurence in Southern California between October and March as warm air blows in from the dessert leading to blustery days in the region. At their most powerful, the winds can wreck destruction throughout the region, knocking down trees and power lines. The wind’s heat also helps dry vegetation, making it easier to burn. And when there’s a fire, the winds can also transport flames quickly spreading fire from place to place.

That’s what scientists say happened in Southern California in recent days as at least four serious fires spread in scattered locations across Ventura and Los Angeles counties, prompting thousands to evacuate and freeways like the 405 to partially close. The Santa Ana wildfire threat index, which measures the potential for the winds to spread fire, ranked the threat level at high or extreme on Thursday from just south of Santa Barbara to the Mexican border.

The hot and dry weather in the region has also contributed to the rapid spread of California’s fires. This year was the second hottest on record when measured half way through the year. And downtown Los Angeles has received just 0.11 inches of rainfall since the beginning of October, typically the region’s west season, according to data from the National Weather Service. That leaves lots of material that’s ready to burn.

Lingering over recent California fires is the question of long-term climate change. Warmer temperatures dry out vegetation, making them easier to burn, and scientists say vulnerable regions like California should expect a spike in wildfires in the coming decades as temperatures continue to rise. The effect of climate change on the Santa Ana winds remains uncertain, though a 2006 study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggested that warming could shift the winds’ season leading to larger areas burned by fires.

Still, even as humans continue to stem climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace scientists say is too slow to adequately address climate change, a slew of policy changes can reduce the impact of wildfires like those affecting Southern California from changes in land use patterns to making better use of controlled burns.

But Southern California’s fires should be a wake up call.


TIME

California’s Winds and Wildfires Have Pushed the Alert System Into Uncharted Territory: Purple

(VENTURA, Calif.) — Southern California has felt yellow wind, orange wind, and red wind. But never purple wind. Until now.

The color-coded system showing the expected strength of the winds driving the region’s fierce wildfires has reached uncharted territory, pushing past red, which means “high” into the color that means “extreme.”

“The forecast for tomorrow is purple,” said Ken Pimlott, director at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We’ve never used purple before.”

Southern California has already been hit hard by three major fires that have put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed at nearly 200 homes and buildings, a figure that is almost certain to grow.

But the hard-won progress of firefighters could be erased Thursday.

“We’re talking winds that can surface that can be 80 miles an hour,” Pimlott said. “These will be winds that there will no ability to fight fires.”

Such winds can instantly turn a tiny fire into a large one, or carry embers that spark new fires miles away.

Millions of cellphones buzzed loudly Tuesday night from San Diego to Santa Barbara with a sound that usually means an Amber Alert, but this time meant a rare weather warning for strong winds making extreme fire danger.

Officials hope the electronic push will keep the whole region alert and keep the death toll from the week’s fires at zero.

Melissa Rosenzweig, 47, was briefly back home Tuesday after evacuating from her Ventura house, which has been spared so far while most on her street had burned in the largest and most destructive of the region’s fires. She and her husband were about to evacuate again, hoping they will get lucky twice as the new winds arrive.

“Heck yeah I’m still worried,” Rosenzweig said. “We’re very grateful but I know we’re not out of the woods.”

In what may have been an early sign of the 140-square-mile fire getting new life, several thousand new evacuations were ordered late Tuesday night in Ojai, a town of artists and resorts. The blaze had been creeping there already, but an increase in winds pushed it close enough for many more to flee.

The wilder winds could easily send make new fires explode too, as one did Wednesday in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel-Air section, where a fire consumed multimillion-dollar houses that give the rich and famous sweeping views of Los Angeles.

Little flame was visible by late Tuesday, but in the morning fire exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes.

Flames burned a wine storage shed at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 16-acre (6.5-hectare) Moraga Vineyards estate and appeared to have damaged about 7 acres (2.8 hectares) of vines, a spokeswoman said.

Across the wide I-405 freeway from the fire, the Getty Center art complex was closed to protect its collection from smoke damage. Many schools across Los Angeles were closed because of poor air quality and classes were canceled at 265 schools Thursday.

Back in the beachside city of Ventura, the fire killed more than two dozen horses at a stable and had destroyed at least 150 structures, a number that was expected to get far bigger as firefighters are able to assess losses.

Air tankers that had been grounded much of the week because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.

“We’re basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down,” said Tim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist at the blaze. “But that’s about it.”


TIME

Tennessee officials say wildfires that left 7 dead ‘likely to be human-caused’ – Washington Post


Washington Post

Tennessee officials say wildfires that left 7 dead 'likely to be human-caused'
Washington Post
The deadly wildfires that engulfed two Tennessee tourist towns leading into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park left at least seven dead and hundreds of buildings damaged or destroyed, officials said late Wednesday as the terrible toll of the fires
Sevier County fires death toll up to 7WBIR.com
Tennessee wildfires have killed 7, mayor saysFox News
Rain comes to fire-ravaged Tennessee mountains, but so do tornadoesChicago Tribune
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Wildfires scorch at least 250 buildings in Gatlinburg

Three Gatlinburg-area resorts appear to have been destroyed by wildfires in the popular tourist area in eastern Tennessee, Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Dean Flener said Tuesday morning. The resorts are the Ober Gatlinburg amusement park and ski area, the Black Bear Falls log-cabin rental resort, and the Westgate Mountain Resort & Spa, Flener said, citing initial reports from Sevier County emergency management officials.


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