FIRE

On July 31, 2015, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown issued a Proclamation of a State of Emergency because of the wildfires burning in the state. I’ve decided to post that proclamation in full because it sums up the wildfire situation well. This is Governor Brown’s second state of emergency proclamation this year.

PROCLAMATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY

WHEREAS since June 17, 2015, a series of wildfires has started in the Counties of Butte, El Dorado, Humboldt, Lake, Madera, Napa, Nevada, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, Shasta, Solano, Tulare, Tuolumne, and Yolo. These fires have burned thousands of acres of land and continue to burn; and

WHEREAS these fires have destroyed structures and continue to threaten hundreds of homes, necessitating the evacuation of residents; and

WHEREAS the fires have damaged and continue to threaten critical infrastructure and have forced the closure of major highways and local roads; and

WHEREAS on January 17, 2014, I declared a State of Emergency based on the extreme drought that has now persisted in the State for four years; and

WHEREAS the drought conditions have increased the State’s risk of wildfires, caused millions of trees to die, and increased the severity and spread of the fires throughout the State; and

WHEREAS extreme weather conditions, lightning storms, and high temperatures have increased the risk and severity of fires throughout the State; and

WHEREAS as a result of the numerous fires burning throughout the State, combined with the drought conditions, California’s air quality has significantly deteriorated and impacted public health; and

WHEREAS Federal Fire Management Assistance Grants have been requested and approved for the Wragg Fire burning in the Counties of Napa, Solano, and Yolo and for the North Fire burning in the County of San Bernardino; and

WHEREAS by virtue of the number of fires burning simultaneously, the State’s resources have been significantly committed such that the State will seek the assistance and resources of other states, as necessary, pursuant to the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, Public Law 104-321, and sections 179 through 179.9 of the California Government Code; and

WHEREAS the circumstances of these wildfires, by reason of their magnitude, are or are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of any single local government and require the combined forces of a mutual aid region or regions to combat; and

WHEREAS under the provisions of section 8558(b) of the California Government Code, I find that conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property exists in California due to these wildfires.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, EDMUND G. BROWN JR., Governor of the State of California, in accordance with the authority vested in me by the State Constitution and statutes, including the California Emergency Services Act, and in particular, section 8625 of the California Government Code, HEREBY PROCLAIM A STATE OF EMERGENCY to exist in the State of California due to the wildfires burning throughout the State.

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:

1. All agencies of the state government shall utilize and employ state personnel, equipment, and facilities for the performance of any and all activities consistent with the direction of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the State Emergency Plan. Also, all citizens are to heed the advice of emergency officials with regard to this emergency in order to protect their safety.

2. The California National Guard shall mobilize under California Military and Veterans Code section 146 (mobilization in case of catastrophic fires) to support disaster response and relief efforts and coordinate with all relevant state agencies, including the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and all relevant state and local emergency responders and law enforcement within the impacted areas.

I FURTHER DIRECT that as soon as hereafter possible, this proclamation be filed in the Office of the Secretary of State and that widespread publicity and notice be given of this proclamation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 31st day of July 2015.

__________________________

EDMUND G. BROWN JR.

Governor of California

ATTEST:

__________________________

ALEX PADILLA

Secretary of State

The current wildfire map of California can change rapidly. This is the latest.

The statistics for the current year are telling.

Wildfires are up over 1,200 compared to last year and over 1,300 compared to the five year average. The fact that total acreage is down might be due to increased personnel and planning for an early start of the fire season and it just might be no longer true since the Rocky Fire in Lake County, one county west of Mendocino County, has exploded to over 46,000 acres. We have a long ways to go before fire season is over if it ever is.

California’s wildfire season typically peaks in the summer and into the early fall, with the most intense fires occurring in late September and October. However, fire experts say that since 2000, the number of days considered vulnerable to fire outbreaks has been growing. Today, California’s fire season is about 70 days longer compared to 40 years ago, Weather.com says. More than half of the 20 largest wildfires in the state’s history have occurred in the past 15 years.

But California isn’t the only state that’s in bad shape.

The States of Washington and Oregon are also having a bad time.

The flames sent a terrifying message: Normally soggy Washington — nicknamed the Evergreen State for good reason and home to the wettest town in the Lower 48 — has never been hotter or drier at this point in the year, officials say, and the fire season has never begun so early or so fiercely.

“It’s more reminiscent of Southern California and the brush fires fed by the Santa Ana winds,” said Peter Goldmark, head of the state Department of Natural Resources. “Now it’s up here in the state of Washington, where this kind of behavior is unseen. It’s heralding a radical change in the kinds of fires we’re going to see.”

And what does happen when a rainforest burns?

The wettest rainforest in the continental United States had gone up in flames and the smoke was so thick, so blanketing, that you could see it miles away. Deep in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the aptly named Paradise Fire, undaunted by the dampness of it all, was eating the forest alive and destroying an ecological Eden.

The old-growth rainforest that stretches across the western valleys of the Olympic National Park is its crown jewel. As UNESCO wrote in recognizing the park as a World Heritage Site, it includes “the best example of intact and protected temperate rainforest in the Pacific Northwest.” In those river valleys, annual rainfall is measured not in inches but in feet, and it’s the wettest place in the continental United States. There you will find living giants: a Sitka spruce more than 1,000 years old; Douglas fir more than 300 feet tall; mountain hemlock at 150 feet; yellow cedars that are nearly 12 feet in diameter; and a western red cedar whose circumference is more than 60 feet.

For firefighters, combating such a blaze in an old-growth rainforest with steep hills is, at best, an impossibly dangerous business. Large trees are “falling down regularly,” firefighter Dave Felsen told the Seattle Times. “You can hear cracking and you try to move, but it’s so thick in there that there is no escape route if something is coming at you.”

But it is Alaska where things are grim.

Every day they update the numbers. And every day, the number of acres burned in Alaska seems to leap higher yet again.

As of Monday, it is at 4,447,182.2 acres, according to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center — a total that puts the 2015 wildfire season in sixth place overall among worst seasons on record. It’s very likely to move into fifth place by Tuesday — and it’s still just mid-July. There is a long way to go.

According to the Center, 2015 is now well ahead of the rate of burn seen in the worst year ever, 2004, when 6,590,140 acres burned in 701 fires. “Fire acreage totals are more than 14 days ahead of 2004,” the agency notes. In other words, and although the situation could still change, we may be watching the unfolding of the worst year ever recorded.

Let’s not leave Canada out of this post.

Wildfire danger throughout Western Canada is “very high,” according to the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System (CWFIS), with the majority of fire activity taking place in three provinces: Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Alberta. “Nationally,” the CWFIS’ most recent report reads, “fire activity has increased dramatically and is now well above average for this time of year.”

According to Mashable, more than 13,000 people in the province of Saskatchewan have been evacuated because of the fires, making it the largest wildfire evacuation in history for the relatively underpopulated province. The province’s premier, Brad Wall, told CBC News that the fires are “unprecedented” for the region, noting that the area currently burning is about 10 times the average. As of Monday, there were 112 fires burning across the province.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the wildfires up north are causing a “tremendous amount of smoke,” and it hasn’t stopped at the border: smoke from Canada’s wildfires has been seen across Midwest and as far south as North Carolina, bringing a haze to the sky and turning sunsets fiery red. But the smoke also brings dangerous fine particles, which can diminish air quality and, in high concentrations, pose a public health threat.

Smoke drifting south from wildfires burning in Canada clouds the skyline last week in Denver.

David Zalubowski/AP

Smoke conditions on June 10, 2015.

A hazy, polluted Minneapolis skyline from Ridgeway Parkway Park on Monday. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

Tiny particles in smoke from wildfires may increase the danger of acute heart problems, including cardiac arrest and ischemic heart disease, especially among vulnerable people, according to a new study published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The findings are especially worrisome as heavy smoke generated from wildfires in Alaska and Canada continues to drift southward. Smoke already has made its way down into the northern United States, including Montana, the Central Plains, the Upper Mississippi Valley, and into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

“During bushfires there is widespread and huge quantities of smoke, and people are exposed,” said Anjali Haikerwal, study author and a doctoral candidate at the school of public health and preventive medicine at Monash University in Melbourne. “These particulates can be easily inhaled deep into the lungs. These particles may act as a trigger factor for acute cardiovascular health events.”

Then there is that other problem! What does happens when wildfire meets permafrost in Alaska and Canada?

As Sam Harrel, spokesperson for the Alaska Fire Service, puts it in understated terms, “We are on a track for a lot of acres this year.” But the real problem is that the fires could accelerate the melting of permafrost, a layer of ground that’s never supposed to get above freezing. And permafrost is one of Earth’s great storehouses of carbon. Release it, and you speed up climate change.

What ties all that together is “duff,” the thick layer of moss, twigs, needles, and other living or once-living material that blankets the forest floor. Duff can be up to a foot thick, and it provides the insulation that keeps permafrost cold through even the sunny days of summer. But when fire comes along, duff becomes fuel. Burning duff releases carbon too, of course, but losing it is like ripping the insulation out of a refrigerator.What ties all that together is “duff,” the thick layer of moss, twigs, needles, and other living or once-living material that blankets the forest floor. Duff can be up to a foot thick, and it provides the insulation that keeps permafrost cold through even the sunny days of summer. But when fire comes along, duff becomes fuel. Burning duff releases carbon too, of course, but losing it is like ripping the insulation out of a refrigerator.

It’s also a particularly bad time for the permafrost to lose insulation. Last year was Alaska’s hottest ever recorded. Alaska has warmed twice as fast as other states. Alaskans are already worried about how melting permafrost will damage the state’s transportation infrastructure—permafrost is supposed to be permanent, and northerners build roads on it. It’s also a unique habitat for animals and plants.

Losing permafrost wouldn’t just affect Alaskans and Canadians, though. All the permafrost in the world currently stores an estimated 1.4 trillion tons of carbon, twice the amount in the atmosphere. What happens if all that carbon gets released? “We don’t know the answer to that,” says Jon O’Donnell, an ecologist with the National Park Service’s Arctic Network.

 

Globel Fire Maps

On Earth, something is always burning: wildfires started by lightning or people, controlled agricultural fires, or fossil fuels. When anything made out of carbon — whether it’s vegetation, gasoline, or coal — burns completely, the only end products are carbon dioxide and water vapor. But in most situations, burning is not complete, and fires or burning fossil fuels produce a mixture of gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide.

That’s a lot of fire going on people. Think we can handle it?

I have purposely left out all of the dramatic fire pictures and the stories of lost property and death that accompany most fire related stories. This is just an unemotional post that shows that the planet is on fire.

 

When cyclones tear up Oklahoma and hurricanes swamp Alabama and wildfires scorch Texas, you come to us, the rest of the country, for billions of dollars to recover. And the damage that your polluters and deniers are doing doesn’t just hit Oklahoma and Alabama and Texas. It hits Rhode Island with floods and storms.

Sheldon Whitehouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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