By John Lawrence
Devastating fires swept through Colorado in June, where firefighters remain relentless in their battle against the West Fork Complex fire in southwest Colorado, which has burned for most of the month.
The West Fork Fire likely will burn for months, said incident commander Pete Blume. And crews are not expecting to make any real gains against the 117-square-mile burn until the summer monsoon season brings cooler temperatures and rains, hopefully in early July.
“This is a significant fire with significant problems, and we are not going to see any significant containment until we have significant changes in the weather,” said Blume, who is with the Rocky Mountain Type I Incident Command.
The West Fork Complex Fire is comprised of three separate fires that include the Windy Pass Fire, the Papoose Fire, and the West Fork Fire. The Windy Pass Fire has spread over 1,403 acres; the Papoose Fire covers 26,483 acres; and the West Fork Fire has blazed through 55,118 acres.
The blaze started June 5 with a lighting strike in a rugged, remote area of the San Juan Mountains, west of the Continental Divide. A second lightning strike sparked a fire east of the divide. The two then joined, making a fast run at popular tourist areas, including South Fork and the Wolf Creek Ski Area.
A third lightning strike, meantime, sparked another fire to the West, creating what is now called the West Fork complex, the largest and most intense blaze to ever hit this area, Blume said.
The fire is feeding on beetle-killed trees and is fanned by hot, windy weather. Those conditions were expected to continue across much of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, where a 119-square-mile wildfire in the mountains of Gila National Forest is expected only to get bigger.
Such larger and longer-burning fires are far from unusual in the drought-and beetle-stricken West. The Rio Grande Forest, for example, had another dry winter. More than half of its hundreds of thousands of acres of mature spruce trees have been killed by beetles, turning the usually fire resistant trees into tinder, Blume said.
Some 900 firefighters with a variety of aircraft were in southwestern Colorado, and more were arriving. But so far they have been in an almost completely defensive mode, waiting for the 30-to 40-mile-an-hour afternoon winds that have grounded aircraft and driven flames to subside.
The fire’s price tag has topped $2.2 million, and the effort has just begun.
The sheriff’s office said that the Black Forest fire was 5 percent contained as of June 13, with 15,700 acres in the burn area. Some 38,000 people had been evacuated from 13,000 homes, the department said. Efforts to flee the area were hampered by thick smoke covering parts of the local interstate, reports The Denver Post.
In addition to 750 firefighters, members of the active-duty military and the National Guard are helping with the fight.
More than 360 homes near Colorado Springs have been destroyed by the raging Black Forest wildfire, local authorities now say. That’s the latest word from The Associated Press and marks a sharp increase in the number of homes said to have been burned.
Finally, Nineteen firefighters were killed battling a fast-moving wildfire menacing a small town in central Arizona, the United States Wildland Fire Aviation Service said on the last day of the month. The firefighters died fighting a fire near the small town of Yarnell about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix, the service said in a Facebook post.
Floods in India
Bad weather has hampered rescue efforts in Uttarakhand state, where more than 1,000 people are believed to have died and thousands of others remain stranded in remote areas because of landslides and floods triggered by torrential monsoon rains.
So far the army has rescued about 90,000 people from hundreds of villages and towns hit by the floods. Entire towns were flattened by landslides that were followed by floods. Roads were washed away and telecommunication links snapped, cutting off many parts of the state.
Every summer, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus make a pilgrimage known as the Char Dham Yatra to four temple towns in Uttarakhand. The pilgrims usually return before monsoon rains begin in July. But this year they were caught by unprecedented heavy rains and flash floods.
Floods in Canada
Many Canadian cities and towns are ill-prepared for the rising frequency of catastrophic weather events like the southern Alberta floods, and it’s a problem that taxpayers will ultimately end up paying for, climate change experts say.
“There are other disasters waiting to happen in other parts of Canada, but Calgary is a good poster child for inaction on warnings they received not too long ago,” said James P. Bruce, former Environment Canada assistant deputy minister.
Many have heaped praise on southern Alberta’s emergency response after extremely heavy rain pummelled communities, with several months’ worth of rain falling in the span of hours for some areas.
But a community’s ability to react during a disaster is one thing. Minimizing the impact of a flood is another. Now the province faces a potentially decade-long cleanup effort that could cost $5 billion by BMO Nesbitt Burns estimates.
Disaster risk management experts say the Alberta situation should serve as a wake-up call to municipalities across the country of the need to spend money and time mitigating the risks before disaster strikes, especially as climate change is predicted to bring bigger and more frequent severe weather events.
“We go from disaster to disaster … being sure that we protect a life so people are protected and then finding the best way how we pay for that,” said Slobodan Simonovic, author of Floods in a Changing Climate: Risk Management. “But what we are doing is we are simply reacting to that, paying for that. We are not investing in the reduction or minimization of the future.”
“The climate change community is predicting that we will be seeing a tremendous increase in these heavy and extreme rainfall events,” said Simonovic. “They’re going to be much more frequent.”
Since the 1950s, the cost of natural disasters has also risen 14-fold, according to the Centre for Research in the Epidemiology of Disasters.
Before 1990, only three Canadian disasters exceeded $500 million in damages. In the past decade alone, nine surpassed that amount.
Floods in Germany
More than 80,000 emergency personnel including firefighters and soldiers were on duty, working aggressively to contain the most dramatic floods in Germany in a decade. Thousands of residents were still unable to return to their homes, and bridges and streets were impassable in many regions of eastern and southern Germany.
Twenty people reportedly have already died in the floods across central Europe after several days of heavy rains. Thousands have been put up in emergency shelters waiting for the waters to recede so they can get back to their homes.
Floods could cost Germany 12 billion euros in economic damage.
Hundreds of people were evacuated in the German city of Dresden, where the Elbe river crested. It was running about 21 feet over normal levels in the eastern city.
In the eastern German city of Halle, the downtown area was flooded. Elsewhere in the affected regions, soldiers and residents were reinforcing soaked levees with sand bags to keep them from breaking.
The water was slowly receding in the hard-hit Bavarian city of Passau, leaving behind vast amounts of debris. Flooding in Passau was the worst in 500 years.
Floods in Czech Republic
About 20,000 have been evacuated nationwide and rescue operations are continuing, and at least 7 have been reported dead as a result of the floods.
Authorities are now concerned about the safety of chemical plants next to the overflowing rivers. Some plants have been shut down and their chemicals removed. Czech public television said a barrier that protects one major chemical plant in Lovosice was leaking.
More than 3,000 people had to leave their homes in the Czech city of Usti nad Labem on the Elbe River near the German border, where floodwaters were still on the rise Wednesday.
High water had already submerged parts of the city as well many other towns along the Elbe, the biggest river in the country.
“It’s not over yet,” Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas said. “There’re tough moments still ahead of us.”
He pledged more than 5 billion koruna ($250 million) for clean-up work.
In Prague the zoo was particularly badly hit for a second time in 11 years. The lower side of the park was submerged and animals there had to be evacuated.
Floods in the US
Torrential rains slammed Illinois and other Midwest states on June 26, triggering flash flood warnings and causing flight cancellations, commuter train delays and road closings.
Up to 5 inches of rain fell in some places and the National Weather Service warned residents in the region to brace for more downpours and possibly severe thunderstorms.
The weather service issued multiple flash flood and flood warnings for counties in northern Illinois, northwestern Indiana and southeastern Wisconsin.
The storms, which threatened eastern Illinois, Indiana, and parts of Kentucky and Ohio, could include large hail, flash flooding and damaging winds of more than 60 mph, AccuWeather.com said.
Heat Wave in the US West
A wave of record-setting, life-threatening heat blazed across the West with temperatures in some areas topping 120 degrees.
Death Valley National Park recorded a temperature of 129, which tied the all-time June record high for the United States. This was just below the world record high of 134 recorded there on July 10, 1913, The Weather Channel said.
A slew of weather records were broken, Weather.com reported, including in Phoenix, Ariz. which saw its fourth-hottest day in history with a temperature of 119 degrees.
Las Vegas temperatures have been at 115 and above in recent days, including a record breaking 118, helping make June the hottest ever in Sin City.
Salt Lake City, Utah, had its hottest ever day on record – 112 degrees for the second day in a row, while San Antonio, Texas set a new June record (108 degrees), as did Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas (107 degrees).
Several Southern California communities set same-day record highs including Palm Springs, where the mercury peaked at 122 degrees. In Northern California, Redding reported a high of 110, Sacramento had 107 while Fresno saw 109.
Extreme weather all over the world is taking lives and causing billions of dollars in damages and remedial work. June saw many records broken and the summer is just getting started. Global warming will continue to wreak havoc and the havoc will only get bigger and more pronounced as the human race continues to pour billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.