By John Lawrence
As many as 6000 firefighters battled blazes in northern California during the month of September.
The King Fire, which was deliberately set, devoured nearly 120 square miles of timber and vegetation about 60 miles east of Sacramento. The blaze in steep terrain forced the evacuation of 2800 people and burned multiple structures in the White Meadows area of Pollock Pines. Firefighters dropped record amounts of retardants – more than 203,000 gallons in a single day.
Altogether more than a half-million gallons of retardant were used. The retardant called red slurry is composed of a mixture of water, fertilizer and red dye. Firefighters have used retardant since the 1950s to slow the advance of wildfires, but the practice is controversial because of its potential effect on wildlife. The Forest Service recently adjusted its retardant rules after two lawsuits that alleged the drops were killing fish, damaging watersheds and harming endangered species.
The King fire exploded in a matter of hours into the second-largest in California this year, forcing the closure of California 50 and moving north toward Tahoe National Forest. Officials said it cost $5 million a day to fight the fire. It is the latest in a series of major blazes to roar out of control in vegetation left tinder-dry by California’s three-year drought. The fire prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for Eldorado County. The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a corresponding request for aid that can cover up to 75% of the state’s costs to fight the fire.
Around the middle of the month, 150 structures were lost in the logging town of Weed, just west of Mt. Shasta, when a wildfire swept through. 45 mph winds whipped the flames. Tens of millions of dollars will be required to clean up and rebuild. A fire also destroyed 30 homes in Madera County.
Caught in a withering drought, California is also shattering a 120-year-old heat record. For the first half of 2014, the state has been an average of 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, and 1 degree warmer than the previous record set in 1934, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
As of September 18, more than 6600 firefighters were battling 13 major fires in California, and resources have been stretched across the state in an effort to contain more than 200 smaller fires a week and prevent outbreaks like the King fire. The largest fire recorded in the state this year, the 125,788-acre Happy Camp Complex fire near the Oregon state line, has been burning since August 11.
Starting pay for a firefighter is $11. an hour, a paltry sum for men and women who risk their lives to save millions of dollars of real estate working in temperatures over 100 degrees.
As of September 21, there were 17 fires burning in 5 western states. In the Eldorado National Forest 82,000 acres were burning. 3000 had fled their homes. 30 structures had burned including 10 homes. Fires near Yosemite forced 1000 people to leave their homes.
Hurrican Odile Destroys Cabo San Lucas
Hurricane Odile hit the Baja peninsula with 125 mph winds. The resort town of Cabo San Lucas was destroyed leaving thousands of tourists stranded without electricity, water or food. The category 3 hurricane made the record books as the strongest tropical cyclone on record in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Room windows at the Westin hotal were blown out; mud and rock blocked the entrance to the Club Regina and workers said the Hilton was seriously damaged.
The newspaper Tribuna de los Cabos reported people being injured by flying glass. Power lines and traffic signals were down throughout the city. Looters ransacked convenience stores, and foreign tourists were left without a way out as Los Cabos International Airport was heavily damaged and roads were rendered impassable by the storm.
Phoenix and Tucson which had been hit earlier in the month by Hurricane Norbert were attacked again by the remnants of Odile. Norbert hit around September 8 and claimed two lives due to flash floods and torrential rains. More than 3 inches of rain fell in one day in Phoenix, far surpassing the previous record set in 1939. Weather officials said Tucson also set a single-day record with 1.26 inches of rain dumped at Tucson International Airport. That broke the record of 0.94 of an inch from 1919.
September 28 brought more torrential rains to Phoenix with 75 mph winds. An inch and a half of rain fell in 30 minutes. In September alone Phoenix received over 5 inches of rain, 10 times the normal average. The rain fell so fast that it did little good for the drought but caused flash floods instead.
Norbert also caused a lot of damage near Las Vegas. Flooding caused about $1.1 million in damage to roads in Nevada’s Clark County. The floods also seriously damaged 139 homes in the area.
Then came Odile a week later. Texas was inundated. The Austin area received 5 to 7 inches of rain on September 18. Austin Energy reported about 1,100 customers without power.
Heavy rain also caused flooding in far West Texas, where a portion of Interstate 10 remained closed for several hours and fire crews responded to more than 100 weather-related calls. Forecasters issued a flash flood watch for the El Paso area, where two people were rescued from a swamped vehicle. Some areas of east El Paso received up to 3 inches of rain in an hour.
Severe Flooding in Asia
In the aftermath of the powerful floods that hit Kashmir in early September, the area is in the midst of a health crisis. Much of the region depends on the premier hospitals in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir State, but most were badly damaged by the water. In the aftermath of the floods, people are living in neighborhoods choked by putrid, infectious and in some spots impassable water. Hundreds have died.
September 18 saw massive flooding in Asia due to Typhoon Kalmaegi. Hundreds of students and their teachers were trapped inside a school building in China’s southwestern Yunnan province due to flooding.
On September 19, torrential monsoon rains pelted Manila in the Philippines flooding the capital, leaving at least three people dead and displacing tens of thousands just days after the region was drenched by another typhoon. Authorities said more than 470,000 residents of Metro Manila and other provinces were affected in severely inundated communities. At least 37,000 people in the capital were displaced in one of the worst floods in the sprawling metropolis of 12 million in recent years. 10.5 inches of rain fell on the capital within a 24-hour period.
Also on September 19 the Jhelum River in Kashmir flooded a pediatric hospital leaving newborns without oxygen. Six infants died within 24 hours, said an orderly at the hospital who handed the children’s bodies, wrapped in blankets, to army rescuers through the second-story window. He then handed them 10 more newborns whose skin had turned blue from lack of oxygen. At least five of them later died.
Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the major cause of global warming, increased at their fastest rate in 30 years in 2013, despite warnings from the world’s scientists of the need to cut emissions to halt temperature rises. If the earth is to remain habitable for human beings, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere need to decrease; yet the opposite is happening.
Extreme weather is increasing in intensity with every passing month. Right now the US is averaging one billion dollar weather event per month. When the US experiences one such event per week, then maybe the collective consciousness will get serious about doing something about it. That means leaving oil, coal and natural gas in the ground and going to renewable forms of energy as rapidly as solar panels and wind turbines can be manufactured and installed.