wildfires

Valarie Smith

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Wildfire potential is increased through Thursday across portions of the state, including the Western Plains and Trans Pecos.

According to a press release from the Texas A&M Forest Service, the combination of above normal temperatures and dry conditions, as well as an extended period of forecasted elevated to critical fire weather, will create an environment conducive to wildfire activity this week. Impacted areas include Amarillo, Lubbock, Wichita Falls, Midland and Alpine. The peak day for increased wildfire potential is likely Wednesday due to above normal temperatures, high wind speeds and low relative humidity over dry fuel beds.

The risk of wildfires will be higher than normal through the winter in much of Texas. It's yet another effect of the drought that continues to worsen in much of the state, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

After record-breaking wildfires this year, thousands of people across the West are still clearing piles of charred debris where their homes once stood in the hope of rebuilding their lives.

With climate change fueling bigger, more destructive wildfires, rebuilding offers an opportunity to create more fire-resistant communities by using building materials that can help homes survive the next blaze.

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

This summer’s record-breaking wildfires have reduced some of those headwater forests to burnt trees and heaps of ash. In high alpine ecosystems, climate change has tipped the scales toward drier forests, lessened snowpack, hotter summers and extended fire seasons.

As wildfires raged up and down the Pacific Coast last month, families across California and Oregon lived in – and breathed in — smoky, toxic air for weeks. Many days, the region's air quality ranked among the worst in the world.

Earlier this month California Gov. Gavin Newsom, looking uncharacteristically wan and frustrated, stood in the burnt ruins of an elementary school in Napa County obliterated by yet another catastrophic blaze.

It's a scene the governor acknowledged has become painfully familiar across the Golden State.

Weekend snowfall granted a reprieve against the two largest wildfires in Colorado history, which together have spread over more than 400,000 acres.

But the fires continue to burn. The East Troublesome Fire spread 192,560 acres and jumped the Continental Divide. It is 15% contained.

The nearby Cameron Peak Fire, the largest blaze in state history, is now 64% contained. It has already burned over 208,600 acres.

Jennifer Montano watches her two kids' faces as they quietly clamber out of the car in their driveway in Vacaville, Calif. It's been a week since the children were last home, but where their house once stood, there's ash and rubble now.

In August, the Montanos' house was destroyed by the LNU Lightning Complex Fire, one of more than 10,000 structures lost in record-breaking blazes across the West this year.

National Park Service hydrologist Erin White likes to call Yellowstone “America’s first water park.”

It’s home to the headwaters of multiple major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls. Thousands of geysers, mudpots, and hot springs—heated by an underground supervolcano—gush, bubble, and boil in the national park’s 2.2 million acres, too.

Ariel Kinzinger had a headache. Clark Brinkman coughed and wheezed. LaNesha Collins, feeling physically fine, was frustrated by another day mostly trapped inside looking out at a sepia sun, in Portland, Ore.

"I've never been in the thick of smoke like this," said Collins, an Oregonian like the others. "It's insane."

Wildfires near cities have become commonplace in the Western United States, but this year the reach and intensity of the dangerous air pollution they produce has been the worst on record.

Many Americans in populous, urban areas endured smoke for longer than previous years. Some places experienced very unhealthy or hazardous air from wildfires for the first time ever recorded.

Wildfires are ravaging large swaths of the West in the middle of the wine grape harvest, sending hazardous smoke through picturesque vineyards.

It's forcing many agricultural workers to make a stark choice: Should they prioritize their health or earn badly needed money?

"The truth is that I have to work," said Maricela, 48, a team leader at a vineyard near Medford in southern Oregon. There are multiple fires blazing close to the town.


Wildfires in the Western U.S. continue to blaze, with much of the activity centered in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

In Oregon and Washington, 28 large fires are burning across 1.5 million acres. But the Bureau of Land Management noted that growth has slowed for a number of the major fires. The large Beachie Creek Fire east of Salem, Ore., had recorded no new growth in the previous day.

Farmworkers in California are facing two crises at once: the coronavirus and exposure to dangerous air from wildfires.

Massive fires border large swaths of California's agriculture region, the Central Valley. Monitoring stations report unhealthy air across the interior of the state.

Wildfires have now burned more than 4.6 million acres in 87 large fires across 10 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. At least 35 people have died in California, Oregon and Washington, The Associated Press reported.

Dense smoke and fog enveloped an area far beyond the fires on Monday, keeping temperatures cooler but also creating new hazards in an ongoing catastrophe, with reduced visibility and a high risk of smoke inhalation.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

Almost every structure in the small farming town of Malden in eastern Washington state was destroyed by a fast-moving wildfire Monday as high winds created what officials described as a firestorm.

According to the Whitman County Sheriff's Office, 80% of the town's structures were destroyed. The town of about 200 people is 35 miles south of Spokane in an agricultural region known as the Palouse.

With precision, farm workers swiftly harvest rows of strawberries at an organic field in Salinas, Calif. It's hard work, even without a global pandemic and wildfires burning in the background.

Four major wildfires erupted across the state's Central Coast in mid-August, one near Salinas. Smoke blanketed the region, the sun glowed orange and ash rained down.

"It hurt our sinuses," said Jesús Ahumada, an agricultural foreman, in Spanish. "The smoke was so thick."

Two back-to-back blazes broke out around Los Angeles this week, marking a dramatic start to the wildfire season.

A wildfire that started Thursday continues to burn near the San Gabriel Canyon east of Los Angeles. Activity at what's called the Ranch2 Fire is expected to increase today due to extreme heat — with highs near 108.

US Drought Monitor

FROM THE KANSAS ADJUTANT GENERAL: 

Even though the COVID-19 virus is dominating the news, Kansans are reminded there are other dangers currently facing the state, particularly the risk of wildland fires.

“I know the coronavirus is on everyone’s mind right now, but we still must remain vigilant to other hazards, such as wildfires,” Governor Laura Kelly said Wednesday. “Our emergency responders have so much to deal with during this challenging time, so we must all do our part to minimize the danger of wildfires so they can concentrate on dealing with the effects of the virus.”

WICHITA, Kansas — Trees improve air quality. They keep people and homes cool with shade. They block the breezes that rake across the Kansas plains.

New research suggests the trees planted by people who filled up Kansas over the last century-plus also made the region more susceptible to hard-to-fight fires.

Australia's government is offering new help to people who have lost their homes and others affected by bushfires that have burned millions of acres of land. At least 25 people have died in the fires, which have brought historic levels of destruction.

While conditions improved slightly over the weekend, forecasters warn that dangerously hot and windy conditions will likely return later this week.

Researchers from a number of states, including Idaho, Colorado and Nevada, have found that grazing does not help get rid of cheatgrass, a highly flammable weed. 

A new study suggests huge fire blankets can help protect homes during wildfires.

Wildland firefighters use fire retardant — the red stuff that air tankers drop — to suppress existing blazes. But Stanford researchers have developed a gel-like fluid they say makes fire retardant last longer and could prevent wildfires from igniting in the first place if applied to ignition-prone areas.

Wildfire is a continual threat in the West, but researchers say an invasive species of grass that’s taking hold in states like Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada could make things worse.

Reservoirs can get messy after a big wildfire. The issue isn’t the fire itself, it’s what happens after. 

Updated 2:13 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019

The Decker Fire burning near Salida is nearing 6500 acres, but now has 14 percent of the perimeter contained. Nearly 900 personnel are actively working the fire.

Our region is leading the way on training helicopter pilots to fight fires at night.  There are costs and hazards involved but the move could also help firefighters get the most threatening blazes under control more quickly.

Update at 1:43 p.m.

The Deer Creek Canyon Park fire in Jefferson County is 100% contained.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office says area roads have been reopened to residents. Fire crews are still working the blaze and smoke is still visible.

It might be a slow wildfire season, but crews are still busy preparing. Colorado’s helicopter unit is taking advantage of the lull to train to be the first state team in the country that can fight fire at night.

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