Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

Governor Jerry Brown ties ruinous fires to climate change

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate)

Governor ties ruinous fires to climate change

By C.W. Nevius and Peter Fimrite , August 6, 2015 12:54 PM
Gov. Jerry Brown is flanked by firefighters in Lake County as he addresses reporters, warning that “California is burning.” Leah Millis / The Chronicle

CLEARLAKE, Lake County — The imminent danger from the devastating Rocky Fire in Lake County diminished Thursday and hundreds of residents began to return to their evacuated homes, but Gov. Jerry Brown made clear in a visit to the area that California is still in danger.

Brown traveled to the scorched hillside at Cowboy Camp, just off fire-ravaged Highway 20, and, as helicopters circled nearby, said the fire illustrates that climate change is both real and destructive.

“California is burning,” he said. “What the hell are you going to do about it?

“This is a wake-up call. We have to start coming to our senses. This is not a game of politics. We need to limit our carbon pollution. These are real lives and real people. This problem cannot be solved year by year.”

Nearly 3,600 firefighters have been fighting the fire, which was 45 percent contained Thursday and had burned 69,600 acres. Full containment is expected by late next week, but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection began letting roughly 800 of the more than 1,400 people who had been evacuated back into their homes.

Evacuation orders were lifted in the Wilbur Springs area on the northeastern side of the fire, off Highway 20. Only residents with identification will be allowed access to Wilbur Springs Road, near the border between Lake and Colusa counties, Cal Fire officials said. Residents on the south side of the fire, east of Highway 29 to West Jerusalem Valley Road, were also allowed to return home, officials said.

Still more evacuees, forced from their homes in the Spring Valley area, would probably be allowed back Friday morning, officials said.

Closures continue

Highways 16 and 20 remained closed Thursday except for a small portion of Highway 20 at Wilbur Springs, which is accessible only coming from the east off Interstate 5, officials said.

“Weather conditions across California are significantly improved compared to last week,” said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire spokesman, who warned that the relief could be just a temporary phenomenon. He said weather forecasters are “expecting changing weather conditions over the next couple of days, with thunder systems moving in across Northern California.”

Red-flag warnings have been issued for dry lightning and gusting winds over the next couple of days, he said.

Brown received a briefing from officials overseeing the blaze, which has been burning for more than a week in Lake County and has spread to Yolo and Colusa counties. Forty-three homes have been destroyed and thousands of others threatened, and hundreds of local residents remained evacuated from their homes Thursday, according to Cal Fire.

While veteran firefighters said their efforts were business as usual, many stressed that this year’s blazes are out of the norm. The persistent drought, extremely hot weather and blustery winds all have the feel of something new and more dangerous.

Governor’s warning

“We are now in an extreme weather event,” Brown cautioned. “This is not the way these fires usually behave. If it continues year after year, California can literally burn up.”

Brown said he had talked to a resident who said he not only lost his home but also would find it difficult to rebuild because he had no insurance. Apparently, that’s not unusual. Insurance carriers sometimes decline to cover property in the steep, wooded canyons in the area.

The Rocky Fire is so pervasive that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District warned Thursday that smoke from the wildfires might impact areas in Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties. Air quality, however, is expected to be in the “good” or “low moderate” categories and is not expected to exceed air quality health standards.

Although climate change can be a hot-button political issue, Brown continues to use the California fires as an object lesson for climate change deniers. This isn’t theory, he said, gesturing to the moonscape scene behind him.

“This is credible enough to change some minds,” he said.

Mark Repetto, a firefighter from Sacramento’s Metro Fire Department, said the fire was a perfect storm of the worst conditions.

“Hot, dry and windy,” Repetto said. “Today is a little cooler, which means the humidity is higher. Monday the humidity was in the teens. That and hot weather pre-heat the fuel. It’s already hot before the fire gets there.”

Surge still possible

Although fire officials predict the Rocky Fire will be fully contained by next week, another hot, windy, low-humidity day could easily spark another fiery surge. Along Highway 20, hot spots still sent up plumes of smoke.

Brown said the worst is yet to come.

“We have people acting like (if the Rocky Fire is contained) it’s the end,” he said. “Unfortunately, we know that historically August and September are worse than July. So fasten your seat belt.”

Over the weekend, Cal Fire reported more than 100 dry-lightning-sparked fires in remote reaches of Northern California. In Humboldt County alone, 75 blazes have burned more than 4,000 acres since July 31, with just 35 percent containment reported Thursday.

The cause of the Rocky Fire has not been determined. Fire officials fear lightning could prompt additional lands to burn and complicate the suppression effort.

Conditions around California are ripe for a lightning fire after four dry years, said Daniel Swain, a Stanford University researcher studying climate.

“Things will ignite even if they get a little water from the storm,” Swain said. “This is a concern over the next 48 hours.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Hamed Aleaziz and Kurtis Alexander contributed to this report.  C.W. Nevius and Peter Fimrite are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers.
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    Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

    Repost from The Missoulian
    [Editor:  Pay attention to Alberta!  Changes there will send ripples all along the rails in the U.S., from the Upper Midwest to the East Coast, West Coast and Gulf Coast.  Congratulations to Rachel Notley and the New Democratic Party!  – RS]

    Alberta election could send tremors through Montana economy

    By Rob Chaney, May 09, 2015 5:30 pm
    Rachel Notley
    Alberta New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley speaks on stage Tuesday night in Edmonton after being elected Alberta’s new premier. The NDP won a majority in the provincial Legislative Assembly by toppling the Progressive Conservative colossus that has dominated the province for more than four decades. Photo: NATHAN DENETTE, Canadian Press

    Montana’s political seismograph didn’t rattle much last Tuesday when its neighbor to the north underwent a governmental earthquake.

    But that could change in the coming weeks, as the citizens of Alberta absorb the magnitude of their replacement of Canada’s longest-standing political party rulers with a left-wing opposition pledged to look hard at its energy economy.

    “The Progressive Conservative Party has been in power two years longer than I’ve been alive,” said University of Montana biology professor Mark Hebblewhite, a 42-year-old Alberta native. “I think this is a real response to the ongoing mismanagement of Alberta’s bounty. One thing that hit the nail on the head was how the province went from being overrun with money to crashing in another bust. People get really tired of it.”

    The New Democratic Party took 53 seats in the Alberta Parliament in Tuesday’s election. Another traditional minority group, the Wildrose Party, surprisingly found itself in second place with 21 seats. The Progressive Conservatives held onto just 10 seats.

    NDP party leader Rachel Notley was credited for a remarkable political ground game that unseated Progressive Conservative Party leader Jim Prentice – a man widely considered a future leader of all Canada. Prentice resigned from his post on election night and said he was at least temporarily leaving politics.

    Alberta’s entire United States border runs along Montana, from the western edge of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park to the 110th Meridian north of Havre. The province and state share the spine of the Rocky Mountains and the beginnings of the great mid-continental prairies.

    They also share a relatively recent surge in energy development. Over the past decade while Montana has exploited its Bakken oil and gas fields along the border with North Dakota, Alberta has been opening massive production in tar sands petroleum near Fort McMurray.

    Oil from the tar sands has become both a political and social controversy.

    New Democratic Party officials have questioned the need for the Keystone XL pipeline that would run south from Alberta, through a corner of Montana and down to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas. The Obama administration has stalled permitting of the international border crossing, while Montana’s bipartisan congressional delegation has supported it.

    “If the Keystone XL doesn’t happen, the amount of rail traffic leaving Alberta would be impacted significantly from that decision,” said Bentek Energy senior analyst Jenna Delaney. “Currently, taking the Keystone XL out would increase petroleum unit trains by five a day out of Alberta. And Transport Canada officials say residents in Canada are very concerned with rail traveling through their communities.”

    Moving petroleum by rail has become an issue in both Canada and the United States, signposted most recently by last week’s explosion of a group of oil tank cars near Heimdal, North Dakota.

    Caryn Miske of the Flathead Basin Commission said the prospect of moving more oil trains along the southern border of Glacier National Park is under close scrutiny.

    “We’re already seeing impacts from the amount of oil that’s moving around,” Miske said. “The number of trains and cars carrying oil has increased, and that’s really concerning, considering how many near-misses we’ve had.”

    Burlington Northern Santa Fe has a freight line that runs out of Alberta into Montana at Sweet Grass, although there’s not much cross-border oil traffic there yet.

    ***

    Delaney said another factor of the government change could be the NDP’s campaign pledge to revamp the province’s tax structure on energy development.

    “They’re looking at increasing income taxes and royalty rates to corporations, which the oil companies aren’t happy about,” Delaney said. “The last time I was in Calgary, the atmosphere was already a little bleak. If taxes are raised on corporations, I don’t know how they might respond. Companies with offices in other places might shift people away from Calgary.”

    Much of the province’s energy economy has extremely expensive initial start-up costs. Energy analysts have already been forecasting a drop in Albertan oil production as new projects slip below their break-even points with falling oil prices.

    Delaney said that could have an impact on Montana’s economy, as the demand for megaloads of oil field equipment transported across the state stalls.

    Longtime conservation activist Stephen Legault said the provincial government’s failure to manage its oil wealth led to great voter frustration.

    “We’re drilling 20,000 wells a year in Alberta, and we’re $7 billion in the hole economically,” Legault said. “That’s largely because when oil goes below $75 a barrel, provincial coffers take a massive hit.”

    The result has been a government unable to fix damage from the floods that ravaged Calgary in 2013, or even to send land management officials to cross-border conferences in Montana.

    While the new government has majority control of Alberta’s Parliament, its influence over the provincial agencies could be a murkier matter. Those departments have had decades of one-party control appointing their directors and staffs.

    “If I was south of the border looking north, I wouldn’t expect to see anything dramatic right away,” Legault said. “We’ve had five changes of government since 1905. The bureaucracy is so deeply entrenched after 45 years of one-party rule, it’s going to take years for a new government to put in place the people it wants to create change.”

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