Category Archives: Wildfire

Macron declares international crisis with 165,000 fires burning across Amazon Rainforest, 70,000 in Brazil

The Energy Mix, August 23, 2019
Emmanuel Macron / Twitter

With inadequate firefighting resources leaving massive swaths of the environmentally crucial Amazon rainforest in flames, and Brazil’s conspiracy-breathing president falsely blaming environmentalists and discounting his own government’s data, French President Emmanuel Macron is declaring an “international crisis” and urging the G7 countries to “discuss this crisis” at their meeting this weekend.

More than 165,000 fires were burning as of yesterday, more than 70,000 in Brazil.

“Satellite data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows an 85% increase in the rate of forest fires, with just half of these fires occurring in the Amazon,” UN Climate Action reports. “These fires are not just affecting Brazil; several South American countries, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Colombia, are also currently dealing with forest fires.”

The fires “commonly occur during the dry season, caused by natural events such as lightning strikes as well as by farmers and loggers clearing land for grazing,” the publication explains. “Since July, there has been a sharp rise in deforestation, followed by an increase in burning in August. Local newspapers have reported that local farmers have been organizing fire days to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.”

“What’s making it worse, say some, are some of the economic and environmental policies put in place by the Brazilian government under the leadership of President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician who has questioned the existence of climate change,” CBC says. “With Brazil holding roughly 60% of the Amazon rainforest, there are concerns about what effects the fires will have ecologically and environmentally, particularly their potential to accelerate climate change.”

The immediate impacts are already spreading far and wide. “According to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), the smoke from these fires is spreading across the Amazon region and as far as the Atlantic coast,” Climate Action writes. “The smoke has been so severe that it caused the skies to darken, plunging São Paulo into a blackout, and turning fresh water black despite being more than 2,000 miles away from the fires.”

At more than 5.5 million square kilometres, CBC notes that the Amazon rainforest “is home to roughly 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species and 2.5 million species of insects.” But Bolsonaro, who apparently takes umbrage at his international portrayal as “Capitão Motoserra” (Captain Chainsaw), “has opened up the rainforest for more development. He’s also transferred responsibility for the demarcation of Indigenous lands to the Agriculture Ministry, a move that some compare with a fox guarding the chicken coop.”

“This is the time of year when farmers set fires for cultivation and farming,” said Christian Poirier, program director for the non-profit Amazon Watch. But compared to the first seven months of 2018, “there’s been a 60% jump in deforestation,” he added. “What we’re seeing here is a direct result of mismanagement—the intentional environmental mismanagement by this government.”

Bolsonaro “has also been accused of turning a blind eye to illegal practices by farmers and those looking to make money from tearing down trees,” CBC says. “It’s extremely dangerous in that it gives carte blanche to illegal foresters, to land-grabbing mafias and illegal miners, who are now operating with impunity,” Poirier warned. “And we see fires as a result of that.”

CBC notes that the impacts of change in the Amazon, a “unique and important part of Earth’s ecosystem” that “exchanges a large amount of energy and water with the atmosphere”, don’t end at Brazil’s border.

“We are very concerned about these fires,” said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres, “both for the immediate damage that they are causing and also because sustaining forest is crucial in our fight against climate change.”

“The Amazon rainforest is somewhat anomalous in that it is the biggest system of its kind on the planet in terms of how it feeds itself water,” explained Prof. Kai Chan of the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. That mechanism “isn’t just sustaining rainforest but affecting the rain cycle elsewhere. If it breaks down, it will have major implications…it’s a massive issue.”

He added that “if we lose a few more percentage points of rainforest, we’re at risk of losing this whole system.” And “if we do reach that tipping point and the Amazon starts to shift toward being more savannah-like, that will affect precipitation…it will have a major impact on the global scale.”

Bizarrely, and with zero evidence, “Bolsonaro and his administration say media organizations are exploiting the fires to undermine his government,” CBC writes. “The Brazilian president also said there was a ‘very strong’ indication that some non-governmental groups could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds.”

NGOs, needless to say, dispute the claim.

The latest polling in Brazil, meanwhile, shows that a massive 90% of voters—including the majority of Bolsonaro supporters, politicians representing rural and agriculture constituencies, and evangelicals want the country to intensify its efforts against Amazon deforestation, Avaaz reports.

“Despite the general assumption that the matter creates divergence between the conservative and the progressive, our surveys reveal that congressmen and voters across the political spectrum agree on one thing: the Amazon is a source of national pride, and its preservation is essential for our identity and the health of the environment, in Brazil and all over the world,” said Senior Campaign Coordinator Diego Casaes.

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    Calfire Maps: Valero Benicia Refinery and two other Bay Area refineries at high risk of wildfire

    April 13, 2019

    A friend posted this on Facebook:


    “Scary and sadly there is a high hazard fire zone next to the refinery Valero in our town.”

    KQED.ORG

    An analysis finds more than 75 towns and cities with populations over 1,000 where, like Paradise, at least 90 percent of residents live within Cal Fire’s “very high fire hazard severity zones.”


    The Facebook post could be a bit misleading if you assume Benicia is among the 10 California Communities identified in the KQED story.  But if you dig in a bit, you find an interactive map.  Drilling down into this map, you find Benicia’s Valero Refinery surrounded by a “High Fire Hazard Zone” (dark orange).

    Click to enlarge

    Expand the map a bit and scroll around the Bay Area and you find that refineries in Martinez and Rodeo are located near VERY High Fire Hazard zones (red).

    Click to enlarge

    This coming Tuesday, April 16, Benicia’s City Council will consider a staff recommendation to adopt an updated Emergency Operations Plan (EOP).  Someone needs to do a careful search of the proposed plan to determine readiness for a very real wildfire threat to the refinery.

    Questions should be asked at the Council meeting to assure the public:

    • Are adequate preparations in place for cutting back combustible materials in and near Benicia’s Industrial Park?
    • Will adequate watch be undertaken by the two fire departments (Valero and City of Benicia) during California’s expanding fire season?
    • Are plans to fight wildfire in the eventuality of an outbreak detailed, robust, and well-rehearsed?

    Of course, the lives of refinery workers and nearby Industrial Park workers, and indeed the lives and well-being of all Benicia residents are put at risk as climate change increases the odds for wildfires in our beautiful part of the world.  Vigilance is required!

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      Wildfire health study – lingering breathing problems after widespread smoke

      Repost from REVEAL NEWS, The Center for Investigative Reporting

      AMERICA’S RING OF FIRE

      The smoke’s gone, but hearts and lungs still may be in danger months after wildfires

      By Aaron Glantz and Susie Neilson / November 28, 2018
      Pedestrians wear masks while walking through San Francisco’s Financial District on Nov. 9. For two weeks after the Camp Fire ignited, the air in Northern California, stretching as far as 200 miles from the flames, was so full of smoke that it was deemed unhealthy to breathe. Credit: Eric Risberg/Associated Press

      Three days after the Camp Fire erupted, incinerating the Northern California town of Paradise and killing 85 people, Katrina Sawa found herself struggling to breathe.

      If you or someone you know has had breathing problems or heart problems or had to seek medical care in the wake of the recent fires, we want to hear from you. Text “fire” to 63735 and follow the prompts, or reach out to reporter Aaron Glantz at aglantz@revealnews.org.

      But Sawa wasn’t anywhere near Paradise. She lives almost 100 miles away in Roseville, a suburb northeast of Sacramento. Sawa puffed on her emergency asthma inhaler over and over again.

      “Usually, I use it once a month,” said Sawa, a 48-year-old businesses coach who has had asthma since she was 13. “After using it four times in one day, I knew it was time to go to urgent care.” There, doctors had her inhale a powerful steroid medication to soothe her inflamed airways.

      For two weeks after the fire ignited, the air in Northern California, stretching as far as 200 miles from the flames, was so full of smoke that it was deemed unhealthy to breathe, especially for people with heart and respiratory ailments.

      But the health problems Sawa and others experienced while the blaze raged are just the beginning of effects that could plague people from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area long after the smoke clears.

      An analysis of hospital data by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that emergency room visits surged several months after a previous large wildfire was extinguished.

      Three to five months after the 37,000-acre Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma valleys in October 2017, the region’s emergency rooms treated about 20 percent more patients for respiratory and cardiac ailments compared with previous years, according to the analysis, which used state data. At the time, the Tubbs Fire was the most destructive in California history, killing 22 people and destroying nearly 6,000 structures.

      Seven of nine hospitals in Napa and Sonoma counties reported either significantly or slightly more cardiovascular and respiratory cases from January through March 2018 compared with the same period in 2016 and 2017. For instance, at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center in Sonoma County’s largest city, emergency room visits for respiratory problems jumped by 570, or 37 percent, from January through March 2018 compared with the same period in 2017. Twenty miles down Highway 101 at Petaluma Valley Hospital, heart cases increased by 61 patients, or 50 percent.

      Medical experts say these findings raise troubling questions about the long-term health effects of wildfires, which, worsened by drought and global warming, are raging across the West.

      The life-threatening effects of smoke disproportionately harm the elderly, children and low-income people of color. More than 2.3 million adults and 644,000 children in California have asthma and another 1.7 million suffer from heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health. Adult asthma rates are highest for multiracial people and African Americans, while heart ailments tend to afflict the state’s poorest and least educated residents across all racial groups.

      Reveal’s analysis does not take into account other factors that might have driven up the emergency room visits, such as other pollutants or the weather. But the conclusion is in line with a growing body of research thathas found more people suffer respiratory problems and heart attacks within days of being exposed to wildfire smoke.

      “The uptick in ER visits is very consistent” with scientific research about smoke, said Dr. Kari Nadeau, director of Stanford University’s Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research.

      Dr. John Balmes, a pulmonologist and professor at the University of California San Francisco who studies air pollution, is not surprised that emergency room visits increased three months after the wine country fire.

      “People with asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and other lung diseases could have persistent exacerbations,” he said, adding that inhaling ash could have longer-term consequences, too. The effects of smoke months or years after a fire are not well understood.

      There was only a slight increase in immediate emergency room visits during the days when last year’s Tubbs Fire burned. That’s because two of the largest hospitals were evacuated and a third was destroyed. As a result, the analysis was based on the period three to five months later, using data from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

      Busier ERs in Bay Area, Sacramento

      This month’s Camp Fire – the deadliest and largest in California history – was more than four times bigger than the Tubbs Fire. Throughout much of the Bay Area and Sacramento area, the smoke was so intense and widespread that many people wore masks, stayed indoors and bought air purifiers. At least two Northern California hospitals have reported busier ERs due to smoke from the fire, which burned 153,000 acres in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

      Robin Scott, director of the emergency department at Adventist Health Clear Lake, reported a 43 percent increase in respiratory diagnoses when the smoke hung over the region compared with the two previous weeks.

      In Berkeley, 160 miles from the fire, Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center treated “increasing numbers of patients with chief complaints that appear to be connected to the poor air quality,” including “asthma, eczema, respiratory illness – as well as worsening heart conditions like congestive heart failure and chest pain,” said Dr. Ronn Berrol, medical director of the emergency department.

      Other hospitals in the region, however, reported small increases, while some, including Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, reported no increases.

      “There has been a slight uptick in terms of patients coming through our ER with respiratory issues. Most have been quickly treated and discharged,” said William Hodges, director of communications at Dignity Health in Sacramento. “I would say the impact has been minimal at most.”

      Francesca Dominici, a biostatistics professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said understanding the health effects is critical because climate change is making fires more frequent, ferocious, erratic and long lasting.

      Dominici was on a team of researchers that published a study last year that collected data from wildfires across the West between 2004 and 2009 and compared it with hospitalizations of elderly residents. About 22 percent more African Americans 65 and older were hospitalized for respiratory problems on smoky days than on non-smoky days. For elderly women of all races, respiratory hospitalizations increased more than 10 percent on smoky days, and for elderly men, 4 percent.

      Five of the 10 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the last two years, and many of the state’s largest population centers have been exposed to smoke repeatedly.

      Dominici said the impacts are likely cumulative.

      “More people are becoming susceptible to air pollution because they have been breathing bad air from previous wildfires,” she said. “For these people, the risk of adverse health effects is going to be even larger than the rest of the population.

      U.S. Environmental Protection Agency researchers, in a study published in April, examined more than a million emergency room visits during California’s 2015 fire season and found a 42 percent increase in heart attacks among adults over 65 on days with dense wildfire smoke. They also found increases in strokes and other cardiovascular effects.

      The EPA researchers expressed a willingness to speak about their research, but the agency would not grant permission.

      Tiny particles harm hearts, lungs

      A major health concern is the makeup of the smoke. Fires emit clouds of fine particles known as PM2.5. For decades, researchers have shown that whenever these tiny particles – which largely come from vehicles and other sources of fuel combustion – increase in the air, deaths and hospitalizations from heart attacks and respiratory problems rise. The particles can irritate airways, travel deep into the lungs and disrupt the heart.

      In addition, fires can emit toxic gases from a variety of sources, including oil, metals and pesticides.

      Among the estimated 19,000 buildings destroyed in the Camp Fire were gas stations, two grocery stores, eight schools and a hotel.

      “When you’re breathing smoke from that wildfire,” said Stanford’s Nadeau, “you’re breathing paint thinner, Drano, plastics, heavy metals and burned leaves, which are very similar to tobacco.”

      The long-term effects of breathing this cocktail are unknown.

      A firefighter searches for human remains in a trailer park destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, Calif.CREDIT: JOHN LOCHER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

      In Palo Alto, 200 miles from the Camp Fire, pediatrician Dr. Kellen Glinder said he has seen a marked increase in number of children with breathing problems during each of California’s recent wildfires.

      On Friday, after rain cleared much of the wildfire smoke, the waiting room at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a clinic where Glinder works, wasn’t as busy as it was in previous days. Several children sat or crawled around as a television played “Toy Story” overhead. But Glinder said he still was treating kids affected by the smoke.

      About one-third of the 20 children he treated each day during the fires – six to eight kids per day – had conditions the smoke exacerbated, Glinder said.

      “We (saw) a lot of things hidden under the guise of a cold that wouldn’t have gotten worse unless the air quality was so bad,” he said.

      In August, when the Mendocino Complex Fire blazed through the state, Glinder treated more patients with asthma and other conditions. And last year, the Santa Rosa fires brought similar health concerns.

      “Each forest fire is going to have its own particular combination of chemicals, depending on what’s getting incinerated and blowing our way,” he said. “With this particular fire, I saw a lot more … skin irritation, headaches and nausea than I had seen in prior forest fires.”

      The waiting room had a box of miniature paper masks for the kids, decorated with Mickey Mouse heads. Glinder, however, said such flimsy masks are ineffective at protecting people from smoke’s particles and gases; they are designed to contain germs from colds and flu.

      Like the elderly, children are particularly sensitive to soot and smoke.

      “Children’s lungs are still growing, their nervous systems are still growing,” Glinder said. “That makes them more susceptible to these pollutants.”

      This story was edited by Marla Cone and copy edited by Nikki Frick.

      Aaron Glantz can be reached at aglantz@revealnews.org, and Susie Neilson can be reached at susancneilson@gmail.com. Follow them on Twitter:@Aaron_Glantz and @susieneilson.

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        Benicia Wind/Weather & CAL FIRE information

        Scroll down for current CAL FIRE Twitter alerts.

        From CAL FIRE Twitter  [For more detailed information on current fires, go to fire.ca.gov/current_incidents.]
        Current Benicia wind reports & historical stats from Windfinder.com

         

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