Earthquake, History.

Earthquakes – An Unpredictable Force of Destruction

Earthquakes have caused massive devastation, and amounted to huge numbers of human casualties since the beginning of recorded history. The problem with these natural disasters has become compounded by our cities becoming developed more vertically in the form of taller buildings without the proper respect given to earthquakes during the engineering process. Along with the previously mentioned factor, the general population that doesn’t live in earthquake prone areas won’t know what to do in a situation like this. You can learn more about how to prepare yourself, and what to do during an earthquake event in RedZone’s blog. This blog will hopefully assist in understanding the geoscience that is occurring before, during, and after one of these events takes place.

The Earth’s Crust and Earthquakes

Of the inner Earths four internal layers, the crust and the upper most portion of the mantle play the most vital roles in the unseen processes that power earthquakes. The Earth’s crust is made up of 12 major plates that are very dynamic in nature.

Tectonic plates and Earthquakes

This map displays the 12 major tectonic plates throughout the world.

It is here at the tectonic plate boundaries that the earthquakes originate. As the plate boundaries come to a resting place due to its jagged edges, the remaining portion of the plate remains in constant movement. When the energy from the movement of the rest of the plate becomes too much force for an area of the plate boundary to hold, the edges of these plates shift and this is what causes an earthquake. The earthquake we feel on the ground stems from the seismic waves that are produces when the tectonic plates shift.

There are two primary wave types that are produced by this tectonic shift, the P wave (primary) and S wave (secondary). P waves have also been called the compressional waves due to the way these waves push and pull the matter they are travelling through. S waves are the waves we feel on the surface that create the movement on the earth’s surface. S waves are much slower to appear than the P waves for a seismologist to read.

Seismographic Readings and Determining the Epicenter

Scientists with their particular field of study in earthquakes, track these waves to give the public a rating on the Richter scale of how strong in magnitude an earthquake is. These experts also utilize the seismographs to locate where exactly the epicenter was. Triangulation is used to determine the precise location where the epicenter is. Three seismographs measure the difference in times that the P waves arrive at the seismographs and compare them with the time it take for the S waves to arrive at the same location. A circle is then created around the three selected seismograph locations with the radius being determined off the aforementioned time difference in seismic wave arrival. The point at which each of the three seismographs calculated circles meet is the epicenter.

Epicenter of Earthquakes

This diagram depicts a visual representation of how the epicenter of an earthquake is found from three seismographs.

 

Predicting Earthquakes

Unfortunately scientists have been unsuccessful so far in the prediction of when the next earthquake will occur. Earthquake prediction is more often defined as the probabilistic assessment of general earthquake hazard, including the frequency and magnitude of damaging earthquakes in a given area over years or decades. Like many naturally-occurring phenomena, they are nearly impossible to accurately predict.  Prediction methods go back hundreds of years.j Methods generally involve precursors which among them include animal behavior, gas emissions, and even electromagnetic anomalies. Generally, Earthquake prediction is  thought of as an immature science with any claims of prediction found circumstantial and arguable.

Earthquake warning systems on the other hand have proven successful on a number of occasions especially in areas farther from an epicenter.  The effectiveness of the warning depends on the position of the receiver. After receiving a warning, a person may have a few seconds to a minute or more to take action. Areas near the epicenter may experience strong tremors before a warning is issued. Early warning systems have been prevalent in Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the United States for years.

Sources:

https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/fs20163020

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/eqscience.php

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/facts.php

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/earthquakes/

http://www.geo.mtu.edu/UPSeis/waves.html

This Friday, May 4, 2018, aerial image released by the U.S. Geological Survey, at 12:46 p.m. HST, a column of robust, reddish-brown ash plume occurred after a magnitude 6.9 South Flank of Kīlauea earthquake shook the Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii. The Kilauea volcano sent more lava into Hawaii communities Friday, a day after forcing more than 1,500 people to flee from their mountainside homes, and authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Kilauea Volcano Continues to Erupt

The Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii erupted last week Thursday, May 3rd, breaking open rifts and opening lava vents. While Kilauea has been continuously active for the last 35 years, this recent episode occurred alongside a 6.9 earthquake. Nearby neighborhoods were evacuated as fissures began releasing lava that spread throughout Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens.

This Friday, May 4, 2018, aerial image released by the U.S. Geological Survey, at 12:46 p.m. HST, a column of robust, reddish-brown ash plume occurred after a magnitude 6.9 South Flank of Kīlauea earthquake shook the Big Island of Hawaii, Hawaii. The Kilauea volcano sent more lava into Hawaii communities Friday, a day after forcing more than 1,500 people to flee from their mountainside homes, and authorities detected high levels of sulfur gas that could threaten the elderly and people with breathing problems. (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Kilauea Eruption – Friday, May 4, 2018, 12:46 p.m. HST (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)

Due to the rate that lava spreads compared to other typical natural disasters such as hurricanes or wildfire, people were able to safely leave their homes. Photos and videos show the progression of destruction through the neighborhood as the lava pushes through homes and new fires ignite. One homeowner had been working on a car on his property and was unable to move it out of the way, but the true loss — the R2D2 mailbox his daughter had made him for Christmas. The impact was caught in this time-lapse video.

Fissure locations under Leilani Estates

Fissure locations under Leilani Estates east of the main active crater

Confirmed losses from Kilauea

As of May 10th, 36 structures have been destroyed, mostly in the Leilani Estates area. Despite the overall ongoing spread of lava, scientists are now warning area residents that ballistic projectiles may be emitted in the next few weeks. This would occur as the lava sinks in the crater lake and interacts explosively with the groundwater. The “projectiles” could range in size from pebbles to boulders weighing several tons. With so many unpredictable dangers from these ballistic projectiles to poisonous gases of the lava and ash to earthquakes, homeowners who still have a home to return to will not be sleeping easily any time soon.

USGS is alerting nearby residents about the possibilities of ballistic rocks.

USGS is alerting nearby residents about the possibilities of ballistic rocks.

 

Read Further

  • http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/38087728/new-kilauea-eruption-triggers-house-fires-as-hundreds-evacuate-area
  • https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/10/us/hawaii-kilauea-volcano/index.html
  • https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2018/05/us/hawaii-kilauea-volcano-eruption-cnnphotos/index.html
Burn Scar

Debris Flow Devastates Montecito, CA Immediately After The Thomas Fire

While the threat of the Thomas fire just recently diminished in Ventura and Santa Barbra Counties, residents were weary to hear that they are now being threatened by mudslides originating from within the burn area. Rain started Monday afternoon in the areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, with the peak rainfall being around 2:30 AM Tuesday morning. The rain came down in amounts up to an inch per hour over the burned area, which the incident commander reported as being a critical factor in the amount of sediment and debris being carried by this amount of water. The devastating debris flow ranged from Cold Springs Canyon to Toro Canyon, and wreaked havoc all the way down to Highway 101. The debris flow was so strong in some locations that it pushed homes off of their foundations and carried them several hundred feet.

First responders have been preparing for this incident since Monday morning by preemptively staging resources in the areas that were forecasted to be impacted the most severely. This strategic placement of resources was followed by officials releasing evacuation zones. The warning stated that all residents within mandatory evacuation zones should leave by 12 noon on Monday in preparation for the heavy rains that were forecasted for the area. Since the early morning hours of Tuesday, first responders have been in a search and rescue mode: still actively engaged in performing helicopter and contact rescues. The threat from this debris flow still remains and first responders are warning residents to stay away from the area if at all possible.

Debris flow

An explanation of a debris flow, and its power.

 

Over the last couple weeks of the Thomas Fire the Federal Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team has been evaluating the blaze’s impact to the fire area and watersheds by predicting debris flow hazards should rains like this impact the area. The orange, red, and dark red areas were determined to have the highest probability of debris flow during a heavy rain event. The BAER team is currently embedded with the Santa Barbara and Ventura Office of Emergency Services to assist them in implementing response plans for communities downstream of the fire.

BAER Debris Flow

The map above displays estimates of the likelihood of debris flow (in %), potential volume of debris flow, and combined relative debris flow hazard.

Santa Barbara/Ventura Flooding at a Glance

  • 17 confirmed deaths related to the storms (These numbers are subject to change as the incident continues)
  • 13 missing people
  • At least 25 injured
  • 50 rescues via helicopter hoists have been performed during today’s search and rescue operations.
  • 1-6.5 inches of rainfall over the Thomas Fire area.
  • Search and rescue efforts still remain priority with approximately 75 percent of the primary search completed in the debris flow area.

If you liked the material in this blog, you can read similar material RedZone has covered here.

Sources

http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/09/us/southern-california-evacuations-rain-flooding/index.html

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-rainfall-mudflow-20180109-story.html

http://santabarbara.onerain.com/map/?sensor_class=10|2880&view_id=5&view=8bc6e88f-eeab-4281-9d92-3d723016e945

https://landslides.usgs.gov/hazards/postfire_debrisflow/detail.php?objectid=178

Thomas Fire Set to Become Largest in CA History

UPDATE 01/03/18 @ 4:49 p.m. – The fire is now 92% contained at 281,893 acres.

Thomas Fire Summary

The Thomas Fire began in Ventura County just north of Santa Paula around 630pm on Monday December 4th. Under Red Flag and Santa Ana Conditions the fire quickly made a push along Hwy 150 to the south and parallel to Hwy126 to the west threatening Santa Paula and Ventura the first night. The fire continued its push west, crossing Hwy 33 and reaching the ocean at Hwy 101 shortly after. Over the course of the next week the fire slowly boxed in Ojai, eventually surrounding it, and pushed its way further west towards the Santa Barbara County line. By this time, the majority of the 1,330 structures impacted already had been. A few days later, the fire used a new round of overnight wind gusts to make a big run on the morning of Sunday Dec 9th, establishing itself above Carpinteria and Montecito. The following Saturday another round of morning winds forced the fire down into the fringe of Montecito, forcing a wall of engines into a several hour battle to push stall its progress. Luckily, by this time over 8,000 firefighters were assigned to the fire, and up to the task of suppression the big morning run. Thanks to their efforts, of the reported 1,300 homes threatened on Dec 16th, only 15 or so were impacted.

thomas progression

Thomas Fire’s progression from Dec 4th (green) through Dec 22nd (red)

Since that push, the fire’s progress has stalled and containment has increased to 65%. Still over the last 17 days, the fire is only 500 acres shy of topping the Cedar Fire for largest in California history. A burn operation is expected to add the acres needed with a few thousand more before all is said and done. Luckily, the firefighters necessary to see the fire out have been halved since the peak last week, but the suppression costs could eclipse last summer’s costly Soberanes fire in well short of the time. The full containment of the historic fire is not expected until after 2018 has begun.

Thomas Fire Major Developments:

  • Yesterday’s wind event produced 50 mph gusts, but fire activity remained minimal.
  • The firing operation was stalled yesterday due to high humidity and some snowfall. It was able to continue in the afternoon, and further firing is planned today for the Rose Valley area.
  • The fire area effectively endured two straight weeks of high to extreme fire weather conditions. Over that period, RH dropped as low as 3-5% and wind speeds were recorded over 60mph.
  • The fire is 500+ acres shy of passing 2003’s Cedar Fire for largest (in terms of acreage burned) in recorded California history.
  • Total fire suppression costs have ballooned to $170 million in just 17 days. It took last year’s Soberanes Fire twelve weeks to cost its total of $236 million.
top ten acres burned

Thomas Fire is 2nd all time in California’s history for acreage burned, but not for long.

Thomas Fire Facts:

  • Location: Fillmore all the way to Santa Barbara, both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties
  • Size: 272,800 acres (as of 1/3/18 – 281,893)
  • Containment: 65% (as of 1/3/18 – 92%)
  • Fire Behavior: Light fire behavior with interior burning on the northern portions of the fire
  • 1,063 structures have been destroyed and 267 more have been damaged.
  • 18,000 Structures remain threatened.
  • All Mandatory Evacuations have been lifted.
top four ca fires

California’s four largest fires in history (update 01/03/18 : Thomas is now number 1)

Sources:

NIFC.GOV

CalFire Incident Page

Inciweb

Wikipedia – List of California Wildfires

The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

Book Review: “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America”

In The Big Burn, author Timothy Egan takes the reader through the beginning years of environmentalist and activist John Muir’s growing friendship with then Governor Teddy Roosevelt. The book builds by highlighting their growing, shared desire to preserve the frontier and forestlands of the West. During Roosevelt’s presidency, he leaned heavily on forester and politician Gifford Pinchot to manage and develop the nationally protected forestry lands. Pinchot, in turn, formed the US Forest Service, as we know it today. Egan provides in-depth historical accounts of the politics involved in the establishment of the protected areas and the fight against unregulated land clearing by logging companies.

 

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

President Teddy Roosevelt & Naturalist John Muir in 1903, Yosemite, CA.

As the story leads in to 1910, Egan sets the stage by depicting a newly established forestry service still developing its forestry management plan. Many areas had no trained or allocated firefighting groups. With little-to-no fire crew system in place, Egan tells how forest rangers would have to staff their crews with any able-bodied men in town when the need arose, oftentimes from the nearby saloon. The whole situation becomes harrowing when one day in late August, a wildfire began burning out of control in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest. In response, a ranger named Ed Pulaski, was sent with a 45 man crew to work a part of the fire and ended up forced to find shelter in a nearby mine. Pulaski knew the area, was familiar with fire behavior, and was determined to save his men, even giving up his horse to an older fire fighter so the man could keep up with the crew. Pulaski kept his men sheltered in the mining tunnel overnight until the fire passed, keeping some of the panicked men inside the tunnel by force at gunpoint. The next day, he famously led them out of the forest into the nearby town to the hospital. Included in Egan’s relating of the Big Burn, as it came to be called, are many first-hand accounts and photos that pull the reader even closer into the events that occurred in the Coeur d’Alene area. The August 1910 fire across portions of Idaho, Montana, and Washington burned approximately 3 million acres of logging and mining land – nearly the size of Connecticut.

Image of mining tunnel where Pulaski and his crew stayed overnight - now called the Pulaski Tunnel

Mining tunnel where Pulaski and his crew stayed overnight – now called the Pulaski Tunnel

This book is recommended for readers interested in the historical account of the Big Burn and the inspiration for the development of the US Forestry Service and National Park Service. It is easily readable and engaging while giving an incredibly detailed and laid out history of the events surrounding this fire. Readers familiar with the wildland fire fighting world may know Pulaski’s name from the Pulaski tool credited to him (and likely created after this incident due to the need shown for better firefighting tools) that is a national standard.

For more information:

New Film Highlights the Unsung Heroes of Wildland Firefighting

only the brave movie poster

© 2017 Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc. All rights reserved.
Motion Picture © 2017 No Exit Film, LLC. All rights reserved.

2017 has brought devastating wildfires to much of the Western United States. Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington all fared way worse than expected with more than 8 million acres consumed and hundreds of homes lost. California was the hardest hit, experiencing the deadliest and most destructive fires in the state’s history. The fires that tore through Northern California last month engulfed over 245,000 acres, destroyed some 8,000 structures, and caused the loss of life to more than 40 people. Much of country is fortunate to not experience wildfires of this scale and may find this level of devastation hard to comprehend. Fewer still understand the hard fought battle wildland firefighters wage to protect land, life, and structures.

No films in recent memory have told a compelling story of the unsung heroes of wildland firefighting. Short of news stories, audiences likely have little appreciation for the fury of a large wildfires moving like a tidal wave across the landscape. Most of the recent firefighting movies have focused on urban fire stations or have been laughable action films like Firestorm. In the wake of the historic 2017 wildfire season a movie now in theaters finally helps remedy that.

Only the Brave released by Columbia/Sony Pictures recounts the tale of a small group of wildland firefighters, the Granite Mountain Hotshots. The movie, based on an article in GQ titled No Exit, by Sean Flynn, focuses on the personal struggles of Superintendent Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) and Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), whose personal dramas act as a back drop to the formation of the Granite Mountain hotshots and the fires they battled across the country.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots started as a fuels mitigation crew for the city of Prescott before transitioning to a type 2 hand crew in 2004. After becoming frustrated about the crew’s role on numerous fires, Marsh fought for the team to earn an evaluation to become certified as a Hotshot crew. In 2008, after a lot of hard work and politicking the crew earned the distinction as the first municipal hotshot crew in the nation. Hotshots are small crews of elite wildland firefighters trained to fight fires directly in remote backcountry terrain with shovels, chainsaws, and limited support from other resources. Often working in steep rugged terrain with hot and dry conditions, they dig line, cut down trees and light back fires to help keep contain fires to a planned perimeter.

The first two thirds of the movie unfold around these events showing the arduous training, inherent dangers of firefighting, and the bonds it forms within the crew. Much of the story is told through the perspective of new recruit Brendan McDonough, a recovering drug addict who is given a second chance to build a new life for himself and his new born daughter. McDonough’s training allows the movie to tell a story that is not only engaging but is also informative and instructional.

Numerous scenes in the movie depict the crew digging line, clearing brush, and using drip torches and flares to start fires. Seeing firefighters using fire to fight fire is likely new to audiences inexperienced with wildland fire-fighting techniques. The movie shows how flares and drip torches allow firefighters to burn vegetation ahead of an incoming fire-front in order to establish a fire break that robs the approaching blaze of fuel that it needs to continue spreading. These fires can also be used to help steer the main fire or provide safety zones.

The film seamlessly blends some intense scenes of the crew with amazing special effects to highlight the enormity of wildfires and the challenges faced in trying to contain them. The director Joseph Kosinski avoids the normal pitfalls inherent in the typical macho-posturing movies and instead delivers a poignant story that is both emotional and respectful. Kosinski and the actors deliver a sincere portrayal of their real life counterparts along with their authentic camaraderie. Although there are some obvious Hollywood liberties taken, the film faithfully recreates the facts that matter most. Some of the scenes, like the human pyramid in front of the giant Juniper, were painstakingly recreated to pay homage to the now iconic photo of the crew celebrating the successful saving of the sacred Prescott tree during the Doce Fire.

I was refreshing to see that even as the film builds to its inevitable climax at Yarnell Hill, it stayed true to the story, adhering closely to official reports. For example, much of the dialogue is pulled straight from radio transcripts and the accounts from other firefighters on scene. Kosinki lays out the events of the Yarnell Hill Fire “as is” without attempting to try and invent motivations or answer questions that remain unanswered. The result is powerful and effective.

Only the Brave should give viewers a greater appreciation for the role played and the danger faced by wildland firefighters in the perennial battle to protect lives and land in the American West.

granite mountain fund

The Granite Mountain Fund drives donations to support firefighting as well as the towns and families connected to and impacted by hotshots and their work.

hurricane harvey spins in gulf

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma batter Southern US

Hurricane Harvey (August 26-31st)

On August 17th,  the National Hurricane Center identified Tropical Storm (TS) Harvey just before it passed through the Lesser Antilles, the islands that form the eastern boundary of the Caribbean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Over the next two days TS Harvey moved swiftly to the west into the Caribbean under the influence of an expansive ridge of high pressure but the storm began to rapidly lose energy on the 19th of August and was subsequently downgraded to a tropical depression (TD). As TD Harvey moved from the northwestern Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico over the next four days it gained strength and was upgraded again to a Tropical Storm (TS). By the 24th of August TS Harvey had rapidly intensified in the Gulf of Mexico and was upgraded to a Category 3 Hurricane. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the early morning of 26 August in Rockport, Texas as a Category 4 Hurricane with a reported 130 mph maximum sustained winds. Harvey’s center of circulation stalled over South Texas for four days dumping 40 and even 50 inches of rain in the Houston and Beaumont areas. The storm moved slowly east back into the Gulf of Mexico before making a final landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, on August 30th and finally dissipating to the north in the days following.

Harvey’s slow movement from 26-30 August resulted in catastrophic flooding in southeast Texas. Numerous flash flood emergencies were issued for the Houston and Beaumont metropolitan areas as well as Bastrop County and nearby communities. Wind gusts from Harvey exceeded 100 mph in many locations, leading to widespread destruction of homes and buildings. Thousands of homes were affected by Harvey, including over 9,000 that were completely destroyed and more than 185,000 that sustained damage according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Close to 700 businesses were also reported as damaged. Throughout Texas, more than 300,000 people were left without electricity and as of September 6th, at least 70 deaths have been confirmed as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

Additional Info:

NHC NOAA Harvey Event History

Fox News Harvey Article

 

harvey gif

Hurricane Harvey hangs over coastal Texas from August 23rd to September 1st


Hurricane Irma (September 3-11th)

Hurricane Irma reached the United States Sunday Morning, making landfall in the Lower Florida Keys as a Category 4 Hurricane. A few hours later, Category 3, it made landfall a second time just south of Naples, FL on the Southeast coast of Florida. Due to the extreme size and major hurricane status, most of Southern Florida was warned to evacuate ahead of the storm late last week. Upon landfall, extreme winds battered both southern coasts as wind speeds were recorded at 142 mph in Naples and 99 mph in Miami Beach. Storm Surge from the large powerful storm was reported in many places near ten feet along both coasts affected. On Monday, Irma brought heavy rain and wind through the northern Florida city of Jacksonville where 350 people were rescued from the flooding. Irma also pummeled the Charleston area on Monday with over 8 inches of rain and a nearly 10-foot storm surge. The past 48 hours, evacuated Floridians are again dealing with bumper-to-bumper traffic heading home to face monumental cleanups throughout the state.

Wednesday the 13th, the storm has finally completely broken up, and the National Hurricane Center has stopped updating their reports on the storm. In the wake of the storm, President Donald Trump announced this afternoon that he is set to travel to Florida on Thursday. Moody’s estimates Irma caused $83 billion in damage and 77 deaths have been attributed to the storm. Florida utilities have made good progress in restoring power to communities, as 60% of power has been restored, but 4.6 million people are still without power. It could be months before power is restored to some of the islands that were devastated by the storm.

Florida Keys:

The Florida Keys were the hardest hit and today is the first day that the roads were cleared for people to return to their homes for most of the keys. All 42 bridges along US 1 have been inspected and cleared by the Florida Department of Transportation. 80% of the roads across the keys are cleared. Power is restored to 30% of residents, but over 300 major power lines remain downed. Unofficial estimates from FEMA, according to an ABC News report, state that 25% of homes in the keys were destroyed and 90% had damage of some kind. Big Pine Key and Cudjo Key were hit the hardest, as the storm was still a category 4 when it hit them. Few people have returned to those keys, and most utility services are still unavailable. Fuel remains an issue, especially in the areas without power. Most hospitals remain closed, but some with power or backup power have reopened their emergency rooms. Key West was initially thought to have suffered heavy damage, but once people started returning and assessing the damage, most structures were not impacted, just lots of debris and downed trees.

Additional Info:

NHC NOAA Irma Event History

ABC Irma Update

irma gif

Hurricane Irma moves into and through the Caribbean from Sep 3rd through the 11th

Sources:

National Hurricane Center, NOAA, NASA Worldview

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-hurricane-harvey-flooding-houston-20170829-story.html
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/26/texas-cities-catastrophic-flooding-hurricane-harvey
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/01/hurricane-harvey-death-toll-rises-houston-residents-return
https://weather.com/storms/hurricane/news/tropical-storm-harvey-forecast-texas-louisiana-arkansas
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/archive/2017/al09/al092017.update.08241656.shtml

Aerial photo over Kynsna area (Source: South African Red Cross)

Wildfires Rage Across South Africa’s Cape After Massive Winter Storm

Hundreds are left homeless and thousands remain evacuated after the strongest winter storm in decades assaulted Cape Town, South Africa, and continued across the southern region of South Africa known as the Western Cape. Numerous lightning strikes associated with the massive storm ignited wildfires that raged across hillsides, fueled by gusting and strong winds, even as nearby areas began to flood and were drenched by rain. Tuesday evening, June 6th, the storm began to impact the Western Cape. By Wednesday, thousands of residents along the major roadway N2, famously known as the “Garden Route”, were evacuated as wildfires blazed toward nearby neighborhoods. As of June 8th, 4pm PDT, nine deaths are attributed to the storm, home collapses, and wildfires.

Storm Impact & Wildfires in Area around Cape Town and Knysna (Source: Google Earth)

Storm & Wildfire Impacted Area around Cape Town and Knysna (Source: Google Earth)

Current Situation

The local media is referring to this as the “mother of all storms”. A compounding factor to the devastating impact to the region is the already poor housing covering much of the area. Shanty towns burn quickly and can also collapse simply due to the strength of the winds. Flood waters also washed away several communities due to non-permanent construction. Part of the evacuation process included a local hospital in Knysna had to move all personnel and patients due to the approaching wildfires. The rain now falling on the Knysna area will assist firefighting efforts to get the wildfires under control; however, the additional rains will increase the possibilities for mudslides in the area.

Activity of Wildfires in last 48 hours, centered on Knysna (Source: Advanced Fire Information System Viewer – AFIS)

Wildfire activity in last 48 hours, centered on Knysna (Source: Advanced Fire Information System Viewer – AFIS)

Recovery & Outlook

So far, reports indicate more than 150 structures were destroyed throughout 20 suburbs. Cape Town, fortunately, has restored approximately 90% of its power. Across the impacted area, staff are opening shelters and resource centers to assist those displaced. The rains received may help with a fraction of the drought situation, but Level 3 water restrictions remain in place. Wetting rains over a longer duration are needed to truly have an impact. Local volunteers are collecting donations of items such as food, water, blankets, and other basic necessities for those affected by this disaster.

Aerial photo over Kynsna area of wildfires (Source: South African Red Cross)

Aerial photo over Kynsna area (Source: South African Red Cross)

Read further

Live update stream: http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/live-knysna-evacuation-underway-20170607

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-40199270

http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/powerful-winter-storm-kills-at-least-eight-in-cape-town/70001884

http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/08/world/south-africa-fires/

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/storm-kills-displaces-thousands-cape-town-170608052748704.html

wildfire arson

16 Largest Arson Wildfires in the United States Have Destroyed Over 6500 Structures

Wildfire arson is the felony act of maliciously setting fire to wildlands or uncultivated land comprised of forest, brush or grassland, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Not only does wildfire arson destroy natural lands, but it devastates a significant number of buildings, homes and other property — in addition to taking lives of firefighters and residents.

Needless to say, wildfire arson is no small threat — six of the 20 most damaging wildfires in California (in terms of structures destroyed) were caused by arson. Georgia records an average of 700 arson fires destroying over 9,000 acres annually. And, over 240 wildfires were caused by arson in Florida between Jan. 1 and April 14, 2017 — up 70 percent from the year before.  

Of the 58 most destructive wildfires in U.S. history, 16 are confirmed arson fires — almost 28 percent. These devastating 16 fires destroyed almost 6,500 structures — homes, businesses, etc. They killed 50 people and burned nearly one million acres. Here are the most destructive confirmed arson fires (intentionally caused) in order of acres burned:

wildfire arson in the us

Rodeo-Chediski Fire, Arizona (2002): 467,000 acres, 426 structures

Old Fire, San Bernardino County, California (2003): 91,281 acres, 933 structures, 6 fatalities

Hayman Fire, Pike National Forest, Colorado (2002): 137,760 acres, 600 structures, 6 fatalities

Fountain Fire, California (1992): 63,960 acres, 636 structures

Sunnyside Turnoff Fire, Warm Springs, Oregon (2013): 50,000 acres

Panorama Fire, California (1980): 23,600 acres, 325 structures, 3 fatalities

Humboldt Fire, California (2008): 23,344 acres, 351 structures

Tompanga Fire, California (1993): 18,000 acres, 323 structures

Great Smoky Mountains Wildfires, Tennessee (2016): 17,904 acres, 2400 structures, 14 fatalities

Esperanza Fire, California (2006): 16,090 acres, 34 homes, five fatalities

Laguna Fire, California (1993): 14,437 acres, 441 structures

Paint Fire, California (1990): 4,900 acres, 641 structures, one fatality

Rattlesnake Fire, California (1953): 1,300 acres, 15 fatalities

Goshen Pass Brush Fire, Virginia (2017): 1,000 acres

Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri (2012): 622 acres

Rosa Fire, Riverside County, California (2007): 411 acres

 

Besides these cases of confirmed wildland arson, many other wildfires are still under investigation. Convicted arsonists face prison time, fines and even murder charges when lives are lost in the fire. No acts of arson are taken lightly — even a small-scale brush fire can take down homes and put lives in danger.

Not all human-caused wildfires are intentional. Between arson and careless mistakes, humans cause 84 percent of all wildfires throughout the United States and 44 percent of total area burned. In U.S. National Parks, 60 percent of fires are caused by humans, often from poorly extinguished campfires. Fire ecologist Jennifer Balch at University of Colorado – Boulder says that humans extend the U.S. wildfire season by three months.

National Arson Awareness Week 2017 is May 7-13. This year’s theme is “Prevent Wildfire Arson — Spread the Facts, Not the Fire.” Learn more about National Wildfire Awareness Week here.


 

Whether started by arson, lightning or human carelessness, wildfires quickly destroy both land and structures and put lives in danger. Understand the threat of wildfires for your properties with RZRisk.

nasa heat shields

NASA Heat Shields Set to Save Firefighters’ Lives

One of the worst firefighter tragedies in history compelled NASA researcher, Mary Beth Wusk, to help develop a better emergency fire shelter. Wusk saw a news article on the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona in 2013, where a team of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighters was overrun with fire. The team deployed their emergency fire shelters, but unfortunately did not survive. Wusk thought the needs of an advanced fire shelter matched the needs of a project she was currently working on at NASA: Flexible thermal protection systems for space vehicle re-entry.

After some initial research and email correspondence, Wusk and co-researcher, Anthony Calomino, were put in touch with the Forest Service’s National Technology and Development Center. It turns out the Forest Service was already searching for new materials to construct an improved emergency fire shelter. NASA and the Forest Service formed a joint team, called CHIEFS (Convective Heating for Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters). CHIEFS began testing materials and pattern designs with the goal of putting a new design into service by 2018.

NASA heat shields

Real-world test of the new Emergency Fire Shelter prototype during a controlled burn

 

The Future of NASA Heat Shields in Firefighting

Initial test results proved that the materials performed well, but the design itself had some flaws. Flames were still able to penetrate the shelter via tiny seams in the material or under the bottom.  Though NASA’s contribution to the project is coming to an end, the Forest Service is continuing to evaluate additional designs using the NASA developed materials. The Forest Service plans to test these designs this coming fire season. They are hoping the winning design will be ready for firefighter use by their 2018 goal.

 

 

NASA Video on the new Emergency Shelter Technology

 

 

History of the Emergency Fire Shelter

Innovation Out of Tragedy

Firefighting remains a dangerous occupation, and on occasion firefighters still pay the ultimate sacrifice. Our country has a longstanding history of learning from our tragedies, and planning how to prevent them from happening in the future.  The Loop Fire near Sylmar, California, in 1966 is an example of a deadly wildfire which led to a revolution in fire policy and safety protocols.  That fire, which took the lives of 12 firefighters, yielded greater understanding and safety awareness of the perils posed by certain types of woodland terrain.  It also prompted requirements related to lookouts, checklists, and equipment standards that are still in use today.

 

Sources:

https://www.nasa.gov/feature/langley/nasa-works-with-us-forest-service-to-improve-fire-shelters

https://www.nasa.gov/langley/nasa-technology-may-help-protect-wildland-firefighters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarnell_Hill_Fire

http://www.latimes.com/science/la-na-nasa-fire-shelters-20151026-story.html