Over 365,000 acres have burned along the eastern coast of Australia in the New South Wale (NSW), the country’s most populous state. As a result, officials declared a state of emergency for the entire state, as conditions have reached “catastrophic”, the nation’s highest bushfire danger rating. Tragically, three people have died while over 150 structures have been destroyed. Even worse, included in those destroyed was a wildlife sanctuary near Port Macquarie, which was home to as many as 350 koalas.
Just sixteen miles south of last week’s Saddleridge Fire, the Palisades Fire burned 40 acres between Palisades Dr and Charmel Ln in steep terrain yesterday afternoon, quickly spreading and prompting evacuations of a neighborhood of Pacific Palisades. Fortunately, hard work from air and ground crews saved the 200 homes that were threatened from damage or destruction and all have since been repopulated. This morning’s incident briefing portrayed a mop-up and perimeter-control day ahead of the crews. A direct ground attack is the main plan for the two divisions, with dozer(s) cleared to improve a nearby fire road, and an Structure Protection Group working the previously evacuated neighborhoods.
Fall Means Santa Ana Winds
Annually, the onset of the fall and winter seasons brings the highest chance for Southern California’s famed Santa Ana winds. Historically, the worst fires in Southern California in terms of speed of growth and destruction are linked to these hot, dry wind events. The last two years, a strong and persistent Santa Ana event was a major player in the spread of both 2017’s Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara and last year’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu.
In what has become a big story this week, details are finally emerging about wildfires burning in South America’s Amazon Rainforest. The Amazon fires became bigger news Monday afternoon when Sao Paulo was buried under a cloud of smoke from the fires. Since multiple news outlets and even celebrities (through social media) have pointed out the fact that the South American rainforest’s burning could be detrimental for the earth considering they produce 20% of the world’s oxygen.
In May, CALFIRE released findings condemning one of California’s major utilities company, PG&E, as the cause for last year’s devastating Camp Fire. Before these findings, the company was already in hot water with responsibility for 2017’s October Fire Siege in Northern California. The 10s of billions in lawsuits associated, forced the company to file for bankruptcy this January and prompted speculation that the Northern California utilities could become state-run. So far that hasn’t happened. But what has happened is that PG&E has decided to address the cause of these major fires by proposing to actually cut power during high-wind days, which could cause blackouts for millions of residents for days at a time.
The 2019 wildfire season is about to start. So far this year major fires have already igniting across Texas, Oklahoma, and the Southwest. As we move into the summer months, increasingly warm and dry conditions will continue to fuel the threat of wildfires. The National Inter-agency Fire Center released their fire potential outlook for summer months, predicting an above average fire season for all of the twelve western states making wildfire intelligence gathering even more essential. This foreboding outlook comes on the heels of another (2018) Fire Season that set multiple records.
A severe storm brought three days of extreme weather to a large swath of the South, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic over the weekend. Tornadoes, hail, flooding, and extreme winds wreaked havoc from Texas to Pennsylvania. Nine people died as a result of the storm, with causes ranging from trees falling to drowning in floodwaters. The number of confirmed tornadoes continues to climb as investigations continue, but as of this writing, the number has risen to 41 across 9 states. High winds, with speeds recorded up to 136 mph, destroyed dozens of homes. Over 200,000 residents lost power across the states. As communities still reel from the damage, another nearly identical storm is starting to move across Texas. Read more
A small fire began Saturday afternoon in the Pine Barrens area of the Penn State Forest in Southern New Jersey. In less than two days, the Spring Hill Fire proceeded to burn over 11,000 acres. By 8am EDT Monday morning, crews reported they had the fire contained. Firefighters will remain on scene to monitor the fire since some areas are still burning. Full fire containment means the fire resources no longer believe the fire will grow or move out of the area it already scorched; however, a contained fire is not necessarily ‘out’. Additionally, nearby towns will likely still see, and possibly smell, smoke from the fire. While the cause of the blaze has not been confirmed, it is believed to have been human-caused. In addition to the fire occurring in an area known for illegal bonfires, the fire burned in an area that had no lightning strikes reported, has no power lines nearby, and was not conducting any prescribed or planned. Read more
New Regulations Forcing Compliance
California utility companies have been working to address their liability to the growing risk for massive wildfire events. The California Public Utilities Commission, CPUC, has stringent rules and guidelines for maintenance and mitigation, and has often held utility companies liable to the damages caused by their equipment starting fires. Senate Bill 901, named The Utility Wildfire Mitigation Plans Bill, outlines further requirements for utilities to provide the state with plans to prevent, combat, and respond to wildfires in their service territories. It allows for CPUC to review and modify these plans before the utility is allowed to adopt the plan. Read on to learn how these companies plan to combat this ever increasing threat. Read more
2018 Hurricane Season Quick Stats
Each spring, several predictive services release their forecasts for the upcoming Hurricane Season, which officially runs June 1 – Nov 30. While named storms can form outside of this range, they are significantly weaker and rarely reach hurricane strength levels.