The West’s worst fires aren’t burning in forests

The West’s worst fires aren’t burning in forests

SOURCE: High Country News DATE: June 13, 2019 SNIP: Between the town of Elko, Nevada, and the Idaho border stretches some of the most remote land in the Lower 48, rolling hills and arid basins as far as the eye can see. Last July, this section of the Owyhee Desert was scorched by a fierce, fast-moving blaze with 40-foot flames, the largest wildfire in state history. In the end, the Martin Fire burned 435,000 acres, including some of the West’s finest sagebrush habitat. Now, the raw range wind whips up the bare earth into enormous black clouds that roil on the horizon. Once rare, fires that large, hot and destructive are now common in the Great Basin, a 200,000-square-mile region of mountains and valleys that includes all of Nevada and much of Utah, as well as parts of California, Idaho and Oregon. But despite the rising fire risk, a general lack of attention is putting the rangeland in growing danger. The fire problem “risks permanent loss” of the ecosystem, according to Jolie Pollet, a fire ecologist and the Bureau of Land Management’s division chief for fire planning and fuels management. This is a genuine crisis, she said, and it demands greater urgency and attention than it is currently getting. “The general public, especially urban areas, doesn’t seem to have an appreciation for the impacts on these landscapes, since the areas are so sparsely populated,” she said. The new ferocity of rangeland fires has an old culprit: cheatgrass, an annual originally from Eurasia that was brought to this country in cattle feed, packing material and ships’ ballast in the late...
Scotland, Norway and Sweden already severely effected by forest fires due to the dry weather in the north

Scotland, Norway and Sweden already severely effected by forest fires due to the dry weather in the north

SOURCE: International Association of Fire and Rescue Services DATE: April 24, 2019 SNIP: A large forest fire currently rages in southern Norway and almost 400 people have been asked to leave their homes. Sweden is also battling wildfires from North to South, and already last week, Scotland dealt with several wildfires. The dry weather means that the risk for new forest fires remains high in Scandinavia in the coming days, according to meteorologist Henrik Reimer at the Swedish weather service SMHI. “It has been several weeks without any major rainfall, at least in southern Sweden. Unfortunately, we currently see no end to the dry weather”, he says to the Swedish news agency TT. Already last week, several wildfires hit the moorlands of Scotland, and the dry weather have kept the fire services on high alert due to the extremely dry weather this...
California Wildfire Likely Spread Nuclear Contamination From Toxic Site

California Wildfire Likely Spread Nuclear Contamination From Toxic Site

SOURCE: TruthDig DATE: November 26, 2018 SNIP: The incredibly destructive Woolsey Fire in southern California has burned nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, killed three people, destroyed more than 400 structures, and at the time of this writing, was finally nearly completely contained. The fire may also have released large amounts of radiation and toxins into the air after burning through a former rocket engine testing site where a partial nuclear meltdown took place nearly six decades ago. While explaining how incredibly toxic the SSFL site is, Hirsch added, “Collectively, the sloppy environmental practices and lax regulatory oversight resulted in widespread radioactive and toxic chemical contamination of soil, surface water and groundwater.” And now, given that most, if not all, of the SSFL site has burned, it is possible that the millions of people who live within a 100-mile radius of the site have been exposed to its radioactive waste and toxic chemicals that are now airborne. While explaining how incredibly toxic the SSFL site is, Hirsch added, “Collectively, the sloppy environmental practices and lax regulatory oversight resulted in widespread radioactive and toxic chemical contamination of soil, surface water and groundwater.” And now, given that most, if not all, of the SSFL site has burned, it is possible that the millions of people who live within a 100-mile radius of the site have been exposed to its radioactive waste and toxic chemicals that are now airborne. There are multiple human health impacts that have been known to stem from the site well before the Woolsey Fire began. A study prepared by Professor Hal Morgenstern for the...
‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

‘It blows my mind’: How B.C. destroys a key natural wildfire defence every year

SOURCE: CBC DATE: November 17, 2018 SNIP: Last year, 12,812 hectares of B.C. forest was sprayed with the herbicide glyphosate. It’s an annual event — a mass extermination of broadleaf trees mandated by the province. The eradication of trees like aspen and birch on regenerating forest stands is meant to make room for more commercially valuable conifer species like pine and Douglas fir. But experts say it also removes one of the best natural defences we have against wildfire, at a time when our warming climate is helping make large, destructive fires more and more common. When aspen and other broadleaves are allowed to flourish, they form “natural fuel breaks” if their leaves are out, according to Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at the University of B.C. That’s why aspen stands are often referred to as “asbestos forests” in wildfire science circles. The province’s Forest Planning and Practices Regulation states that when a block of forest is regrowing after a wildfire or logging, broadleaves can’t make up more than five per cent of trees, or two hectares — whichever total is smaller. The concern is that trees like aspen will out-compete conifer species, which are the lifeblood of the timber industry. If there’s too much aspen, the block must be sprayed with glyphosate, a chemical known more familiarly as the active ingredient in Roundup. Over the last three years, 42,531 hectares of B.C. forest have been treated with the herbicide. “At the end of the day, we have rules that make fire-resistant trees illegal in our forests. That’s just nuts,” James Steidle, a member of the anti-glyphosate...
Breathing Seattle’s air right now is like smoking 7 cigarettes. Blame wildfires.

Breathing Seattle’s air right now is like smoking 7 cigarettes. Blame wildfires.

SOURCE: Vox DATE: August 22, 2018 SNIP: Ash and smoke are choking Seattle’s air for the second week in a row, as wildfires smolder in the Cascades and in British Columbia. The air quality in Seattle this week has been worse than in Beijing, one of the world’s most notoriously polluted cities. As of Wednesday morning, the Air Quality Index in Seattle was at 190, a rating classified as “unhealthy.” In parts of the city, the index rose as high as 220, which is “very unhealthy.” Other parts of Puget Sound, like Port Angeles, Washington — 80 miles from Seattle — saw the AQI rise to 205 this week. To put it in perspective, an AQI of 150 is roughly equal to smoking seven cigarettes in a day. People breathing air this unhealthy should avoid being outside and exerting themselves, particularly people with heart and lung problems, the elderly, and children. Fires are a major source of air pollution, in rural and urban areas. Fires from crop burning in India last year helped make Delhi the most polluted city on earth. Though wildfires throw off particles of all shapes and sizes, the biggest health dangers come from the smallest ones, 2.5 microns or less in diameter. Known as PM2.5, these particles penetrate deep into the airways, causing inflammation, asthma attacks, and cancer. In Seattle, the concentrations on PM2.5 reached 157 milligrams per cubic meter. “When pollution is very high, over 37 [micrograms per cubic meter], we start to see health consequences,” Jia Coco Liu, a postdoctoral researcher studying air quality at Johns Hopkins University...