TIME Disaster

Rapid Wildfire Threatens Yosemite National Park

A long exposure image shows the El Portal Fire burning near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on July 27, 2014.
A long exposure image shows the El Portal Fire burning near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on July 27, 2014. Stuart Palley—EPA

El Portal blaze was at just 5% containment late Monday

A fast-moving wildfire in Yosemite National Park was threatening to spiral out of control early Tuesday.

While firefighters made progress battling a larger wildfire in northern California’s vineyard country, the El Portal wildfire burning across four square miles of Yosemite and the neighboring Stanislaus National Forest was at just 5% containment late Monday.

Three campsites and several roads were closed and around 100 homes were at risk, despite what the National Park Service said was “incredible firefighting work.”

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME energy

White House Tightens Oil Train Safety Regulations

Oil Trains Accidents
a BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Montana on Nov. 6, 2013. Matthew Brown—AP

After a spate of train derailments, the Obama administration issued new rules on an increasingly popular way to move crude in the U.S.

Updated at 3:53 p.m.

Freight trains that haul an increasingly large amount of oil across the United States will have to improve safety mechanisms under new regulations proposed by the Obama administration Wednesday.

The new rules include lower speed limits, new brake requirements, tougher regulations on the sturdiness of oil tank construction and a plan for phasing out some older oil tank cars.

As a result of the rapid increase in oil production in North America in recent years, a growing volume of crude is being moved from well-head to refinery via freight trains—an increase of 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the Department of Transportation. In tandem with that sharp uptick, there has been a spate of train accidents involving spilled crude oil, up from none in 2010 to five in 2013 and five by February this year, before a train carrying crude derailed in April in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, temporarily setting on fire to a river that passes by the town’s population of 77,000.

The fact that train accidents overall have been in sharp decline in the last decade speaks to the tremendous increase in the amount of crude oil being moved around the country by rail.

Environmentalist groups have been pushing for tighter safety rules on freight trains carrying crude oil, which often pass through or near residential communities. A particularly devastating train accident last year in a town in Quebec left more than 40 dead and dozens of buildings destroyed.

Among the initiatives the DOT proposed Wednesday is a plan to address concerns that crude oil drilled out of the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, today one of the most productive oil fields in the world, is a particularly dangerous form of crude. “It has become general public knowledge that Bakken crude is proving particularly explosive,” said Anthony Swift, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In its response to the DOT proposal, the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, rejected the notion that Bakken crude is especially dangerous. “The best science and data do not support recent speculation that crude oil from the Bakken presents greater than normal transportation risks,” said API President Jack Gerard.

TIME natural disaster

Charred Earth: The Wreckage of the Washington Wildfires

Hundreds of people have been displaced in the northeast part of the state

It took thousands of firefighters Saturday and Sunday to battle a wildfire raging east of Washington state’s Cascade Mountains. The four-blaze Carlton Complex fire destroyed about 100 homes and displaced hundreds of people.

The weekend inferno is the latest in a series of fires that have plagued the drought-ravaged west coast this summer. Area residents hope that forecasts for cooler weather this week will help quell the siege of flames, the Associated Press reports.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysians Want the Bodies of Their MH17 Dead Back Before the Ramadan Fast Ends

Zulrusdi bin Haji Mohamad Hol dressed for iftar dinner with other relatives of MH17 victims at Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on July 20, 2014. Zulrusdi's cousin was returning after a three-year work stint in Kazakhstan with his wife and four children on July 17, when the Malaysia Airlines plane they were traveling with was shot down midair over eastern Ukraine. Per Liljas

For relatives gathered at a hotel south of Kuala Lumpur, it's a heart-breaking waiting game

Update: This story was updated at 22:45 ET on July 22 to include an official quote on the correct handling of dead bodies in Islam.

Dusk settles and Malaysia comes together to break the daily fasting of Ramadan. Hundreds of people in elegant attire mill about the lavish iftar buffet at Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya, 25 km south of Kuala Lumpur. Two floors down, however, the mood is less festive. There, MH17 relatives gather around tables in one of the conference rooms and yearn for a completely different religious observance.

“We need to get the bodies home to expedite the burials,” says Zulrusdi bin Haji Mohamad Hol, whose cousin was on the plane together with his whole family. “Otherwise, how will our family members get peace?”

Four days after Malaysia Airlines flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels who control the area have piled almost 200 corpses into refrigerated boxcars and used cranes to move chunks of the downed aircraft. International investigators still have limited access to the crash site, and Western governments have condemned the separatists for tampering with the scene.

A rebel leader said Sunday that they will hand over the bodies to the International Civil Aviation Organization, yet that depends on an as yet nonexistent cooperation between rebels, the Ukraine government and international investigators. A government-appointed counselor at the Marriott says he has to shield relatives from media coverage from Ukraine. Zulrusdi has caught images of remains putrefying on the fields, and rebels carrying away bodies in plastic bags. International media has carried reports of victims’ luggage and personal belongings being rummaged through and possibly looted.

“I’m very angry,” Zulrusdi says. “They’re inhumane, they don’t understand. First they murder our relatives then they keep the corpses with them.”

Pressure is mounting on Russia to take a firmer role in securing the investigation and recovery of bodies. The U.S. has been particularly harsh in their allusions to Russian culpability. On Sunday, the embassy in Kiev stated that “MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine,” that Russia had sent “a convoy of military equipment” to the separatists over the weekend of July 12-13, and that Moscow had trained the rebels in the use of air defense systems.

However, officials in Malaysia have chosen a more cautious tone.

“Culpability is only the third priority of the Malaysian government,” says Bridget Welsh, senior research associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University. “It would be counterproductive for their goal of bringing back the bodies to take a harder position on Russia now.”

James Chin, professor of political science at Monash University, says that Prime Minister Najib Razak has put himself in a bind by promising to recover the bodies from MH17 before next week, when the fasting period of Ramadan ends.

“It will be almost impossible to do this, and it will show how powerless Malaysia is in a situation like this, involving big players like the U.S. and Russia,” he says.

A Malaysian team is currently in Ukraine to take care of the Muslim bodies, equipped with kafan, the ritual cloth that remains should be wrapped in.

“The way the bodies were handled by the separatist has not only made us angry but has saddened us,” Othman Mustapah, director general of the Department of Islamic Development, tells TIME. “Islam places great emphasis on respecting the dead body. Not only must burial rites be managed properly, with care and in a civilized manner, the bodies must be washed, wrapped in kafan and buried as soon as possible.”

Dr Mohammad Asri Zainul Abidin, former mufti of Perlis province, adds: “If you cannot find the body, there is a special prayer that can be read. As for the relatives of MH370, it’s been up to them to decide when to do that.”

The next-of-kin at the Marriott Hotel continue to fast, join for iftar in the evening and pray that the remains of their relatives will soon be retrieved. Zulrusdi knows that in this process, his government only has limited power.

“It’s like the Malaysian saying, when the elephants fight, the little animals get trampled underfoot.”

TIME

After the MH17 Ukraine Crash, Malaysians Face Another Catastrophe

Malaysia Airlines hit again
Malaysia Airlines endures its second major accident of 2014 Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

Four months after MH370 went missing, Malaysia endures another horrific plane accident, leaving relatives of victims bewildered

Two Malaysia Airlines flight attendants embrace at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. They hold on to each other for a moment, then wipe their tears and straighten their light-blue, flowered dresses. Today, these uniforms signal so much more than an employment at an airline. They declare community—a message as important as any, in this time of sorrow and anger.

Malaysia is in a state of shock. Only four months have passed since MH flight 370 vanished into thin air on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Now, the unthinkable has happened again. MH17, heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, exploded in midair, scattering charred aircraft and body parts over a vast field in an embattled province in eastern Ukraine.

Once again, crisis groups have been assembled in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, grieving relatives gathered, press conferences held. On Friday evening, a ”rescue” team including forensic experts and a group of Malaysia Airlines volunteers boarded a private plane to Kiev to partake in the investigation on the ground—an investigation that, because of conflict on the ground in Ukraine, may prove all but impossible. Yet back home, Malaysian feel stuck in a state of ghastly déjà vu.

”We haven’t collected ourselves yet from flight 370,” a pilot at Malaysia Airlines who wishes to stay unnamed tells TIME. He says that he flew on several occasions with the co-pilot on MH370, but didn’t know anybody in the crew personally this time. Yet, it was with a heavy heart he came to work this morning. ”None of us said anything to each other, but we didn’t have to. We knew. Right now, I have very mixed emotions. Sadness and anger. How can something like this happen in 2014? You can’t just shoot down a plane!”

Although it’s not yet been confirmed how MH17 crashed, most early opinions—including from defense officials in Washington—point to a ground-to-air missile strike. Pro-Russian rebels have recently been bragging about their seizure of missile systems that would be capable of hitting planes flying at high altitude, and which may have been used against Ukrainian cargo planes that were downed over the past week.

But while basic questions about the crash are still unresolved, relatives of passengers on MH17 face none of the agonizing uncertainty that surrounded the fate of MH370’s victims. Graphic of that debris-strewn field in Ukraine have seen to that. ”My cousins knew when they saw the reports on CNN,” says Johari Redzuan at Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, where the bereaved relatives have been gathered. “They were in constant touch with their sister ahead of her trip, so they knew exactly what flight she was on. They were all looking so much forward to it.”

Redzuan’s late cousin hadn’t been home for five years, but now they were planning to celebrate Eid-ul Fitr, the end of Ramadan, together for the first time since she moved to Geneva, over 40 years ago.

“You would think that we would be raging because someone killed our relatives, but we’re not,” says Redzuan, trying to explain the surprising calm of many relatives at the Marriott. ”Maybe it has to do with our fasting, but there’s really a feeling of togetherness here at the hotel. When the Deputy Prime Minister came here to talk to us, we joined together in prayer for the rescue team in Ukraine. They have to travel through such dangerous terrain to get to the crash site.”

Redzuan admits that he’s still in shock, and that the crying goes on intermittently upstairs in their rooms, with every call or discussion leading back to memories of their departed sister or cousin. Yet, they’re licensed to grieve, with a certainty that relatives of MH370 victims never had. In that, at least, they can find comfort, gratitude and unity.

TIME Washington

Winds Fan Washington Wildfire, Threaten Homes

A large cloud rises over wildfires in Eastern Washington as seen from University District at sunset on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Seattle, Wash.
A large cloud rises over wildfires in Eastern Washington as seen from University District at sunset on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Seattle, Wash. Jordan Stead—AP

Fire officials said a handful of new wildfires, some started by lightning, were growing in central Washington

(SPOKANE, Wash.) — Driven by scorching hot temperatures and strong winds, a new central Washington wildfire threatened hundreds of homes Wednesday and sent up a towering column of smoke.

The Chiwaukum Creek fire about 10 miles north of Leavenworth raced across nearly 2 square miles by evening and prompted the closure of a 15-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2.

As many as 400 people have been told to leave their homes or cabins and another 800 homes were threatened, said Eileen Ervin, a Chelan County emergency management spokeswoman.

Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor’s offices in both Washington and Oregon to declare a state of emergency, a move that enables state officials to call up the National Guard. In Washington, that declaration covers 30 eastern Washington counties.

Wildfires were also burning in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Oregon and California.

The Chiwaukum Creek fire, first detected Tuesday, was believed caused by lightning. It sent a smoke plume 25,000 feet into the air as it burned through heavy timber.

While the fire’s smoke and rapid growth made assessment difficult, a fire spokesman, Mike Mueller, said there was no confirmed loss of any homes by Wednesday evening.

Leavenworth, where the Red Cross set up a shelter, reached 104 degrees Wednesday and winds gusted to 18 mph.

In southern Oregon, a Klamath County wildfire turned out to be more destructive than authorities initially believed.

After the fire burned in the rural Moccasin Hill subdivision near Sprague River earlier this week, officials reported that six houses were destroyed, along with 14 outbuildings. But fire managers toured the burn area Tuesday and spokeswoman Ashley Lertora said they found 17 residences and 16 outbuildings destroyed.

Oregon fire officials said Wednesday that the Bailey Butte fire — part of the Waterman Complex — had burned more than 3 square miles west of Mitchell and was moving south into the Ochoco National Forest. Two other fires near Service Creek and Kimberly brought the Waterman Complex to more than 6 square miles, or 4,000 acres. The fires are in timber, grass and brush.

In Washington, fire officials said a handful of new wildfires, some started by lightning, were growing in central Washington.

“The National Weather Service posted red flag warnings and fire weather watches … for much of Eastern Washington from Wednesday afternoon through Friday,” said the state’s emergency declaration, signed by Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.

The state’s largest wildfire, the Mills Canyon blaze near the town of Entiat, was 40 percent contained and holding steady at about 35 square miles.

State fire assistance was ordered for the Carlton Complex of fires burning in north-central Washington’s Methow Valley, where residents of about a dozen homes have been told to leave. Spokesman Jacob McCann said Wednesday evening that complex has burned across 7 square miles with zero containment.

The Washington National Guard sent two helicopters and 14 people to help battle the blaze.

In Utah, a wildfire encroaching on homes in the Tooele County town of Stockton had burned about 400 to 500 acres. Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands spokesman Jason Curry said the fire burned part of a water tower but it’s believed no homes have been destroyed.

In central Idaho, the lightning-caused Preacher Fire has scorched nearly 50 square miles in two days, burning quickly through grass and brush. But fire managers said Wednesday they had made good progress and estimated the blaze would be contained by late Thursday.

In Nevada, fire crews have the upper hand on a lightning-sparked wildfire near Reno. But the forecast calls for thunderstorms that could bring new fire threats.

About 120 firefighters remained on the lines Wednesday evening at the blaze that has burned just over a square mile of brush and grass on U.S. Forest Service land near U.S. 395 northwest of Reno. No injuries have been reported and no structures were threatened.

The fire was estimated to be 20 percent contained Wednesday evening with help from four air tankers and three helicopters.

In rural Northern California, cooler temperatures and higher humidity helped firefighters battling the Bully Fire, which has burned through more than 13 square miles. The fire, which authorities blame on marijuana-growing activity, was 35 percent contained Wednesday.

Eight homes have been destroyed since Friday and 55 homes around one community are threatened.

TIME Disaster

2 Arrested in Calif. on Arson Charges While Wildfires Rage

About 125,000 people have evacuated their homes in the area, where numerous fires have raged for days

Police in Escondido, California have arrested two people on arson-related charges as wildfires burn throughout San Diego County this week.

Police arrested 19-year-old Isaiah Silva and an unnamed 17-year-old Thursday after acting on a tip from a citizen who reported chasing two people setting off a brushfire. Officials believe the teenagers set at least two small fires, but it’s not clear if they were directly connected to the larger fires in the region.

Roughly 125,000 people in San Diego County have been sent notices to evacuate their homes due to the wildfires, Reuters reports. The fires are being fueled by a combination of drought, scorching heat and blustering winds.

Authorities have largely contained some fires as of Friday morning, while others are continuing to burn.

TIME Turkey

Anger Builds as Victims of Turkey’s Worst Mining Disaster Are Buried

People carry the coffin of a miner who died in a fire at a coal mine, draped with a Turkish flag, during his funeral at a cemetery in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa
People carry the coffin of a miner who died in a fire at a coal mine, draped with a Turkish flag, during his funeral at a cemetery in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa May 15, 2014. Osman Orsal—Reuters

Turks are demanding answers as the death toll from Tuesday’s explosion in a coal mine in the country’s west reaches 284

The first burials of those who perished in Turkey’s worst ever mining disaster began Thursday, as public anger grew over the administration’s reaction to the disaster that saw 284 lives lost with 140 people still missing.

“It’s not an accident, it’s murder,” read a banner waved by trade unionists marching through the capital, Istanbul, according to the Associated Press.

As weary men dug makeshift graves amid the mournful sound of wailing relatives, rescue workers continued to battle methane gas and flames in their efforts to save those still trapped underground.

Turks have been infuriated by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s apparent shrugging off of the tragedy. Mining accidents “are in the nature of the business,” he said Thursday, citing comparable disasters from British, American and Chinese history.

Compounding the sense of national revulsion, a photograph of one of Erdogan’s aides viciously kicking a restrained protester circulated on international and domestic media Thursday. Tear gas was fired as crowds demanded justice for the victims.

As more people took to the streets, Erdogan warned “extremists” against taking advantage of the tragedy for their own ends. “Everyone should be assured that this accident will be investigated to the smallest detail,” he added. “We won’t allow any negligence to be ignored.”

According to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency, the Labor Ministry insists that the mine had been inspected twice just two months before Tuesday’s explosion and no safety concerns had been flagged.

There have been more than 3,000 deaths and 100,000 mining injuries in Turkey since 1941, according to the national statistics agency.

TIME Disaster

California Wildfires Still Raging After Burning Homes

The latest wildfire that broke out in Carlsbad on Wednesday is one of several fires dotting Southern California. At least 30 homes were engulfed in flames, causing thousands of evacuations, including from Legoland, the popular amusement park

Updated: May 15, 2014, 7:30 a.m. E.T.

Wildfires whipped along by blustering winds during a massive drought have burned at least 30 homes and forced thousands to flee in southern California, where several blazes continue to burn as of Thursday morning.

At least 15,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in Carlsbad, California, among the towns hardest hit by the wildfires. The Carlsbad fires also forced park officials on Wednesday to shut down Legoland, a local LEGO-themed amusement park.

Cal State San Marcos, a San Diego County college with approximately 10,000 students, and Camp Pendleton, an area Marine Corps base, have also been evacuated.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday after local county officials urged him to do so as firefighting resources ran thin in the face of spreading fires.

The cause of the fires is not known, but officials say temperatures reaching into the 100s and the ongoing drought in the region make the area ripe for wildfires.

Two firefighters have been injured fighting the blazes, one with a heat-related injury and another due to smoke inhalation.

[LA Times]

TIME weather

Wildfire Rages Near San Diego

California officials have battled double the average number of blazes so far this year. This latest fire spurred the evacuation of 20,000 homes in and around San Diego

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