TIME Washington

Washington Wildfire Is Largest in State History

Washington Wildifire
Jason Redmond—Reuters The Chelan Complex on fire in Manson, Wash. on Aug 22, 2015.

The fire is expected to spread more in the coming days

The massive fire burning in north-central Washington is now the largest in state history.

The Okanogan Complex of wildfires has surpassed last year’s Carlton Complex blazes.

Fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said Monday the Okanogan Complex was measured overnight at just over 400 square miles, slightly more than the Carlton fires, which also burned in Okanogan County.

The latest group of fires grew by more than 26 square miles Sunday and is expected to spread even more in coming days.

Isaacson called the record unfortunate and notes it’s only Aug. 24, meaning the fire could burn for several more months. Officials are still trying to determine how many homes and other structures have been burned.

About 1,250 people are battling the fires. Last week, three firefighters were killed and four injured near Twisp, Washington.

TIME Accident

Watch This House Explode After a Car Crashes Into Its Gas Meter

Luckily, the home had already been evacuated and no one was hurt

A road accident in Lansing, MI. quickly turned into something far more grievous last week, when one of the cars involved collided with the gas meter of nearby house and triggered a massive explosion.

The owners of the house were evacuated and no one was hurt in the explosion, the UPI news agency reported.

A video of the explosion, shared by Lansing firefighter William Pawluk, who took it using a dashboard camera, shows the car stopped at the edge of the house before it suddenly collapses following a massive fireball.

TIME fire

More Than 13,000 People Evacuate Due to California Wildfire

California Wildfires
Josh Edelson—AP CalFire firefighter Bo Santiago lights a backfire as the Rocky fire burns near Clearlake, Calif., on, Aug. 3, 2015.

The largest fire in California roughly tripled in size over the weekend

(CLEAR LAKE, Calif.) — As firefighters battled a massive Northern California wildfire threatening numerous homes, some of the 13,000 people urged to flee their residences spent what may be just one of many nights in evacuation shelters.

The blaze grew to more than 101 square miles Tuesday as it chewed through drought-withered brush that has not burned in years in the Lower Lake area, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

More than 3,000 firefighters tried to stand their ground against the fire that jumped a highway that had served as a containment line and grew by several square miles despite cooler weather and higher humidity. Its rapid growth caught firefighters off guard and shocked residents.

Vicki Estrella, who has lived in the area for 22 years, stayed at a Red Cross shelter at Middletown High School with her husband and their dog.

“It’s amazing the way that thing spread,” Estrella said. “There was smoke 300 feet in the air.”

Cooler weather Tuesday is helping crews build a buffer between the flames and some of the 6,900 homes it threatens. Despite the fire’s growth, no additional homes were consumed outside the two dozen already destroyed.

More than 13,000 people have been forced to evacuate or warned to leave since the blaze ignited Wednesday.

“This is the number one priority wildfire in the state of California, so it is getting the lion’s share of resources,” said Modesto Fire Department Battalion Chief Hugo Patino, who has a crew on the lines.

Crews have conducted controlled burns, setting fire to shrubs to rob the blaze of fuel and protect homes in a rural area of grasslands and steep hills. Nearly a week into the fight, fatigue has set in for crews, leading resources from in and out of state to rotate in.

“There were too many (spot fires) for us to pick up,” Battalion Chief Carl Schwettmann of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told the San Francisco Chronicle. “With these drought-stricken fuels, it’s just moving at an extremely high rate of speed.”

Many people are aiding evacuees, handing out items such as pillows, apples and piles of French toast.

Tabetha Atwood, owner of Our Happy Tails Etc., a dog bakery in Clear Lake, helped match wayward dogs with their owners Tuesday. She also had dog treats on hand for folks who came by with their pets.

“These are our friends, our family and our neighbors,” she said.

The fire — the largest blaze in California — roughly tripled in size over the weekend, generating its own winds that fanned the flames and reduced thousands of acres of manzanita shrubs and other brush to barren land in hours.

“There’s a lot of old growth-type vegetation and four years of drought to dry it all out,” said Lynne Tolmachoff, a Cal Fire spokeswoman. “It was ready to go.”

The White House said President Barack Obama was briefed on the fire and has asked his aides to stay in close touch with California Gov. Jerry Brown and other local officials.

Numerous other wildfires in California, Washington state and Oregon took off as the effects of drought and summer heat turned the West Coast combustible.

California blazes killed a firefighter last week and injured four others. Crews battled at least 20 other wildfires in the state — some sparked by lightning — though none as big as the Lower Lake blaze.

The fire is well short of historic proportions, however. One of the largest wildfires in California history was a 2013 blaze that took out 400 square miles of Sierra Nevada wilderness.

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Associated Press writers Olga R. Rodriguez, Sudhin Thanawala and Kristin J. Bender in San Francisco and Yara Bishara in Phoenix contributed to this report.

TIME natural disaster

See the Devastation Wrought by Wildfire in California

12,000 people were evacuated after the fire spread to more than 84 square miles on Monday

TIME fire

Thousands Evacuated in Northern California Wildfires

Wildfires are also burning in Washington and Oregon

(LOWER LAKE, Calif.)—Fire officials called for thousands of evacuations as numerous homes remained threatened by Northern California wildfires Monday, while more than 9,000 firefighters battled 21 major fires in the state, officials said.

Wildfires were also burning in Washington and Oregon as the West Coast suffered from the effects of drought and summer heat.

The largest California wildfire was raging in the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco. It nearly tripled in size over the weekend to 84 square miles.

The fire has destroyed 24 homes and 26 outbuildings and was threatening 6,300 homes, many of them ranches scattered in rural areas ranging from grasslands to steep hills, officials said.

Officials have ordered 12,000 people to evacuate homes, the Sacramento Bee reported. Several roads have been closed.

Fire officials “are calling the behavior of this fire unprecedented,” state fire spokesman Jason Shanley told the newspaper. “It is jaw-dropping to see some of the things it is doing.”

“Everyone we know that lives down there, they have nothing anymore. It’s just crazy,” Nikki Shatter of Clear Lake told KCAL-TV.

Even though the temperature dropped into the 80s Sunday and the humidity was up, the fire continued to advance.

“We chewed up a couple of thousand acres” in a single day but no additional homes were lost, state fire spokesman Jay Smith said.

There also has been a human toll from the wildfires.

One firefighter was killed at the scene of a fire at the Modoc National Forest, 100 miles south of the Oregon border, and four other were burned in a blaze near Sacramento.

Many of the California blazes were sparked by lightning. The danger was expected to continue with scattered thunderstorms and gusty winds forecast for some areas of Northern California into Monday, state fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

That left it an open question whether fire crews would be able to make significant progress on the largest wildfires.

“It depends on mother nature, whatever she has in store,” Smith said.

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FIREFIGHTER KILLED

Engine Capt. David Ruhl, from South Dakota, was killed battling a fast-moving blaze that broke out Thursday in the Modoc National Forest about 100 miles south of Oregon.

Ruhl was in a vehicle Thursday, looking for ways to fight the blaze, when officials lost contact with him, fire information officer Ken Sandusky said. His body was recovered Friday.

An autopsy to determine the cause of death will be conducted this week, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Ruhl, part of a Black Hills National Forest firefighting team, had been helping California firefighters since June.

The fire had grown to about 6 square miles Sunday, and it was 20 percent contained.

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FIREFIGHTERS INJURED

Three firefighters who were burned on a fire northeast of Sacramento on Saturday have been released from the hospital. One has returned to duty and all are expected to make a full recovery, fire officials said.

A fourth firefighter remains hospitalized with serious burns.

The fire that began on July 25 destroyed two buildings and 54 homes and other buildings are still considered at risk in Placer and Nevada Counties. The 3 ½-square-mile blaze is 85 percent contained.

___

LIGHTNING FIRES

In Humboldt County, 600 firefighters were battling 18 small blazes Sunday that were sparked by lightning. At least 70 fires have been reported in the area since Thursday. Of those, 52 have been contained, Cal Fire said.

The blazes have charred 2,000 acres and destroyed two structures in steep, difficult to access terrain.

TIME fire

Officials Are Looking for People Who Flew Drones Over California Wildfires

The drone operators could be prosecuted for murder if the drones caused delays that led to deaths of any firefighters or civilians

Officials want to know who flew drones near several wildfires in California’s San Bernardino mountains, causing firefighters to temporarily ground their flame-battling planes.

The reward for someone who identifies the drone operators? $75,000.

“In the most recent fire, the North Fire, we saw cars and trucks burning on the freeway, we saw homes burn, and we saw families running for their lives,” Jorge Ramos, chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, said in a statement.

“We want to know who was flying drones, and we want them punished,” he said. “Someone knows who they are, and there is $75,000 waiting…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME fire

Wildfires Continue to Ravage Washington State, Pacific Northwest and Beyond

A U.S. flag is seen as a commercial building burns after being ignited by the Sleepy Hollow fire in Wenatchee, Washington
David Ryder—Reuters A commercial building burns after being ignited by the Sleepy Hollow fire in Wenatchee, Washington June 29, 2015

An exceptionally hot and dry summer has contributed to a spike in seasonal fires

Wildfires in various stages of containment continued to consume Washington state Wednesday, with major fires also burning throughout the west in Idaho, California, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

There are 21 fires burning in Washington and Oregon alone, NBC News reports, with an additional 100 just over the Canadian border.

The weekend of July 4 was the hottest on record in western Washington, local station KREM reports, and the area has just tied the record for most consecutive days of above 90°F temperatures. As a result, there have been close to 400 wildfires already reported this July compared with 275 for the same month last year, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

The red portion of the map highlights the volatility of the area around the Washington-Idaho border, which saw multiple fires start this week. A conflagration raged in Cape Horn, Idaho over as much as 2,000 acres, and over the border in Spokane evacuations just outside the city ordered residents to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice after a fire threatened an area popular with hikers, KREM reports.

Elsewhere, the so-called “Paradise Fire” continued to burn in the depths of Olympic National Park, usually one of the wettest places in the country, with the blaze still only 21% contained after several weeks. And further south close to the Oregon border, the so-called “Gilmore Gulch” fire continued its slow march. Local station KXLY reports that the fire had consumed more than 5,000 acres and was only 10% contained by Tuesday.

Linda Weatherly, a fourth generation rancher whose property was at risk if the fire continued its advance, said she could not remember a summer so dry and was deeply concerned about what the next week might hold. “It’s our livelihood,” she told TIME. “We have animals and crops. And they’re talking about thunderstorms now… it would devastate families.” Should the fire approach, she said her first priority would be to “try to get my animals out of here. I don’t have any water to fight it. It would have to be, you know… all the ranchers try to kick in and help.”

Eric Beckemeir, a waiter at the Idle Hour Eatery near Quincy, Wash., reported similar reactions from his neighbors when a fire consumed 10,000 acres north of town after the July 4 holiday before being contained. The town is 30 miles southeast of Wenatchee, where the Sleepy Hollow fire destroyed dozens of homes earlier this week, and several of its own houses were temporarily evacuated during the fire. But Beckemeir told TIME the community came together to help: local businesses donated water and gatorade, farmers used their tractors to make fire lines, and orchardists sprayed their neighbors’ homes down with hoses. “In a rural area you can take care of each other,” he said.

TIME portfolio

Photographing California’s Wildfires

Freelance photographer Stuart Palley has been chasing blazes for the past three years, documenting one of the most dramatic consequences of California’s extended drought.

Over the past week, TIME LightBox shared on the @timelightbox Instagram feed, a series of photographs Palley shot this past month as Lake Fire has devastated thousands of square miles of forests near San Bernardino. He explains his work.

Olivier Laurent: Why are you doing this work?

Stuart Palley: My earliest memories of wild land fire are watching the 1993 Laguna Beach Fire on TV as a five-year old. The Santa Ana Wind-fueled inferno burned hundreds of homes just miles from where I grew up. In high school, ash floated down from the sky onto the dance floor at the freshman Halloween dance during the 2003 California Fire Siege. I then had to leave school for a week and go out to the desert because the ash was causing my asthma to flare up. As I write the Homeowner Association is pulling out all the bushes where I live and replacing it with a drought-resistant grass.

Wildland fire is part of my life. As I returned from college and grad school in the Midwest, I came back to a California in severe drought, with brown hills, water restrictions, and wildfires worse than ever. The lake where I went to summer camp as a kid dried out, and the forest where my girlfriend and I drove on our first date burned over and is now closed.

Drought can be difficult to visualize but frequent wildfire is its most acute effect, so the images are about creating a visual record of wildfire. I want to show the public how the drought is causing these fires to burn intensely. Maybe the images pique their interest in wild land fire, and they go learn more on their own. If a homeowner clears defensible space or conserves water after looking at my work, then the project is a success.

The Lake Fire burns in San Bernardino County Wednesday night and Thursday morning after coming back to life and burning thousands more acres. The fire was over 20,000 acres and 27% contained, down from 38% containment and smaller acreage the day before. Rim Rock was under a mandatory evacuation and Pioneertown was under a voluntary evacuation
Stuart PalleyThe Lake Fire burns in San Bernardino County.

The project originally started as a reaction against tired and cliché coverage of wildfire. News stations simply zoom in on the biggest flame and focus on the aircraft dropping flame retardant, and that’s what everyone sees. There’s an eerie beauty to the fires burning, and at the end of the day, it’s a natural process that I want to show. Perhaps I can create some order out of chaos.

Finally, I wanted to do things right, educate myself and receive training, and go onto the fire line with the men and women who risk their lives to save peoples homes and lives.

Olivier Laurent: This is dangerous work. What steps are you taking to make sure you’re not running into potential risks?

Stuart Palley: I take multiple precautions to ensure I mitigate risk as much as possible and stay safe. My first priority is to stay out of the way of fire crews actually fighting the fire.

It would be naïve to say that you can precaution away all risk, because at the end of the day we’re dealing with nature: Fire does what fire wants. It is important to sometimes take a step back since no picture is worth your life or an injury. Firefighters do a dangerous job and I’m just there as an observer. I can leave anytime I want, but they’re working on orders, so I have a tremendous respect for them.

For the fire line, I have audited basic wild land fire training, and I own the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required, including a new generation fire shelter, NFPA approved boots. I’ve been to about 40 wildfires at this point, and have been fortunate to learn from firefighters at each one.

Also, I have radios programmed with the frequencies used at fires, so I can monitor traffic and retain situational awareness at a fire should there be an adverse weather change. I have a colleague who is a fire captain with an agency, who, when off duty accompanies me to some fires to act as a liaison and guide. Its invaluable to have an expert with 25 years of experience teach me about fire behavior as it’s happening right in front of us.

Olivier Laurent: Tell me more about this particular fire. What’s your take on it?

Stuart Palley: Given the extreme drought conditions, the Lake Fire unfortunately burned intensely and spread quickly. I don’t think many firefighters were surprised by how fast and intensely the fire burned. Until the drought ends, or we get a miracle El Nino this winter, some fires will continue to burn like the Lake Fire across the west. In the last few days, destructive fires burned in Washington, and more than one million acres in Alaska were on fire.

The Lake Fire burned from the woods of the San Bernardino National Forest not far from Big Bear at 6,000 feet to the high desert near Pioneertown over many miles. Basically, wildland firefighters have come to expect this extreme fire behavior earlier and earlier in the summer in each successive season.

We are seeing fuel moisture levels, which is a way of measuring the amount of water in given types of trees and shrubs, plummet to levels seen in late August. This is due to the drought. Sixty percent is considered the “critical” threshold for fuels in the wild land firefighting world, and parts of the San Bernardino National Forest are already very near that level. This critical threshold is what we normally see in September-November when Santa Ana Winds historically have caused the worst fires in Southern California.

Further, the Bark Beetle, which ravaged forests in the west in the last decade, is hitting trees again across California Forests. An aerial survey by the US Forest Service in 2015 estimated tree mortality at around 12 million trees throughout the forests here, many probably due to bark beetle kill. Trees normally use sap to fight off bark beetles boring into their trunks, and when the trees are drought stressed, they do not have or produce enough sap to fight off the beetles. The bark beetles signal to other beetles to attack the same tree, and the tree succumbs to the infestation. This happens over and over again in the forest, essentially putting large candlesticks of dead, dry, wood, amongst living forest, creating explosive fire conditions.

Add to that triple digit heat when the Lake Fire started, and single digit humidity, and an ignition source in a hard-to-reach area, and you have the conditions for a large fire. The Lake Fire is nature taking its course in the face of extended drought, and until the drought ends, we will continue to see these types of fires.

Stuart Palley is a Los Angeles based photographer documenting wildfires, backroads and night skies. Follow him on Instagram @stuartpalley.

Follow TIME LightBox on Instagram @timelightbox.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

TIME Race

The Black-Church Fires in Southern States Are Not Connected, Authorities Say

Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina in this handout photo
Clarendon County Fire Department/Reuters Fire crews try to control a blaze at the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, S.C., on the night of June 30, 2015

At least seven black churches have burned in the past two weeks

Federal law-enforcement agencies have concluded that recent fires in black churches in the southeastern U.S. are unrelated.

“To date the investigations have not revealed any potential links between the fires,” Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman told Reuters.

The wave of fires began on June 21 with a fire at College Hill Seventh Day Adventist in Knoxville, Tenn., and continued across at least four states in the southeastern and central U.S. Three fires have been officially declared arson and at least two were deemed to have been the result of natural causes.

The most recent fire, at Mount Zion AME church in Greeleyville, S.C., on June 30, is among the latter. Investigators said they found no accelerants, one of the most common signs of arson, at the scene. A lightning-strike forensics report by CNN meteorologists shows four strikes close to the church, around 7 p.m.

“Investigators found no indicator of criminal intent,” State Law Enforcement Department spokesperson Kathryn Richardson said in a statement. “The investigation is complete.”

Mount Zion has burned down before, set aflame by the KKK in 1995 as part of a string of 30 suspicious fires at black churches across the south. This kind of fraught history is the foundation of continuing suspicions regarding the church fires, activist-writer David Love told CNN.

“It may not be arson now,” he said, “but people look at the cases where it actually did happen and feel, ‘It could happen again.'”

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

Another Black Church Burns in the South, the 8th in 10 Days

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches trended on Twitter throughout the week

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, a prominent African-American church in Greeleyville, S.C., caught fire late Tuesday. It is the eighth black church in the Southern U.S. to burn in 10 days.

Greeleyville, about 60 miles northwest of Charleston, S.C., has seen similar fires before, the Charleston Post and Courier reports. Mount Zion was burned to the ground by the KKK in 1995, part of a string of 30 fires in black churches that spanned two years.

An investigation into the fire’s cause will begin after it is safely extinguished, chief of the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division Mark Keel told the Post and Courier. He noted that the thunderstorm that pounded the town of 375 on Tuesday evening could have ignited the church. Meteorologist Pete Mohlin of the National Weather Service told the paper that there was a lot of lightning in the area around 7 p.m., but he could not say if it had caused the fire.

Parishioners across the South are surveying the damage that a string of similar fires has caused this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports, starting in Knoxville, Tenn., on June 21 and moving to Macon, Ga., and Gibson County, in Tennessee, on June 23; Charlotte, N.C., on June 24; Elyria, Ohio, on June 25; and Tallahassee, Fla., and Warrenville, S.C., on June 26.

Three of those fires have been ruled arson, one was determined to be caused by a falling branch and faulty wiring, and the others remain under investigation. Several have been blamed preliminarily on lightning; weather in the South this week has been turbulent.

State senator Cezar McKnight was on the scene as the fire continued to burn at 10 p.m. “South Carolina has been through a lot the last two weeks, and we’ve made the best of a terrible situation,” he said. “I would hate for this to be something somebody did on purpose to try to poison the love and fellowship.”

The Post and Courier recalled that then President Bill Clinton visited Mount Zion after it was rebuilt following the 1995 attack. His remarks at its dedication have resonance still:

“The men and women of Mount Zion have shown us the meaning of these words by refusing to be defeated and by building up this new church. Others have come together with you,” Clinton said on June 12, 1996. “The pastor told me he got contributions from all over the world to help to rebuild this church. In just a few days we’ll have a joyful noise coming out of this church … I want to ask every citizen, as we stand on this hallowed ground together, to help to rebuild our churches, to restore hope, to show the forces of hatred they cannot win.”

[Post and Courier]

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