TIME States

California Declares a State of Emergency as Wildfires Spread

"It's been an explosive couple of days"

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday in two northern counties as wildfires spread with explosive speed.

A fire in El Dorado County east of Sacramento more than doubled in size Wednesday night, from 44 square miles to 111 square miles, the Los Angeles Times reports, and was just 5% contained by Thursday morning. A separate fire in the northern Siskiyou County that started late Monday has damaged more than 150 structures, including a churches, and was about 65% contained.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. Thousands of firefighters are helping to tackle the blazes, which threaten some 4,000 homes.

Federal aid has been apportioned to cover the cost of fighting the fire that began Monday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request Wednesday for additional aid to combat the fire in El Dorado.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME indonesia

See Indonesia’s Mount Slamet Spew Lava and Ash

Mount Slamet spews lava and gas during its eruption as seen from Pandansari village in Brebes, Central Java, Indonesia on Sept. 18, 2014.
Mount Slamet spews lava and gas during its eruption as seen from Pandansari village in Brebes, Central Java, Indonesia on Sept. 18, 2014. Idhad Zakaria—AP

Authorities are prepared to evacuate thousands of people if the threat level rises

Indonesia’s Mount Slamet began spewing lava again Thursday morning after a four-day silence, sending ash tumbling down on nearby villages.

Authorities banned activity within four kilometers of the peak and are prepared to evacuate some 24,000 residents from seven villages with roughly four miles of the crater, the Associated Press reports.

The eruption Thursday followed a series of loud bangs and sent molten material as much as 3,000 feet above the peak, according to the Jakarta Post. Forests on the northern side of the volcano were destroyed.

The alert status has stood at level 3 since August—a level 4 alert, the highest, would prompt the evacuation, according to the Post. The volcano, one of about 130 across the country, last erupted in 2009.

TIME natural disaster

Yosemite Blaze Prompts Evacuation of 100 Visitors

California Wildfires
An air tanker drops fire retardant on a fire that was burning on a ridge northeast of Oakhurst, Calif., on Aug. 18, 2014 Eric Paul Zamora—AP

"We just got unbelievable crazy winds and unexpected hot conditions"

(YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CALIF.) — About 100 Yosemite National Park visitors were evacuated by helicopter Sunday when a wildfire that started weeks ago in the park’s backcountry grew unexpectedly to at least 700 acres, officials said.

Some of the evacuees included hikers who had climbed the park’s iconic Half Dome peak, rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said. Others had to be airlifted from campgrounds and hiking trails in the area, she said.

Firefighters had monitored and controlled the lightning-sparked fire that started several weeks ago between Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, Cobb said.

Strong winds and high temperatures ignited a spot fire on Sunday, and it rapidly grew.

“We just got unbelievable crazy winds and unexpected hot conditions,” Tim Ludington, the park’s chief of roads and trails, told the Fresno Bee. “The fire behavior totally changed.”

Several trails were closed, but roads into Yosemite remained open.

About 15 miles southwest of the park, firefighters were slowly gaining the upper hand on a wildfire near the town of Mariposa.

The 300-acre blaze was 70 percent contained, and an evacuation order already has been lifted for the 300 homes most threatened by the fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said. A portion of Highway 49, a main entrance into the park, was briefly closed.

The fire broke out Friday afternoon and threatened a total of 700 homes and five businesses.

Steep terrain in the area and the dry conditions brought on by California’s drought initially hampered firefighters, one of whom received a minor injury Friday, officials said.

Meanwhile, in far Northern California, firefighters increased their control over a blaze that broke out nearly a month ago and despite it growing to 151 square miles. U.S. Forest Service officials said Sunday that no structures have been damaged, and the fire was 30 percent contained.

The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department on Saturday night issued an evacuation advisory for an undetermined number of residents in a neighborhood newly threatened by the fire. The residents weren’t required to leave but advised to prepare to evacuate.

Forest Service officials estimate that $54.7 million has been spent and nearly 2,700 people used to fight the fire.

TIME natural disaster

Volcano Erupts in Papua New Guinea, Diverting Flights

PNG-VOLCANO
A photo taken on August 29, 2014, shows Mount Tavurvur erupting in eastern Papua New Guinea, spewing rocks and ash into the air, forcing the evacuation of local communities and international flights to be re-routed. Joyce Lessimanuaja—AFP/Getty Images

A volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea on Friday sent smoke and ash spewing high over the South Pacific island nation, leading some aircraft to alter their flight paths.

Mount Tavurvur on East New Britain Island erupted hours before dawn, a bulletin from the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said. There have been no reports of injuries…

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

TIME natural disaster

How 10 Seconds Could Save Lives During Earthquakes

Napa Area Businesses Continue Recovery Effort From Earthquake
A crack runs down the center of an earthquake-damaged street in Napa, Calif., on Aug. 26, 2014 Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

California eyes warning system after latest quake

Ten seconds could save your life. That’s the message from researchers developing an early-warning system in California that could eventually alert the public an earthquake is about to hit.

The research program, run by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in partnership with several California universities, is still in beta form, but was put to the test last weekend when an earthquake struck the Napa area. At the University of California, Berkeley, to the south, the system detected and sent out a warning signal to the scientists about six seconds before the tremor reached the area.

The technology behind the system uses sensors across the state that detect early waves from an earthquake before the main event strikes. While it’s not possible to issue warnings to those located right next to an earthquake epicenter, those further away could be warned seconds or even a minute in advance.

Doug Given, USGS’s early-earthquake-warning coordinator, says 10 seconds might not seem like a lot, but it could be enough for people to take cover before an earthquake hits and for public services and private industry to take precautionary steps. This might include systems that force elevators to let passengers off at the closest available floor and those that let first responders know they should open garage doors ahead of tremors so they can quickly begin search-and-rescue missions afterward. Given says other applications include letting hospitals know an earthquake is coming, so they can prepare doctors and patients. “If you’re in an MRI machine, you might want them to pull you out before it starts shaking hard,” says Given. Likewise, he says surgeons performing delicate operations — on eyes, for example — could have notice that their work is about to be interrupted.

“Imagine being a dental chair,” says Margaret Vinci, manager of the Office of Earthquake Programs for the California Institute of Technology, one of the colleges partnering with USGS. “Would you not want that dentist to pull that drill out of your mouth?”

Given and Vinci also say a statewide early-earthquake-warning system could tell rapid transit systems to slow trains to help prevent derailments. A similar alert program exists in earthquake-prone Japan, where earthquake warning alerts automatically slow bullet trains.

Japan and Mexico are two countries that already have the kind of earthquake-warning system California lacks. Devastating quakes in those countries prompted major public investments in such systems. As recently as April, residents in Mexico City had a full minute of warning before a 7.2-magnitude quake 170 miles away rocked the capital.

California’s program, though, is hobbled by lack of adequate funding, according to Given, who says the program needs an investment of $80 million over five years and about $12 million a year to maintain operations. California passed a law recently calling for a statewide early-earthquake-warning system to be set up, but did not provide funding. Given says the program currently includes about 400 sensors set up around the state, but needs at least double that figure for the warning system to be fully functional. “We hope we will be the first country that builds its system before the big earthquake rather than after,” Givens says.

Investments in the system itself wouldn’t include spending by local governments and private businesses that would need to establish response plans, and possibly automated systems, to take advantage of the USGS warnings. As for the public, earthquake warnings could be sent out via text message and through local television and radio stations, but that too requires advance planning and spending. Vinci says if the early-warning system was fully funded, it could be ready for public consumption in two years.

In the meantime, researchers involved in the project are asking public and private organization to test whether the alert system works and offer suggestions about how to improve it. Disneyland, the city of Long Beach and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system are among those serving as testers. Researchers are also studying which kinds of warning sounds and signals work best with the public. When activated, the existing system, which is called ShakeAlert and which runs on computers for those involved in the program or serving as beta testers, kicks in to tell users an earthquake is coming, how soon it will happen and how severe the shake will be. The warning includes a loud quick buzz with a speaker saying, ”Earthquake! Earthquake!”

“Right now the ShakeAlert we have now is kinda scary,” Vinci says.

TIME natural disaster

Damage from California Earthquake Could Top $1 Billion

6.0 Earthquake Rattles Northern California
A building is seen destroyed following a reported 6.0 earthquake on Aug. 24, 2014 in Napa, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Strongest to strike northern California in 25 years

The earthquake that struck northern California over the weekend is estimated to have caused at least $1 billion in damage and economic losses.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake was the strongest the area has experienced in 25 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS estimated the high economic loss from the widespread damage the quake caused. More than 60,000 Californians were left without power in the quake’s wake. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the effected area on Sunday, which includes Napa, Solano, and Sonoma counties.

The USGS said there is a 29% probability for a strong aftershock within the next week, though there is only a 5-10% chance that any aftershock will be stronger than the initial quake within the next week.

TIME natural disaster

Northern California Earthquake Leaves Area Devastated

The worst earthquake in California's Napa Valley in 25 years left scores injured and widespread damage in its wake

TIME natural disaster

Northern California’s Napa Valley Rocked By Strongest Earthquake in 25 Years

A 6.0 magnitude caused power outages and structural damage north of the Bay Area

Updated at 1:20 p.m.

At least 87 people were injured early Sunday morning after the largest earthquake to hit California’s Napa Valley in 25 years struck near the Bay Area.

The 6.0-magnitude quake struck at 3:20 a.m. local time near American Canyon, about 6 miles southwest of Napa, at a depth of 6.7 miles. The earthquake is the largest to strike the Napa Valley area since the Loma Prieta earthquake almost 25 years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a tweet:

A Northern California hospital treated more than 87 patients in the wake of the earthquake, the Associated Press reports. Three people were critically injured.

Widespread power outages in Napa and Sonoma were recorded and historic buildings in downtown Napa were damaged, CBS Local San Francisco reports. The town’s library and the historic Chinese laundry building were badly damaged, water mains had burst, and at least two homes were lit ablaze.

The foundation under Highway 37 was damaged between Interstate 80 and downtown Vallejo, and the road was shut down at Sonoma Boulevard to inspect for structural damage. A separate bridge entering American Canyon was damaged and will be closed.

Several injuries have been reported due to broken glass.

Governor Jerry Brown said Sunday morning that California had mobilized multiple resources to respond to the quake. Brown later declared a state of emergency following the quake.

“My Office of Emergency Services has been on full activation since early this morning and is working closely with state and local emergency managers, first responders and transportation officials to respond to impacts to residents and critical infrastructure,” Brown said. “These public safety officials are doing all they can to help residents and those living in affected areas should follow their guidance and instruction.”

Some California residents, meanwhile, made the best of the situation:

The USGS said that there is a 54% chance of a strong and possibly damaging aftershock in the next seven days, and a 5 to 10% chance that an earthquake of equal or even larger magnitude will strike in the next week. Weak aftershocks are likely in the coming days.

The causative fault of the earthquake is unknown, but the USGS said it suspected the Browns Valley section of the West Napa fault.

TIME natural disaster

Open Wide: These Sinkholes Swallowed Vehicles Whole

Hungry sinkholes have eaten a firetruck, a Corvette, and a bus

The Pittsburgh woman who lost her sedan to a sinkhole on Tuesday is not alone, as this slideshow reveals. Whether that’s comforting or disconcerting is for her to decide.

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