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 natural disaster

7 Quakes Hit Oklahoma in Less Than a Day

Oil Drilling Earthquakes
Sue Ogrocki—AP Computer screens displaying data of real-time monitoring of seismic activity throughout the state of Oklahoma are pictured at the Oklahoma Geological Survey at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., Thursday, June 26, 2014. Earthquakes that have shaken Oklahoma communities in recent months have damaged homes, alarmed residents and prompted lawmakers and regulators to investigate what's behind the temblors — and what can be done to stop them.

The biggest temblor clocked in at 4.3 on the Richter scale

Oklahoma was rocked by seven small earthquakes in a span of about 14 hours over the weekend, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Three quakes hit between Saturday evening and Sunday morning, centered in the areas of Guthrie, Jones and Langston, and ranging between 2.6 and 2.9 in magnitude. They followed four larger temblors earlier on Saturday, including one near Langston shortly after noon that clocked in at 4.3 on the Richter scale.

TIME History

Zsa Zsa Among the Ruins: Remembering the Bel Air Fire of 1961

Fire will always be a part of the natural order of things -- something to keep in mind if we insist on living among the flames.

In November 1961, scorching Santa Ana winds fueled a fire that claimed nearly 500 homes in one of California’s wealthiest communities. LIFE magazine covered the “Bel Air Fire” and reported on residents of the neighborhood — Maureen 0’Hara, Fred MacMurray, Richard Nixon, Zsa Zsa Gabor (seen here with legendary LIFE editor, Dick Stolley) — dealing with the threat from, and the aftermath of, the flames. The article, “A Tragedy Trimmed in Mink,” describes the destruction of the ritzy neighborhood: “It was probably the poshest exodus since the fall of the czars sent the Russian nobles fleeing.”

Well before Bel Air housed the rich and famous, however, it was a chaparral-filled foothill and canyon along the Santa Monica Mountains. The smoky air and frequent fires in the Los Angeles basin reportedly astounded Spanish settlers. But fire is hardly an unmitigated disaster for environments in the American West, and environmental scientists understand the importance of wildfires, seeing them as natural and as necessary as rain.

Humans, of course, often choose to live in fire-prone landscapes. Countless post-WWII suburbs were developed on land once considered impossibly remote and isolated. Rather than distancing themselves from nature, suburbanites sought to live within it — but in a muted way.

Fire will always be a part of the natural order — something to keep in mind if we insist on living among the flames.

Jameson Karns, a former firefighter, is a doctoral student at UC Berkeley’s History of Science Department, where he studies Fire Science.

TIME natural disaster

Watch: Giant Colorado Mudslide Leaves 3 Missing

Collapsed ridge is thought to be four miles long and two miles wide

Rescue teams in western Colorado are searching for three people missing after a four-mile long mudslide in Mesa County.

The mud is thought to be 250ft deep in places, the Associated Press reports, after an entire ridge collapsed in the wake of heavy rainfall.

The area is extremely remote, and authorities said it was unlikely any structures had been swallowed by the mudslide. The nearest major road, the I-70, is around 26 miles away from the area and not in any danger.

TIME natural disaster

San Diego Wildfire Destruction Could Reach 30,000 Acres

California wild fires
Stuart Palley—EPA A longtime exposure shows smoldering remains of overnight fires on the hillsides of San Marcos, San Diego county, Calif., May 16, 2014.

Only one of the seven major blazes in the outskirts of San Diego had been fully contained by early Saturday, and the rest are expected to spread further — though cooler, more humid weather will help in the fight to extinguish the fires

San Diego residents began returning home Saturday even as some of the worst early-season wildfires in California’s history continued to carve a swathe of destruction along the city’s drought-wasted outskirts, threatening to engulf up to 30,000 acres of land.

The dozen or so fires that raged in the less populated areas around California’s second-largest city had desolated more than 26,000 total acres of land, or 40 square miles by early Saturday, Cal Fire Capt. Richard Cordova told TIME. Only one of the seven major blazes had been fully contained, and the rest are expected to spread further.

A fire that began on Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook on Wednesday had affected over 6,500 acres and a separate fire first reported Thursday—the “Las Pulgas” fire—engulfed 15,000 acres.

A total of 11 single-family homes in San Diego county and 25 structures of the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association have been destroyed so far in the 2,520-acre Cocos fire, based on a damage assessment late Friday by local authorities. Dozens of home have been swallowed up over the course of the week.

An unusually harsh drought this season, along with hot, arid winds from the east have made the region particularly susceptible to fire, said Cordova, exacerbating the risk of the region’s 10-year fire cycle, which lands this year.

“We get extreme fire behavior every 10 years and the drought doesn’t help. This is very odd for the month of May to have these types of fires,” Cordova said.

Parts of the county were reopened for residents after some of the worst fires were quelled, with sections of San Marcos and the Del Dios corridor around Lake Hodges, but much of the area remained closed as the fire continued to burn actively with strong winds.

Up to 125,000 people have been forced to leave their homes, Reuters reports.

Authorities were investigating how so many fires started at the same time and whether they were intentionally set. Two teenagers were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of setting two small fires that bystanders quickly extinguished. A 57-year-old man was also charged with arson Friday in connection with a fire near the suburban area of Oceanside.

The fire erupted Wednesday near the town of San Marcos after the worst drought season since the federal government began monitoring levels in 2000.

Local firefighters are working closely with the U.S. military and national guard this year, who will deploy aid within 24 hours, faster than the four to five days of previous years, the Cordova said.

The fire could burn as much as 30,000 acres but cooler, more humid weather over the next few days will help firefighting efforts.

TIME natural disaster

San Diego Wildfires Leave Haunting, Burned-Out Landscapes

At least twelve separate fires raged through 20,000 acres of land in San Diego County, Calif. this week, leaving scorched hillsides and piles of ashes where houses once stood. Most blazes were under control Saturday, with at least one man charged with arson for starting a fire

TIME weather

Entire State of California Facing Worst Drought Since Tracking Began

California Drought
Marcio Jose Sanchez—AP Cracks in the dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir in Cupertino, Calif., on March 13, 2014.

The entire state of California is suffering the most intense drought since the federal government began monitoring drought levels in 2000. Wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, in an “unprecedented” intensity, climatologist Mark Svoboda said

The entire state of California is facing a “severe” drought or worse for the first time since tracking began in 2000, according to the federal U.S. Drought Monitor.

The level of drought in the state, where wildfires in the south have burned down at least 30 homes, is “unprecedented” over the past decade and a half, climatologist Mark Svoboda, from the National Drought Mitigation Center, which runs the monitor based out of Nebraska, told USA Today.

Nearly a quarter of the state is facing an “exceptional” drought, the worst possible categorization, including the entire Bay Area. Another half of the state, including Los Angeles and San Diego, is in the midst of an “extreme” drought, while the remainder of the state is in the midst of a “severe” drought, the third most dire category.

[USA Today]

TIME weather

The Scariest Picture You’ll See All Day: A ‘Firenado’

FIRENADO TEARS THROUGH MISSOURI FIELD
Janae Copelin—Barcroft Media/Landov A 'firenado' tears through a field in Chillicothe, Missouri on May 3, 2014. Part fire, part tornado this blazing twister was spotted by Missouri native Janae Copelin while out driving.

Bill Paxton never could have predicted this

You thought the highly underrated 1996 action movie Twister taught you everything there was to know about tornadoes, but you were wrong. Meet the firenado, which is exactly what it sounds like: a tornado that sucks up surrounding fire, creating a swirling, burning cone of disaster. The above firenado was captured on Instagram by Janae Copelin in Chillicothe, Missouri. No injuries were reported.

TIME Environment

Obama to Arkansas Tornado Survivors: Your Country Is Here For You

Barack Obama Vilonia, Arkansas Tornado
Susan Walsh—AP President Barack Obama tours tornado-damaged areas and talks with Daniel Smith and his sons Garrison Dority and Gabriel Dority in Vilonia, Ark. on May 7, 2014.

President Barack Obama toured areas in Arkansas on Wednesday that were destroyed by forceful tornadoes in late April, promising support to residents: "Your country is going to be here for you"

President Obama told residents of an Arkansas town blasted by tornadoes in late April that the federal government will have their backs throughout the rebuilding process.

“Your country is going to be here for you,” Obama said during a press conference Wednesday. The President spent Wednesday touring areas destroyed by severe weather including Vilonia, Ark. just outside of Little Rock. The April 27 storms killed 15 and left hundreds of homes ruined.

On Wednesday, Obama praised the people of Arkansas for their strength in his promises to provide support. “Folks here are tough,” Obama said. “They look out for one another … that’s been especially true this past week.”

TIME Japan

Strong Quake Rattles Tokyo but Few Injuries Reported

Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013.
Kimimasa Mayama—EPA Japan's highest peak of Mt. Fuji and Shinjuku skyscrapers in central Tokyo, on Dec. 16, 2013.

A 6.2-magnitude earthquake centered 100 miles south of Tokyo shook the Japanese capital early on Monday; however, no deaths or major damage have been reported in the tremor’s wake

A powerful earthquake rattled the nerves of Tokyo residents in the early hours of Monday morning, but failed to cause any substantial damage.

Local authorities reported that at least 17 people were injured as a result of the 6.2-magnitude earthquake, according to the Associated Press.

Japan’s national broadcaster NHK reported that Monday’s quake was the strongest seismic convulsion to shake the capital since powerful aftershocks hit Tokyo in the wake of the massive 2011 earthquake that struck off the country’s northeast coast.

[AP]

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