Thursday, 14 September 2017

Wildfires in the American West - the most underreported story in mainstream media

Map: where Western wildfires have made the air outside too dangerous to breathe
Particulates from smoke have drastically impacted air quality in areas of several states



13 September, 2017


Unusually bad wildfires have been blazing in the Western United States, leaving areas across Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming choking on harmful levels of smoke and shrouded in a cloudy haze.

Fire officials anticipate some relief this week as a weather system is expected to bring rain to some of the smoldering states. But the fires will also continue to burn through dry woodlands.


A map of large fires across the United States. National Interagency Fire Center

We’re expecting another day or two of warm conditions that could keep the fires a little bit active, particularly across the Northwest and the Rockies, and also some breezy conditions in Montana that are pushing fires around,” said Ed Delgado, the national program manager for predictive services at the National Interagency Fire Center.

On Wednesday, NIFC was reporting 62 large fires across nine Western states that had already taken about 1.6 million acres. And 2017 is on track to be one of the worst years for wildfires in the US on record, with a total of 8.1 million acres burned as of September 13 — already well above the annual to-date average of 6 million acres for the past decade.

For residents of some areas of California, Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Montana, the worst threat from the fires is lingering poor air quality that may take up to a week to disperse. You can use this map to zoom in on which towns have it worst.

The Environmental Protection Agency measures the harm from wildfires with its Air Quality Index, as shown here in this live map.
The math is a little convoluted, but the index allows regulators to make apples-to-apples comparisons of health risks across different pollutants like ozone and sulfur dioxide.
The six categories for the Air Quality Index range from “good” (“It’s a great day to be outside.”) to “hazardous” (“Avoid all physical activity outdoors.”). As you can see, air in some parts of Montana reached that worst-case, “hazardous” level during some of the more intense wildfires last week. Here’s the map from September 6:
Air quality in the West on September 6, one of the worst days for wildfires in 2017.

Unfortunately, smoke from wildfires poses a threat even in small quantities, and can cause harm even to people hundreds of miles away from the nearest flames.
Wildfires can loft bits of dust and carbon into the jet stream, but health hazards emerge when the local weather conditions bring these particles back down to ground level, which is why specific local air quality monitoring and forecasts are so important.

The town of Seeley Lake, Montana, about 50 miles from Missoula, suffered some of the highest pollution levels as blazes raged.

Seeley Lake, Montana, had extremely dangerous air quality levels on September 6.

Bordered by the Swan and Mission mountain ranges, Seeley Lake’s geography traps dirty air over the town’s 1,600 residents.

The smallest particles are the biggest concern.

EPA regulates PM2.5, which refers to particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less. Wildfires directly create these particles as they torch plains and forests.

Generally, we think that the smaller it is, the more likely it is to make you sick,” said Jia Coco Liu, a postdoctoral researcher studying air quality after disasters at Johns Hopkins University.

These particles penetrate deep into lungs causing inflammation, asthma attacks, and over the long-term, cancer.

Even in tiny concentrations, measured in micrograms per cubic meter, particulates can increase visits to the emergency room, especially for the elderly and people with chronic breathing problems.

My research shows that when pollution is very high, over 37 [micrograms per cubic meter],we start to see health consequences,” Liu said.

Even on September 12, the Seeley Lake air monitoring station was reporting an off-the-charts spike in air pollution and an average particulate count of 214.6 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours.

Seeley Lake monitors detected a surge in particulates on September 12. Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Officials don’t have many options to help people get fresh air under smoke and haze. “Other than staying indoors, it’s pretty hard to do, because you can’t stop breathing,” Liu said.

Overall, this fire season is far worse than officials expected. "We had a very wet winter and spring, but that was pretty much erased in July when we had a very strong heat wave in the West that dried this out very, very quickly," Delgado said.

As average temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, health officials are bracing for more wildfires scorching wider swaths of Western lands, leading to more coughing, wheezing, heart attacks, and deaths.

But on Tuesday fire officials had at least some good news to share for the regions blanketed by smoke: Almost half of ongoing wildfires didn’t gain any ground on Monday.

Basically, it’s late in the year, so generally we're in the wind-down mode,” Delgado added.



'Looks a bit like hell': Wildfire destroys Alberta ranch

Jim Garner barely managed to escape wildfire that has forced hundreds to flee in southwestern Alberta


Jim Garner lost his house and barn at the Rocking Heart Ranch on the border of Waterton Lakes National Park. His family and their horses made it to safety.


A rancher in southwestern Alberta is thankful for the clothes on his back — and four horses who managed to escape a locked barn — after getting 20 minutes' notice to flee the wildfire that reduced his home and business of 31 years to blackened rubble.

The blackened rubble of Jim Garner's home and business for 31 years, tucked between Waterton Lakes National Park and a river, still smouldered Tuesday. Nearby, planes dropped water on a fire that keeps growing.



Dahr Jamail | Welcome to the New World of Wildfires


  • The Pacific Northwest has been engulfed in wildfire smoke from Montana, British Columbia, Eastern Washington and Oregon for much of this summer. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)The Pacific Northwest has been engulfed in wildfire smoke from Montana, British Columbia, Eastern Washington and Oregon for much of this summer. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

When one envisions the US Pacific Northwest, one thinks of green ferns, moss-covered trees in Olympic National Park, or the Hoh Rainforest, where annual rainfall is measured in the hundreds of inches. Moisture, greenery, evergreens, abundant rivers. It's a large part of the reason why I live here.

But thanks to abrupt anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), this region is shifting at a rapid pace. On the Olympic Peninsula where I live, this has been the summer of wildfire smoke.

As I write this, Puget Sound, Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula, are all engulfed by thick wildfire smoke and ash from fires burning in Eastern Washington and Montana. A local Seattle weatherman remarked that he had "never seen a situation like this."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency for his entire state on Saturday September 2.

Smoke from various wildfires has been a near-constant in this part of the country for the past month. Roughly a week ago, we were enshrouded by smoke from multiple wildfires across Oregon, and before that, we spent nearly two weeks breathing in thick smoke from the over 1,000 wildfires that scorched British Columbia up the coast from us.

Stepping outside, the world appears a surreal yellow. The sun varies from not being visible, to emerging as a yellowish orange bulb even during the middle of the day. When it sets, it has often appeared blood red through the thick smoke.
NASA satellite photos show the smoke plume even reaching the East Coast.

Given past and recent scientific reports, this is apparently the world we, and much of the rest of the United States, had better prepare to live in from now on.


To read this story GO HERE


'The fire is out of control': Southwestern Alberta wildfire quadruples insize in 2 days

Hundreds of people forced to leave as fire surges beyond borders of Waterton Lakes National Park



This map of the Kenow wildfire in southwestern Alberta and B.C. was released by the Alberta government at about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. The yellow area shows the fire perimeter as of Monday, while the red area shows where it had spread to by Tuesday night. (Government of Alberta)


The Kenow wildfire raging through southwestern Alberta has reached 42,000 hectares in size, according to the latest fire map released by Parks Canada, as it burned its way into the townsite in Waterton Lakes National Park and forced hundreds of people to flee.

A release sent out Tuesday evening by Parks Canada said 33,000 hectares were burning in Alberta, with the remainder of the fire just across the border in southeastern B.C., where the fire started after a lightning strike nearly two weeks ago.

Measured at just over 11,000 hectares on Monday morning, the blaze has quadrupled in size over the last two days.

"The fire is out of control," said wildfire information officer Leslie Lozinski at a news conference.


"It is classified as 'out of control' and it will probably remain out of control for sometime until we see a significant change in the fire behaviour," she added.



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