Friday, July 21, 2017

States of Emergency in California and British Columbia from Raging Wildfires

Bob Henson · July 20, 2017, 3:38 PM

One of the largest evacuations in British Columbia history is underway, thanks to 155 wildfires—including fifteen major wildfires that threaten populated areas—that have forced more than 45,000 people from their homes.


The fires have created suffocating smoke in British Columbia and Alberta all week, causing dangerous levels of tiny particles known as PM2.5 (less than 2.5 microns or 0.0001 inch in diameter). PM2.5 pollution causes over 80,000 premature deaths each year in the United States.


Smoke from the fires has been transported over much of Canada and the U.S. this week, including Alaska. On Thursday morning, smoke from the fires was responsible for PM2.5 levels in the red “Unhealthy” range in central Montana and much of Alberta, including the city of Edmonton. According to the EPA, if sustained for 24 hours, this “red zone” air quality will cause increased aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease, and the elderly, and will also cause increased respiratory effects in the general population.


Detwiler Fire threatens California’s historic town of Mariposa

A state of emergency was declared on Wednesday in Mariposa County, including parts of Yosemite National Park, as the Detwiler Fire doubled in size in just one day to encompass roughly 46,000 acres on Wednesday. The fire had expanded to 70,000 acres by Thursday morning, with just 10% containment, and 45 structures had already been lost, according to CalFire. The Merced Sun-Star reported that more than 3100 firefighters were being coordinated from an incident command post at the Merced County Fairgrounds. In the crosshairs of the spreading fire on Thursday was Mariposa, a Gold Rush-era town of about 2000 residents and 4000 structures. The town was almost completely evacuated on Wednesday.

Thick smoke from the fire streamed into Yosemite, cutting visibility and raising air quality concerns. The Air Quality Index (AQI) reached “very unhealthy” levels by Wednesday night close to the fire. “Unhealthy” conditions extended northeast from the fire across the Reno, Nevada, area. An AQI in the unhealthy range can bring adverse effects to anyone, with those in sensitive groups at even greater risk.


The generous rains and mountain snows of the winter of 2017—so welcomed by people from California to Wyoming—are now proving to have been a double-edged sword. The moisture led to a growth spurt in the grasses and shrubs across rugged landscapes of the West that typically dry out in the summer. The exceptionally wet cool season has segued into a viciously hot, dry summer that’s turned the unusually lush landscape into fuel ripe for a fire.


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