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wildfire

Wildfire Near Yosemite National Park Becomes California’s Largest This Year

Firefighters are continuing to battle against what is now the largest California wildfire this year, one that has forced thousands to evacuate while destroying 41 homes and other buildings near Yosemite National Park, according to officials.

Only 32% of the Oak Fire, had been contained as of Wednesday morning, while nearly 19,000 acres have been burned in the process. The attempts to control the fire, which originated on July 22 in Mariposa County, have been on both the ground and in the air, though there have been substantial challenges.

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According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — also known as Cal Fire — the smoke has been hampering the two dozen aircraft in use, while the steep and rugged terrain of the mountainous areas has made it inaccessible for bulldozers.

Due to those barriers, the over 3,000 personnel engaged were forced to cut lines along its perimeter by hand over the past weekend in order to prevent the fire from hitting neighboring communities in Mariposa, where a state of emergency has been declared.

Speaking to CNN, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jon Heggie commented on the wildfire’s uniquity, explaining it was demonstrating “unprecedented” behavior. “It’s moving extremely fast and the reaction time to get people out is limited because that fire is moving so fast,” Heggie said.

Helping to increase the fire’s intensity has been the prolonged drought much of the state has been experiencing. Heggie pointed to climate change being at the center of the environmental disaster.

“You can’t have a 10-year drought in California and expect things to be the same. And we are now paying the price for that 10-year drought and that climate change.”

According to officials, the smoke has drifted more than 200 miles — 322 kilometers — reaching parts of Lake Taho and the San Francisco Bay area. The smoke could help to cool temperatures that are forecasted to be in the upper 90s for the region, though the air quality remains extremely poor. According to Purple Air, air qualities throughout Mariposa range from 98 to 277.

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The fire has also uplifted many from their lives, with 6,000 residents from mountain communities being given evacuation orders. Still, victories are being found in the firefighters’ efforts, with Cal Fire Operations Section Chief Justin Macomb explaining those positives are helping to provide more optimism than in previous days.

“Firefighters are engaged 24 hours a day. They are giving it their best effort. I’m more optimistic today about what’s going to happen than I have been in previous days.”

According to Cal Fire’s incident archive, California has seen 4,679 total wildfire incidents in 2022, with over 53,100 acres burned.  The Oak Fire now makes up around 35% of the total acreage burned in the state.

However, while the burnage may seem substantial, The Sacramento Bee noted California is actually off to a slow start this year. Around this same period in 2021, California had over 204,000 total acres burned across 860 more wildfires.

However, due to the recent and still-expected low precipitation and heat waves, wildfires could soon become more persistent again.

Hail Storm

Golf Ball-Sized Hailstones Fall in Australia

Over the past several weeks, Australia has experienced extreme wildfires which threaten wildlife all over the continent and continue to this day. Now, another extreme weather event has befallen Australia, as golf ball-sized hailstones have fallen from the sky in Canberra, destroying vehicles and threatening human safety and property. The hail arrived alongside severe thunderstorms, which left two tourists in the hospital after they were struck by lightning. The hail has already caused serious damage in Australia; glasshouses in which studies on crop sustainability were being conducted were destroyed by the hail, ruining the scientific endeavors conducted in the building and leading the Insurance Council of Australia to declare the storms a “catastrophe.” 

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Given the apocalyptic nature of the wildfires that have destroyed large swaths of the country, the rain provided by the storms is welcome, but the destructive hail it brought only contributes to more misery in a country besieged by recent rare and extreme weather events. Unfortunately, such weather events are likely to continue throughout the coming years and decades, as scientists believe that the weather was made much more powerful by the effects of climate change, which will only worsen over the next century irrespective of whether humans eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions, which itself seems unlikely. The country’s Bureau of Meteorology warned of “giant” hailstones in advance of the storm, but it was impossible for people to prepare for the destruction that the hail wrought upon the city of Canberra and the surrounding areas. The hail injured a large number of birds, many of which were brought to vets by concerned passersby.

While the hailstorm lasted just thirty minutes, it badly damaged hundreds of cars and buildings, according to The Guardian. Fortunately, no deaths were reported, although two people were treated for minor injuries from the hail. As a result of the storm, 20,000 houses and buildings lost power in the south-east part of the country. The winds from the storm were so powerful that they ripped branches from trees and knocked over trees, in some cases causing people to be trapped in their cars on the road as felled trees blocked their path. Additionally, the National Museum of Australia experienced serious damage as the storm tore off part of the building’s roof, caused leaks in hallways, and damaged shade cloths, leading the building to close its doors. According to the Insurance Council of Australia, more than 11,000 claims have been filed in connection with the storm. 

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And as if these extreme weather events weren’t enough, the weather has also brought huge dust storms to the country, which were so powerful that they blocked out the sunlight. New South Wales was particularly affected, and citizens shared videos of the tremendous storms on social media, drawing significant attention online. People around the world have chipped in to help Australia in the aftermath of these wildfires; for instance, runners are participating in a virtual race for charity in order to raise money to benefit the country. With hope, calm weather will return to Australia soon, and the country will have a chance to recover. 

Man Running

Runners Coordinate to Support Australian Wildfire Relief Efforts

The historic and massive wildfires currently devastating Australia have inspired people around the world to raise money in order to aid in the relief efforts, as the resources necessary to combat the fires are overwhelming. The global running community is among those who are trying to help, as thousands of runners will participate in a virtual race taking place on January 18th and January 19th, with 100% of proceeds going towards relief efforts in Australia. The event, which anyone around the world with the Strava smartphone app can participate in, will consist of a 5k race and a half-marathon race, and the effort has already raised $345,000 with the event still more than a week away.

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The idea was born when Samantha Gash, a 35-year-old endurance athlete from Australia, was watching the destruction unfold on TV and felt compelled to help in any way she could. Though she contemplated simply donating to existing organizations, she ultimately decided her efforts would be more successful if she tapped into the fundraising potential of the running community. In order to participate in the virtual event, people must enter in advance on the organization’s website and contribute a minimum of $50. Because of the large number of runners expected to participate in the event, Gash is working directly with Strava, an app that bills itself as a social network for runners, to ensure that the races go off without a hitch.

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Thanks to the internet and the vast network of runners around the world wanting to pitch in to help Australia, the website reached dozens of countries, including the United States, New Zealand, and Germany within 48 hours of its launch. The organizers have already exceeded their wildest fundraising expectations, as their original goal was to raise just $20,000. Of course, you don’t have to be a runner to participate, as you can donate directly to relief efforts through the organization’s website even if you don’t plan to participate in the race.

 

Surfer at Beach

How Climate Change is Affecting the Australian Summer

The Australian summer is something that many around the world long to experience. Who would not want to spend the long warm days on the beach, surfing some of the world’s greatest waves while soaking up some sun? Or maybe staying at home and lounging around the pool in the backyard, inviting friends and family over for a barbecue. Such thoughts bring feelings of happiness and relaxation.

But the summer of the last few years has brought another feeling to the mix: fear. Due to the increasing number of bushfires – many close to homes, businesses, retailers and schools – residents, and therefore vacationers and tourists, are increasingly worrying about the threat of damage to their properties and lives.

2019 has seen higher numbers of bush fires than in previous years, with much of the country now living with a haze of smoke even if they are not directly affected by the fires. This last week has seen the town of Batemans Bay in New South Wales having to evacuate to the beach while the fires rip through their homes while many campgrounds around the continent have closed for the summer due to the “code red” conditions.

Australia – as well as many other countries across the world – has seen its summers increase in temperatures over the years, however the link between the current conditions as well as anthropogenic climate change is immense.

So far over 5 million hectares of land have been lost. Compare this to the estimated 906,000 hectares that were lost in the Amazon Rainforest earlier in the year. It is staggering that there has not been more coverage – or more help provided from the rest of the world.

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And it is not just land that has been devastated. So far there have been eighteen deaths, including firefighters, as well as the enormous amount of wildlife that has been lost. Figures currently estimate there have been around 500 million animals that have died with 30 percent of the koala population wiped out.

Australia sees higher temperatures in January and February, so these statistics are only going to get worse causing many to call on the government for more support.

However, while Australia sees bushfires every year making it the continent most likely to burn, what has made this year so bad? As with all fires, bushfires need specific resources to grow – dry fuel, weather conditions and ignition. And thanks to the effects climate change is having on the weather and fuel, the fires are becoming bigger and occur more often and for longer.

Scientists have been warning us that the world is getting warmer each year, with Australia increasing in temperature by one degree Celsius throughout the last 100 years, and this has caused a change in the intensity, as well as the frequency, of their heat waves.

The increase in the temperatures has caused an increase in evaporation, drying the fuel and soil load. Over ten years ago the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – came to the conclusion that the continuing anthropogenic climate change would increase how often Australia would experience fires. They also predicted that these fires would increase in intensity.

With the rising temperatures continuing to dry out the environment, they can be reduced by precipitation or by increasing the vegetation, which can improve humidity.

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However Australia’s southern states have seen a considerable decrease in rainfall, with the southwest seeing a decrease of nearly twenty per cent in the last forty years. The southeast has also seen a decrease of eleven percent of rainfall since the 1990s.

While there are many factors contributing to the drop in rainfall the positive trend in the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) is one of the biggest. The change has seen the westerly winds across the Southern Ocean to move south towards Antarctica, meaning the rain-bearing cold fronts are bypassing southern Australia.

Scientists have also blamed the trend of anthropogenic climate change for increasing the trend in the SAM.

These changes have played a significant role in why the 2019-2020 summer has been so intense, however southeast Australia has been suffering from a drought for the last three years having not seen any winter rain since 2017, which has not happened in Australia’s history before – not even when they experienced their ten year droughts including the Millennium Drought.

And with large areas of vegetation unable to survive the wet rain forests are drying out, meaning areas that would not normally see fires are starting to burn.

This year also saw one of the most severe positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) events which saw the cold sea-surface temperatures putting a halt to one of the biggest resources of moisture for Australia. When these events happen Australia usually experiences a longer fire season and the positive IOD events are another aspect of global warming as they are occurring more often.

With many Australians accusing their government of not doing enough to stop climate change – and many not even acknowledging that it is an issue – it is hard to see that these fires will start to reduce. And that is not good for anyone anywhere.