Concerns about public safety in L.A.

Luke 21:11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

Important Takeaways:

  • More than 1,000 L.A.-area police officers, firefighters, paramedics ill or home quarantining due to COVID
  • More than 500 employees of the Los Angeles Police Department — including 416 sworn officers
  • The Los Angeles Fire Department had 201 employees out due to the coronavirus
  • Sheriff’s Department had 552 employees out, including 389 sworn deputies
  • A spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti called it an “unprecedented surge”

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New York prepares for fallout from vaccine mandate resisted by many police, firefighters

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York woke up on Monday to its first full workday under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s order that all city workers be vaccinated for COVID-19, with many police officers and firefighters still refusing the shot and one labor leader calling the mandate a recipe for disaster.

De Blasio, a Democrat who announced the mandate less than two weeks ago, has assured the city of 8.8 million people that officials could handle any shortage of police, firefighters or sanitation workers through schedule changes and overtime.

“Another great uptick to report. @FDNY EMS vaccine rates are up to 87%,” Danielle Filson, a press deputy for de Blasio, tweeted on Sunday night.

The percentage of inoculated police officers and firefighters is below that of other city employees, and union leaders say de Blasio will be to blame if emergency services are left in disarray in the largest U.S city.

“We need everyone we can to keep the city running and keep it safe. We’re trying to avoid what is going to be an inevitable disaster by design on Monday morning,” Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, told a news conference on Friday.

Union leaders say their members were given only nine days to comply with the mayor’s vaccination deadline and that workers who have already been ill with COVID-19 should be granted an exemption. That includes some 70% of firefighters, Ansbro said.

The dispute is the latest nationwide over vaccine mandates that have been increasingly imposed by political leaders, including President Joe Biden, to help stem the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Police officers and firefighters in Chicago and Los Angeles have also pushed back hard.

New York City health officials say that while research has yet to determine the degree and length of immunity from COVID-19 following an infection and illness, experts agree that vaccines can afford additional protection.

De Blasio has forecast that vaccination rates for city workers would continue to rise significantly.

The mayor said similar deadlines for other New York state and city workers prompted a rush for last-minute shots as reality set in that paychecks were about to stop coming.

Legal challenges by police and fire unions in New York City and elsewhere have so far been unsuccessful, with state and federal courts reluctant to overturn vaccine mandates.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Trevor Clifford in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)

As vaccination mandate looms, New York City prepares for shortage of cops, others

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City officials on Friday were preparing for shortages of firefighters, police officers and other first responders as a showdown looms between the city and its unvaccinated uniformed workforce, who face a 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) deadline to be immunized.

Leaders of unions representing firefighters and police officers have said more than one-third of their members could be sent home on unpaid leave when enforcement of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate takes effect on Monday.

“If you’re going to take a third of the ambulances off-line, if you’re going to take a third of the engine companies off-line, you’ll without question increase response times and increase the rate of death,” Uniformed Firefighters Association Andrew Ansbro told NY1 TV on Friday.

But Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced the mandate nine days ago, said officials were prepared to manage any staffing gaps with overtime and schedule changes and by enlisting private ambulance companies to cover for the city’s paramedics.

Discussing those moves with reporters on Thursday, the mayor pointed out that the city also faced staffing shortages last year when many first responders were infected with the coronavirus.

The dispute in the United States’ most populous city was the latest chapter in a series of clashes across the country over public and private vaccination mandates.

New York City uniformed workers, including sanitation workers, have staged several protests this week, including one on Thursday at the mayor’s official residence. Many have said consideration should be given for the so-called natural immunity of those who have had COVID, which the firefighters’ union says includes 70% of its members.

City health officials have said that while research has yet to determine the degree of immunity that previous COVID infections yield, it is widely agreed that vaccines increase protection – even for those who have been infected.

De Blasio said only 76% of the uniformed workers facing the mandate deadline have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, as compared with 86% of city workers overall. Within that group, he said the lowest rate was among Fire Department employees at 64%, while nearly three-quarters of police employees have complied.

He stressed, however, that he expects those rates to rise significantly by Monday.

The mayor pointed to earlier mandate deadlines for other New York state and city workers that prompted a rush for last-minute vaccinations by healthcare and education workers as the reality set in that their paychecks were about to stop coming.

“And then suddenly it becomes really clear what they have to do,” de Blasio told reporters on Thursday.

By the time a vaccination requirement for state healthcare workers kicked in on Sept. 27, Governor Kathy Hochul reported that 92% of hospital employees had gotten at least one dose and 85% were fully vaccinated, up from 77% a month earlier.

Thousands of city teachers and other school employees also waited until the final days before an Oct. 1 deadline, de Blasio said, with 96% of the them currently vaccinated.

Police and fire unions have filed lawsuits against the mandate. The Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York, which represents 24,000 police officers, lost a bid earlier this week for a court order to halt the deadline, but has taken its request to a state appeals court where it is still pending.

The courts have generally not been sympathetic to efforts to block vaccine mandates.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor rejected a request by four teachers and teaching assistants to block the city’s Oct. 1 mandate for school workers. And Justice Amy Coney Barrett in August denied a bid by Indiana University students to block that school’s vaccine mandate.

In Chicago, a federal judge was expected to rule on Friday on a request by a group of firefighters and other city workers for a court order to halt vaccine mandates ordered by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, both Democrats.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. states enlist medical, nursing students to give out COVID-19 vaccine

By Tina Bellon and Melissa Fares

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. states, facing a backlog in administering coronavirus vaccines, are asking medical and nursing students, and even firefighters, to help give the shots and free up healthcare workers battling a raging pandemic at overcrowded hospitals.

At least seven state health departments are seeking volunteers for their vaccination sites, some partnering with local universities or nursing schools to offer incentives such as tuition discounts and hands-on training. Others are teaching first responders to administer shots.

The national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines are the best hope to end a pandemic that has cost the lives of more than 320,000 Americans and crippled the U.S. economy.

This month, U.S. regulators authorized the first two COVID-19 vaccines, one from drugmakers Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE and another from Moderna Inc.

As of Wednesday, nearly 10 million doses have been delivered across the country, but only about 1 million administered due to staffing shortages at hospitals and the special requirements for preparing the shots. The slow pace of the vaccination campaign threatens the federal government’s goal of inoculating nearly 20 million people by year’s end.

While inoculation is currently focused on frontline healthcare workers, the vaccination drive is expected to expand to tens of millions of essential industry workers beginning in January or February.

From New York to Tennessee, states are hoping medical and nursing students will free up medical staff focused on tending to the record numbers of new COVID-19 patients.

“Being able to staff vaccination clinics with volunteers from our reserve workforce means that staff at the vaccination sites can continue to perform their normal duties, which is crucial as our hospitalization rate has increased,” said a spokeswoman for Indiana University’s School of Medicine.

‘STRIKE BACK AGAINST COVID’

As the first vaccines arrived, Indiana health officials called on the state university because of its far-reaching campuses. More than 630 of Indiana University’s medical and nursing students have signed up as volunteers and receive 90 minutes of online and hands-on training.

Fourth-year medical student Nicholas Clough began administering COVID-19 vaccines to frontline healthcare workers last Wednesday. He has lost several family members during the pandemic.

“It finally felt like it was a real, tangible strike back against COVID,” said Clough, 26.

The University of Wisconsin is offering a $500 tuition credit to students with medical credentials working at understaffed hospitals during the winter break, including administering vaccines.

The university is also talking to government officials to turn universities into vaccine distribution hubs, a spokesman said.

In California, fire department paramedics have been trained to administer the vaccine, initially to fellow employees.

“They have already received online training and will have another one-hour live training session,” said Peter Sanders, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, which expected its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday.

Michigan has set up a volunteer registry allowing officials and hospitals to recruit help for upcoming vaccine clinics.

“We encourage all medical and nursing students to register now so they will be ready when their assistance is needed!” a health department spokeswoman said.

Other states are not actively recruiting nursing students. A spokeswoman for Georgia’s health department said the state might do so later, as the vaccine becomes more widely available to the public.

Depending on state licensing laws, medical and nursing students are allowed to administer vaccines, often under supervision of a fully-licensed professional.

Facing a shortage of vaccinators, the Association of Immunization Managers, a nonprofit representing state and local health officials, recommends relaxing regulation or adjusting licensing requirements.

At least two states, Massachusetts and New York, have changed their laws in recent weeks to expand those who are eligible to give shots.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 13 allowed medical, nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, podiatric and midwifery students to administer flu and COVID-19 shots under supervision.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon and Melissa Fares in New York; Additional reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Aurora Ellis)

Napa Valley wineries menaced by wildfire, as second California blaze kills three

By Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam

CALISTOGA, Calif. (Reuters) – Firefighters in Northern California on Tuesday struggled to make headway against two fast-moving, destructive wildfires, one threatening towns and wineries in Napa Valley and another that killed three people in the Cascade foothills closer to the Oregon border.

The three fatalities in the so-called Zogg Fire that erupted on Sunday in Shasta County, about 200 miles (322 km) north of San Francisco, were reported Monday evening by the local sheriff. As of Tuesday there were still no details on how or when they perished.

All three were civilians, and their deaths brought to 30 the number of people killed since January – 29 of them just over the past six weeks – in what now stands as the worst year on record for California wildfires in terms of acreage burned

Farther south, the Glass Fire also raged for a third day in wine country, where it destroyed the popular mansion-like Chateau Boswell winery Sunday night and a building at the Castello di Amorosa winery, whose landmark architecture was inspired by a 13th-century Tuscan castle, on Monday.

But wine industry officials said the longer-term ramifications of the Glass Fire and a spate of other blazes that came before it is likely to be a 2020 vintage of diminished volume because of grapes spoiled by heavy exposure to smoke.

Some 80,000 people have been placed under evacuation orders in the middle of harvest season, including all 5,300 residents of Calistoga, a resort town known for its hot springs and mud baths and the site of the Castello di Amorosa complex.

Although both fires were still zero-percent contained, calmer winds could give firefighters an edge on Tuesday despite continuing above-normal heat and low humidity, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, officials said.

The Zogg fire, burning near the town of Redding, has destroyed 146 structures and charred more than 40,000 acres (16,180 hectares) of grassy hillsides and oak woodlands thick with dense, dry scrub. About 15,000 structures were listed as threatened, and 2,200 residents were under evacuation orders or advisories.

After merging with three other blazes, the Glass Fire had spread across more than 42,000 acres (16,990 hectares) in Napa and Sonoma counties, incinerating at least 80 homes and 32 other structures, according to Cal Fire.

Napa Valley residents Matthew Rivard and Amanda Crean parked their car by a sign reading “Welcome to the World Famous Wine Growing Region” on Monday night and watched flames surround the Schramsberg Vineyards, known for its sparkling wines.

WINE COUNTRY HAVOC

A short distance to the northwest, flames destroyed a farmhouse containing a wine-storage chamber, a fermentation room, a bottling facility and offices at the Castello di Amorosa winery, but its distinctive castle complex and tasting room remained unscathed, Chief Executive Georg Salzner said.

The majority of its wine supply, about 100,000 cases stored elsewhere, remained safe, he said. The owner, Dario Sattui, had hurried to the complex before dawn on Monday to find the castle surrounded by flames and called for help, Salzner told Reuters.

“The main building, which was not affected, might have burned down too if it hadn’t been for the firefighters,” he said.

In the heart of Calistoga, the evacuation left its main street, known for boutiques and tasting rooms, looking like a ghost town, according to a Reuters photographer.

As of Wednesday, no wineries were reported to have burned in neighboring Sonoma County, though a “couple of outbuildings and accessory buildings” were damaged, said Michael Haney, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners trade group.

The Glass Fire struck midway through the traditional grape-harvesting season in Napa and Sonoma counties, both world-renowned among California’s wine-producing regions and still reeling from a cluster of large wildfires earlier this summer.

The full effect on the region’s wine business remained to be seen. But Haney said vintners would likely scale back production of certain wines due to smoke exposure to grapes still on the vines when the fires struck.

“I do know there are wineries saying we have been impacted and we won’t be making as much wine,” he said. Several Napa Valley growers said recently they would forgo a 2020 vintage altogether due to smoke contamination of their crop.

The blazes in Shasta County and wine country marked the latest flashpoints in a destructive spate of wildfires this summer across the U.S. West.

California fires have scorched over 3.8 million acres (1.5 million hectares) since January – far exceeding any single year in state history. They have been stoked by increasingly frequent and prolonged bouts of extreme heat, high winds and dry-lightning sieges that scientists attribute to climate change.

More than 7,000 homes and other structures have burned statewide this year.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam; Additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay and Steve Gorman; Editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

Crews make headway against massive California wildfire

By Mimi Dwyer

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters notched a victory in their battle to beat back a massive blaze raging outside Los Angeles, more than doubling containment in the past 24 hours, the U.S. Forest Service said on Wednesday.

The Bobcat Fire, which has been burning in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles since Sept. 6, was 38% contained as of Wednesday morning, John Clearwater, USFS spokesperson for Angeles National Forest, said in an email update.

The fire has so far burned more than 113,000 acres but remained relatively stable overnight. The flames were 17% contained on Tuesday.

The Bobcat Fire, one of the largest and most dangerous fires in recorded Los Angeles history, is just one element stoking the worst fire season California has seen to date.

For more than a week it has threatened to overtake the Mount Wilson Observatory, a California landmark and beloved historical site that was home to major astronomical advancements in the early 20th century.

Some 1,556 firefighters are currently deployed to combat it, the Forest Service said.

Wildfires have ravaged the West Coast this summer and pushed firefighters to their limits. At least 26 people have died in fires across California since August 15, including three firefighters, according to the state agency CAL FIRE.

One of those firefighters died as a result of a fire sparked by a botched gender reveal party.

Roughly 3.4 million acres have burned across California during the same period.

Another 10 people have died and approximately 2 million acres have burned in fires in Washington and Oregon.

California has seen five of its largest fires on record in this wildfire season alone. Outside Los Angeles, the momentary reprieve could dissipate by the weekend, when weather was expected to grow warmer and drier, and forecasts showed the possibility of gusty winds, the Forest Service said.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Gregorio)

California firefighters race to subdue flames before heat and winds return

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Five weeks after California erupted in deadly wildfires supercharged by record heat and howling winds, crews battling flames pushed on Monday to consolidate their gains as forecasts called for a return of blistering, gusty weather.

California already has lost far more landscape to wildfires this summer than during any previous entire year, with scores of conflagrations – many sparked by catastrophic lightning storms – scorching some 3.4 million acres since mid-August.

The previous record was just under 2 million acres burned in 2018.

As of Monday, more than 19,000 firefighters continued to wage war on 27 major blazes across the state, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that scientists have pointed to as signs of climate change, have destroyed an estimated 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters, CalFire reported.

Another 2 million acres have gone up in flames in Oregon and Washington state during an overlapping outbreak of wildfires that started earlier this month, destroying more than 4,400 structures in all and claiming 10 lives.

But a weekend of intermittently heavy showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest tamp down blazes in those two states.

Although California has seen little or no rain in recent days, bouts of extreme heat and gale-force winds that had produced incendiary conditions for weeks have given way to lower temperatures and lighter breezes, enabling firefighters to gain ground around most fires.

“They’re going to take advantage of this cool weather while they can,” CalFire spokeswoman Lynne Tolmachoff told Reuters.

The break in the weather is not expected to last much longer. Tolmachoff said forecasts call for rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around mid-week in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half.

BOBCAT FIRE PROVES STUBBORN

Some fires have proven more stubborn than others. One in particular, dubbed the Bobcat Fire, grew to more than 100,000 acres on Monday in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, with containment levels achieved by firefighters holding steady at just 15%, CalFire said.

The Bobcat last week spread perilously close to a famed astronomical observatory and complex of vital communications towers at the summit of Mount Wilson, while forcing evacuations of communities in the foothills below.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under an evacuation warning, advising residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice. At the opposite end of the sprawling mountain range to the north, the fire was reported to have destroyed some homes and other structures in the high desert of the Antelope Valley.

Across the Bobcat fire zone and others, ground crews with axes, shovels and bulldozers clambered through rugged canyons and mountain slopes, hacking away tinder-dry brush and scrub before it could burn, creating containment lines around the perimeter of advancing flames.

They were assisted by squadrons of water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers dumping flame retardant on the blazes.

Regardless of the progress they make this week, California’s record fire season remains far from over. The height of wildfire activity historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Firefighters make headway against lightning-sparked California wildfires

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – California fire officials on Sunday reported significant headway battling the two largest of dozens of lightning-sparked blazes raging in and around the greater San Francisco Bay area since mid-August, though 60,000 people remained under evacuation.

As of Sunday firefighters had managed to carve containment lines around 56% of the perimeter of a colossal wildfire that has burned more than 375,000 acres across five counties north of the bay, including a swath of the Napa and Sonoma valley wine country region.

That marked a major gain from 41% containment listed a day earlier for the blaze, dubbed the LNU Lightning Complex fire, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

Containment of a slightly larger fire called the SCU Lightning Complex, which has charred more than 377,000 acres in four counties east and south of the bay, grew to 50% on Sunday, up from 40% on Saturday, CalFire said.

Those two blazes together – which rank as the second- and third-largest wildfires on record in California – account for half of total acreage set ablaze during the past two weeks in a series of catastrophic lightning storms.

Firefighters, helped by cooler weather after a record-breaking heat wave abated, have gained ground elsewhere across the state, as well.

“We definitely have increased containment on all of the major fires, evacuations are being lifted and weather conditions are more favorable,” CalFire spokeswoman Christine McMorrow told Reuters by phone. “We are definitely making progress.”

Nearly 14,00 lightning strikes, mostly in central and northern California, have ignited hundreds of individual fires since Aug. 15, many of which merged into bigger conflagrations. Those fires have collectively charred more than 1.42 million acres – a landscape larger than the state of Delaware, according to CalFire.

Seven fatalities have been confirmed, and nearly 2,500 homes and other structures have been reduced to ruin. Smoke from the fires also badly degraded air quality throughout the region, adding to health hazards already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

While CalFire said more than 60,000 residents remained displaced throughout the fire zone as of Sunday morning, McMorrow said “quite a few” evacuation orders and warnings were being lifted.

Meteorologists said the recent spate of dry lightning, the heaviest seen in California in more than a decade, was linked to the same atmospheric high-pressure system that caused a lengthy heat wave, which in turn further desiccated dense, fire-prone vegetation across the state.

Scientists point to lengthy droughts and longer-than-normal stretches of extreme heat as evidence of climate change that has steadily intensified and prolonged wildfire season in California and across the Western United States in recent years.

Climatologist Zach Zobel said California is on track to overtake the nearly 2 million acres burned in 2018, when the state suffered its deadliest wildfire in history, as well as the most acreage burned on record gong back to 1987.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Firefighters, military planes, troops arrive in California to fight massive blazes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews from across the U.S. West, military planes and National Guard troops poured into California on Sunday to join the fight against two dozen major wildfires burning across the state, as officials warned of more dry lightning storms approaching.

The worst of the blazes, including the second and third largest wildfires in recorded California history, were burning in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, where more than 200,000 people have been told to flee their homes.

“Extreme fire behavior with short and long range spotting are continuing to challenge firefighting efforts. Fires continue to make runs in multiple directions and impacting multiple communities,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said of the largest conflagration, the LNU Lightning Complex.

The fires, which were ignited by lightning from dry thunderstorms across Northern and Central California over the past week, have killed at least six people and destroyed some 700 homes and other structures. All told nearly one million acres have been blackened, according to Cal Fire.

Smoke and ash has blanketed much of the northern part of California for days, drifting for miles and visible from several states away.

The LNU Complex, which began as a string of smaller fires that merged into one massive blaze, has burned across roughly 340,000 acres of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Yolo and Solano counties, Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant said at a news briefing on Sunday.

It is now the second-largest wildfire on record in the state and was only 17% contained as of Sunday afternoon. To the south the SCU Lightning Complex was nearly as large, at 339,000 acres, and only 10% contained, Berlant said.

CREWS ARRIVE FROM OTHER STATES

Outside the Bay Area, the flames were threatening forests near the University of California at Santa Cruz and a wide swath of the area between San Francisco and the state capital of Sacramento.

Reinforcement crews and fire engines have arrived from Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Texas and Utah, with more on the way, Berlant said. Some 200 members of the National Guard had been activated and the U.S. military sent planes, he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday declared the fires a major disaster, freeing up federal funds to help residents and businesses harmed by the fires in seven counties pay for temporary housing and repairs.

Berlant said more dry thunderstorms were forecast through Tuesday and so-called red flag warnings had been issued across much of the northern and central parts of California during a record-breaking heat wave that has baked the state for more than a week, caused by a dome of atmospheric high pressure hovering over the American Southwest.

Meteorologists say that same high-pressure ridge has also been siphoning moisture from remnants of a now-dissipated tropical storm off the coast of Mexico and creating conditions rife for thunderstorms across much of California.

Most of the precipitation from the storms evaporates before reaching the ground, leaving dry lightning strikes that have contributed to a volatile wildfire season.

The American Lung Association has warned that the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the health hazards posed by smoky air and extreme heat. Inhaling smoke and ash can worsen the weakened lungs of people with COVID-19, said Afif El-Hassan, a physician spokesman for the lung association.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Heatwave and high winds threaten to reignite Australian wildfires

By Paulina Duran

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Swathes of southeast Australia were bracing on Thursday for a days-long heatwave that threatens to stoke bushfires that have been burning for months.

As firefighters and residents prepared for the heightened danger, the New South Wales (NSW) state government launched a six-month inquiry to examine both the causes of and response to this season’s deadly wildfires.

“We don’t want to waste the opportunity to take on board any recommendations we need to adopt ahead of the bushfire season this year … as we approach summer of 2021,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of NSW.

NSW state has been one of the hardest hit by bushfires, which started earlier than usual in September. The blazes have burnt out more than 11.7 million hectares (117,000 sq km) across Australia’s most populous states, killing at least 33 people and about 1 billion animals, and destroying 2,500 homes.

Fire danger warnings were issued on Thursday for several areas in South Australia state, where temperatures were forecast to exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and winds were expected to reach 35 kph (22 mph).

Among them was Kangaroo Island, a popular tourist destination that has already been razed by fires that killed two people. After a day of heat, by early evening no new fires had emerged.

“On Friday, there will also be hot and windy conditions, however, some parts of the Island may experience rainfall from mid-morning,” the state’s fire service said.

“A total Fire Ban is in place on the island, with a rating of SEVERE.”

In Victoria state, authorities issued a watch and act warning for people near Bendoc in the Snowy Mountains close to the New South Wales border.

“Don’t wait, leaving now is the safest option – conditions may change and get worse very quickly. Emergency Services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay,” emergency services officials said.

The severe heat and high winds are forecast to hit NSW and Victoria states from Friday threatening to spark new life into some of the 87 fires burning across the three states or create new blazes.

Australia’s dangerous summer weather has largely been driven by temperature variations in the Indian Ocean, which the country’s weather bureau said on Thursday were likely to keep conditions hot and dry until March.

Martin Webster, a NSW Rural Fire Service officer, highlighted the strains facing the state’s 74,000-strong volunteer brigade as the huge fires continued to burn.

“Our local crews have been actively involved in firefighting since August and we are still long way from being out of the woods, so we are talking six or seven months of firefighting,” Webster told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Here are Thursday’s key events in the bushfire crisis:

* There were five fires burning in the state of South Australia, 64 in New South Wales and 18 in Victoria.

* Berejiklian, firefighting officials and family of three U.S. firefighters killed in a plane crash in remote bushland last week, attended a memorial service where members of the aviation community paid their respects.

* Three firefighters who were trying to contain blazes in the Orroral Valley near Canberra were reported injured after a tree fell on their truck on Wednesday night, the ABC reported. Officials in the capital did not immediately return requests for information.

* Rating agency Moody’s on Wednesday warned increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters related to climate change would likely put at risk the ‘AAA’ credit rating of NSW.

(Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Additional reporting by Colin Packham and Melanie Burton.; Editing by Jane Wardell, Lincoln Feast and Alison Williams)