New front opens in Australian bushfires, power cut to thousands

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Electricity firms cut off power to thousands of people, more than 100 schools were closed and residents in high risk regions sought shelter on Wednesday as Australia’s devastating bushfires opened up a new front.

Australia has been battling wildfires across several states for days, endangering thousands of people in many communities. Blazes so far this month have killed at least four people, burnt about 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of farmland and bush and destroyed more than 300 homes.

On Wednesday, a fresh battle line was drawn as 50 fires sprung up in South Australia state, where officials lifted the fire danger warning to “catastrophic” as temperatures passed 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

A catastrophic warning means that should a fire start, it will not be possible for firefighters to control it, given the weather conditions.

“From sunrise until well past midnight, this state is going to experience very difficult fire conditions,” Brenton Eden, assistant chief officer at the South Australian Country Fire Service, told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

More than 600 firefighters attended to incidents across the state on Wednesday, and most were expected to keep battling fires throughout the night.

As some of fires approached electricity transmission lines, provider SA Power Networks cut power to over 12,000 customers.

With strong winds stoking blazes, authorities put residents near four of the fires on high alert to flee in case the flames spread rapidly.

“This is the worst of the weather from a fire behaviour point that we will have seen,” Eden told reporters in Adelaide, the state capital.

Australia is prone to bushfires in its dry, hot summers, but the recent series of fierce blazes have been sparked early, in the southern spring, after a three-year drought that has left much of the country tinder-dry.

While the immediate threat was in the south on Wednesday, firefighters continued to battle about 100 fires that have been burning for several days across Australia’s east coast.

Sydney, the country’s most populous city with around 5 million residents, was covered with thick smoke for the second day running. Health officials on Tuesday warned people in the harbour city to stay inside as the smoke reached hazardous levels.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Jane Wardell and Gerry Doyle)

Canary Islands wildfire prompts 9,000 evacuations; reaches park

Trees burnt in a forest fire are seen in the village of Guia, in the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

TEJEDA, Spain (Reuters) – An out-of-control wildfire on Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands kept spreading on Monday, increasing to 9,000 the number of people evacuated from eight municipalities and reaching a natural park, authorities said on Monday.

The blaze, which began on Saturday near the town of Tejeda, is advancing on several fronts, propelled by a combination of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity. So far, the fire is affecting the mountainous central part of the island rather than coastal areas busy with tourists in the summer months.

Around 6,000 hectares (23.17 square miles) have burned so far and the fire has entered the northwestern Tamadaba natural park, home to some of the island’s oldest pine forests and considered a complicated area for firefighters to intervene.

“We will defeat this serious and damaging fire,” Canary Islands’ regional president Angel Victor Torres said in a statement released by his office.

Gran Canaria’s airport is not being affected by the blaze, it added.

Sixteen planes and helicopters, as well as more than 1,000 firefighters, are working to contain flames as high as 50 metres (164 feet), authorities said.

The blaze marks the second time that Tejeda has been evacuated this month due to wildfire.

(Reporting by Ashifa Kassam and Joan Faus, aditional reporting by Borja Suarez, editing by Andres Gonzalez, Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

Evacuees fleeing Canary Islands wildfire rise to 8,000

A helicopter carries water to fight a forest fire seen in the village of Guia on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

TEJEDA, Spain (Reuters) – Around 8,000 people have been evacuated as firefighters battle an out-of-control wildfire on Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands, authorities said on Monday.

The blaze, which began on Saturday near the town of Tejeda, is advancing on several fronts, propelled by a combination of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity. So far, the fire is affecting the mountainous central part of the island rather than coastal areas busy with tourists in the summer months.

“The fire remains out of control,” a spokeswoman for emergency services in the region told Reuters. “It is a very serious fire.”

Sixteen planes and helicopters, as well as more than 700 firefighters, are currently working to contain flames as high as 50 meters, authorities said. More than 3,400 hectares have burned so far and the fire is moving aggressively toward the northwestern Tamadaba natural park, home to some of the island’s oldest pine forests.

Some 400 firefighters spent the night battling the fire’s flanks, hoping to choke it off as it moved toward more populated areas.

The blaze marks the second time that Tejeda has been evacuated this month due to wildfire.

(Reporting by Ashifa Kassam, additional reporting by Borja Suarez, editing by Andres Gonzalez and Toby Chopra)

Fire resurges on Greece’s Evia, challenges firefighters

A firefighting plane makes a water drop as a wildfire burns near the village of Stavros on the island of Evia, Greece, August 14, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Aircraft and firefighters on the ground fought a blaze that burned large tracts of pristine pine forest on the Greek island of Evia on Wednesday as the wildfire flared up again at different spots.

A state of emergency has been declared in regions of the densely forested island east of Athens, after the blaze broke out on Tuesday, fanned by strong winds and high temperatures.

The wildfire had prompted the evacuation of villages and spurred an appeal for help from elsewhere in Europe.

Italy sent two aircraft after an appeal for airborne firefighting equipment from Greek authorities. Although conditions had improved by Wednesday morning, new blazes continued to challenge firefighting efforts.

Water dumping by specially equipped aircraft started at first light. “It is a difficult fire, that’s the reality … there is no danger to human life and that is what is important,” Kostas Bakoyannis, the regional governor for central Greece, told Skai TV.

Fire officials said four villages and hundreds of people were evacuated as a precaution on Tuesday and one firefighter was hospitalized after suffering burns.

“The situation in Evia was very difficult and remains difficult,” Christos Stylianides, the European Union’s aid commissioner, said after meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Drawing upon his experience from other forest fires around Europe, Stylianides said he was impressed at the coordination shown among authorities dealing with the emergency, calling firefighters heroes.

“We managed to protect lives and to save people’s property,” Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis said.

Greece has bitter memories of a horrific blaze that tore through the seaside town of Mati near Athens in July 2018, killing 102 people in a matter of hours. Authorities were accused then of poor coordination and a slow response.

Mitsotakis, a conservative elected last month, interrupted his holiday on Crete to return to Athens where he was briefed on the situation.

Television images showed flames and plumes of black smoke on mountainsides carpeted in pine. State television said about 28,000 hectares of pine forest was turned to ashes. The smoke was also captured by Copernicus EU satellite imagery.

Copernicus, the European Union’s eyes on earth with two Sentinel-3 satellites in orbit, said it had activated its emergency management service to assist in tracking the wildfire.

Greece often faces wildfires during its dry summer months, and authorities have warned of the high risk of blazes this week. Environmental campaigners see an increasing number of wildfires around the world as a symptom of climate change.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Larry King and Stephen Powell)

Brutal weather threatens California wildfire battle

A satellite image shows the River fire at the Mendocino Complex wildfire in California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Picture taken on August 6, 2018. Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Fierce winds, bone-dry weather, and high temperatures are expected on Thursday in northern California, where they could threaten efforts to fight the largest wildfire in state history.

Wind gusting up to 35 miles (56 km) an hour, temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 C) and 10 percent humidity are in the forecast from Thursday afternoon to Saturday in northern California.

Firefighters in the area are battling the Mendocino Complex and the Carr Fire, the National Weather Service said in an Red Flag warning.

“A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and warm temperatures can contribute to extreme fire behavior,” the service said.

More than 4,000 firefighters were confronting the Mendocino Complex, which covered more than 302,000 acres (122,215 hectares) on Wednesday, making it the largest wildfire in California history.

Two firefighters have been injured and 119 homes destroyed, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

About 100 miles northeast, near Redding, 4,700 crews were fighting the 176,000-acre Carr Fire, which has been blamed for seven deaths, including two firefighters, and has destroyed 1,077 homes, Cal Fire said.

The two fires were 47 percent contained on Wednesday, Cal Fire said.

Fifteen other major fires are burning in California. Together, they have destroyed more than 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people.

To the south, in the Cleveland National Forest area, the relatively small 4,129-acre Holy Fire has destroyed 12 structures, fire officials said.

A 51-year-old man was arrested and booked on two counts of felony arson, one felony count of threat to terrorize and a misdemeanor count of resisting arrest, the Cleveland National Forest said on Twitter on Wednesday.

The fire has displaced 20,000 people, CNN reported.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, editing by Larry King)

Raging wildfire in Southern California forces thousands to flee

Image of Cranston Fire in California, arson suspect has been arrested abc news channel 3 CBS local 2

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Thousands of residents in Southern California were forced from their homes by a raging wildfire which remained unchecked early on Thursday as it pushed toward their mountain resort communities.

The so-called Cranston Fire, believed to have been started by arson, grew rapidly by noon to cover 4,700 acres (1,900 hectares) around 90 miles (145 kms) east of Los Angeles in the San Jacinto Mountains, the San Bernardino National Forest agency said on Twitter.

The blaze forced 3,200 people to evacuate in communities such as Idyllwild, Mountain Center and Lake Hemet as it destroyed five structures and threatened 2,100 homes, the agency said.

Brandon McGlover, 32, of Temecula, was arrested on Wednesday and accused of starting multiple fires including the Cranston Fire, fire officials said in a statement.

The fire along with dozens of others through the U.S. West were being supercharged by extreme temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 C), erratic winds and low humidity, factors that were expected to remain in the region through Thursday.

To the northeast, the Ferguson Fire forced the heart of the Yosemite National Park to close on Wednesday after the blaze burning just to the west jumped fire lines overnight, pouring thick smoke into the valley and forcing visitors to pack up camp and flee.

Heavy black smoke from the 41,500-acre wildfire, which broke out on July 13 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains some 170 miles east of San Francisco, prompted Yosemite park officials to shut the main visitor hub of Yosemite Valley as well as Wawona and Mariposa Grove.

The smoke reduced visibility and posed health risks to visitors in the popular tourist destination as well as park employees, Mackensen said.

A firefighter died and seven others have been hurt battling the flames, which were 25 percent contained as of Wednesday afternoon.

The blaze is one of some 60 major wildfires burning in the United States this week that have scorched an area of about 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares). Most are in western states, with blazes also in central Texas and Wisconsin, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

As of July 25, wildfires had burned through 3.94 million acres (1.59 million hectares) this year, above the 10-year average for the same period of 3.54 million acres (1.43 million hectares), it said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by David Holmes)

Firefighters make progress on California wildfire despite heat

A 747 SuperTanker drops retardant while battling the Ponderosa Fire east of Oroville, California, U.S. August 30, 2017.

(Reuters) – Firefighters made progress in surrounding a Northern California wildfire on Thursday despite searing heat, a day after the blaze triggered evacuation orders for hundreds of local residents.

The so-called Ponderosa Fire has charred nearly 3,600 acres (1,457 hectares), about 85 miles (135 km) north of the state capital of Sacramento, since it broke out on Tuesday, officials said.

It was 30 percent contained on Thursday, up from 10 percent the day before, officials said, even though temperatures in the area approached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).

The fire is one of several blazes in California as the state bakes in high temperatures this week. Authorities have warned the heat could fuel the existing blazes and help spark new ones.

Flames consume a garage as the Ponderosa Fire burns east of Oroville, California, U.S. August 29, 2017.

Flames consume a garage as the Ponderosa Fire burns east of Oroville, California, U.S. August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Noah Berger

Authorities on Wednesday gave evacuation orders to residents of 500 houses and 800 outbuildings that were threatened by flames from the Ponderosa fire east of the town of Oroville.

“One of the issues we ran into on this fire is there’s a lot of people who didn’t actually evacuate,” said Paul Lowenthal, a spokesman for the team of 1,600 fighting the blaze.

The evacuation orders remained in place on Thursday, and officials opened shelters to house people.

The fire in steep and rugged terrain has destroyed 10 homes and 20 outbuildings, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has said.

John Ballenger, an Oroville resident, was arrested this week on suspicion of causing the fire by starting a campfire outside a designated area and allowing it to spread out of control, officials said. He is set to appear in court on Friday.

It was not clear on Thursday evening if he had been charged. A representative for the Butte County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)