Australia evacuates parts of its capital as bushfire conditions return

By Byron Kaye and Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Some residents of Australia’s capital Canberra were evacuated briefly on Wednesday after a bushfire broke out near the airport as searing hot weather ended a few days of respite and the number of out-of-control blazes surged in the southeast of the country.

Roads were closed and the authorities told people to leave or stay away from suburbs east of Canberra, as photos posted on social media showed gray smoke billowing above the city’s suburbs. There were no reports of injuries or damage, and the warning was downgraded an hour later.

“I can see the smoke from my house,” said Kane Cawse, a gym owner, by telephone as he drove toward his business in the evacuation zone about 14 km (9 miles) from the country’s parliament.

“I’m just going to see exactly what’s going on, make sure I’ve got a gym and make sure that the guys are either safe or out,” he added.

In recent weeks, Canberra and the cities of Sydney and Melbourne experienced air quality rated among the worst in the world under thick clouds of bushfire smoke.

The fire broke out as a huge dust storm crossed the country’s south, leaving skies deep orange and engulfing some outback towns, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Since September, hundreds of wildfires in Australia have killed 29 people as well as an estimated 1 billion native animals, while incinerating 2,500 homes and a total area of bushland larger than the size of Austria.

Firefighters had taken advantage of rain and milder temperatures in the past week to contain blazes, but the respite ended on Wednesday when high temperatures and winds returned.

An economic survey on Wednesday meanwhile showed the fires were causing Australians to tighten their purse strings, a sign the natural disaster is putting pressure on the world’s 14th-biggest economy.

Economists said the cost to Australia’s A$1.95 trillion ($1.33 trillion) economy could be as high as A$5 billion ($3.4 billion), shaving 0.25 points off gross domestic product in the December and March quarters, and potentially prompting the central bank to cut rates as early as February.

Consumer sentiment in January was 6.2% lower than a year earlier, according to the Melbourne Institute and Westpac Bank survey released on Wednesday. Consumer sentiment data is considered a leading indicator, running ahead of actual spending data.

The huge bushfires have cut through the country’s east coast during the peak summer months when many businesses usually rake in earnings from both domestic and foreign tourists. Agricultural sectors, particularly the dairy industry, have also been hard hit.

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

* Suburbs near Canberra Airport were evacuated late on Wednesday as an emergency level fire burned. There were no reports of injury or damage.

* The wildfires have killed 29 people, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and razed 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of wilderness – an area one-third the size of Germany – since September.

* Scores of fires were burning in the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria on Wednesday. Temperatures in Victoria were expected to top 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 Fahrenheit) on Wednesday, leading officials to declare “extreme fire danger” in some areas. Temperatures in NSW were forecast to hit 40C (104F) on Thursday.

* A Reuters analysis shows that Australian animals living in specific habitats, such as mountain lizards, leaf-tailed geckos and pear-shaped frogs, are battling the threat of extinction after fierce bushfires razed large areas of their homes.

* The air in Sydney is expected to again reach hazardous pollution levels on Thursday as smoke drifts over the city, the NSW state government said.

* Players at the Australian Open tennis tournament continued to make pledges of financial assistance. Among the latest were the seventh seed, Alexander Zverev, who said he would donate A$10,000 for each match he wins and pledged his entire prize money of A$4.12 million if he wins the tournament. American John Isner has pledged 25% of all his prize money and A$100 for every ace he serves.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye, Colin Packham and Swati Pandey in Sydney; editing by Jane Wardell and Christian Schmollinger)

Australia calls for another mass evacuation as monster bushfires return

By Martin Petty and Colin Packham

MERIMBULA, Australia/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities urged another mass evacuation across the heavily populated southeast on Thursday as a return of hot weather fanned huge bushfires threatening several towns and communities.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews urged communities to be on alert ahead of the extreme conditions.

“If you receive instructions to leave, then you must leave,” Andrews said in a televised briefing. “That is the only way to guarantee your safety.”

Parts of Kangaroo Island, a wildlife-rich tourist spot off the southeast coast where Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday made a plea for foreign tourists not to be deterred by the fires, were again evacuated on Thursday.

“I urge everyone to heed warnings, follow advice, and to head to the east part of the island, which is deemed safe at this point,” South Australia Fire Chief Mark Jones said in a separate briefing in Adelaide.

A third of the island has been destroyed.

Twenty-seven people have been killed this fire season, according to the federal government, as the monster fires have scorched through more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land, an area the size of South Korea.

Thousands have been made homeless and thousands have had to evacuate repeatedly because of the volatility of the fires.

Residents of the coastal town of Mallacoota, where thousands of people were stranded on a beach for days until a military evacuation that only ended on Wednesday, were among those again advised to flee.

“If we evacuate, where do we go?” said Mark Tregellas, who spent New Year’s Eve on a boat ramp as fire destroyed much of his town, and one of about 1,000 people who decided to stay.

“The electricity is slowly coming back but everyone is reliant on generators, and fuel for those is very limited,” he told Reuters by telephone from his house.

“People have now run out of petrol so most in the town are now riding on bicycles.”

Following are some highlights of what is happening in the bushfire crisis:

* A water bombing helicopter ditched in a dam on New South Wales South Coast on Thursday. The pilot was safe.

* Authorities have warned that the huge fires, spurred by high temperatures, wind and a three-year drought, will persist until there is substantial rainfall. The weather agency said there was no sign of that for months.

“It takes a huge amount of rain to put out bushfires of this intensity and of this scale. That’s not forecast,” South Australia Fire Chief Jones told reporters.

* Weather officials in South Australia issued a severe weather warning for some parts of the state’s north.

* New South Wales fire officials warned of “extreme fire danger” in the state’s alpine region.

* Victoria state extended its disaster alert level for another two days.

* The Australian Bureau of Meteorology reported only 6% of typical annual rainfall last year, while daytime temperatures were more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal: “Australia’s getting warmer, the fire season’s getting longer and the severity of the fire weather during that season is getting more frequent and severe.”

* New South Wales announced new funding of A$1 billion ($686 million) to rebuild.

* Mining magnate Andrew Forrest pledged A$70 million to a recovery package, including a force of more than 1,000 volunteers from the mining and agriculture sectors to help with rebuilding.

* 1,870 homes have been destroyed on the badly hit New South Wales coast.

* Moody’s Analytics said the cost of the fires could easily surpass that of deadly 2009 Black Saturday fires that destroyed 450,000 hectares of land, which cost an estimated A$4.4 billion.

* The prime minister has pledged A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) to a newly created National Bushfire Recovery Agency.

* About 100 firefighters from the United States and Canada are helping with another 140 expected in coming weeks.

* Malaysia has approved a plan to send 65 fire and rescue personnel to help. The deployment is awaiting Australian approval.

* Ecologists at the University of Sydney have estimated 1 billion animals have been killed or injured.

* The fires have emitted 400 megatonnes of carbon dioxide and produced harmful pollutants, the EU’s Copernicus monitoring program said.

* Smoke has drifted across the Pacific, affecting cities in South America, and may have reached the Antarctic, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said.

(Reporting by Colin Packham, Martin Petty, Sonali Paul, Paulina Duran, Swati Pandey and Praveen Menon; writing by Byron Kaye; Editing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel)

Aggressive wildfire threatens thousands of homes in southern California city

The Holy Fire spreads in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Lake Elsinore City Hall/via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Hundreds of firefighters were building barriers and constructing containment lines early on Friday to slow an approaching wildfire threatening to torch thousands of homes in a lakeside community southeast of Los Angeles.

A plane dumps fire retardant over the Holy Fire as it spreads in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Lake Elsinore City Hall/via REUTERS

A plane dumps fire retardant over the Holy Fire as it spreads in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Lake Elsinore City Hall/via REUTERS

More than 21,000 people have been evacuated in and around Lake Elsinore where furious flames and billowing smoke rose into the sky at the edge of the city of 60,000 as the blaze, dubbed the Holy Fire, burned nearby in the Santa Ana Mountains.

“It feels like a war zone,” Ana Tran told the Los Angeles Times as ash and flame retardant fell on her neighborhood.

The fire, which was five percent contained, was being fueled by dry brush covering steep terrain and stoked by erratic wind gusts during the night, said Thanh Nguyen, a spokesman for the incident said.

“Strong downdrafts is making the fire move aggressively downhill,” said Nguyen, noting that firefighters were working to build barriers and containment lines to protect more than 2,000 homes at risk from the fire.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries battling the relatively small blaze that consumed more than 10,200 acres (4,128 hectares) since it began on Tuesday, fire officials said.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the area on Thursday, freeing up additional resources to battle the blaze. Forrest Clark, 51, was charged with setting the fire, the Orange County District Attorney Office said.

A plane flies off after dumping fire retardant over the Holy Fire close to a residential area in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018 in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Camille Collins/via REUTERS

A plane flies off after dumping fire retardant over the Holy Fire close to a residential area in Lake Elsinore, California, the U.S. August 8, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. Camille Collins/via REUTERS

The Holy Fire was one of several fires burning in California that have displaced tens of thousands of people. Wildfires across the state and region could be further stoked by strong gusts, low humidity, and hot weather on Friday and Saturday, forecasters warned.

In Northern California, a mechanic helping to fight the Carr Fire burning around Redding was killed in a traffic collision on Thursday, bringing the death toll from that blaze to eight, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said. The 178,000-acre Carr Fire has killed two other firefighters along with three members of one family and has destroyed nearly 1,100 homes. It was 49 percent contained with firefighters struggling in steep terrain to control the blaze, CalFire said.

More than 4,000 firefighters are battling the Mendocino Complex Fire, which has burned 305,200 acres in three counties north of San Francisco, CalFire said.

Two firefighters were injured and 119 homes destroyed by that fire which now ranks as the largest fire on record in the state.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Editing by William Maclean)

New Wildfire erupts in northern California, kills one, forcing evacuations, spreading fast

An air tanker drops retardant on wildfire called "BentonFire" near off Benton Road and Crams Corner Drive in this image on social media in Anza in Riverside County, California, U.S., July 4, 2018. Courtesy California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection/Handout via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb and Keith Coffman

LOS ANGELES/DENVER (Reuters) – A wildfire in northern California killed one person, destroyed buildings, forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from nearby communities and prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency.

The Klamathon Fire broke out on Thursday and, within hours, spread from an initial 1,000 acres to 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares), the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in an advisory.

One person has died due to the fire, a spokeswoman for the agency said on Friday, without providing any details.

The blaze destroyed an unknown number of structures and forced residents in the small communities of Hornbrook, Hilt and Colestein Valley to flee as flames crossed Interstate 5 near the California and Oregon border, local media reported.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for the area, allowing state resources to be devoted to fighting the wildfire and keeping people safe.

FILE PHOTO: Fire is seen in El Jebel, Colorado, U.S., July 4, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken July 4, 2018. Kim Doyle Wille/via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Fire is seen in El Jebel, Colorado, U.S., July 4, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken July 4, 2018. Kim Doyle Wille/via REUTERS

The Klamathon Fire was one of more than three dozen wildfires that firefighters were battling in California and across the U.S. West during an unusually active fire season.

Fires have razed through more than 2.8 million acres in the United States this year through Thursday, above the average of about 2.4 million acres for the same period over the last 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Firefighting efforts across the region have been hampered by blistering temperatures, low humidity and erratic winds.

CONTAINMENT

Crews in Northern California tried on Thursday to cut containment lines around the County Fire, which has already burned across some 135 square miles. Nine structures have been destroyed and some 100 homes were said to be in danger.

That blaze, which broke out on Saturday in steep, inaccessible terrain about 45 miles northwest of Sacramento and spans more than 88,000 acres, has so far largely burned away from populated areas. It was 37 percent contained early on Friday, officials said.

The weather will become hotter and drier into the weekend, Cal Fire warned.

In Colorado, nine major wildfires have razed through more than 216,000 acres, according to the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center.

Crews battling the Spring Fire got a respite from hot temperatures on Thursday, with rain forecast for the region, although heavy downpours could trigger flash flooding over the burn scar, according to InciWeb, a federal wildfire website.

Near Aspen, the Lake Christine fire has enveloped more than 5,000 acres and destroyed three homes in the town of EL Jebel, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said. The fire has not been contained and some 500 people have been ordered to evacuate.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Larry King and Bernadette Baum)