As winds surge, new wildfire ignites near Reagan Library outside Los Angeles

As winds surge, new wildfire ignites near Reagan Library outside Los Angeles
By Steve Gorman and Jonathan Allen

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A fresh wildfire ignited near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library outside Los Angeles on Wednesday as extraordinarily dry, prolonged Santa Ana winds whipped through the region, forcing meteorologists to grasp for new language to warn of the danger.

The fire broke out in Ventura County’s Simi Valley, just a few miles away from a growing blaze that has been consuming the shrub-covered hills near the Getty Center museum in Los Angeles for two days, displacing thousands of residents from some of the area’s priciest neighborhoods.

For firefighters, the weather forecast could not be worse: The National Weather Service issued an unprecedented “extreme red flag” warning for wildfires in Los Angeles and Ventura counties ahead of two days of intense dry wind gusts.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen us use this warning,” said forecaster Marc Chenard. “It’s pretty bad.”

Statewide, the weather service issued warnings of dangerous fire weather conditions covering more than 34,000 square miles (88,000 square km), encompassing some 21 million people. Scientists have linked an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires to climate change.

The Easy Fire in Simi Valley ignited just before dawn and quickly grew to 972 acres (393 hectares) as it was fanned westward by Santa Ana winds, according to the Ventura County Fire Department. A long wall of orange flames and thick, gray smoke could be seen just down the slope from the hilltop Reagan Library, which houses many of the former president’s records and the plane he used for official travel. At least two helicopters dropped water on the flames.

County fire officials ordered residents to evacuate the area around the library, which includes a number of sprawling ranch properties. Residents in face masks coaxed nervy horses into trailers to drive them to safety.

A number of structures in the area were ablaze, according to video broadcast by local television station ABC 7 News.

A few employees remained at the library, which has fire doors and sprinklers, spokeswoman Melissa Giller told ABC7 News. The library has trucked in goats in years past to eat away flammable scrub around the building’s perimeter.

The Santa Ana winds are a regional weather phenomenon that sends gusts westward off the desert out to the Southern California coast. They are forecast to reach sustained speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour (80 to 110 km per hour) on Wednesday and Thursday, raising the risk of sparks and embers being whipped into fresh wildfires in unburned areas.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said extremely high winds could also force the grounding of water-dropping helicopters, a vital component of the firefighting arsenal.

City arson investigators say the Getty fire was likely caused by a broken tree branch being blown into power lines during high winds on Monday morning. It continued to grow in size, consuming 745 acres (300 hectares) by Wednesday morning, with about a quarter contained by firefighters. At least 12 homes have been destroyed.

Electricity remained cut off to roughly half a million homes and businesses in Northern and Central California on Tuesday as a precaution by the state’s largest utility.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has accused utilities of failing to adequately modernize and safely maintain their power systems.

BLACKOUTS

In Northern California, where firefighters struggled for a sixth day against the 76,000-acre (30,760-hectate) Kincade Fire in Sonoma County’s winemaking region, high-wind forecasts prompted Pacific Gas and Electric Co <PCG.N> to impose a new round of blackouts for nearly 600,000 homes and business.

That included about 400,000 customers blacked out in a power shutoff that PG&E instituted days earlier, the company said.

Early Wednesday, PG&E announced that it had restored about 73 percent of the 970,000 or so customers affected in earlier shutoffs.

Utilities serving Southern California’s more urban areas have imposed smaller-scale outages.

PG&E acknowledged last week that the Kincade Fire broke out near a damaged PG&E transmission tower at about the time a live high-voltage line carried by that tower malfunctioned.

The company filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in potential liability from a series of deadly fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.

Citing progress made against the Kincade fire, Newsom said the number of evacuees in Northern California had diminished from 190,000 at the peak of that blaze to 130,000 on Tuesday.

Property losses from the Kincade, listed at 30% contained, were put at 189 homes and other structures, double Monday’s tally.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; additional reporting by Rollo Ross in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

China issues ‘red alert’ as super typhoon approaches mainland

Workers unload seafood from fishing boats before super typhoon Lekima makes landfall in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China August 8, 2019. Picture taken August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s weather bureau issued a red alert early on Friday as super typhoon Lekima approached Zhejiang province on the eastern coast, after forcing flight cancellations in Taiwan and shutting markets and businesses on the island.

The National Meteorological Center (NMC) said the typhoon, the strongest since 2014, was expected to hit the mainland in early on Saturday and then turn north. It has issued gale warnings for the Yangtze river delta region, which includes Shanghai.

Taiwan has already cancelled flights and ordered markets and schools to close on Friday as the typhoon heads northwest, cutting power to more than 40,000 homes and forcing the island’s high speed rail to suspend most of its services.

The island’s authorities issued landslide warnings after an earthquake of magnitude 6 struck its northeastern coast on Thursday, hours before the typhoon approached, which was forecasted to bring rainfall of up to 900 mm (35 inches) in its northern mountains.

More than 300 flights to and from Taiwan have been cancelled and cruise liners have been asked to delay their arrival in Shanghai.

Some trains from Shanghai have also suspended ticket sales over the weekend, and Beijing also said it would cancel several trains heading to and from typhoon-hit eastern regions in the Yangtze delta region.

Heavy rain and level-10 gales are expected to hit Shanghai on Friday and continue until Sunday, with 16,000 suburban residents set to be evacuated, the official Shanghai Daily reported.

The NMC warned that 24-hour rainfall levels across eastern China could reach around 250-320 millimetres from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. Port authorities have already been ordered to take action, with ships set to be diverted to Hong Kong to help prevent accidents and collisions.

China’s Ministry of Water Resources has also warned of flood risks in the eastern, downstream sections of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers until Wednesday.

China is routinely hit by typhoons in its hot summer months but weather officials said last week they have been relatively infrequent so far this year.

(Reporting by David Stanway and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Ash cloud from Hawaii volcano sparks red alert for aviation

Ash erupts from the Halemaumau crater near the community of Volcano during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Explosions intensified on Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Tuesday, spewing ash and triggering a red alert for aircraft for the first time since the latest eruption began 12 days ago.

Ash erupts from the Halemaumau crater near the community of Volcano during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Ash erupts from the Halemaumau crater near the community of Volcano during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Ash and volcanic smog, or vog, as it is called, rose to 12,000 feet (3,657 meters) above Kilauea’s crater and floated southwest, showering cars on Highway 11 with gray dust and prompting an “unhealthy air” advisory in the community of Pahala, 18 miles (29 km) from the summit.

An aviation red alert means a volcanic eruption is under way that could spew ash along aircraft routes, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says on its website.

Ash was also a new hazard for residents of Hawaii’s Big Island, already grappling with volcanic gas and lava that has destroyed 37 homes and other structures and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 residents.

A shift in winds was expected to bring ash and vog inland on Wednesday and make them more concentrated, said John Bravender of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“We’re observing more or less continuous emission of ash now with intermittent, more energetic ash bursts or plumes,” Steve Brantley, a deputy scientist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), said on a conference call with reporters.

Kilauea volcano's summit lava lake shows a significant drop of roughly 722 feet below the crater rim in this wide angle camera view showing the entire north portion of the Overlook crater May 6, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

Kilauea volcano’s summit lava lake shows a significant drop of roughly 722 feet below the crater rim in this wide angle camera view showing the entire north portion of the Overlook crater May 6, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

The observatory warned the eruption could become more violent.

“At any time, activity may become more explosive, increasing the intensity of ash production and producing ballistic projectiles near the vent,” the HVO said in a statement on the change in aviation alert level to red from orange.

Ash is not poisonous but irritates the nose, eyes and airways. It can make roads slippery and large emissions could cause the failure of electrical power lines, said USGS chemist David Damby.

 

 

NEW FISSURE

The eruption has hit the island’s tourism industry.

Big Island summer hotel bookings have dropped by almost half from last year, Rob Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitor Bureau, told journalists on a conference call.

College exchange student Constantin Plinke, 24, was planning to go to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park before it was shut.

“We had a big list of things to do and maybe 80 percent of them were in the national park,” he said, after stopping by the side of the road to watch ash plumes rising into the air. “It’s sad.”

 

Lava erupts from a fissure on the outskirts of Pahoa May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava erupts from a fissure on the outskirts of Pahoa May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The area taking the brunt of the eruption is about 25 miles (40 km) down Kilauea’s eastern flank, near the village of Pahoa. Lava has burst from the ground to tear through housing developments and farmland, threatening one of the last exit routes from coastal areas, state Highway 132.

The latest fissure in the earth opened on Tuesday, spewing lava and toxic gases that pushed air quality into “condition red” around Lanipuna Gardens and nearby farms, causing “choking and inability to breathe,” the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Hawaii County Civil Defense said.

Road crews put metal plates over steaming cracks on nearby Highway 130 and reopened it to give coastal residents an escape route should a lava flow reach the ocean and block another road, Highway 137, Civil Defense said.

No major injuries or deaths have been reported from the eruption.

A looming menace remains the possibility of an “explosive eruption” of Kilauea, an event last seen in 1924. Pent-up steam could drive a 20,000-foot (6,100-meter) ash plume out of the crater and scatter debris over 12 miles (19 km), the USGS said.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester in Pahoa; additional reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; Writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Clarence Fernandez)

Abandoned by tourists, Bali town counts cost of Indonesia volcano

Jemeluk beach is seen some 15 km away from Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, in Amed on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Nyimas Laula and Darren Whiteside

AMED, Indonesia (Reuters) – A Balinese town once bustling with holidaymakers has almost emptied of tourists after warnings that nearby Mount Agung volcano could erupt at any time – a snapshot of the growing cost the rumbling volcano poses to Indonesia’s economy.

Business has slumped at many hotels, dive resorts and restaurants in towns around the volcano since authorities issue the highest alert level for Mount Agung last month.

An owner of a dive center in Amed, around 15 km (9 miles) from the volcano and just outside the official “danger zone”, said many of her guests had canceled.

“If (the situation) lasts for nine months or more… then we have no choice but to close down because we will have no money left to operate and pay the staff,” said Helene Rabate, a Spaniard who runs the center.

Cafes and restaurants were largely empty and few visitors were seen at the usually crowded dive centers of this seaside town.

The last time Agung erupted was in 1963, when more than 1,000 people were killed. Since then, tourism has transformed towns like Amed from sleepy fishing and agricultural villages.

Restaurant owner Wayan Widarti has seen a dramatic drop in customers.

“It could be worse than when the Bali bombing happened because there’s uncertainty on when (the eruption) is going to happen and how long we wait,” she said, referring to the 2002 nightclub bombing that killed 202 people and prompted a slump in visitors to the holiday island.

Bali, famous for its surf, beaches and temples, attracted nearly 5 million visitors last year – more than half the total number of foreign tourists to Indonesia.

Tourism, a cornerstone of Bali’s economy, is Indonesia’s fourth-biggest earner of foreign currency after natural resources like coal and palm oil.

Indonesian policy makers have been seeking to boost an economy whose growth rate has been stuck at around 5 percent for the last few years, so any protracted damage to tourism will be particularly unwelcome.

Indonesian officials have said Bali remains safe for tourism, but there have been cancellations even in areas further away from the volcano amid concerns that ash clouds could disrupt air connections.

Some tourists are still in the area at a safe distance from the volcano.

“We plan to… just follow security instructions… and take a fast boat to escape if there is an eruption,” said Arlin Shiu, a woman from Hong Kong who was traveling with a friend.

Disaster management authorities have imposed an exclusion zone of up to 12 km, prompting more than 140,000 residents to flee to neighboring villages.

“For people who live in safe zones, there is no reason to evacuate,” Bali governor I Made Mangku Pastika said, adding that makeshift evacuation centers were straining under the weight of thousands of extra evacuees.

 

(Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Ed Davies)

 

China wants 23 northern cities put on red alert for smog

Policemen wear protective masks at the Tiananmen Square on an extremely polluted day as hazardous, choking smog continues to blanket Beijing, China

BEIJING (Reuters) – Environmental authorities in China have advised 23 northern cities to issue red alerts, the highest possible air pollution warning, on Friday evening, against the “worst” smog the country has experienced since autumn, state media said.

China issued its first ever red alert for smog in Beijing, the capital, last December, after adopting a color-graded warning system in a crackdown on environmental degradation left by decades of breakneck economic growth.

Officials in Beijing issued a red alert on Thursday after the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) warned of a smog build-up across China’s north, saying the alert was expected to run until Dec. 21.

The ministry has also advised 22 more cities reeling under pollution to issue the red alert warning, the official China Daily said on Friday.

Nine cities, including Jinan in the province of Shangdong were advised to issue the lower-status orange alert, Liu Bingjing, the ministry’s head of air quality management, told the paper.

The notification will be the third joint warning by city governments this month, Liu added.

Regular episodes of smog blanketing northern China this year stem from a combination of local emissions, unfavorable weather and pollutants wafted in from elsewhere, Bai Qiuyong, head of China’s Environmental Monitoring Center, told the paper.

Environmental authorities in Hebei province, which borders capital city Beijing, asked for a level one emergency response from major cities in the region to begin from Friday, according to a post on its official microblog account on China’s Twitter-like Weibo service late on Thursday.

The order requires the large number of heavy polluting industries in these cities, including Tangshan, China’s steel capital, to cut back or halt production until Wednesday.

A chimney of a power plant is pictured among smog as a red alert for air pollution is issued in Beijing, China,

A chimney of a power plant is pictured among smog as a red alert for air pollution is issued in Beijing, China, December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Environmental group Greenpeace urged the government in a statement on Friday to “strictly punish” factories and plants in Hebei that flout regulations, as it said they have often done during past alerts.

Red alerts are issued in Beijing when the air quality index, a measure of pollutants, is forecast to break 200 for more than four days in succession, surpass 300 for more than two days or overshoot 500 for at least 24 hours.

At each level, the colour-graded warning system prescribes advisories for schools, hospitals and businesses, as well as possible curbs on traffic and construction.

Thresholds for the issue of alerts vary among cities, as do the cautionary measures urged on local residents and businesses at each stage.

Residents of smaller cities near Beijing have previously complained that local government bodies failed to issue warnings when pollution was just as severe as in the capital.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Tom Hogue)

Pavlof Volcano Eruption Subsides

The red alert has been downgraded to an orange alert after the eruption of Alaska’s Pavlof volcano has begun to subside.

The orange alert level has been issued because scientists do not know if the mountain will begin to erupt again.

The volcano is just over 8,200 feet tall and is in the flight path of many major international routes.  The most recent eruption shot ash into the air over 30,000 feet but because of wind currents and weather conditions it was not enough to disrupt international travel.

The eruption began May 30th and escalated to peak between June 2nd and 4th.  Volcanologists recorded lava flows and huge ash plumes during the eruption period until the morning of June 6th when activity suddenly declined.

Because of the remote location of the volcano, no injuries were reported.