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The historic wildfires raging across the West Coast are pumping record amounts of pollution into the air — with swaths of smoke spreading at least 5,000 miles to Europe, data shows.

The dense smoke coverage — already blamed for this week’s hazy skies over New York — reached Britain and other parts of northern Europe last week and is forecast to head back in the coming days after a brief respite, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

Data shows that the West Coast fires have been “tens to hundreds of times more intense” than the nationwide average in the 18 years the agency has monitored blazes, it said.

They have “already emitted far more carbon in 2020 than in any other year” since the records began, CAMS said — even though it is just the start of peak wildfire season.

“The scale and magnitude of these fires are at a level much higher than in any of the 18 years that our monitoring data covers,” CAMS Senior Scientist Mark Parrington said.

“The fact that these fires are emitting so much pollution into the atmosphere that we can still see thick smoke over [5,000 miles] away reflects just how devastating they have been in their magnitude and duration.”

A law enforcement officer watches flames launch into the air at the Bear fire in Oroville, California.Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

The European agency uses aerosol optical depth (AOD) to measure how much sunlight is blocked, Parrington said.

“Over the western US, AOD levels have been observed to reach values of seven or above,” he said. “To put this into perspective, an AOD measurement of one already implies very hazy conditions and potentially poor air quality.”

Swiss air quality monitoring group IQAir said the four major West Coast cities battling blazes — Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco — are now all in the top 10 worst in the world for pollution and air quality.

California has suffered eight of the 10 largest fires in the state’s history all in the past decade — with 2020 seeing the worst, the Los Angeles Times noted.

????#Smoke from the unprecedented #USFires is moving back across #NorthAmerica from the #Pacific and is on its way to #Europe.

Find out more about the monitoring of fires and their smoke by the #CopernicusAtmosphere Monitoring Service in our latest article➡️

— Copernicus ECMWF (@CopernicusECMWF) September 16, 2020

The paper noted that the fire season usually peaks in the fall, meaning the record-breaking year may yet get worse.

“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” said Justin Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire whose men sometimes work 64 hours at a stretch.

“There’s never enough resources,” said Silvera, one of nearly 17,000 firefighters in California. “We can’t contain one before another erupts.”

Andy Stahl, a forester who runs the Oregon-based advocacy group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, compared efforts trying to stop some of the most destructive blazes to “dropping a bucket of water on an atomic bomb.”

A boat motors by as the Bidwell Bar Bridge is surrounded by flames during the Bear fire in Oroville, California.Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

The fires rage on even after California alone has spent $529 million since July 1 on the wildfires, Cal Fire officials said.

“More crews, more air tankers, more engines and dozers still can’t overcome this powerful force of nature,” said Tim Ingalsbee, a member of the advocacy group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology.

“The crews are beat up and fatigued and spread thin, and we’re barely halfway through the traditional fire season.”

With Post wires

Filed under california wildfires ,  fires ,  pollution ,  smoke ,  wildfires ,  9/16/20

News Source: New York Post

Tags: wildfires california wildfires fires pollution smoke wildfires

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‘If you think it’s bad now, just wait’: California faces threat of more infernos soon

California has already endured its worst fire year in recorded history, but with more heat and wind in the forecast, officials say conditions could get even worse as the state enters the peak of its traditional burning season.

Another heat wave is bearing down on California — adding a potent ingredient to an unwelcome meteorological cocktail that will bring dangerous fire weather conditions to some parts of the already scarred state.

It could be a double threat, making it harder to contain still-burning fires while also helping spark new ones when firefighting resources are already stretched thin. In recent years, some of California’s worst fires have ignited in October, November and even December, when hot Santa Ana, sundowner and diablo winds bear down, fanning the flames.

“There are another two months of drama ahead,” climatologist Bill Patzert said. “If you think the season is bad now, just wait.”

Even beyond the upcoming heat wave, fire experts say the conditions in California are primed for more destructive fires that will take much more than Mother Nature to tame.

“The broad confluence of factors that you got there in California — the Mediterranean climate, the [dead trees] in the Sierra and then over 2 million properties at risk — shouldn’t be a surprise,” said Tom Harbour, retired fire chief of the U.S. Forest Service. “It’s trite to say ... this isn’t the worst of it.”


Think this fire season is bad? ‘This isn’t the worst of it,’ retired U.S. Forest Service chief says


Think this fire season is bad? ‘This isn’t the worst of it,’ retired U.S. Forest Service chief says

With a warming climate and increased human development, more fires are in our future, firefighting veteran says.

The latest forecast has fire officials on edge.

A large area of high pressure covering almost the entire West Coast is expected to build over the weekend, eventually boosting the mercury to record-threatening peaks in some parts of California early next week, according to David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Although the heat won’t spike to levels seen in mid-August and during Labor Day weekend, temperatures could climb 10 to 20 degrees above normal.

“Very warm temperatures and, again, dry conditions — so there will be at least elevated fire weather conditions, as well,” Sweet said. “So we’ll have to be concerned about the rapid spread of fires.”

That’s alarming news for a state in the throes of an unprecedented firestorm. Five of the six largest blazes ever recorded in California have ignited since August, and crews are working feverishly to contain 26 major wildfires still chewing through parts of the state.

Seasonable weather will persist through Friday. A robust warming trend is then forecast this upcoming weekend and into early next week. Triple digit temperatures will be possible inland while 80°s to potentially even 90°s possible closer to the coast. Stay tuned! #CAwx #CAHeat

— NWS Bay Area (@NWSBayArea) September 24, 2020

A fire weather watch will be in effect Saturday through Monday for a swath of Northern California, thanks to hot temperatures combined with low humidity and gusty winds, said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The watch covers a somewhat horseshoe-shaped area, stretching from just above Redding southeast into the Sierra foothills, as well as down into and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The atmosphere is going to be dry and warm, and all these ingredients together lead to critical fire weather,” meteorologist Drew Peterson said.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Jeff Smith said the utility’s meteorologists were closely monitoring the conditions but that no decision had been made about possible power shutoffs.

Although Southern California was not included in the watch area, “very hot and dry conditions will bring an elevated threat for large fire Sunday through early next week,” according to a forecast from the Southern California Geographic Area Coordination Center.

“Even though winds will be fairly light, rapid rates of spread will be possible in the afternoons where fuels and topography are favorably aligned,” that forecast states. “Fires will be able to burn actively at night since humidity recovery will be very poor.”


Northern California and Bay Area face high winds, critical fire danger this weekend


Northern California and Bay Area face high winds, critical fire danger this weekend

Gusty offshore winds will lead to critical fire danger in parts of Northern California over the weekend. PG&E is watching to see if power shutdowns will be needed.

Firefighters in Butte County are trying to contain the North Complex fire before weekend winds cause another flare-up.

Firefighting teams built ground lines Wednesday to keep the blaze from pushing into Forbestown. Shane Lauderdale, a Cal Fire branch director, said in a virtual briefing Thursday morning that they “had an amazing amount of success.”

“[The] focus of the teams in there today will be going in deep for mop-up activities for the next three days,” he said, “in front of our change in weather.”

As of Thursday morning, the North Complex was 78% contained. It has consumed more than 304,000 acres, destroyed 1,947 structures and killed 15 people — placing it among the state’s largest and most devastating wildfires, according to Cal Fire.

The North Complex is among a number of historically large wildfires burning across California.

Another is the Creek fire in the Sierra foothills northeast of Fresno. At more than 290,000 acres, it’s the sixth-largest fire recorded in state history — and the biggest standalone blaze that’s not part of a complex of fires.

“Things are going to be kind of slow and steady before we start building the heat Saturday and especially late in the weekend and into the following week,” said Mark Pellerito, an incident meteorologist for the fire.

Although the fire was 34% contained as of Thursday morning, that figure — which represents how much of a fire’s edge firefighters think they can stop from expanding — is only part of the equation. Unburned fuels in the fire footprint can still potentially flare up, particularly during adverse weather.

Don Watt, a fire behavior analyst for Cal Fire Incident Management Team 1, described these as “islands inside the fire.”

“As we continue to get warm and dry, those will continue to burn, and we’ll have a lot of smoldering material,” he said during a Creek fire briefing.

“There’s a very high concentration of dead and downed fuels with the tree mortality,” he said this week, and “those will take weeks to burn out in some areas.

“The fire is looking much better, but we are still seeing that active burning throughout many areas.”

California wildfires map

California wildfires map

The forecast also is a concern for crews battling the Bobcat fire, which has blazed a destructive trail through the Angeles National Forest from the foothills above Monrovia to the Antelope Valley.

“We are expecting elevated to critical fire weather,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Mitchell said Wednesday. “It all depends on this weekend.”

Officials have made significant progress in their fight against the blaze, which ignited Sept. 6 and has burned more than 113,000 acres. As of Thursday morning, containment was at 50%, nearly tripling in a little over 36 hours.


Spread of the Bobcat fire slows dramatically as some residents return home


Spread of the Bobcat fire slows dramatically as some residents return home

The Bobcat fire has burned 113,000 acres and destroyed nearly 50 structures, but officials say it will be contained by Sept. 30, a month earlier than projected.

At the August Complex fire — by far the largest in California history at more than 859,000 acres — officials said critical fire weather was expected late in the week, with winds out of the southwest potentially gusting up to 25 mph on the ridge tops.

“Any embers up on the ridges will be able to be lofted and put forward ahead of the fire so ... there’s a potential for spot fires ahead of the fire, maybe up to a mile with those types of winds,” said Karen Scholl, operations section chief for the Alaska Interagency Incident Management Team, speaking at a briefing Wednesday morning. “It all depends on where the embers start from.”

In Trinity County, one of California’s most rugged and forested counties, the blaze was shooting spot fires and slowly driving toward inhabited areas — with winds expected Wednesday night to bring the fire closer to some of the small, rural towns surrounding Ruth Lake.

With fire crews stretched thin, volunteer departments are making last stands across the area, begging for help and equipment to save homes that belong to family and friends.

Kody Ables, a volunteer and dozer driver with the Southern Trinity Volunteer Fire Department in Mad River, has been building containment lines for 15 days. Tuesday night saw the fire reach that trench — then fly over in places, with embers starting small burns.

On Wednesday, after a night shift, he woke to a call that the fire was within a few hundred yards of a friend’s house.

“It’s starting to scare me,” he said.

Ables said his unit ran on a shoestring budget, funded by cookouts and an annual rodeo that was canceled this year amid coronavirus concerns. Now, the crew needs new tires for their truck, boots that can handle structure fires and new fire suits.

“Ours, they are pretty outdated,” he said. “We are doing the best we can.”

Containment on the sprawling complex — burning in and around the Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers national forests — now sits at 39%, but its sheer size poses a massive challenge for fire crews.

As of Sunday, officials said the fire’s perimeter was more than 568 miles. By comparison, San Diego is about 500 miles from Sacramento by car.

The enormity of that fire is one of a number of alarming data points wrought by the 2020 fire season. So far this year, there have been over 8,000 wildfires that have burned more than 3.6 million collective acres statewide, the most in any year on record, according to Cal Fire. Over 18,200 firefighters are currently battling blazes across the state.

There have been 26 confirmed deaths in the historic firestorm, including three firefighters, and more than 6,600 structures have been destroyed.

Times staff writers Pinho and Chabria contributed to this report from Sacramento, Dolan from Orinda, Calif., and Money, Hayley Smith, Joseph Serna and Paul Duginski from Los Angeles.

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