Published: 14:42 EST, 14 December 2017 | Updated: 15:22 EST, 14 December 2017
LOS ANGELES (AP) – California's seemingly endless cycle of wildfires is prompting authorities to make plans to set more "controlled burns" to thin forests choked with dead trees and withered underbrush that serves as kindling to feed monster blazes that force entire communities to flee, destroy homes and take lives.
Fighting wildfires that burn out of control is extremely expensive and even when authorities make mammoth efforts to put out the blazes, they can still cause expensive property and infrastructure losses when the flames reach populated areas. In October, thousands of California homes burned and 44 people died from wildfires in the state's most renowned wine region north of San Francisco.
This week, while a fire northwest of Los Angeles still raged after destroying more than 700 homes, the U.S. Forest Service and the state fire agency warned that the threat will remain high even after that blaze is put out because of an estimated 129 million trees that died in California over the last year from drought and beetle infestation.
FILE – In this April 10, 2015 file photo, Monte Rio volunteer firefighter Gabriela Gibson sprays down hot spots on a half-acre fire in timber above Monte Rio, Calif., after a controlled burn crossed containment lines and wind blew embers in to the timber. California's seemingly endless cycle of wildfires is helping drive plans to do more "controlled burns" that thin forests choked with dead trees and withered underbrush that if left unchecked can feed monster blazes that force entire communities to flee, destroy homes and take lives. The goal for 2018 is to burn at least 20,000 acres and to clear another 20,000 by crews using chain saws, bulldozers and other machinery. (Kent Porter/Santa Rosa Press Democrat via AP, File)
"It's fuel just waiting to go up in flames," said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The agencies are planning more aggressive use of so-called prescribed burns, when fire prevention experts identify areas with bone dry "surface fuels" and send in crews to burn it or clear it away using chain saws and heavy equipment.
The state since July 1 has burned 13 square miles (37 square kilometers) of surface fuels such as dry needles, leaves and bark that accumulated over the years and can easily ignite, turning forests into powder kegs, Berlant said. That's more than double the amount cleared three years ago.
The goal for 2018 is to burn at least 31 square miles (80 square kilometers) and for the clearing crews to clean up another 31 square miles. To protect population centers, state and local authorities are also increasing inspections to make sure residential and commercial property owners are maintaining cleared spaces required by law between their properties and forestland.
But the 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) that would be cleared is far smaller than the 1,560 square miles (4,040 kilometers) of land that have been burned by California's wildfires so far this year.
The fire prevention measures will save money in the long run when compared to the huge costs of fighting fires – especially those near communities because so many aircraft and firefighters are rushed in to protect property and lives. The cost over just 11 days to fight the largest wildfire in the Los Angeles-area this month reached $74.7 million on Thursday and was still going up.
Mike De Lasaux, a forester with the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said the state ideally would burn hundreds of square miles of land with surface fuels annually, but he praised any efforts to reduce dangerously overgrown forests. The current plan moved forward following a recent agreement between state and federal agencies along with environmental, logging and recreational interests.
De Lasaux estimated the risk of the controlled burns running wild and burning homes at less than 2 percent.
But some have turned catastrophic, including a 2000 fire set by U.S. Park Service officials in New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument. High winds whipped the blaze and flames raced through the community of Los Alamos – home to Los Alamos National Laboratory, a nuclear facility and the birthplace of the atomic bomb. More than 400 families lost their homes.
A 2012 burn set by the Colorado State Forest Service southwest of Denver ignited a 6-square-mile (16-square kilometer) wildfire that killed three people and damaged or destroyed more than two dozen homes. Colorado suspended prescribed burns by state agencies for five years and the ban was lifted in October.
Opponents of the burns by authorities contend the fires release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, put lives and property at risk and kill wildlife and old trees that may never grow back. They also question their efficiency because the wildfires are on the rise even though controlled burns have increased.
"Well it's been policy for decades and we still have catastrophic fires worse than ever," said Arthur Firstenberg, a member of the New Mexico-based anti-controlled burn group Once A Forest.
De Lasaux counters that controlled fires produce significantly less smoke than wildfires like the one currently burning in California's heavily populated Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, "destroying all growth in its path" and prompting warnings about unhealthy air.
California officials only send out crews to conducted controlled burns when conditions are considered safe so that fires won't go out of control, Berlant. That means weather conditions with cooler temperatures, high humidity and calm winds, he said.
"Any time there's cooler temperatures we try to get our crews out there," he said. "What we get is a low-intensity fire that's not gonna burn everything in its path – just the grass and ground fuels. It leaves bigger trees safe."
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FILE – In this Oct. 28, 2008 file photo, a firefighter uses a drip torch during a prescribed burn of about 27 acres near Inskip, Calif. California's seemingly endless cycle of wildfires is helping drive plans to do more "controlled burns" that thin forests choked with dead trees and withered underbrush that if left unchecked can feed monster blazes that force entire communities to flee, destroy homes and take lives. The goal for 2018 is to burn at least 20,000 acres and to clear another 20,000 by crews using chain saws, bulldozers and other machinery. (Bill Husa/Chico Enterprise-Record via AP, File)
FILE – In this March 10, 2015 file photo, a controlled burn clears about 30 acres along the eastern edge of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Shasta County, Calif. California's seemingly endless cycle of wildfires is helping drive plans to do more "controlled burns" that thin forests choked with dead trees and withered underbrush that if left unchecked can feed monster blazes that force entire communities to flee, destroy homes and take lives. The goal for 2018 is to burn at least 20,000 acres and to clear another 20,000 by crews using chain saws, bulldozers and other machinery. (Andreas Fuhrmann/The Record Searchlight via AP, File)
This Oct. 30, 2017 photo shows a notice warning visitors of controlled-fire operations in Kings Canyon National Park, Calif. California's seemingly endless cycle of wildfires is helping drive plans to do more "controlled burns" that thin forests choked with dead trees and withered underbrush that if left unchecked can feed monster blazes that force entire communities to flee, destroy homes and take lives. The goal for 2018 is to burn at least 20,000 acres and to clear another 20,000 by crews using chain saws, bulldozers and other machinery. (AP Photo/Brian Melley)
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Australia resists calls for tougher climate targets
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted pressure to set more ambitious carbon emission targets while other major nations vowed deeper reductions to tackle climate change.
Addressing a global climate summit, Mr Morrison said Australia was on a path to net zero emissions.
But he stopped short of setting a timeline, saying the country would get there “as soon as possible”.
It came as the US, Canada and Japan set new commitments for steeper cuts.
US President Joe Biden, who chaired the virtual summit, pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. This new target essentially doubles the previous US promise.
By contrast, Australia will stick with its existing pledge of cutting carbon emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels, by 2030. That’s in line with the Paris climate agreement, though Mr Morrison said Australia was on a pathway to net zero emissions.
“Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create,” he told the summit.
“Future generations… will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver.”
Australia is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis. Mr Morrison, who has faced sustained criticism over climate policy, said action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would focus on technology.
The prime minister said Australia is deploying renewable energy 10 times faster than the global average per person, and has the highest uptake of rooftop solar panels in the world.
Mr Morrison added Australia would invest $20bn ($15.4bn; 11.1bn) “to achieve ambitious goals that will bring the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture to commercial parity”.
“You can always be sure that the commitments Australia makes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are bankable.”
Australia has seen growing international pressure to step up its efforts to cut emissions and tackle global warming. The country has warmed on average by 1.4 degrees C since national records began in 1910, according to its science and weather agencies. That’s led to an increase in the number of extreme heat events, as well as increased fire danger days.
Ahead of the summit, President Biden’s team urged countries that have been slow to embrace action on climate change to raise their ambition. While many nations heeded the call, big emitters China and India also made no new commitments.
“Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade – this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” President Biden said at the summit’s opening address.
Referring to America’s new carbon-cutting pledge, President Biden added: “The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable, and the cost of inaction keeps mounting.”
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56854558
Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms
The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.
The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.
All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.
It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.
British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.
The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.
The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.
It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.
“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.
“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”
The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.
It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official
Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.
The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.
Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.
Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.
“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.
Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”
However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.
Australia’s tight restrictions
The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.
Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.
A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.
Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.
Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.
Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.
Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.
The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.
While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.
Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.
In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581
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