Western Wildfires #84

Deepnews Digest #84

Western Wildfires

Editor: Christopher Brennan
The pictures of horrific orange skies over San Francisco brought out comparisons to nuclear winter and Blade Runner, but there is more to the story than just the images. This week our Digest explores wildfires. Our algorithm’s search for in-depth, quality pieces of course brought in articles from the West Coast of the United States, currently battling dozens of blazes, though also others that look at disaster management and climate change more broadly. All gathered with the Deepnews Scoring Model.
Editor’s note:
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Published every Friday

CBS News

Wildfires and weather extremes: It’s not coincidence, it’s climate change

Right on the heels of arguably the West Coast’s most intense heat wave in modern history comes the most ferocious flare-up of catastrophic wildfires in recent memory. Meanwhile, just a few hundred miles east, a 60-degree temperature drop over just 18 hours in Wyoming and Colorado was accompanied by an extremely rare late-summer dumping of up to 2 feet of snow.

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They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?

This week has seen the 2nd- and 3rd-largest California wildfires ever. There’s near-total scientific consensus on how to stop the next one.

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New York Times

A Photographer Works to the Sound of Falling Trees

I realized the day would not be straightforward as I was helping the fire crew move a burned log that was blocking their truck. “How long have you been up the road?” I asked. I wanted to know how much time it had taken for the truck to become enclosed by trees on both sides.

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Oregon Public Broadcasting

Hazardous smoke blankets western Oregon, with potentially deadly consequences

In much of Oregon everything is red: a thick layer of smoke covers the sun, casting everything in an eerie, ruby light. Raging wildfires in the Cascades, Willamette Valley, Coast Range and Rogue Valley have blanketed the western part of the state with smoke, sending ash raining onto nearby communities and filling the air with dangerous particulates.

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Editor’s Note:

The spread of wildfires have seen local media watch their communities threatened and many evacuated. Here Oregon Public Broadcasting reports on what residents need to know on subjects such as the Air Quality Index and PM 2.5 particles. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

Smart Cities Dive

Wildfires, COVID deliver one-two punch to West Coast cities

More than 1.6 million acres have burned in California this year alone while cities scramble to protect resident health amid the challenges COVID-19.

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The Conversation

Hurricanes and Wildfires Will Make COVID-19 Even Worse

At the intersection of a natural hazard and a pandemic is a decision process fraught with contradictions.

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LA Times

California to let gas plants stay open as time runs low for climate action

State officials threw a lifeline to four fossil fueled power plants along the Southern California coast, deciding the facilities are still needed to provide reliable electricity even as they contribute to the climate crisis.

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The U.S. Has to Get Serious About Wildfires

California’s wildfire season is off to a brutal start. Through August, this year already ranks as the second most destructive in the state’s history, with more than 1.6 million acres burned. Sparked by lightning strikes and record heat, fires in northern California have destroyed thousands of structures, wrecked air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area and carried smoke plumes as far away as Nebraska. With hot, dry weather likely to persist until November, the worst may be yet to come.

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Venture Beat

Why San Francisco had an apocalyptic orange sky

San Francisco residents awoke on Wednesday to an orange sky, like something out of the apocalypse. People shared images on social media of a sky turned hazy orange by smoke coming in from major wildfires throughout the region. Aclima, which measures air on a “hyperlocal” level with pollution sensors on cars, had an explanation for the phenomenon.

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As Historic Heatwaves Cook California, Tesla Activates Its Distributed Army To Save The Grid

Tesla enabled its fleet of deployed Powerwalls in affected areas of California to charge up from the grid by activating the Storm Watch function on the Powerwall in advance of a wave of rolling blackouts slamming California over the last two weeks. The blackouts were triggered by an extended heat wave causing excessive use of energy-intensive air conditioning and a handful of wildfires blazing across much of the state.

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Al Jazeera

Could Aboriginal fire practices help combat Australian wildfires?

Jenny Brown, who leads Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy and Impact at the Australian Red Cross, has seen how wildfires devastated her community and others. A Wandi Wandian woman from Yuin country – a seawater First Nations in New South Wales – she spoke to Al Jazeera about how a resurgence in traditional practices is helping tackle issues such as climate change.

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Editor’s Note:

Though with the pandemic it may seem like years ago, the beginning of 2020 saw deadly bushfires in large parts of Australia. Here Amira Abujbara looks into Aboriginal practices and what they may mean for fire management. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

New York Times

Federal Report Warns of Financial Havoc From Climate Change

WASHINGTON — A report commissioned by federal regulators overseeing the nation’s commodities markets has concluded that climate change threatens U.S. financial markets, as the costs of wildfires, storms, droughts and floods spread through insurance and mortgage markets, pension funds and other financial institutions.

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Washington Post

Summer heat to snow in 18 hours: Weather whiplash strikes Rocky Mountain states

DENVER — The calendar may say Sept. 8, but portions of the Rockies and High Plains are experiencing four seasons in four days amid a meteorological roller coaster. Temperatures plummeted about 55 to 60 degrees from Monday into Tuesday, the weather whiplash scouring out hot temperatures and ushering in a summertime snowstorm.

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LA Times

The El Dorado fire still burns, but the pandemic has made ‘gender reveals’ hotter than ever

Pyrotechnics from a gender reveal party in Yucaipa sparked a wildfire and ignited an international firestorm of criticism and fierce cultural debate over a custom many say is toxic and dangerous — not least because the fire continues to rage.

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How to breathe easier in America’s Smoke Belt

Smoke is transforming life in American cities. As I type this, smoky air from the Sierra Nevada mountains is pouring into San Francisco, casting a deep orange haze across the city, as well as much of the American west. Most days, the morning fog carries the smell of the lightning-sparked fires, an acrid brew of millions of incinerated trees and buildings now burning across California.

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Salt Lake Tribune

Public lands boss says he’s focused on curbing wildfires, wild horses

During his time as a Colorado-based lawyer fighting for the rights of property owners, William Perry Pendley argued for selling off public lands in support of Utah’s long-standing claim to millions of federal acres within its borders.

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Cal Matters

Legislature ignores fire insurance crisis

As wildfires of record magnitude swept through Northern California last week, destroying thousands of homes and other structures, the Legislature closed its 2020 session without doing something about the fire insurance crisis that afflicts fire-prone areas.

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Editor’s Note:

One of the looming issues after wildfires is insurance. Here Dan Walters writes an opinion piece for the non-profit Cal Matters exploring the insurer’s push to change the law, opposition to it, and what it may mean for the future. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

University of New South Wales

Climate change and the tyranny of psychological distance

UNSW Sydney’s Professor Ben Newell has been researching climate change psychology for a decade and his work focuses on how to tackle the preconceived notions people have which cloud their decision-making in the face of an uncertain future.

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The Guardian

California’s dark, orange sky is the most unnerving sight I’ve ever woken up to | Rebecca Solnit

The sky was the muddy yellow of an old bruise at 7am in San Francisco on Wednesday, and by eight it was a dull orange and the darkness that felt like night was coming on. This morning was perhaps the most unnatural-feeling and unnerving of my life, with darkness rather than daytime rolling in. People around California reported that the birds that would normally be singing were silent. On some of the days, since the freak lightning storm in the heat wave of mid-August launched this explosive fire season, the sun has been red, and when the moon was full it was also red near the horizon, but this morning there was no sun to be seen through the murk. Ash was falling, the ash of trees, forests, homes, towns, dreams burning up. In the strange light, the world around us looked ghostly, otherworldly, unnatural, unnerving, disturbing.

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A 2006 Heat Wave Was a Wake-Up Call. Why Didn’t L.A. Pay Attention?

On July 16, 2006, a sticky, searing air mass parked itself over Southern California and stayed there for almost two weeks, creating one of the worst heat waves in Los Angeles’s history. For ten days, most parts of L.A. were dangerously hot, including record-high overnight lows, making it physiologically impossible to cool down without a window AC unit trained with laser precision onto your bed. On the evening that Woodland Hills, the hottest pocket of the city, hit 119 degrees, shattering L.A. County’s all-time-high temperature record, I gave up and slept on the floor of my Hollywood apartment, a frozen washcloth molded to my forehead.

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New Statesman

Are Australia’s bushfires our future?

Amid the global consequences of a pandemic, the fires that devastated the country earlier this year can seem less significant – but they portend a far greater crisis.

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The Marshall Project

The Former Prisoners Fighting California’s Wildfires

“When people are in need, they don’t give a shit where you’re from or what your history is.”

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Editor’s Note:

The mixture of COVID releases and the wildfires has highlighted the role that inmates normally play in fighting fires. Here Christie Thompson explores stories of former prisoners for the non-profit Marshall Project. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

San Francisco Chronicle

People are fleeing the Bay Area. But they might not be gone for long

Shortly after Erica Johnston and her husband learned they were expecting a child, their best friends moved from San Francisco to Austin, Texas.

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Mel Magazine

We Still Don’t Know How to Talk About Wildfires

The burning of the American West defies our powers of description

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Daily Trojan

California wildfires speak to the implications of climate change

Although no one wished for its return, the California wildfire made a major comeback this August, creating two of the three largest fires in California history, damaging nearly 2,000 structures and causing seven fatalities in Northern California by as of Sept. 2. An unusually massive lightning storm is believed to be the main cause of this tragedy, but the underlying problem of climate change cannot be overlooked.

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