Posts Tagged ‘firefighters’

California wildfires deadliest in state’s history as death toll climbs

October 13, 2017


© Josh Edelson / AFP | A firefighter walks near a pool as a neighbouring home burns in the Napa wine region in California on October 9, 2017.

Video by FRANCE 24


Latest update : 2017-10-13

Firefighters gained ground on Thursday against wildfires that have killed at least 31 people in Northern California and left hundreds missing in the chaos of mass evacuations in the heart of the state’s wine country.

The death toll, revised upward by eight on Thursday, marked the greatest loss of life from a single California wildfire event in recorded state history, two more than the 29 people killed by the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles.

With 3,500 homes and businesses incinerated, the so-called North Bay fires also rank among the most destructive.

The flames have scorched more than 190,000 acres (77,000 hectares), an area nearly the size of New York City, reducing whole neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa to ash and smoldering ruins dotted with charred trees and burned-out cars.

The official cause of the disaster was under investigation, but officials said power lines toppled by gale-force winds on Sunday night may have sparked the conflagration.

A resurgence of extreme wind conditions that had been forecast for Wednesday night and early Thursday failed to materialize, giving fire crews a chance to start carving containment lines.

But fierce winds were expected to return as early as Friday night, and a force of 8,000 firefighters was racing to reinforce and extend buffer lines across Northern California before then.


Despite progress, fire crews remained “a long way from being out of the woods,” Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), told reporters in Sacramento, the state capital.

Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, added: “We are not even close to being out of this emergency.”

Death toll could rise

Authorities have warned that the death toll from the spate of more than 20 fires raging across eight counties for a fourth day could climb higher, with more than 400 people in Sonoma County alone still listed as missing.

One of the greatest immediate threats was to the Napa Valley town of Calistoga, whose 5,000-plus residents were ordered from their homes on Wednesday night as winds picked up and fire crept closer.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said anyone refusing to heed the mandatory evacuation would be left to fend for themselves if fire approached, warning on Thursday: “You are on your own.”

Melissa Rodriguez, her husband, baby and dog camped in the parking lot of a local college after smoke forced them to flee their Calistoga apartment. “We have high hopes it will still be there when we go back. … It feels sad, helpless, there’s nothing we can do.”

The Tubbs fire on Thursday was within 2 miles (3 km) of Calistoga, which was spared on the first night of the fires. Whether the town burns “is going to depend on the wind,” Calistoga Fire Chief Steve Campbell told Reuters. “High winds are predicted, but we have not received them yet.”

Fire officials have said some people killed in the fires were asleep when flames engulfed their homes. Others had only minutes to escape as winds of over 60 mph (97 kph) fanned fast-moving blazes.

Ghilarducci said the loss of cell towers likely contributed to difficulties in warning residents.

“We have found bodies that were completely intact, and we have found bodies that were no more than ash and bone,” Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano told reporters.

He added that recovery teams would begin searching ruins with cadaver dogs.

Nearly 500 missing

As many as 900 missing-person reports had been filed in Sonoma County, although 437 had since turned up safe, Giordano said. It remained unclear how many of the 463 still listed as unaccounted for were actual fire victims rather than evacuees who failed to alert authorities after fleeing their homes, he said.

“The best we can pray for is that they haven’t checked in,” emergency operations spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque told Reuters.

Sonoma County accounted for 17 of the North Bay fatalities, all from the Tubbs fire, which now ranks as the deadliest single California wildfire since 2003.

About 25,000 people remained displaced on Wednesday as the fires belched smoke that drifted over the San Francisco Bay area, about 50 miles (80 km) to the south, where visibility was shrouded in haze and automobiles were coated with ash.

The fires struck the heart of the state’s world-renowned wine-producing region, wreaking havoc on its tourist industry, while damaging or demolishing at least 13 Napa Valley wineries.

The full economic impact of the fires on the wine industry was not immediately clear. But 90 percent of grapes in Napa Valley were picked before the fires broke out on Sunday, according to Napa Valley Vintners.

California’s newly legalized marijuana industry also was hit hard, with at least 20 pot farms in Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties ravaged, said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association.

All the farms were seeking permits to eventually serve California’s nascent market for state-sanctioned recreational marijuana, Allen said.


Firefighters battle spreading wildfire near Athens, homes damaged

August 14, 2017


AUGUST 14, 2017 / 3:57 AM

ATHENS (Reuters) – Firefighters battled to contain a wildfire near Athens on Monday after it spread overnight to three towns some 45 km (30 miles) northeast of the capital and damaged dozens of homes.

The blaze broke out around 1300 GMT on Sunday in Kalamos, a coastal holiday spot northeast of Athens and quickly spread, fanned by strong and changing winds.

A state of emergency was declared in the area as the blaze burned pine forest and thick smoke billowed above. By Monday afternoon, the fire’s perimeter had expanded to “dozens of kilometers” authorities said, and the smell of smoke hovered over central Athens.

More than 200 firefighters with five dozen fire engines, four water-dropping helicopters and one plane tackled the blaze but a rugged terrain dispersed with small communities made the fire fighting task difficult, the fire brigade said.

Authorities had ordered a precautionary evacuation of two youth camps and homes in the area, and evacuated a monastery after flames briefly reached its fence on Monday.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, night, fire, sky, outdoor and nature

A firefighter tries to extinguish a fire at a house during a forest fire at Kalamos village, north of Athens, on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. Photo: Yorgos Karahalis, AP

Hundreds of residents fled the area of Kalamos, heading to the beach to spend the night.

“It was a terrible mess, that’s what it was. You could see homes on fire, people running, people desperate, it was chaos and the fire was very big,” a resident told Reuters TV.

Andreas Theodorou, a local councillor, said the blaze had damaged “several dozens of homes.”

More than 90 forest fires have been recorded in the last 24 hours across the country, with the most serious fronts near Athens, in the Peloponnese and on the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Kefalonia in western Greece.

“It’s arson according to an organized plan,” Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis, who is also the MP for Zakythnos, told state TV when asked to comment on the dozen fires burning on the island in the last two days. “There is no doubt about it.”

The cause of the wildfires was not known but summer blazes are common in Greece. More than 70 died in 2007 during the worst fires in decades.

Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and George Georgiopoulos; Writing by Karolina Tagaris, editing by Pritha Sarkar

Deadly wildfires around the world

June 18, 2017


© AFP | One of Australia’s worst wildfires killed around 173 people in 2009

PARIS (AFP) – Portuguese firefighters kept up the battle Sunday after one of the worst wildfire disasters in recent history killed at least 62 people.Here is a rundown of some of the deadliest wildfires around the world over the past two centuries.

– Australia –

In February 2009, at least 173 people die in brush fires in the south east, notably in the state of Victoria where entire towns and more than 2,000 houses are destroyed. The fires lasts several weeks before being contained by thousands of firemen and volunteers. It is one of the worst fires ever recorded in Australia.

– China –

In May 1987, the deadliest forest fire in recent Chinese history kills 119 in the northeast of the country, injuring 102 and leaving 51,000 homeless.

– France –

In August 1949, in the southwest Landes region, 82 rescue workers are killed. The victims — firemen, volunteers and soldiers — are caught in a ball of fire after the winds suddenly changed direction.

– Greece –

In 2007, 77 people die at the end of August in unprecedented forest fires that ravaged 250,000 hectares (2,500 square kilometres) in the southern Peloponnese and the island of Evia, northeast of Athens. The fires are the worst recorded in Greece in recent years.

– Portugal –

In June 2017, a fire roars through Portugal’s central Leiria region, killing at least 62 people and injuring over 50 more.

In 1966, a fire in the forest of Sintra, west of Lisbon, kills 25 soldiers fighting the blaze.

– Russia –

Around 60 people die between July and August 2010 as fires rage in over a million hectares of forest, bogs and brushwood, burning entire villages in the western part of the country during an unprecedented heatwave and drought.

– United States –

Likely the country’s deadliest, a wildfire struck Peshtigo, Wisconsin in October 1871, killing between 800 and 1,200 people. The fire had been burning for several days before it ripped into the forested village with a population of 1,700, destroying it in a matter of hours. It also damaged 16 other villages and destroyed 500,000 hectares of land.


Collapse of burning Tehran high-rise kills 30 firefighters

January 19, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by fire collapsed on Thursday, killing at least 30 firefighters and injuring some 75 people, state media reported.

The disaster struck the Plasco building, an iconic structure in central Tehran just north of the Iranian capital’s sprawling bazaar. Firefighters, soldiers and other emergency responders dug through the rubble, looking for survivors.

Iranian authorities did not immediately release definitive casualty figures, which is common in unfolding disasters.

Iranian firefighters work at the scene of the collapsed Plasco building after being engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A h...

Iranian firefighters work at the scene of the collapsed Plasco building after being engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iran’s state-run Press TV announced the firefighters’ deaths, without giving a source for the information. Local Iranian state television said 30 civilians were injured in the disaster, while the state-run IRNA news agency said 45 firefighters had been injured.

Firefighters battled the blaze for several hours before the collapse. The fire appeared to be the most intense in the building’s upper floors, home to garment workshops where tailors cook for themselves and use old kerosene heaters for warmth in winter.

Police tried to keep out shopkeepers and others wanting to rush back in to collect their valuables.

Tehran’s mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, said there were “no ordinary civilians” trapped under the rubble. However, witnesses said some people had slipped through the police cordon and gone back into the building.

President Hassan Rouhani ordered Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to investigate and report the cause of the incident as soon as possible, IRNA reported.

He also ordered the ministry to ensure the injured were cared for and to take immediate action to compensate those affected by the disaster.

The building came down in a matter of seconds, shown live on state television, which had begun an interview with a journalist at the scene. A side of the building came down first, tumbling perilously close to a firefighter perched on a ladder and spraying water on the blaze.

A thick plume of brown smoke rose over the site after the collapse. Onlookers wailed in grief.

Among those watching the disaster unfold was Masoumeh Kazemi, who said she rushed to the building as her two sons and a brother had jobs in the garment workshops occupying the upper floors of the high-rise.

“I do not know where they are now,” Kazemi said, crying.

In a nearby intersection, Abbas Nikkhoo stood with tears in his eyes.

“My nephew was working in a workshop there,” he said. “He has been living with me since moving to Tehran last year from the north of the country in hopes of finding a job.”

Jalal Maleki, a fire department spokesman, earlier told Iranian state television that 10 firehouses responded to the blaze, which was first reported around 8 a.m. He later said authorities visited the building “many times” to warn them about conditions there.

“They stacked up material on staircases, which was very awful, although we warned them many times,” he said.

Late Thursday afternoon, another fire broke out at a building next to the collapsed tower, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Firefighters worked to put it out.

Several embassies are located near the building. Turkey’s state-run news agency, reporting from Tehran, said the Turkish Embassy was evacuated as a precaution, though it sustained no damage in the collapse.

The Plasco building was an iconic presence on the Tehran skyline.

The 17-story tower was built in the early 1960s by Iranian Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian and named after his plastics manufacturing company. It was the tallest building in the city at the time of its construction.

Elghanian was tried on charges that included espionage and executed in the months after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the current ruling system to power — a move that prompted many members of the country’s longstanding Jewish community to flee.

The tower is attached to a multistory shopping mall featuring a sky-lit atrium and a series of turquoise fountains. It wasn’t immediately clear if the mall was damaged.


Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell and Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.


 (Photos before the collapse)

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed...

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)


On lookers watch the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire ...

On lookers watch the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Smoke rises up from the Plasco building where firefighters work to extinguish fire in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building w...

Smoke rises up from the Plasco building where firefighters work to extinguish fire in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building was engulfed by a fire then collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed...

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

An Iranian firefighter, bottom left, works in operations to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high...

An Iranian firefighter, bottom left, works in operations to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fi...

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In this image made from video, a high-rise residential building collapses following a large fire, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Tehran, Iran. Authorities said ...

In this image made from video, a high-rise residential building collapses following a large fire, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Tehran, Iran. Authorities said that over 20 people were injured in the blast that erupted in the morning hours. (IRINN via AP)

Iranians watch the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed ...

Iranians watch the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Police officers direct people in front of the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in T...

Police officers direct people in front of the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranian firefighters run towards the Plasco building engulfed by fire in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a ...

Iranians watch the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed ...

Iranians watch the Plasco building engulfed by a fire, in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In this image made from video, a high-rise residential building is collapsed following a large fire, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Tehran, Iran. Authorities sa...

In this image made from video, a high-rise residential building is collapsed following a large fire, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Tehran, Iran. Authorities said that over 20 people were injured in the blast that erupted in the morning hours. (IRINN via AP)

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fi...

Iranian firefighters work to extinguish fire of the Plasco building in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iranians watch the Plasco building where smoke rises from its windows in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a ...

Iranians watch the Plasco building where smoke rises from its windows in central Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. The high-rise building engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

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BBC News

Tehran fire: Many feared dead as high-rise collapses

State TV was broadcasting live as the building collapsed

About 25 firefighters are missing and feared dead after a high-rise building in Iran’s capital, Tehran, caught fire and collapsed, officials say.

Two hundred had battled the blaze in the landmark 17-storey Plasco building for several hours before it fell to the ground in a matter of seconds.

Rescue workers and sniffer dogs are searching the rubble for survivors.

Completed in 1962, the building was once Tehran’s tallest and contained a shopping centre and clothing workshops.

Officials said there had been warnings about a lack of safety in the building.

Smoke pours from the Plasco building in Tehran, Iran, shortly before it collapses (19 January 2017)
Firefighters battled the blaze for hours before the block collapsed. EPA photo
Rescue workers gather in front of the collapsed Plasco building in Tehran, Iran (19 January 2017)
Little was left of the 17-storey Plasco building after it crumbled to the ground. EPA

The fire reportedly began on the ninth floor at around 08:00 (04:30 GMT).

Initial photos showed flames and smoke pouring out of the top of the building.

Ten fire stations responded to the blaze and state television reported that dozens of firefighters were inside the building when the north wall collapsed, swiftly bringing down the whole structure.

One of the firefighters told AFP news agency: “I was inside and suddenly I felt the building was shaking and was about to collapse. We gathered colleagues and got out, and a minute later the building collapsed.”

Collapsed Plasco building in Tehran, Iran (19 January 2017)
The building was the first high-rise block in central Tehran. TASNIM NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS
A rescue worker stand in the rubble of the collapsed Plasco building in Tehran, Iran (19 January 2017)
It was not immediately clear how many people were trapped. EPA

“It was like a horror movie,” the owner of a nearby grocery shop told Reuters.

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said rescue workers were searching for at least 25 firefighters thought to have been inside the building when it collapsed.

He added that “no ordinary civilians” were believed to be trapped, but witnesses told the Associated Press that they had seen some people slip through the police cordon in an attempt to retrieve their possessions.

Some business owners were later filmed by state TV trying to enter the ruins.

A wounded fireman is carried from the collapsed Plasco building in Tehran, Iran (19 January 2017)
Rescue workers managed to pull some wounded firefighters out of the rubble. AFP
A firefighter reacts at the site of a collapsed high-rise building in Tehran, Iran (19 January 2017)
Others who survived unscathed had to be consoled by colleagues. AFP photo

Masoumeh Kazemi said her two sons and a brother had jobs at one of the many clothing workshops inside the building.

“I do not know where they are now,” she told the Associated Press in tears.

The official Irna news agency reported that more than 200 people were injured in the incident and had been taken to hospitals across the capital.

Police officers had cordoned off Jomhoori avenue, which passes by the building, as well as the nearby British and Turkish embassies, it added.

Fire department spokesman Jalal Maleki said it had repeatedly warned the building’s managers that it was unsafe, even lacking fire extinguishers.

Rescue worker helps an injured man after building collapse in Tehran, Iran (19 January 2017)
President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the interior minister to investigate the incident. EPA photo

“Even in the stairwells, a lot of clothing is stored and this is against safety standards. The managers didn’t pay attention to the warnings,” AFP quoted him as telling state TV.

The Tasnim news agency reported that the building “had caught fire in the past”.

President Hassan Rouhani ordered Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli to investigate the incident, calling it “extremely sad and unfortunate”.

The Plasco building was built by the prominent Iranian Jewish businessman Habib Elghanian and was named after his company. He was executed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution after being convicted of charges including spying for Israel.

No End In Sight For Canada’s Wild Fire — Hot weather and gusting winds make firefighting even tougher

May 18, 2016

Firefighters were preparing to tackle hot weather and gusting winds on Wednesday as they battled a massive wildfire raging near Fort McMurray, Alberta, that threatens oil sands facilities and work camps north of the city.

CALGARY, Alberta: Firefighters were preparing to tackle hot weather and gusting winds on Wednesday as they battled a massive wildfire raging near Fort McMurray, Alberta, that threatens oil sands facilities and work camps north of the city.

The fire forced the evacuation of thousands of workers on Tuesday, prolonging a shutdown that cut Canadian oil output by a million barrels a day. It destroyed a 665-room lodge for oil sand workers, then blazed east toward other camps.

Winds forecast for Wednesday were expected to push the uncontrolled blaze further east, putting oil operations in its path, officials said. The 355,000-hectare (877,224-acre) fire was also stretching toward the Saskatchewan border.

“We expect the fire to spread on the easterly side,” Alberta wildfire manager Chad Morrison said on a call late on Tuesday.

The wildfire is taking a toll on Alberta’s economy, with one study estimating lost oil production to cut gross domestic product (GDP) by more than CUS$70 million (27.5 million pounds) a day.

About 8,000 workers were evacuated from camps and facilities north of Fort McMurray on Tuesday, with both Suncor Energy Inc and Syncrude, majority owned by Suncor, removing all but bare essential staff from their major operations.

None of the oil sands have caught fire, and the industry has redoubled efforts to ensure facilities are well-protected. Officials said facilities have been cleared of vegetation and have lots of gravel on site, reducing their fire risk.

The roughly 90,000 residents of Fort McMurray were growing frustrated over the lack of an estimate for their return to the oil sands hub, which they were forced to flee about two weeks ago.

Late on Tuesday officials told a townhall meeting with residents they were narrowing down return dates that they hoped to share “very, very soon,” but added the city remained unsafe because of hot spots and the fire threat.

“On the ground here, it is still very, very smoky. The air quality is not good at all and it is not safe to return,” said municipality representative Dennis Fraser. “The number one thing is the safety of our citizens.”

Prior to the latest setback, lost oil production was expected to average about 1.2 million barrels a day for 14 days, or roughly CUS$985 million in lost real GDP, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

(Writing and additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver)

Canada wildfire explodes in size — already called the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history — doubled in size on Saturday — 150 helicopters

May 7, 2016

Reuters and AFP

© Cole Burston / AFP | Police officers standing in heavy smoke manage a road block on Highway 63 near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada on May 6, 2016


Latest update : 2016-05-07

A raging Canadian wildfire grew explosively on Saturday as hot, dry winds pushed the blaze across the energy heartland of Alberta and smoke forced the shutdown of a major oil sands project.

The fire that has already prompted the evacuation of 88,000 people from the city of Fort McMurray was on its way to doubling in size on Saturday, the seventh day of what is expected to be the costliest natural disaster in Canada’s history.

With temperatures on Saturday expected to rise as high as 28 Celsius (82 Fahrenheit), the weather was hindering efforts to fight the wildfire. Officials said it was still burning out of control and expected to keep pushing to the northeast.

“In these conditions officials tell us the fire may double in size in the forested areas today. As well, they may actually reach the Saskatchewan border. In no way is this fire under control,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley told a media briefing.

She said it was clear Fort McMurray residents would not be able to return anytime soon, noting the city’s gas has been turned off, its power grid was damaged and the water is not drinkable.

The fire had scorched at least 156,000 hectares (385,000 acres) by Saturday morning, the Alberta government said.

The full extent of property losses in Fort McMurray has yet to be determined, but one analyst estimated insurance losses could exceed C$9 billion ($7 billion).

More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze in and around Fort McMurray, along with 15 helicopters and 14 air tankers, the Alberta government said.

Within Fort McMurray, visibility is often less than 30 feet (9 meters) due to the smoke, making it still very dangerous to circulate in the city, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector Kevin Kunetzki told reporters at a highway checkpoint.

Syncrude oil sands project said Saturday it will shut down its northern Alberta operation and remove all personnel from the site due to smoke. There was no imminent threat from the fire.

Notley said it appeared the fire could burn to the edge of a project operated by Suncor Energy Inc, but noted the site was highly resilient to fire damage.

An official said CNOOC Nexen’s Long Lake oil sands facility appeared to have escaped damage, but was still obscured by smoke.

At least 10 oil sand operators have cut production due to evacuations and other emergency measures that complicated delivery of petroleum by rail, pipeline and highway.

About half of Canada’s oil sands production capacity, or one million barrels per day (bpd), had been taken offline by the conflagration as of Friday, according to a Reuters estimate.

Fleeing camps

Police escorted another convoy of evacuees out of the oil sands region north of Fort McMurray, taking them on a harrowing journey through burned out parts of the city and billowing smoke. Some 1,600 structures are believed to have been lost.

Earlier in the week most evacuees headed south by car on Alberta Highway 63, the only land route out of the area, in a slow-moving exodus that left many temporarily stranded on the roadside as they ran out of gasoline.

But about 25,000 residents who initially sought shelter in oil camps and settlements north of the city found themselves cut off in overcrowded conditions. They were forced on Friday and Saturday to retrace their route back through Fort McMurray on Highway 63.

Notley said in the past two days about 12,000 of those evacuees had been airlifted out, and in the past 24 hours 7,000 had traveled south by road. She said the goal was to have all the evacuees south by the end of Saturday.

Entire neighborhoods were reduced to ruins, but most evacuees fled without knowing the fate of their own homes. The majority got away with few possessions, some forced to leave pets behind.

Stephane Dumais, thumbing through his insurance documents at an evacuation center at Lac La Biche, said he has thought about moving away. But the idea does not sit well with the heavy equipment operator for a logging company.

“To me that’s like giving up on my city,” he said. “As long as it takes to rebuild it, let’s work together. It’s not going to be the same as it used to be.”



BBC News

Canada wildfire: Images show Fort McMurray devastation

Pictures obtained by the BBC show large parts of the Canadian city of Fort McMurray in ruins following a devastating wildfire.

The exact scale of the damage is difficult to assess, as access to the city is restricted.

Officials have given few details other than to report that 1,600 homes and other buildings have been destroyed.

However, people who have seen the damage say whole neighbourhoods have been wiped out.

One picture shows the ruins of many houses, with a car untouched by fire. In another, a destroyed church is surrounded by rubble.

Neighbourhood in ruins


Burnt-out house in Fort McMurray, 5 May 2016


A Mountie surveys the damage on a street in Fort McMurray, 5 May 2016

This image from local police also hinted at the scale of the devastation. RCMP Alberta

Some parts of the city, in the province of Alberta, have been defended resolutely and are still standing.

The city’s airport suffered only minor damage despite being licked by flame and engulfed by smoke.

Only the “Herculean” efforts of fire fighters saved the facility, says Scott Long of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

Crews also managed to protect other key infrastructure including the water treatment plant and the hospital.

Many homeowners were not so lucky.

Road in Fort McMurray

A wall of smoke towered above the fields

Road in Fort McMurray

Roads out of Fort McMurray are perilous

The images of whole neighbourhoods in ruins are shocking but they will not surprise the people of Fort McMurray who fled knowing that their city was in danger of being consumed by fire.

The fire in the province of Alberta covers 850 sq km (328.2 sq miles), and the entire city of almost 90,000 people was evacuated three days ago.

Most fled south but some of those who headed north have been airlifted to safety.

A police-escorted convoy of 1,500 vehicles was passing through the city along the only safe route to Edmonton and Calgary to the south, but police have told the BBC it has has been suspended because of flames up to 200 feet high on both sides of the road.

It will take approximately four days for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to escort all evacuees from sites north of Fort McMurray, authorities said.

For nearby communities though the danger has not receded.

Officials are predicting that it will be “weeks and weeks” before the fire is completely out. The region has not had significant rain in two months.

See how the Fort McMurray fires spread

4 May 2016

3 May 2016

The skies above the empty and smouldering city are full of strange shapes.

There are clouds that billow like bright white cauliflowers, boiling rapidly as they change by the second.

There are clouds illuminated by vertical streaks of a dull red from the fires on the ground.

And there are giant clouds stretching as far as the eye can take in with a single glance, great walls of smoke blown sideways by the strong winds.

Map of path of Alberta wildfire


Smoke billows up above a road in Fort McMurray, 5 May 2016

The helicopters – almost 150 of them, we are told – look puny in the face of such a dramatic display of nature’s power, but occasionally they do seem to be making progress in slowing the fire’s march across the plains.

Ultimately though, says Bill Stewart, co-director of the University of California’s Center for Fire Research and Outreach, only nature can stop it entirely.

“You could add five times the number of firefighters,” he said, “but you can’t get all the embers. There’s no way to put out every ember flying over firefighters’ heads.”

That makes for a terrifying and dangerous time for those on the front line of the fight.

On Thursday night we watched as firefighters rushed into the community of Anzac, trying to save it from flames which were tearing through a forest on the shores of nearby Gregoire Lake.

From across the lake the sight was stunning and horrifying. Fierce winds fanned the flames, and towering conifer trees went up in a flash as if they were matches struck on a box.

The whole blaze sent a pall of smoke high above, while the fires gave the sky an orange glow which could be seen for miles around.

It felt like a distress signal, signifying a disaster which is still unfolding.

Syrian refugees escape from Fort McMurray fire

Some Syrian refugees escaped violence in their home country only to have to flee their new homes in Fort McMurray. The Globe and Mail reported on the Labak family, who had fled Syria in 2011 and arrived in Canada two months ago, settling into Fort McMurray.

“My kids, mom say, ‘What [do] we have to do? You said to us we will live there, we will live happy. Why that happened to us?'” Ms Labak told the newspaper. “That’s very bad. I can’t answer to them anything.”

The fire, ash and smell in the air as they fled the town were reminiscent of bombings at their home in Damascus. They told the Globe and Mail that the cots at the shelter near Fort McMurray reminded them of refugee camps. They left most of their belongings – including their passports – behind.

In Calgary, some Syrian refugees are organising a support group for victims of the fire on Facebook, the Calgary Herald reports.

“(Canadians) gave us everything. And now it’s time to return the favour,” Rita Khanchet, who came to Calgary from Syria five months ago, wrote in the group.

Money being collected by the group will go toward hygiene items for Fort McMurray evacuees.

A new life in Canada for Syrian refugees

Japan rushes to aid earthquake victims as storm approaches, mudslide fears grow

April 16, 2016

Kirk Spitzer, USA TODAY 9:05 a.m. EDT April 16, 2016

TOKYO – Continuing aftershocks and the threat of heavy rain and wind added urgency to rescue efforts Saturday as authorities raced to help victims of two powerful earthquakes that struck southwestern Japan.

At least 29 people have been killed and some 1,500 injured in the two quakes that struck Kumamoto Prefecture late Thursday and early Saturday, according to Japan’s Kyodo News Service.

Many victims are feared trapped in collapsed homes and buildings, particularly in towns and villages cut off by downed bridges or landslides that have blocked key roads and highways.

The national government has dispatched 20,000 troops – many trained especially for disaster relief operations – to join thousands of local police, firefighters and rescue workers.

An approaching storm system was expected to arrive in the area late Saturday, prompting the government to rush additional rescue workers to the area, along with thousands of water-proof tarps to protect victims and workers.

Authorities fear that heavy rain could trigger additional landslides in the mountainous region.

“Daytime today is the big test” for rescuers, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the outset of an emergency meeting in Tokyo on Saturday. Abe said he had planned to travel to the stricken area on Saturday but canceled plans so as not to impede rescue operations on the ground.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference Saturday that workers are aware of multiple locations where victims “have been buried alive.”

“Police, firefighters and Self Defense Force personnel are doing all they can to rescue them,” Suga said. He said about 70,000 people have sought shelter in emergency centers.

Kyodo News reported that police had received 97 reports of people trapped or buried under collapsed buildings, while ten people were caught in landslides.

Aftershocks continued to hit the area on Saturday, rattling damaged structures and interrupting rescue operations.

The Japan Earthquake Research Committee reported that 252 smaller quakes or aftershocks had hit the area by 11 a.m. Saturday.

A magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck the Kumamoto region at about 9:26 p.m., local time, Thursday, and was followed by an even larger magnitude-7.3 quake at about 1:25 a.m. Saturday.

Both quakes were centered in Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, one of the country’s four main islands.

Kumamoto is a largely rural, mountainous region and is less densely populated than much of Japan. Some older homes and structures lack modern earthquake-mitigation technology found elsewhere in the country and therefore are likely more vulnerable to powerful quakes.

Officials from the Japan Meteorological Agency said Saturday’s quake was believed to be the “main quake” following a series of “precursor” events.

A huge landslide swept away homes and severed a major highway near the town of Minami-Aso, and a large bridge was knocked from its foundations.

In Kumamoto City, a 500-bed municipal hospital was one of several buildings nearly demolished by the quake and officials were evacuating patients, according to the national broadcaster NHK.

Kyodo News Service reported that that some 120,000 homes in the region were without electricity. Drinking water systems had also failed in the area.

Suga said 1,600 members of the Japan Self Defense Force had joined the rescue efforts and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters that a total of 20,000 troops would be deployed to the area over the weekend.

About 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan, though none in the Kumamoto region.  A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said that the Japanese government so far has not requested help.

“We offer our condolences for those affected by the earthquakes in Kumamoto. The U.S. government is ready to offer support if and when needed,” said spokesperson Marrie Schaefer.

NHK showed video of stones tumbling from the walls of historic Kumamoto Castle, and a wooden structure in the complex was smashed.

A bright spot, broadcast repeatedly on television Friday, was the overnight rescue of an apparently uninjured baby, wrapped in a blanket and carried out of the rubble of a home.

Contributing: The Associated Press


Earthquakes in Japan: Rescue crews seek survivors; at least 16 dead

April 16, 2016


Police officers check a collapsed house after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo April 16, 2016.
“The ground shook for about 20 seconds before the quake stopped,” witness Lim Ting Jie had said.

The Associated Press

MASHIKI, Japan — The Latest on earthquakes in Japan (all times local):

4 p.m.

Among the buildings destroyed in Japan’s twin earthquakes are parts of the historic Aso Shrine, a picturesque complex with a number of buildings with curved tiled roofs, some of which were flattened on the ground.

A towering gate, known as the “cherry blossom gate” because of its grandeur especially during spring, when cherry trees bloom, had collapsed and is totally damaged.

The shrine, more than 1,700 years old, is designated an “important cultural property” by the Japanese government, and has been a popular tourist spot in Kyushu.


3:30 p.m.

One massive landslide from Japan’s deadly earthquakes tore open a mountainside in Minamiaso village in Kunamato Prefecture all the way from the top to a highway below, destroying a key bridge that could cut off food and other relief transport to the worst hit area.

A trail of brown earth streamed down the hillside like a muddy river.

Another landslide gnawed at a highway, collapsing a house that fell down a ravine and smashed at the bottom. In another part of the village, houses were left hanging precariously at the edge of a huge hole cut open in the earth.


2:50 p.m.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed concerns about secondary disasters as the weather forecast for southwestern Kyushu is showing rain and strong winds later Saturday.

Rainfall can set off mudslides because the soil has already been loosened by quake jitters.

Abe say “daytime today is the big test,” for rescue efforts.

Landslides have already cut off roads and destroyed bridges, imperiling rescue and relief efforts.

At least 29 people have been confirmed dead in two powerful earthquakes that struck southern Kyushu island on Thursday evening and early Saturday, and many more are trapped underneath fallen homes.

A deadly earthquake, 6.4, has hit Southern Japan. With nine people confirmed dead, locals flee the area as they fear aftershocks and volcanoes.
Japan earthquake Mashiki deadly

Residents walk through debris and observe the damage in Mashiki town, where strongest earthquake of magnitude 6.2 [EPA]


12:40 p.m.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga says 1,500 people have been injured, 80 of them seriously, in twin earthquakes on southern Kyushu island.

Suga did not mention the death toll, which local officials put at 29, saying the numbers are likely to rise.

He says the military will be boosted to 20,000 for rescue efforts. Police and firefighters are also being ordered to the southwestern region.

In a nationally televised news conference, Suga asked people not to panic.

He says: “Please let’s help each other and stay calm.”


12:30 p.m.

Japanese media are reporting the eruption of Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan located on Kyushu island where twin earthquakes killed at least 29 people, buried houses and set off landslides.

That’s the first eruption in a month.

Smoke is rising about 100 meters (328 feet) in the air, but no damage has been reported.

It’s not immediately clear if there’s a link the seismic activity and the eruption.

Aso is 1,592 meters (5,223 feet) high and consists of five peaks. It’s about 1 ½ hour drive from Kumamoto Prefecture, the epicenter of the quakes.


12 noon

A Japanese official says the death toll in the second earthquake to hit southern Kyushu island early Saturday has risen to 19.

That’s in addition to 10 people killed in Thursday’s magnitude-6.5 quake.


10:10 a.m.

A fresh earthquake measuring 5.4 has hit southern Kyushu island on Saturday morning, following a 7.3-magnitude quake that killed at least six people overnight.

Kumamoto Prefectural official Tomoyuki Tanaka says the death toll is still unclear, with the fire department reporting a higher number of at least seven.

More than 400 people are reported injured.

Japanese TV news footage showed collapsed and flattened houses, and said people are trapped in buildings.

The Japan Meteorological Agency gave a preliminary reading of magnitude-7.3 for the temblor that struck early Saturday. A magnitude-6.5 quake struck late Thursday, killing 10 people. Aftershocks are rattling various areas in Kyushu, one of Japan’s main four islands.


9:50 a.m.

Police in southern Japan say the second earthquake that struck the same region in 24 hours has killed at least six people.

The magnitude-7.3 quake shook the Kumamoto region at 1:25 a.m. Saturday. On Thursday night, the area was hit by a magnitude-6.5 quake that left 10 dead and more than 800 injured.


Rescue crews seek survivors of 2nd Japanese quake; at least 16 dead

Updated 2:49 AM ET, Sat April 16, 2016

Tokyo, Japan (CNN)Rescue crews scrambled through rubble Saturday in a race against time for survivors of a magnitude-7.0 earthquake that struck Japan’s Kyushu Island, the same region rattled by a 6.2 quake two days earlier.

A total of 25 people have died in both earthquakes, according to current estimates.
The death toll in the latest Kyushu earthquake is 16 people, according to Kumamoto Prefecture’s disaster management office. A previous earthquake that struck the area on Thursday had killed nine people.
The earthquake toppled buildings and shredded structures into pile of debris. At least 23 people were buried inside buildings, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said .
TV Asahi showed crews crawling over a collapsed roof in an attempt to find an elderly couple. An 80-year-old man was pulled from the rubble, TV Asahi said.
The tremors appear to have caused extensive damage, overturning cars, splitting roads and triggering a landslide as shown by TV Asahi footage. The area was rocked by as many as 165 aftershocks, some of them as strong as magnitude-5.3 struck in the hours after the quake.
Television images showed mostly desolate streets, shards of broken glass on the streets and people huddled outside.
Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 7,262 people have sought shelter at 375 centers since Friday in Kumamoto Prefecture. Suga said 20,000 self-defense forces are being deployed to the region for rescue efforts.

Japan’s “Ring of Fire”


The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the latest quake struck just west-southwest of Kumamoto-shi and about 8 miles south-southeast of Ueki, the epicenter of the late Thursday tremor that left nine dead.
“No question, this is a large and very important earthquake,” said Doug Given, a geophysicist with the USGS. “And it will do a lot of damage.”
Given noted: “The four islands of Japan are on the edge of what’s traditionally been known as the ‘Ring of Fire'” — a stretch along parts of the Pacific Ocean prone to volcanoes and earthquakes.
Victor Sardina, a geophysicist in Honolulu, Hawaii, told CNN that the latest quake was about 30 times more powerful than Thursday’s deadly tremor. He predicted “severe, serious implications in terms of damage and human losses.”
The shallow depth of the quake — about 10 kilometers, or 6 miles — and the densely populated area where it struck could prove to be devastating, according to experts.
The quake prompted the Japan Meteorological Agency to issue a tsunami advisory for coastal regions of Japan on the Ariake Sea and Yatsushiro Sea around 2 a.m. Saturday (1 p.m. ET Friday). The agency subsequently lifted all tsunami warnings and advisories.
Japanese media reported a small scale eruption of Mt. Aso around 8:30 a.m. local time Saturday. It was unclear whether the eruption occurred in relation to the earthquake, according to the Japan’s meteorological agency.

‘Buildings were swaying and cracking’


“This looks like it’s going to be a very damaging earthquake. I think we can expect that this is going to be far worse” than Thursday’s tremor, said Tom Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.
In short video posted to Instagram, people standing in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Kumamoto let out screams following an aftershock.
Journalist Mike Firn in Tokyo told CNN he felt the trembles in a building some 900 kilometers, or more than 550 miles away from the epicenter.
“The building started shaking,” he said. “It was swaying quite strongly for over a minute. … Buildings were swaying and cracking.”
The latest tremor suggests that the earthquake on Thursday was a foreshock, though USGS expert cautioned “that’s not to say that the Earth can’t produce a bigger earthquake still to follow.”
“But statistically, it’s more likely that this latest event will be followed by aftershocks, which are all smaller.”

Prime Minister on the way to the site


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the earthquake-hit area in Kumamoto prefecture later Saturday, he said at a meeting at emergency response headquarters in Tokyo.
“I would like to see the site with my own eyes and hear from the victims directly,” Abe said.
Search crews were continuing to dig through rubble looking for other people trapped under collapsed buildings.
The Thursday quake struck near Ueki, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Dozens of smaller aftershocks followed.
“The ground shook for about 20 seconds before the 6.2-magnitude quake stopped,” witness Lim Ting Jie had said.
Two deaths occurred in Mashiki, the Kumamoto prefecture office said. One person died in a collapsed house, and the other died in a fire caused by the quake. Journalist Mike Fern told CNN that scores of buildings had either collapsed or caught fire, while the tremors triggered landslides, tore up roads and in one case, derailed a bullet train.
Nearly 800 people were injured, 50 severely. The prefecture office said 44,449 people had been evacuated.

Baby pulled from rubble after earlier quake


Japan had already been coping with a previous earthquake on Kyushu island on Thursday. During the search and recovery effort for the first earthquake, rescuers found an 8-month-old baby girl alive in the ruins of a home destroyed by the earlier quake on Japan’s Kyushu island.
Rescuers had been told there was a baby inside the collapsed house, but aftershocks from the quake prevented the use of heavy equipment at the site. After six hours after the infant was trapped, she was pulled from the rubble early Friday.

A rescue worker carries an eight-month-old baby girl after she was pulled from the rubble following the earthquake in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture.

“It was miracle she was unharmed,” said Hidenori Watanabe, a spokesman for the Kumamoto Higashi fire department.
Fifty rescuers — wearing dark uniforms and white hard-hats with lights — scoured the large pile of rubble that just hours before had been a home. The infant’s mother and grandmother had managed to escape.
The little girl was finally found safe amid the debris in a space under one of the house’s pillars, according to Watanabe.
This happened in the middle of the night, in an area lit only by spotlights.
Carefully, rescuers passed the barefooted baby to one another, before she finally got to crews on the ground and was taken swiftly away.

A high-risk area


The largest recorded quake to hit Japan came on March 11, 2011, when a magnitude-9.0 quake centered 231 miles (372 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo devastated the country.

Remembering Japan's 2011 earthquake disaster

That quake triggered a massive tsunami that swallowed entire communities in eastern Japan. It caused catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The disaster killed about 22,000 people — almost 20,000 from the initial quake and tsunami, and the rest from health conditions related to the disaster.

Tianjin firefighters as young as 17, poorly trained, ill prepared for chemical inferno they faced — China blocks social media critics of explosion response

August 17, 2015

Al Jazeera

Tianjin: Nearly 100 people missing from Tianjin blasts, including 85 firefighters, officials say, as death toll rises to 114

Scores of Chinese firefighters are still missing following the massive explosions that hit an industrial area in Tianjin, officials have said.

At an official press conference on Sunday, authorities announced that the death toll had risen to 112, but added that 95 people had been confirmed missing – including 85 firefighters.

Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Tianjin, a port city in the country’s northeast, said it was now possible that the death toll will climb past 200, “making it one of China’s worst industrial accidents”.

Authorities evacuated residents living near the industrial site on Saturday as fears spread that toxic substances were spreading.

Brown said that officials have still not been able to identify the cause of the explosion, but the disaster is believed to have started at a warehouse of shipping containers with hazardous materials.

“What the people in this city want is reliable information,” he said.

Officials have listed a litany of chemicals that may have been at the hazardous goods storage facility when the explosions happened, but have been unable to say precisely which ones were present.

Potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate are believed to have been there.

Chinese reports said 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide were at the site, and officials called in experts from producers of the material to help handle it. Hydrogen peroxide, which neutralises it, has been used.

The explosions occurred after firefighters were called to a blaze at a hazardous chemicals storage facility on Wednesday night in an industrial zone of Tianjin, one of China’s biggest cities with a population of 15 million people.

GALLERY: Deadly inferno – The aftermath of the massive Tianjin explosions

Then, two massive explosions took place about 11:30pm (15:30 GMT), sending a giant fireball sweeping across the area.

Residents likened the shockwaves to an earthquake, and aerial footage of the blast zone shows scenes of monumental devastation, with buildings burned out, shipping containers crushed and tumbled like piles of children’s blocks, and fields of burned-out vehicles.

About 10,000 new imported cars near the blast site were destroyed, according to Chinese media reports, and even buildings three kilometres (1.9 miles) away had their windows shattered.

Tianjin residents, relatives of the victims and online commentators have criticised local authorities for a lack of transparency, including at one point trying to storm a news conference on Saturday.

On Sunday, sobbing men confronted security at the hotel where officials have been briefing journalists, with one shouting “Police, I will kill someone!” in what appeared to be a desperate bid to draw attention before being comforted by a policeman, the AFP news agency reported.

Another lashed out at reporters attempting to photograph him, saying: “Don’t take my photo, it is useless. The news has no truth!”

The government has moved to limit criticism of the handling of the aftermath, with a total of 50 websites having been punished for “creating panic by publishing unverified information or letting users spread groundless rumours”, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China.

Critical posts on social media have also been blocked, and more than 360 social media accounts have been suspended or closed down.


In Tianjin Blasts, a Heavy Toll for Unsuspecting Firefighters

The New York Times

BEIJING — The young firefighters, their thin frames puffed up by insulated coveralls, some of them barely old enough to shave, rushed to the scene of a modest warehouse blaze in the port city of Tianjin on Wednesday night with little idea of the danger that awaited them.

Initial reports described a car on fire. But the 60 or so men who first arrived at the scene — contract firefighters employed by the Tianjin Port Group, many of them as young as 17 — confronted a blaze that had spread to metal shipping containers stored nearby. The firefighters aimed their hoses at the flames and turned on the water.

That turned out to be a deadly mistake.

Roughly 15 minutes later, an explosion — fueled by a collection of volatile chemicals that emit a combustible gas when wet — ripped through the warehouse. Yang Kekai, 27, was thrown to the ground as flaming debris rained down. Another blast, seconds later, sent him hurtling more than three yards. “When I was flying through the air, my heart skipped a beat and I thought I was finished,” Mr. Yang said later from a hospital bed.

Read the rest:


China’s Tianjin Explosions and Fires: Could become one of the world’s deadliest disasters for fire crews ever — Families demanding answers

August 17, 2015

The Associated Press

TIANJIN, China — The rapid chain of explosions that destroyed a warehouse district in the Chinese port of Tianjin could become one of the world’s deadliest disasters for fire crews, with at least 21 firefighters confirmed dead and scores of others still missing.

Now questions are being raised about whether the crews were properly trained and equipped to deal with the emergency at a warehouse that stored a volatile mix of chemicals, including compounds that become combustible on contact with water.

Firefighters wearing chemical protective clothing work at the site of explosion in Tianjin, north China, on Saturday. Photograph: Xinhua/Landov/Barcroft Media

For a third day Monday, angry relatives of the 64 missing firefighters flocked to a hotel to demand information about their loved ones from government officials.

“I’ve gotten no information from the authorities whatsoever,” said Liu Runwen, whose 18-year-old son, Liu Zhiqiang, has been missing since he responded to the fire Wednesday night.

Liu said his son joined the force two years ago on the recommendation of a friend and embraced the danger despite safety concerns.

“He was proud to be a firefighter who could serve the people,” Liu said.

The father had questions about whether his son was sufficiently prepared, and he complained that TV reports failed to mention contract firefighters like his son alongside full-fledged firefighters “as if they never took part at all.”

As of Monday, 114 people had been confirmed dead in the blasts, which destroyed several warehouses, crumpled shipping containers and shattered windows several kilometers (miles) away. Police have cordoned off the area of still-smoldering fires in a mixed industrial and residential zone, and more than 6,000 people have been forced into temporary shelters or are staying with friends and family.

Also angry with authorities was Yang Jie, whose firefighter son, Yang Weiguang, is among the missing. The 23-year-old had joined just 10 months earlier after a two-year stint in the army.

“He didn’t worry about his own safety when he became a firefighter, but he knew firefighters might face danger while carrying out rescue work,” Yang said. “He never thought he would encounter such a huge accident.”

Yang Weiguang is “a very good kid,” his father said. “He doesn’t drink or smoke or pick fights but really likes reading novels by foreign authors.”

State media have already called the accident the single deadliest for firefighters since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The death toll for fire crews could go much higher if many of the 70 missing are confirmed dead.

Local officials have yet to comment on the possible cause of the explosion and the fire that preceded it. However, the Global Times newspaper, citing chemical industry experts speaking on condition of anonymity, said the blast was probably triggered by a flammable substance such as industrial alcohol stored on the site. Other reports suggested that high summer temperatures may have been a factor, along with the possibility of a chemical reaction sparked by water being sprayed by the firefighters.

Zhong Shengjun, a social scientist who studies industrial safety at Northeastern University in Shenyang, said “we can’t rule it out that when firefighters tried to cool down the area, they sprayed some water on some alkali metals that should not be in contact with water. It’s partly because the firefighters couldn’t contact the executives of the warehouse in time so as to know exactly where different chemicals were placed.”


“This disaster has exposed several problems, such as the poor management of dangerous chemicals. In theory, they should be stored by category and have clear signs placed on their containers indicating their basic features,” he said.

China should have a system whereby dangerous chemicals are tracked on their containers by bar code, but that system has not yet been adopted at Chinese ports, Zhong said.

In the United States, firefighters regularly visit industrial sites to become familiar with hazardous materials and how they are used and stored.

“You need to know ahead of time what you’re dealing with,” said Glenn Corbett, associate professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

However, Zhong said that because the Tianjin accident took place at transit warehouse in a loading area of the port, the material was there only temporarily, making it especially difficult to identify.

Corbett said that beginning in the late 1960s, American fire crews also established specialized hazardous-materials teams that are “trained to a much higher level” than regular firefighters.

Many of the Tianjin firefighters, including many of the dead, were not part of a full-time department, but rather had been hired on one-year contracts to act as a sort of auxiliary firefighting force. They did not enjoy the official perks and job security of the national firefighting team, which is itself an adjunct of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police.

One of contract firefighters, 18-year-old Zhou Ti, survived only because he was buried so deeply under his colleagues’ corpses.

About 40 minutes after the first reports of a fire, a sudden set of explosions — one equivalent to 21 tons of TNT — all but obliterated Zhou’s squad. Rescuers pulled him out about 32 hours later.

“I was wondering what could be wrong with me. Why would people need to be saving me? And then it occurred to me that maybe I was in an incident,” Zhou told state broadcaster CCTV in an interview from his bed at Teda Hospital, where he was in stable condition. Doctors refused requests by other media to interview him, citing the fear of infection to his damaged lungs.

A firefighter for just over a year, Zhou said he understood the risks of the job.

“Yes, I have a bit of fear, but it does not stop me from firefighting. I won’t let my fear show. You do what you need to do,” said Zhou, breathing with the help of a respirator, his face burned black by the explosion.

Knocked to the ground by the initial blast, Zhou said he tried to cover his head before blacking out. “I recall nothing after that,” he said.

Just 24 of the accident’s 114 confirmed victims have been identified. The force of the blast and heat of the fire make it unlikely that the bodies of the dead would remain intact.

The fate of the firefighters has captured the public imagination, with tributes streaming in from Premier Li Keqiang and other top officials.

One set of SMS messages reportedly sent between an unnamed firefighter and a friend has been circulated widely online. In it, the firefighter says one of his colleagues has just been killed. He also asks his friend to look after his father if he fails to return alive.

“If I don’t come back,” the unnamed firefighter wrote, “my dad is your dad.”

State television said the man survived.


Associated Press writers Didi Tang and Ian Mader and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing, video journalist Paul Traynor in Tianjin and Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.