Posts Tagged ‘firefighting’

Trump declares disaster over deadly California wildfire

January 3, 2018

Above, fire burns along canyons and ridges above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in Montecito, California. (AP)

VENTURA, California: President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared a major disaster in California over a wildfire that destroyed more than 1,000 buildings as fierce winds whipped it through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties last month.

The declaration makes federal funding available to state and local governments and some nonprofit organizations for emergency work in those counties and statewide for work to reduce hazards related to the fire, according to a White House statement.
The Thomas fire that began on December 4 is the largest recorded in the state. It was 92 percent contained on Tuesday. Firefighters were still putting out hot spots and smoldering areas.
The fire covered more than 1,140 square kilometers, killed two people, destroyed entire neighborhoods, threatened coastal foothill communities, ravaged wilderness areas and cast a pall of smoke that shuttered businesses in downtown Santa Barbara.
Firefighting costs alone have approached $200 million.
The disaster declaration means the federal government may cover 75 percent of those costs and the costs of recovering from the blaze, such as removing vast amounts of debris in fire-denuded areas that could be hit with flash floods and debris flows if winter rains arrive.
After a flight over the devastated area on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen said the president’s declaration would help with rebuilding from the fire, which burned more than 700 homes along with other buildings.
“Seeing the devastation, I’m deeply moved,” she said. “My heart goes out to the survivors. We met with some of them today.”
On Wednesday, she was expected to visit Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Wildfires in October swept through Sonoma, Napa and other counties in and around wine country, killing 44 people and destroying more than 5,000 homes. Insured damages alone topped $9 billion.
Trump already approved a major disaster declaration for California for that wildfire.
Gov. Jerry Brown requested the same declaration last month for San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties as devastating fires swept the state.
“It is expected many of the survivors in the impacted communities will have no insurance coverage or be underinsured,” Brown’s request said. “Even for those survivors who have insurance coverage, major challenges remain to obtain temporary housing and attempt to rebuild their lives.”
Although Tuesday’s declaration only covers Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, “damage assessments are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed,” the White House statement said.


Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires

June 19, 2017


© AFP / by Laurence COUSTAL | Heat waves have become more frequent in Portugal, say experts

PARIS (AFP) – Highly exposed to global warming’s climate-altering impacts, Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires such as the one — still raging — that has killed at least 60 people this weekend, experts say.- Why Portugal, why now? –

The Iberian peninsula encompassing Portugal and Spain is experiencing a warmer, drier June than usual, explains Thomas Curt, a researcher at France’s Irstea climate and agriculture research institute.

Added to that, the country has vast expanses of highly inflammable plants, including forests of pine and eucalyptus trees.

“Hotter air is synonymous with drier and more inflammable vegetation,” said Curt. “The more the mercury climbs, so does the risk of fires and their intensity.”

Temperatures in the region have warmed by more than the global average over the past half century, according to a 2014 review of climate change impacts on Portugal.

Heat waves have become more frequent, and annual rainfall slightly less, said the review published in the journal WIREs Climate Change.

More frequent and pronounced heat waves are expected in future, accompanied by a “substantial increase” in fire risk — “both in severity and in length of the fire season,” it said.

– Does global warming boost forest fire risk? –

“It is certain — we are experiencing a rise in temperatures,” said Curt.

The Northern hemisphere summer has lengthened over the past 50 years from July-to-August, to June-to-October now — meaning a longer fire risk season.

There has been an increase in major fires of more than 100 hectares, and so-called “megafires” of more than 1,000 hectares, the researcher added.

“It is truly a growing problem everywhere in the world, and notably in Mediterranean Europe.”

These mega blazes remain rare — only about 2-3 percent of all fires — but are responsible for about three-quarters of all surface burnt.

“Many analyses of climate change show that these major fires will become more and more likely,” said Curt.

– What to do? –

In the short term, reinforce firefighting capacity, deploy patrols, set up watchtowers to raise the alarm, and ban fire-making everywhere.

Over the longer term, human settlements and green areas will need to be substantially redesigned, experts say.

Some forest will have to be cut back, undergrowth cleared, and residential areas moved further from scrubland and forest borders, to reduce the risk to life and property.

“The focus of efforts should shift from combating forest fires as they arise to preventing them from existing, through responsible long-term forest management,” green group WWF said.

“Responsible forest management is more effective and financially more efficient than financing the giant firefighting mechanisms that are employed every year.”

In the yet longer term, added Curt, “of course, we need to curtail global warming itself.”

by Laurence COUSTAL

France Sending Planes to Help Israel Fight Fires

November 24, 2016

NOV. 24, 2016

JERUSALEM — The Latest on the wildfires in Israel (all times local):

8 p.m.

France says it is sending firefighting planes to Israel to help battle a series of wildfires across the country.

The French presidency said Thursday that President Francois Hollande had instructed his interior minister to dispatch three aircraft.

It says the planes will depart “as soon as possible.” They will join a multinational firefighting effort that has also included assistance from Russia, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Croatia.


7:45 p.m.

The Palestinian Authority has offered Israel assistance in combatting raging wildfires across the country.

The offer comes as Israeli leaders are implying that Arab arsonists are behind some of the fires.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Thursday that the Palestinians offered teams of firefighters to help join an international effort to extinguish the fires.

Yousef Nassar, the director general of the Palestinian Civil Defense, said the offer was “a humanitarian message.” The Palestinians assisted Israel during a deadly wildfire in 2010.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said some of the fires roaring around the country were the result of “terror,” an apparent reference to Arab or Palestinian assailants.

Some 50,000 people have been evacuated from Israel’s third-largest city Haifa, the site of the largest fires.


7 p.m.

Israel’s prime minister is blaming “arsonists’ terror” for some of the fires raging across the country.

Speaking to reporters Thursday in Haifa, where the largest of several wildfires around the country has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, Benjamin Netanyahu said those setting the fires would be “punished severely.”

Netanyahu did not elaborate on the identity of the suspected arsonists or their motives, but Israeli officials typically use “terror” to refer to Arab or Palestinian militant activity.

Earlier, Israel’s police chief said arrests have been made, without elaborating.

Some 50,000 people have been evacuated from Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Fires have been sparked around the country for several days, with dry, windy weather spreading the flames quickly.


10:30 a.m.

Israeli police have arrested four Palestinians in connection with one of several large fires that damaged homes and prompted the evacuation of thousands of people over the past few days.

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday that police are investigating all possible causes, including arson. Windy and hot weather have helped fan the flames.

He says the blazes started three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together.

Later, fires erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem. In all, hundreds of homes have been damaged and thousands of people have been evacuated. About a dozen were treated for smoke inhalation.

Cyprus, Russia, Italy and other countries are assisting the Israeli firefighters with equipment as the fires continue.



BBC News

Tens of thousands of people are being evacuated as wildfires rage through parts of Israel’s third largest city of Haifa.

The fires follow a two-month drought and are being fanned by strong winds in the north of the city.

Wildfires are also threatening homes near Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

Israel’s police chief said arson was suspected in some cases and PM Benjamin Netanyahu said any such attacks would amount to “terror”.

“Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such,” he was quoted by Haaretz newspaper as saying.

“Anyone who tries to burn parts of the state of Israel will be severely punished.”

Police chief Roni Alsheich said that if fires had been started deliberately it was “safe to assume… it is politically-motivated”.

In pictures: Israeli wildfires

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing religious Jewish Home party, also appeared to suggest Arab or Palestinian involvement in the fires, writing on Twitter: “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”

On social media, the Arabic-language hashtag #Israel_on_fire began trending, with most tweets expressing pleasure over the outbreak.

Residents flee fire in HaifaImage copyrightAP
Image captionHuge flames roared between apartment blocks as residents fled

Four Palestinians have been arrested in connection with a fire near Jerusalem and are due to appear in court, officials said.

The Palestinian Authority has offered to help Israel’s fire department, a senior Israeli security official told the BBC, but has not yet received a reply.

Meanwhile, hundreds of military reservists have been called up to help battle the three-day outbreak of fires.

Map showing Haifa

In Haifa, about 50,000 of the city’s residents had left their homes, the city council said, and several neighbourhoods will be without electricity overnight.

People loaded up supermarket trolleys with belongings, while schools, kindergartens, universities and an old people’s hospital were evacuated.

More than 130 people have been taken to hospital with minor injuries, mainly from smoke inhalation, but most were later discharged, Haaretz reported.

Two prisons near Haifa have also been evacuated.

Further south, Highway 443 – which links Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, crossing through the West Bank – was closed to morning traffic on Thursday as another blaze reached the city of Modi’in.

Homes and cars were damaged, and 300 students were evacuated from a school in Talmon, an Israel settlement in the occupied West Bank, police said.

Car passing fire in HaifaImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMonths of dry weather have left the country vulnerable to fires

Firefighters have been battling fires in several locations since Tuesday and forecasters are warning that the dry conditions and strong winds are likely to continue until early next week.

Several countries – including Cyprus, Russia, Italy, Croatia and Greece – have sent help and equipment, including aircraft, to help tackle the blazes.

Mr Netanyahu said officials were also contacting the US company which operates a huge firefighting plane known as the “Supertanker”.

In 2010, 42 people died in a fire on Mount Carmel, just south of Haifa.

Indonesia’s smoke and haze reason for evacuations — starting with babies and children — “The air is unliveable”

October 24, 2015


An Indonesian woman and a child walk on a bamboo bridge as thick yellow haze shrouds Palangkaraya on Oct 22, 2015. AFP photo

Six navy ships and other vessels ready to help if cities are rendered unliveable by toxic haze

A massive operation, both on land and at sea, is under way to prepare for what appears to be an imminent evacuation of thousands of babies and children from their homes in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

This, as forest fires, which produce the toxic haze, continue to burn unabated despite the extensive firefighting resources dedicated to putting them out.

Indonesia yesterday put six navy ships on high alert off the waters of the two regions, which have been the worst hit by thick smoke from forest and peatland fires this year.

Together with a fleet of vessels from state-owned shipping firm PT Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia, they form the last resort in the event that cities need to be evacuated after being rendered unliveable owing to high levels of air pollution.

“We are doing this by way of a military operation for the sake of humanity,” said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

Yesterday, the PSI for Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan jumped off the charts on Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency website, which has a maximum reading of 2,000 PSI. It peaked at 2,251 PSI at 4pm and never went below 1,045 PSI. In Jambi, Central Sumatra, the PSI peaked at 914 but fell to 531 at 6pm.

In Indonesia, anything above 350 is deemed hazardous.

The haze, exacerbated by an extended dry spell, has affected millions across South-east Asia.

In Thailand yesterday, air pollutant levels stayed in the unhealthy range although they dipped from the day before, when parts of the south saw the worst haze in years.

As of 3pm, the PM10 reading – which measures particles up to 10 microns in diameter – for Songkhla province was 249 per cubic m, from 369 on Thursday; in Satun, it was 203 from 273; in Yala, 142 from 172; and in Pattani, it was 149 from 216.

In Malaysia, schools were allowed to reopen yesterday except for those in Perlis, Perak and Penang, where pollution continues to worsen.

At least eight airports across the Philippines have grounded planes without instruments that will allow pilots to land and take off in low to near-zero visibility.

As a humanitarian crisis looms in Indonesia, Mr Luhut said measures to alleviate the suffering of people affected by the haze will be prioritised for infants and children.

At least four babies and a young child have died after suffering from lung infections, while more than 450,000 people have suffered from haze-related illnesses.

Mr Luhut said he is requesting more waterbombers to join the multinational assistance team fighting the fires. “We have secured nine (of the initial 15 aircraft planned) and they will be operational in 10 days or earlier,” he said.

“We are also approaching Canada, the US and France (for help).”

Top on Indonesia’s wishlist is still the Russian-made Beriev Be-200, capable of hauling 12,000 litres of water. “If we can get another five, that would be good,” said Mr Luhut.

He was speaking to the press after a meeting with President Joko Widodo at the Presidential Palace to finalise the emergency plans yesterday.

President Joko Widodo

Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture Puan Maharani, who was also at the meeting, added that emergency shelters, complete with air purifiers, are being set up at public buildings across Indonesia to offer refuge for people affected by the haze.

These are meant to be the first gathering sites in the event that conditions worsen, or for people who refuse to evacuate to the ships or cannot make it out to sea, added Mr Luhut.

Russian crew members walk on the tarmac in front of a Beriev Be-200 amphibious firefighting jet at the haze-blanketed Sultan Mahmud Baddarudin II Airport in Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015. Two Be-200 aircrafts leased by the Indonesian government have arrived on Sumatra island to help douse the massive forest fires that have caused widespread haze in parts of Southeast Asia. (AP Photo/Bagus Kurniawan)

“We have taken measures, but it is impossible to put out the fires over the next one to three weeks as our efforts should go hand in hand with rain.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2015, with the headline ‘Indonesia set to evacuate kids in worst hit areas’.



Indonesia’s smoke and haze is everybody’s lung problem — Can Singapore Help?

September 19, 2015

Indonesia’s smoke is everybody lung problem: Smoke rising from fires burning at a concession area in Pelalawan, Riau province, yesterday. Green groups have maintained that lenient sentences against errant companies remain a weak link as the deterrent effect has not been felt. AFP photo

If Indonesia sees through prosecution of errant firms, business owners may be forced to act more responsibly

By Francis Chan
Straits Times
Indonesia Bureau Chief

The call to get tough on those responsible for illegal forest fires raging in Sumatra and Kalimantan came from the top.

There was to be no more dragging of feet from the authorities, said Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Luhut Panjaitan during a high-level meeting in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Track down the culprits and send them to jail, ordered the former Special Forces general, who until recently was also President Joko Widodo’s chief of staff.

Mr Luhut might as well be speaking on behalf of the President, who was on a working tour of the Middle East when the Pollutant Standards Index in the Riau capital of Pekanbaru hit a record 984 on Monday. Any reading of 300 and above is considered hazardous.

His words clearly carried weight.

About 140 suspects, including seven described by Indonesian police as corporate executives, were promptly rounded up on Wednesday. The rest were individuals – farmers mainly – not officially linked to any of the larger firms, or their smaller suppliers that run plantations on concession land.

The swift action, particularly against the corporates, came as a surprise to many.

Such arrests are rare. Some would even go as far as to say they do not expect any convictions from these cases that primarily involve the breach of environmental laws.

After all, it’s not the first time that suspects in such cases were arrested and charged in court.

Several cases dating back to 2012 and 2013 – the year when forest fires were so severe they caused record levels of air pollution in Singapore and states of emergency in Malaysia and Indonesia – remain in limbo with no convictions.

Getting tough on recalcitrant companies and individuals has always been a challenge for the Indonesian authorities.

Green groups and observers say investigations are often let down by poor law enforcement, corruption and unclear rules on land use.

No wonder national police chief Badrodin Haiti once said prosecuting crimes against the environment was more complex than dealing with terrorism.

There were, however, cases in which plantation companies were successfully prosecuted.

The recent case against Indonesian palm oil company PT Kallista Alam is one. The firm had its appeal rejected by the Supreme Court last month and was ordered to pay a staggering 366 billion rupiah (S$37 million) in fines for illegally burning peatland in Aceh back in 2012.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo

Peatlands are carbon-rich and highly flammable during the dry season. They release high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned.

Illegal forest fires on peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan have been the source of the haze that blanketed parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in recent weeks.

Another example is the case of Malaysian firm Adei Plantation.

In September last year, a Riau district court sentenced one of the firm’s managers to one year in jail and fined him 2 billion rupiah for failing to prevent forest fires on his company’s estate in June 2013.

Adei, a subsidiary of Kuala Lumpur Kepong, was also fined 1.5 billion rupiah and ordered to pay 15.1 billion rupiah to repair the environmental damage caused by the fires.

That judgment came at a time when Indonesia was trying to show that it was willing to act on environmental offences.

Heavy penalties like the one meted out to PT Kallista Alam for offences under Indonesia’s environmental laws, however, remain uncommon. In fact, prosecutors had sought a five-year sentence for the manager from Adei.

At the time, Mr Mas Achmad Santosa, who oversaw law enforcement monitoring at the now defunct presidential working unit, UKP4, said the penalties against Adei were too light considering the impact its actions had on the health of the people in Riau, and on the image of Indonesia in the eyes of Singapore and Malaysia.

“The fines for Adei do not compare to the efforts and resources put in by the government to fight the fires and the hundreds of billions of rupiah spent,” said Mr Santosa at the time.

Green groups have continued to maintain that lenient sentences remain a weak link as the deterrent effect has not been felt, nor have they put a stop to the illegal burning of forests and peatlands in Indonesia.

However, the Environment and Forestry Ministry – which filed the lawsuit against PT Kallista Alam three years ago – reportedly said that the ruling against the firm on Aug 28 was a landmark decision considering the massive fine, which is possibly the highest ever imposed in an environmental law case.

Many are now hoping that the Supreme Court verdict would set a precedent for future law enforcement against such firms.

The Joko administration has shown it is willing to act during this haze crisis. For starters, it was quick to mobilise thousands of soldiers and policemen to help fight fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The President himself made an urgent trip to South Sumatra – ground zero of the forest fires – for a first-hand look at the damage.

The police also confirmed yesterday that 20 other companies are under probe and more arrests are expected. While the spokesman stopped short of revealing their names – giving only company acronyms – this latest enforcement action and a renewed willingness to name and shame the firms could be a game-changer.

If Indonesia does lay down the law and sees through the prosecution of errant firms, business owners may be pressured into taking more responsibility for what happens on land accorded to them for cultivation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline ‘Arrests over haze could be game-changer’.
Jakarta says it’s yet to decide on needing S’pore help

Indonesia has yet to decide if it wants Singapore’s help in resolving the haze crisis, said its Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

Any decision on the matter, however, would ultimately come from President Joko Widodo and not her ministry, added Ms Siti during a press briefing in Jakarta on the haze situation yesterday.

“We appreciate (the offer) and we do have a cooperation framework for that… but there is a process which goes through the Foreign Minister, then the President,” she said, when responding to a question on whether Indonesia will accept Singapore’s assistance. “But my personal views are that we do not yet need it.”

This was the third time in the last week that Ms Siti has indicated that Indonesia does not require additional resources to combat forest fires causing a thick haze, which has covered parts of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia in recent weeks.

She said her government has thus far deployed 24 aircraft – four for cloud-seeding and 20 for water- bombing operations, while another is due to arrive today.

Most of the aircraft used for water bombing are chartered from Australia and piloted by foreigners.

Last week, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen offered Indonesia an assistance package comprising a C-130 military transport plane for cloud seeding, up to two C-130s to ferry a firefighting assistance team from Singapore to Indonesia, and a Chinook helicopter with a water bucket for aerial firefighting.

But the offer was rejected by Ms Siti the next day. “One more water-bombing unit from Singapore would not make much difference,” she said yesterday of Singapore’s offer. “Unless if it’s, say, 20 units… then that would be good.”

Meanwhile, Ms Siti is expected to meet Malaysian Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar next week to discuss measures to tackle the haze, after worsening air quality forced some schools in Sarawak to close on Thursday.