Posts Tagged ‘fires’

Fire-hit Greece calls off EU help as PM says conditions improve

August 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Greek firefighters and volunteers trying to extinguish a fire east of Athens, as the army was called in to assist the effort
ATHENS (AFP) – Greece on Wednesday called off a request for European assistance in battling wildfires as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said firefighters had gained the upper hand in halting a destructive blaze near Athens after three days.”The worst has been avoided,” Tsipras said after flying over the disaster zone northeast of Athens by helicopter, adding that about 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) of forest and scrubland had been ravaged.

“Fortunately there are no victims… the damage was limited through your superhuman efforts,” Tsipras told firefighters.

Authorities said they had finally placed under control a huge wildfire in Kapandriti and Kalamos that had broken out on Monday in an area dotted with vacation homes.

It took nearly 300 firefighters, 100 soldiers, five air bombers and seven helicopters to check its advance.

At least five properties were destroyed, authorities said.

“The situation is better this morning,” a fire department source told AFP.

As a result, fire service spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said Greece had cancelled a request for European assistance.

“International assistance was deemed unnecessary. The dispatch of firefighters from Cyprus and fire-fighting aircraft has been cancelled,” she said.

But Malliri said active fronts remained on the island of Zakynthos and in the western Peloponnese, though the situation was improving there as well.

Greek officials say many of the fires were thought to have been started deliberately.

The fire service said an incendiary device had been found in a forest on the island of Samos on Tuesday.

High winds hamper Greek firefighting efforts

August 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP | More than 90 wildfires have broken out across Greece since Sunday
ATHENS (AFP) – Greek firefighters were struggling to control blazes for a third successive day Tuesday, as flames fanned by high winds forced people to flee homes near the capital.

Fires on the coast near Athens, in the western Peloponnese and the Ionian island of Zakynthos were of most pressing concern, a fire service spokesman told AFP.

The army was called in to assist firefighters around Kalamos, 45 kilometres (30 miles) east of Athens, where a fire has been burning since Sunday.

At least five properties were destroyed and several homes evacuated, authorities said, as smoke from the blaze clouded the sky in the capital on Tuesday morning.

More than 90 fires broke out across Greece since Sunday, according to authorities.

Firefighters were also battling flames near the town of Amaliada in the western Peloponnese and on the tourist hotspot island of Zakynthos, where several fires — some thought to have been started deliberately — were raging.

“Such a situation is unheard of,” regional fire chief Vassili Matteopoulos told local media on Monday.

“We had 22 fires on Zakynthos just in the last 24 hours.”

Efforts to control the blazes were complicated by winds reaching speeds of 40-50 kilometres per hour, according to the fire service.

Soaring temperatures and tinder-dry forest floors across southern Europe have led to a rash of devastating wild fires, notably in Portugal, where 64 people died in a massive inferno in June.

Southeastern France and Corsica have also been affected.

In Portugal on Tuesday, some 1,450 firefighters were tending to least four blazes in the central Santarem and Castelo Branco regions, the emergency services said.

Firefighters battle spreading wildfire near Athens, homes damaged

August 14, 2017

Reuters

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

Portugal Asks for Help From Europe to Fight Fires — Thousands of firemen currently engaged — Portugal’s worst fire disaster in memory

August 13, 2017

LISBON — More than 3,000 firemen struggled to put out forest fires across Portugal on Sunday, after the country requested assistance from Europe to fight blazes that threaten to spread with more hot weather in the coming days.

Exceptionally dry and hot weather ignited Portugal’s worst fire disaster in memory early this summer, killing 64 people, and fires have continued to flare up in recent weeks with the arrival of each new hotter spell of weather.

Interior Minister Constanca Urbana de Sousa said the country sent the request for help to Europe late on Saturday because of concerns that high temperatures and high winds in the coming days could increase the number of fires.

Firefighters in June tried to bring a fire under control in a valley near Góis, Portugal. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

The minister said the request was carried out “because of a question of prudence” due to the weather forecast for coming days, according to news agency Lusa. It covered requests for firefighting airplanes and firemen and is part of a European mechanism for cooperation to fight fires.

Emergency services said 268 fires broke out on Saturday, the highest number for any single day this year, with 6,500 firemen fighting to put them out. There are fears that many of them could flare up again later on Sunday, with higher winds and temperatures that hit in the afternoon.

The central district of Coimbra adopted a local state of emergency to deal with fires, as did four smaller municipalities in the region.

While fires have burned through the summer none has had the tragic impact of the one in late June, as emergency services have gone to far greater efforts to evacuate villages and shut roads early in affected areas.

But the country could face many more weeks of fires before the end of summer.

More than 140,000 hectares of forest have burned this summer in Portugal, more than three times higher than the average over the last 10 years, according to European Union data.

(Reporting By Axel Bugge; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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Portugal Forest Fires Worsen, Fed by Poor Choices and Inaction

282 hot spots detected across Indonesia

August 6, 2017

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

Indonesia — Fire-fighting operations in South Sumatra, one of the five provinces currently in a state of emergency. Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB)

JAKARTA – Indonesian satellites on Sunday (Aug 6) morning picked up 282 hot spots – believed to be the highest number across the country this year – as the dry season continues.

The worst hit province was West Kalimantan, where more than half of the hot spots were detected, said National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) spokesman, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, as he released the figures yesterday (Aug 6) evening.

Five districts in the province – Kubu Raya, Ketapang, Sekadau, Melawi and Bengkayang – have declared a state of emergency to enable local authorities to access central government support, including military assistance, to put out the fires.

Dr Sutopo also expressed concern that although 150 hot spots were detected across West Kalimantan, the number of fires there may be higher.

“Land and forest fires in West Kalimantan continue despite our continued efforts to suppress them,” he added.

He warned that the number of hot spots is probably higher as the satellites may not have passed over all the forest and land areas where fires could be burning.

Other areas in Indonesia were also hit by forest fires, albeit not as badly as in 2015 when the burning of forest and peatland in Kalimantan and Sumatra produced a transboundary haze, which blanketed the region and led to record air pollution levels for months.

Aside from those in West Kalimantan, the hot spots were spread across other provinces such as South Sumatra (23 hot spots), South Sulawesi (18), Riau (16) and East Nusa Tenggara (12).

Dr Sutopo said the hot spots were spotted on private plantation land, community-owned land and in national parks, in hard-to-reach locations.

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

“The areas burned are generally areas that are difficult to access and away from settlements, that is why (the fires) are difficult to extinguish,” he added.

As of Saturday, 18 helicopters have been deployed for fire-fighting operations in Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan. All five provinces are currently in a state of emergency.

Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said last Sunday that helicopters will deployed to put out fires over areas where there is limited road access.

“If land access is difficult or shut down for a long time, then we will use water-bombings,” she said.

The dry season in Indonesia is forecast to end in September, at the earliest.

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/282-hot-spots-detected-across-indonesia-on-sunday

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Carbon monoxide concentrations world-wide during the Indonesian burning season, 2015

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Indonesian military officer orders that forest burners be shot — authorities struggle to contain fires that cause choking smoke in the region

August 5, 2017

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

An Indonesian ranger inspecting the peat forest fire at Meulaboh, Aceh province. PHOTO: AFP 

JAKARTA (REUTERS) – A military official in the Indonesian province of Jambi said on Saturday (Aug 5) that he has ordered that anyone who deliberately sets fire to forest areas be shot, as the authorities struggle to contain fires that cause choking smoke in the region.

Five Indonesian provinces have declared emergencies because of forest fires, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), with the number of hotspots steadily increasing in many areas over the past week.

The BNPB is working with many government branches, including the military, to contain the fires.

Indonesian media have reported that the authorities in the neighbouring province of South Sumatra, also on the island of Sumatra, had issued the same order.

“This is to stress a point to the people, who have been warned many, many times,” said Colonel Refrizal, commander of the forest fire task force in Jambi. “(This is) to show our firmness and seriousness.”

The order would be carried out “responsibly”, said Refrizal, who goes by one name.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said on Twitter the Jambi task force was working to extinguish a fire covering an area of 10 hectares (25 acres).

Nugroho also said the authorities had found one area in Jambi that had been “intentionally” burned by its owner.

The number of hotspots had increased to 239 by July 30, from 173 hotspots three days earlier, according to the BNPB.

The hotspots were seen mostly on Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo island, with some also on Sumatra and Java island.

The agency had previously warned that the threat of forest fires would escalate, with the dry season expected to peak in September.

Indonesia is regularly hit by forest fires, which can result in choking smoke blowing across to neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia.

Image may contain: one or more people

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

The sprawling South-east Asian archipelago suffered some of its worst forest fires in 2015, hitting Sumatra and Kalimantan.

The World Bank, citing government data, said 2.6 million hectares (6.4 million acres) of land in Indonesia burned between June and October 2015, causing US$16 billion (S$21.7 billion) of estimated economic damage.

Draining and conversion of peatland, often driven by palm oil plantations, contributed to the intensity of haze from the fires, the World Bank said.

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Carbon monoxide concentrations world-wide during the Indonesian burning season, 2015

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Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires

June 19, 2017

AFP

© 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

Deadly wildfires around the world

June 18, 2017

AFP

© 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.

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Cheap cladding fuelled Grenfell Tower inferno — Expect building code reviews — Warnings at Grenfell Tower ignored for at least 18 years

June 18, 2017

Urban Search and Rescue officers from London Fire Brigade inside the Grenfell Tower in west London

The New South Wales Government is considering tougher regulations on the use of combustible cladding in the wake of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state’s building safety measures were being reconsidered “with a sense of urgency” after reports cheap cladding used on the outside of the London tower block fuelled the inferno now believed to have killed nearly 60 people.

State Government documents have warned up to 2,500 buildings in NSW could be fitted with flammable cladding.

“We have been working very hard behind the scenes since the tragedy in London,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We are making sure there is no stone left unturned here in NSW.

“We’ve got our agencies working with a sense of urgency about this and as soon as we can we will bring forward any action we need to take.”

This week cabinet will consider setting up an interdepartmental taskforce to prevent risky building products from being used.

The NSW Master Builders Association said the danger came from imported products that do not meet safety requirements.

“It’s important to stop the tragedies that happen as we saw in London,” executive director Brian Seidler said.

“There has to be some form of border protection on products that come into Australia.

“If there’s some sort of task force that is established that assists in identifying non-conforming building products then we would have to support that.”

Ms Berejiklian said she also believed it was appropriate to have a discussion about national laws relating to regulations.

The burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower.

Topics: fires, states-and-territories, building-and-construction, residential, nsw, united-kingdom

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-18/nsw-to-investigate-building-safety-in-wake-of-london-fire/8628698

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Warnings over ‘deathtrap’ high-rise building cladding ‘ignored’ for decades

 A local residents holds a section of the burnt cladding which fell from Grenfell Tower during the blaze
A local residents holds a section of the burnt cladding which fell from Grenfell Tower during the blaze CREDIT: MARK THOMAS/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Fire safety experts warned as long ago as 1999 that the cladding used on buildings such as Grenfell Tower posed a deadly threat to hundreds of residents inside, it has emerged.

The experts, from industry and the firefighters’ union, predicted that such cladding could help drive any fire upwards to quickly engulf an entire building.

In a chilling premonition of what would happen 18 years later at Grenfell Tower – where at least at least 58 people are now feared to have been killed – Fire Brigades Union official Glyn Evans told MPs: “The problem with cladding is that it will, if it is able, spread fire and it will spread it vertically. If you get multistorey buildings you will get fire spread up the outside if the cladding will permit it.”

After hearing evidence from Mr Evans and others, a House of Commons committee concluded in early 2000 that the authorities could not afford to wait before taking action to tackle the risk.

It’s report stated: “We do not believe that it should take a serious fire in which many people are killed before all reasonable steps are taken towards minimising the risks.”

Members of the emergency services work inside the charred remnains of Grenfell Tower 
Members of the emergency services work inside the charred remnains of Grenfell Tower  CREDIT: TOLGA AKMEN/ AFP

The report appears to have been one of several alarm bells rung over the safety of high rise buildings which went unheeded.

There now is a growing conviction among construction and fire experts that the cladding system fixed to Grenfell Tower to improve the energy efficiency and appearance of the building as part of a £8.6 million refurbishment helped spread the fire.

Read the rest:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/17/warnings-deathtrap-high-rise-building-cladding-ignored-decades/

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Grim search for bodies in gutted London tower block

June 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP | A security cordon holds people back as Grenfell Tower is engulfed by fire.

LONDON (AFP) – Firefighters searched for bodies Thursday in a London tower block gutted by a blaze that has already left 12 dead, as questions grew over whether a refurbishment had contributed to the disaster.The death toll was expected to rise further as crews picked their way through the blackened skeleton of the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, home to around 600 people and the scene of horror on Tuesday night.

Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said parts of the building remained unsafe and it would take a long time to complete a detailed search of every floor.

She told Sky News there were still “unknown numbers” of people inside, but “it will be an absolute miracle for anyone to be left alive”.

“It will take weeks before this building is cleared and truly searched properly,” she said.

Whole families remain missing after the fire swept up the local authority building, forcing residents to flee through black smoke down the single stairwell, jump out a window or even drop their children to safety.

Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing its 120 apartments in what fire chiefs said was an unprecedented blaze.

The focus centres on the cladding fitted to external walls on the 1970s concrete block, as part of a £8.7-million ($11 million, 9.9 million euros) refit completed only last year.

According to the BBC, the cladding had a plastic core, and was similar to that used by high-rise buildings in France, the United Arab Emirates and Australia which had also suffered fires that spread.

Rydon, the firm responsible for the refit, said the project “met all required building regulations”.

Harley Facades, which fitted the panels, told the BBC: “At this time, we are not aware of any link between the fire and the exterior cladding to the tower.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said there would be an investigation into the cause of the “appalling tragedy”, once the last bodies had been recovered.

– Helplessly watching –

Grenfell Tower looms over a social housing estate in north Kensington, just streets away from some of the most expensive homes in the world in Notting Hill.

The area has a large immigrant population, but many families have lived in the area for years, passing their low-rent homes onto their children.

Eyewitnesses told how residents in the upper floors shone their mobile phone torches to attract attention, before they disappeared from the windows, their screams of help falling silent.

“We saw them dying,” said Adi Estu, 32, who was evacuated from her home nearby.

Some desperate people reportedly jumped from the windows, while one woman, Samira Lamrani, said she saw a woman drop a baby from the ninth or 10th floor, for the child to be caught by a man below.

The fire triggered a wave of mourning in a country already battered by a string of terror attacks.

More than £480,000 had been raised online for the victims by Thursday morning, while local community centres were inundated by donations of clothes and food.

Volunteers in the city of Glasgow — 550 kilometres (350 miles) away — sent a truck laden with nappies and other supplies.

– Stay home –

Cladding has been added to a number of buildings across London in recent years, intended to provide insulation as well as improve the appearance of older buildings.

But Kostas Tsavdaridis, associate professor of Structural Engineering at the University of Leeds warned: “Some materials used in facades act as significant fire loads.

“Although theoretically they are fire resistant, in most cases they are high-temperature resistant instead of fire resistant. But even if they are, smoke and fire will spread through the joints and connections.”

There were questions about why there was no sprinkler system in the Grenfell Tower which could have helped stop the fire spreading, or any central smoke alarm system that would have woken sleeping residents.

Official fire service advice for residents to stay in their homes and use towels to block out smoke, while awaiting help, has also come under scrutiny.

Firefighters were only able to reach the tower’s 12th floor of the block at the height of the blaze.

Abdelaziz El-Wahabi, his wife Faouzia and their three children were among those who followed to protocol in their flat on the 21st floor.

“Last time I spoke to his wife, he was on the phone to the fire brigade. I’ve not heard from them since,” his sister Hanan Wahabi told AFP on Wednesday morning.

David Collins, former chairman of the Grenfell Tower Residents’ Association, said the building’s management had failed to listen to residents’ calls for improvements on fire safety.

“If the same concerns were had in a wealthy part of Kensington and Chelsea they would have got resolved, but here they didn’t get resolved,” Collins told AFP.

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