Posts Tagged ‘wildfires’

California wildfire now largest in state history

December 23, 2017

Fire burns canyons and ridges above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon as the fight to contain a wildfire continues in Montecito, California (AP)

LOS ANGELES: A California wildfire that has killed two people and seared its way through cities, towns and wilderness northwest of Los Angeles became the largest blaze ever officially recorded in California on Friday, authorities said.

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The Thomas fire took only 2 ½ weeks to burn its way into history books as unrelenting winds and parched weather turned everything in its path to tinder — including more than 700 homes.
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The fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties had scorched 273,400 acres, or about 427 square miles of coastal foothills and national forest, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
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That was 154 acres larger than California’s previous fire record holder — the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County that killed 15 people.
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The Cedar fire had been recognized as the biggest California wildfire in terms of acreage since 1932. Some fires before that date undoubtedly were larger but records are unreliable, according to state fire officials.
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A firefighter and a civilian fleeing the flames died in the Thomas fire as days of unrelentingly dry, gusty winds drove the flames. At times firefighters were forced to retreat to safe areas and simply wait for the flames to pass so they could attack them from the rear.
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Often erratic gusts combined with extremely low humidity — it dropped to just 1 percent on some days — pushed the blaze with virtually unprecedented speed, blackening more ground in weeks than other fires had consumed in a month or more.
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On Wednesday, as the fire continued to march north and west, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Zaniboni was awed by the speed of its growth.
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“Those (other) fires burned for weeks and weeks and this fire is only a few weeks old,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
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By that point, firefighters already were beginning to take advantage of a lull in the weather. Several days of easing winds allowed crews to burn and bulldoze protective firebreaks in the foothills above threatened communities, including the celebrity enclave of Montecito.
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By Thursday, most of the southern end of the fire also was surrounded and the last mandatory evacuation orders were called off.
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As of Friday, while 18,000 homes and other buildings were technically still at risk, there was little flame showing in previously burned areas and the fire was moving slowly through remote wilderness.
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The fire was 65 percent contained and colder, moister weather was helping. Although some 50-mph winds gusts were recorded, it produced “no remarkable fire activity” near Montecito or other areas, according to a state fire report.
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While brush and timber in the area remain tinder dry, fire crews are setting backfires to burn it out, and that could add to the fire’s size.
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“The main fire itself will not have any growth,” Capt. Brandon Vaccaro of the California City Fire Department told the Los Angeles Times. “Any growth that we see or is reflected in the acreage will be based on the control burns.”
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Returning winds churn up heightened alert in fire-hit California — “We are not dropping our vigilance.”

December 20, 2017

 

Above, firefighters light backfires as they try to contain the Thomas wildfire in Ojai, California — considered the second largest fire to hit the state since 1932. (AFP)

LOS ANGELES: After a couple of days of respite heavy winds are expected to return Wednesday to the California area plagued by a massive fire, potentially hindering the efforts of firefighters battling in an already dry climate.

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The fire has already destroyed at least 272,000 acres (110,000 hectares) — nearly the size of the city of Los Angeles — and is just 55 percent contained since it began December 4, according to the state’s fire authority Cal Fire.
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The so-called Thomas fire is considered the second largest fire to hit the state since 1932.
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The National Weather Service issued a red alert from Wednesday evening into Thursday morning for “gusty winds and low relative humidity” in the affected area of Santa Barbara County.
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Firefighters took advantage of weaker winds on Monday and Tuesday to battle the voracious blaze, which has already destroyed more than 1,300 structures.
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Cal Fire pointed to the well-off city of Montecito as its area of greatest concern, after the fire on Saturday rained ash on the dry hills and million-dollar mansions of the area.
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Mark Brown, the Cal Fire operations section chief, said Tuesday was “a very productive day” but emphasized “we are not dropping our vigilance.”
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“There’s still risk out there,” he said, noting the forecast winds.
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Only one fire has burned more California land than Thomas: the Cedar Fire of 2003, which swallowed some 273,244 acres.
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Major Southern California Freeway Closed Amid Wildfire Fight

December 7, 2017
 Updated on 

Ventura, Calif. (AP) — Authorities closed a major freeway Thursday as flames from the largest and most destructive Southern California wildfire jumped lanes and churned toward coastal and mountain communities northwest of Los Angeles as crews kept an eye on unpredictable winds.

A more favorable wind forecast still called for potentially dangerous gusts, but ones not likely to approach historic levels forecasters had feared, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is good news for the fire crews as the winds will not be driven quite as vigorously,” a weather service statement said.

Calmer overnight conditions helped crews protect the Ventura County resort town of Ojai (OH’hi), where most of the 7,000 residents were under new evacuation orders following a big burst of wind late Wednesday. Evacuations were also ordered for the first time in Santa Barbara County, where the coastal city of Carpinteria was under threat.

Officials closed U.S. 101 for more than a dozen miles along the coast, cutting off a major route between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties for several hours as fire charred heavy brush along lanes.

Fires burn north of Ventura, California.

Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Southern California has been hit hard by four major fires that have put tens of thousands of people under evacuation orders and destroyed nearly 200 homes and buildings, a figure that is almost certain to grow.

Millions of cellphones buzzed loudly Wednesday night from San Diego to Santa Barbara with a sound that usually means an Amber Alert, but this time meant a rare weather warning for strong winds making extreme fire danger.

Officials hope the electronic push will keep the region alert and the death toll from the week’s fires at zero.

Melissa Rosenzweig, 47, was briefly back home Wednesday after evacuating from her Ventura house, which has been spared so far while most on her street had burned in the largest and most destructive of the region’s fires. She and her husband were about to evacuate again, hoping they will get lucky twice as the new winds arrive.

“Heck yeah I’m still worried,” Rosenzweig said. “We’re very grateful but I know we’re not out of the woods.”

In what may have been an early sign of the 140-square-mile fire getting new life, several thousand new evacuations were ordered Wednesday night in Ojai, a town of artists and resorts. The blaze had been creeping there already, but an increase in winds pushed it close enough for many more to flee.

Firefighters in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Wild winds could easily send make new fires explode too, as one did Wednesday in Los Angeles’ exclusive Bel-Air section, where a fire consumed multimillion-dollar houses that give the rich and famous sweeping views of Los Angeles.

Little flame was visible by late Tuesday, but Wednesday, fire exploded on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, closing a section of heavily traveled Interstate 405 and destroying four homes.

Flames burned a wine storage shed at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s 16-acre (6.5-hectare) Moraga Vineyards estate and appeared to have damaged about 7 acres (2.8 hectares) of vines, a spokeswoman said.

Across the wide I-405 freeway from the fire, the Getty Center art complex was closed to protect its collection from smoke damage. Many schools across Los Angeles were closed because of poor air quality and classes were canceled at 265 schools Thursday.

Back in the beachside city of Ventura, the fire killed more than two dozen horses at a stable and had destroyed at least 150 structures, a number that was expected to get far bigger as firefighters are able to assess losses.

Air tankers that had been grounded much of the week because of high winds flew on Wednesday, dropping flame retardant. Firefighters rushed to attack the fires before winds picked up again.

Wildfire damage in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

“We’re basically in an urban firefight in Ventura, where if you can keep that house from burning, you might be able to slow the fire down,” said Tim Chavez, a fire behavior specialist at the blaze. “But that’s about it.”

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Dalton reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press Writers Brian Melley, Robert Jablon, Michael Balsamo, John Antczak, Jae Hong and Reed Saxon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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For complete coverage of the California wildfires, click here: https://apnews.com/tag/Wildfires

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This story corrects the day of the week throughout and that the wind warning came Wednesday night, not Tuesday.

[Editor notes: Eds: Recasts with Thursday updates. Corrects day of the week throughout and that wind warning came Wednesday night, not Tuesday. AP Video. With AP Photos.]

Ojai

Wildfires rage across southern California

December 7, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Veronique DUPONT | Firefighters battle the “Thomas Fire” in Ventura County
LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Wildfires fueled by strong and unpredictable winds raged across southern California on Thursday, sweeping into the upscale suburbs of Los Angeles, America’s second-largest city.Tens of thousands of people fled their homes amid apocalyptic scenes of entire hillsides engulfed in billowing smoke and towering plumes of flame.

Multi-million dollar mansions were destroyed in the Bel-Air neighborhood, where celebrities own homes and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has a vineyard.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) cancelled classes as firefighters battled the “Skirball fire” west of the sprawling campus.

Los Angeles city officials issued a countywide emergency alert warning that the seasonal Santa Ana winds were creating an “extreme fire danger.”

Further to the north in Ventura County, an even bigger blaze, the “Thomas fire,” was raging and threatening several coastal and inland towns.

Major north-south highways, including the famed Route 101, were closed as the fire jumped over the road and menaced beachfront homes.

The Thomas fire has consumed 96,000 acres (38,850 hectares) and forced 50,000 people to flee their homes, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said.

Cal Fire chief Ken Pimlott said the strong winds, including gusts of up to 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour) were hampering efforts to combat the blazes.

“There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds,” Pimlott said.

– Celebrities flee Bel-Air mansions –

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said more than 230,000 people had been forced from their homes in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The “Skirball” fire ignited Wednesday morning and began to sweep through affluent Bel-Air, home to celebrities and billionaires including SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and pop superstar Beyonce.

Police knocked on doors and used loudspeakers to make sure everybody had left their homes.

The singer Lionel Richie cancelled a concert to help his ex-wife flee the area, while comedian Chelsea Handler and designer Adrienne Maloof were among those tweeting that they had to evacuate.

Among those evacuated was model Chrissy Teigen, wife of singer John Legend.

“Never thought I’d get to actually play what I thought was a hypothetical game of what would you grab if there were a fire,” Teigen wrote on Twitter.

“We are fine and we will be fine. Thinking of everyone else affected and continuing my lifelong intense love of firefighters,” she added.

Forecasters predicted that winds could cause fires to spread further, threatening more homes and the acclaimed Getty Center museum.

The Getty — home to masterpieces including works by Edouard Manet — was closed. Museum authorities tweeted that “air filtration systems are protecting the galleries from smoke.”

Residents of wealthy Los Angeles neighborhoods between Mulholland Drive to the north and Sunset Boulevard to the south were part of the evacuation zone.

At least 4,000 firefighters have been deployed to fight the fires and Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it had released funds for relief services.

President Donald Trump tweeted a message of “thoughts and prayers” to California as it nears the end of its deadliest year ever for wildfires.

by Veronique DUPONT
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Wildfires Spur Thousands to Evacuate in Southern California

December 7, 2017

Officials close a 17-mile stretch of the main coastal freeway as firefighters battle four blaze

A wildfire burned near the 101 freeway in Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday.CreditHilary Swift for The New York Times

Wildfires Rip Through Southern California
Large fires have been spreading across Southern California since blazes broke out Monday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate. Photo: AP
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LOS ANGELES—Unrelenting winds overnight stoked wildfires scorching Southern California, forcing officials to expand evacuation orders in Ventura County north of the city and to close a 17-mile stretch of the main coastal freeway there as flames bore down.

Firefighters on Thursday continued to battle three other blazes, including two that are hurtling through Los Angeles, sending plumes of gray across the city and affecting residents from the hills of Bel Air to the Santa Monica shore to the San Fernando Valley.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/wildfires-spur-thousands-to-evacuate-in-southern-california-1512661917

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Southern California was fighting off a renewed onslaught from the wildfires menacing greater Los Angeles, forcing thousands of evacuations, shutting down schools and highways and leaving the region on edge on Thursday. Winds were expected to strengthen, and gusts threatened to reach 80 miles per hour.

“These will be winds where there will be no ability to fight fires,” Chief Ken Pimlott of Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, warned on Wednesday. “This will be about evacuations and getting people out from in front of any fires that start.”

Motorists on Highway 101 watch flames from the Thomas Fire leap above the roadway north of Ventura, California, on Wednesday. As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region

Motorists on Highway 101 watch flames from the Thomas Fire leap above the roadway north of Ventura, California, on Wednesday. As many as five fires have closed highways, schools and museums, shut down production of TV series and cast a hazardous haze over the region

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5152225/California-wildfires-halt-production-Westworld-SWAT.html#ixzz50asyI2XA
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The authorities feared the sparking of new fires, as well as the spread of those that have burned this week and charred more than 110,000 acres of Southern California. Chief Pimlott said forecasters were using a purple color on maps to indicate an “extreme” fire risk, which he called an unprecedented designation.

“We’ve never used purple before,” said the chief, whose agency warned of “epic winds” racing across an extremely dry, and densely populated, region.

 OPEN GRAPHIC

Here’s the latest:

• Late Wednesday night, officials sent an emergency alert to all of Los Angeles County warning of “extreme fire danger.”

• The fires in total have destroyed more than 300 homes, businesses and other buildings.

• The outbreaks have forced nearly 200,000 people in the Los Angeles and Ventura areas to evacuate, and thousands of firefighters have been summoned to help.

• Fire and smoke forced the closing of the 101 freeway — the main coastal route north from Los Angeles — between Ventura and Santa Barbara. In addition to evacuations, officials in Ventura County issued boil-water advisories.

• Hundreds of schools were ordered closed for the rest of the week because of the thick blanket of smoke filling the skies. The Los Angeles Unified School District said at least 322 schools, including independent charters, would not hold classes on Thursday.

• The National Weather Service, which warned of the risk of “very rapid fire growth,” said winds could diminish Friday into Saturday.

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Source:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/07/us/california-fire-ventura-county.html

The Thomas Fire - one of at least five wildfires ravaging southern California, reaches the Northbound 101 freeway in Ventura on Wednesday. The other blazes are the Skirball Fire near Bel Air, LA; the Rye Fire near Santa Clarita; the Creek Fire near Sylmar; and the Little Mountain Fire near San Bernardino

The Thomas Fire – one of at least five wildfires ravaging southern California, reaches the Northbound 101 freeway in Ventura on Wednesday. The other blazes are the Skirball Fire near Bel Air, LA; the Rye Fire near Santa Clarita; the Creek Fire near Sylmar; and the Little Mountain Fire near San Bernardino

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5152225/California-wildfires-halt-production-Westworld-SWAT.html#ixzz50at9ILH2
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U.S. Trying to Find More Doctors to Send to Disaster Areas

October 14, 2017

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico’s hospitals in bad shape

Volunteer doctors organize medical supplies during a visit to a shelter to check refugees in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 2.
Volunteer doctors organize medical supplies during a visit to a shelter to check refugees in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 2. PHOTO: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A U.S. government program that sends doctors and nurses to disaster zones says it needs more health-care workers, as relief efforts during this hurricane season are near the end of a second month with no end in sight in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The National Disaster Medical System, which recently wrapped up big deployments to hurricane-ravaged areas in Texas and Florida, says it will start recruiting more medical professionals in the next few weeks.

“We’re far from the recovery stage of this event,” Robert Kadlec, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary, said Thursday of Hurricane Maria’s devastation. The storm largely destroyed Puerto Rico’s power grid, leaving half the local hospitals without power, and downed its communications network. The federal health agency oversees the program that temporarily hires health-care workers for what are typically two-week rotations.

The U.S. teams, which set up temporary hospitals and clinics, are helping relieve the strain on Puerto Rican hospitals. Nearly half of the local hospitals are depending on sometimes unreliable generators for power. Generator failures have forced recent evacuations at two hospitals. And others suffered storm damage that crippled operations, said Jaime Pla Cortes, executive president of the Puerto Rico Hospital Association, in an interview.

“Everybody has to improvise,” Mr. Pla Cortes said. “The nurses and the doctors are tired, they are working full time.”

The National Disaster Medical System entered the hurricane season understaffed, system director Ron Miller said, adding that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently authorized expedited hiring.

Since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in late August, the federal system has deployed more than 40 36-person teams to Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, plus several smaller teams, including some with logistics personnel, veterinarians and morticians. The system has also dispatched one team to California in response to the state’s wildfires.

The prolonged response is a “huge anomaly” for the system, Mr. Miller said. Two-week rotations have occasionally stretched into a month, he said.

The program has enough teams to deploy through mid-November, he said. The U.S. program set up a temporary hospital in San Juan and dispatched teams to hubs around Puerto Rico, Dr. Kadlec said.

To fill open positions, the system has relied on medical staff from the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, the latter of which has 73 staffers helping in Manati, Puerto Rico.

Other American health-care workers are traveling to Puerto Rico as volunteers, coordinating efforts with HHS. About 80 nurses and doctors from New York-area hospitals flew to Puerto Rico Thursday.

Demand for volunteers is strong, said Jenna Mandel-Ricci, an executive with the Greater New York Hospital Association, which helped organize the trip with HHS and New York state officials. The federal agency “is saying they are taxed,” and volunteers left without knowing where they would be working during a two-week stay, she said. “That’s how fluid things are on the ground.”

Write to Melanie Evans at Melanie.Evans@wsj.com

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.

Related:

Hundreds flee wildfires near Jerusalem

November 25, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | Israeli authorities evacuated 60,000 people from Haifa because of a spate of wildfires

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Hundreds of people were evacuated from an Israeli village near Jerusalem overnight, police said Friday, as firefighters battled wildfires that have forced tens of thousands to flee around the country.

The evacuations in Beit Meir, a cooperative village of religious Jews, came after 60,000 people in Israel’s third-largest city Haifa were moved to safety on Thursday because of a spate of fires.

“All the Beit Meir area has been evacuated — several hundred people, maybe 400,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Rosenfeld said that a suspect had been arrested in connection with the blaze, but did not elaborate.

Police have arrested a number of people in connection with the fires across the country.

Some are suspected of criminal negligence leading to accidental fires in tinder-dry woodland and undergrowth, while there are also suspicions that some may have been deliberate and related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Police on Friday morning reported the outbreak of a new fire near the southern town of Kiryat Gat.

In the north, thousands of residents of the mixed Jewish-Arab coastal city of Haifa spent the night in temporary accommodation.

The Haifa fires were “under control” on Friday morning, Rosenfeld said, but he cautioned that “things can change and develop as we speak.”

Firefighters and rescue services say strong and changeable winds make developments hard to predict.

“At the moment, (Haifa) residents who were evacuated from their homes are not allowed to go back,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

Entire neighbourhoods of the port city have been evacuated, along with Haifa University and local prisons.

Meteorologists say a long dry summer and so-far rainless autumn have brought about ideal conditions for fires to spread — whether sparked by accident or on purpose.

Related:

Bushfires rage on in Israel, Haifa blaze overcome

November 25, 2016

The Associated Press and AFP

© Ahmad Gharabli, AFP | An Israeli firefighter inspects the damages in Beit Meir, a religious cooperative village in the hills to the west of Jerusalem, on November 25, 2016

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2016-11-25

Israeli firefighters on Friday reined in a blaze in the country’s third-largest city of Haifa that had forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, but continued to battle more than a dozen other fires around the country.

Some 60,000 have yet to return to their homes as police forces and firefighting units were still heavily deployed in the Haifa area for fear that the fire could be reignited due to the rare dry, windy weather.

Though no serious injuries were caused, several dozen people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Hundreds of homes were damaged and in a rare move, Israel on Thursday called up military reservists to join overstretched police and firefighters and made use of an international fleet of firefighting aircraft sent by several countries.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a small village in the forests near Jerusalem was evacuated overnight as several homes there caught fire.

Overall, he said 12 people have been arrested across Israel on suspicion of arson. The country’s leaders have raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the blazes.

Israel has been on edge during more than a year of Palestinian attacks – mostly stabbings – that have tapered off but not completely halted in recent months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Palestinian incitement for fueling those attacks. Israel’s police chief Roni Alsheich told reporters on Thursday that early indications on the fires pointed toward a series of “politically motivated” arson attacks.

The fires began three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together. Later, blazes erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem before the largest ones spread across Haifa.

The rash of fires is the worst since 2010, when Israel suffered the single deadliest wildfire in its history. That blaze burned out of control for four days, killed 42 people and was extinguished only after firefighting aircraft arrived from as far away as the United States.

Israel has strengthened its firefighting capabilities since then, buying special planes that can drop large quantities of water on affected areas.

Several countries, including Russia, France, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy were also sending assistance to battle this week’s blazes. In a rare gesture, the Palestinians also offered to send firefighting teams to help combat the flames.