Out-of-control wildfires cause evacuations in western Canada
Fire crews battled wildfires threatening communities in western Canada on Sunday as cooler temperatures and a bit of rain brought some relief, but officials warned the reprieve came only in some areas. Officials in Alberta said there were 108 active fires in the province and the number of evacuees grew to about 29,000, up from approximately 24,000 Saturday, when a provincewide state of emergency was declared. Two out-of-control wildfires in neighboring British Columbia also caused some people to leave their homes, and officials warned that they expected high winds to cause the blazes to grow bigger in the next few days. Provinicial officials in Alberta said the weather forecast was favorable for the next few days, with small amounts of rain and overcast conditions. But they cautioned that hot and dry conditions were predicted to return within a few days. “People have called this season certainly unprecedented in recent memory because we have so many fires so spread out,” Christie Tucker with Alberta Wildfire said at a briefing. “It’s been an unusual year.” Colin Blair, executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, said accurate damage reports were not yet available because conditions made it difficult to assess the situation. There were of buildings destroyed in the town of Fox Lake, including 20 homes, a police station and a store. In northeastern British Columbia, officials urged residents to evacuate the areas around two out-of-control wildfires near the Alberta border, saying there were reports of some people staying behind. “This is impeding the response and putting their lives and the lives of firefighters at risk," said Leonard Hiebert, chairman of the Peace River Regional District. A third fire in British Columbia was burning out of control 700 kilometers (430 miles) to the south, in the Teare Creek region, and some residents near the village of McBride were evacuated.
13 dead in Chile amid struggle to contain raging wildfires
At least 13 people were reported dead as of Friday night as a result of the more than 150 wildfires burning across Chile that have destroyed homes and thousands of acres of forest while the South American country is in the midst of a scorching heat wave. Four of the deaths involved two separate vehicles in the Biobío region, around 560 kilometers (348 miles) south of the capital of Santiago. “In one case they were burned because they were hit by the fire,” Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said. In the other case, she said, the victims died in a crash, “probably trying to escape the fire.” The fifth victim was a firefighter who was run over by a fire truck while combatting a blaze in the area. Later in the afternoon, a helicopter that was helping combat the flames crashed in the Araucanía region, killing the pilot, a Bolivian national, and a mechanic, who was Chilean. At nightfall, the national agency responsible for emergencies raised the death toll to 13 without giving details on the latest deaths. As of midday Friday, 151 wildfires were burning throughout Chile, including 65 declared under control. The fires had blazed through more than 14,000 hectares (34,595 acres). Most of the wildfires are in Biobío and neighboring Ñuble, where the government has declared states of catastrophe that allows greater coordination with the military and the suspension of certain constitutional rights. The heat wave hitting Chile is set to continue with high temperatures and strong winds that could make the wildfires more challenging. President Gabriel Boric suspended his vacation to travel to the affected areas on Friday and said there is “evidence” that some of the wildfires were sparked by unauthorized burnings. “The full force of the state will be deployed to, first of all, fight the fires and to accompany all the victims,” Boric said. It remained unclear how many homes and other structures had been burned. “Families are having a very difficult time,” Ivonne Rivas, the mayor of Tomé in Biobío, told local radio. “It’s hell what they are living through, the fire got away from us.” The wildfires caused the suspension of a highly anticipated announcement by forensic experts who were expected to give the cause of death of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, winner of a Nobel Prize for literature. The experts were set to give their view on whether Neruda died of complications from prostate cancer or whether he was poisoned, potentially settling one of the great mysteries of post-coup Chile. The doctor in charge of delivering the report’s findings was unable to connect to the internet because he is in a region affected by the wildfires, a spokesman for the country’s judiciary said.
California wildfires prompt evacuations amid heat wave
California wildfires erupted Wednesday in rural areas, racing through bone-dry brush and prompting evacuations as the state sweltered under a heat wave that could last through Labor Day. The Route Fire in Castaic in northwestern Los Angeles County raged through about 4,625 acres (1,872 hectares) of hills containing scattered houses. Interstate 5, a major north-south route, was closed by a blaze that burned several hundred acres in only a few hours. Media reports showed a wall of flames advancing uphill and smoke billowing thousands of feet into the air while planes dumped water from nearby Castaic Lake. There were no immediate reports of damage to buildings but a mobile home park with 94 residences was evacuated. An elementary school also was evacuated. Temperatures in the area hit 107 degrees (42 Celsius) and winds gusted to 17 mph (27 kph), forecasters said. Eight firefighters were treated for heat-related problems, including six who were sent to hospitals, but all were in good condition, Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas Ewald said. More injuries were expected as crews cope with extreme heat that was expected to stretch into next week, Ewald said during a news conference Wednesday night. “Wearing heavy firefighting gear, carrying packs, dragging hose, swinging tools, the folks out there are just taking a beating," he said. Aircraft would continue to drop water and fire retardant on the blaze overnight and winds could shift to the north through the night, causing the fire to burn back on itself, Ewald said. Ewald also said there could be other fires in LA County as the searing heat continues. Bulldozers to cut firebreaks will be staffed around the county Thursday as a precaution, he said. “This is the fire that's burning right now. But we have 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometers) of LA County that we have to consider for tomorrow," he said. Read: Spain: 10 injured while leaving stopped train near wildfire Another fire burned at least four buildings, including a home, and prompted evacuations in the Dulzura area in eastern San Diego County near the Mexican border. It swiftly grew to more than 1,600 acres (647.5 hectares) acres and prompted evacuation orders for at least 400 homes, authorities said. State Route 94 was closed. The Mountain Empire Unified School District will be closed Thursday, officials said. U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that the Tecate port of entry with Mexico closed three hours early on Wednesday night because of the fire and wouldn't reopen until conditions improved to ensure “the safety of the traveling public." Travelers could continue to use the 24-hour Otay Mesa crossing. No injuries were immediately reported, but there were “multiple close calls” as residents rushed to flee, said Capt. Thomas Shoots with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “We had multiple 911 calls from folks unable to evacuate” because their homes were surrounded by the fire, Shoots told the San Diego Union-Tribune. The National Weather Service said many valleys, foothills, mountains and desert areas of the state remained under an elevated fire risk because of low humidity and high temperatures, which set several records for the day. The hottest days were expected to be Sunday and Monday. Wildfires have sprung up this summer throughout the Western states. The largest and deadliest blaze in California this year erupted in late July in Siskyou County, near the Oregon state line. It killed four people and destroyed much of the small community of Klamath River. Scientists have said climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. Across the American West, a 22-year megadrought deepened so much in 2021 that the region is now in the driest spell in at least 1,200 years.
European firefighters join battle to stop French wildfires
Firefighters from across Europe started arriving in France on Friday to help battle several wildfires, including a giant blaze ravaging pine forests in the southwest of the country. The firefighters’ brigade from the Gironde region said the spread of the forest fire was limited overnight due to little wind but conditions for containing the blaze remained “unfavorable” due to hot, dry weather. Read: Wildfires spread, fish die off amid severe drought in Europe The fire in the Gironde region and neighboring Landes has burned more than 74 square kilometers (29 square miles) since Tuesday and led to the evacuation of at least 10,000 people. More than 360 firefighters and 100 specialized land vehicles were sent from Germany, Romania, Poland and Austria. They are joining over 1,000 French firefighters already on site. Greece sent two specialized Canadair aircraft. Sweden deployed two two firefighting Air Tractor planes to to help battle separate wildfires in the Brittany region, in western France.
Wildfires spread, fish die off amid severe drought in Europe
Firefighters from across Europe struggled Thursday to contain a huge wildfire in France that has swept through a large swath of pine forest, while Germans and Poles faced a mass fish die-off in a river flowing between their countries. Europe is suffering under a severe heat wave and drought that has produced tragic consequences for farmers and ecosystems already under threat from climate change and pollution. The drought is causing a loss of agricultural products and other food at a time when supply shortages and Russia’s war against Ukraine have caused inflation to spike. In France, which is enduring its worst drought on record, flames raged through pine forests overnight, illuminating the sky with an intense orange light in the Gironde region, which was already ravaged by flames last month, and in neighboring Landes. More than 68 square kilometers (26 square miles) have burned since Tuesday. The French wildfires have already forced the evacuation of about 10,000 people and destroyed at least 16 houses. Read: Wildfires in Germany, Czechia threatening tourist region Along the Oder River, which flows from Czechia north into the Baltic Sea, volunteers have been collecting dead fish that have washed ashore in Poland and Germany. Piotr Nieznanski, the conservation policy director at WWF Poland, said it appears that a toxic chemical was released into the water by an industry and the low water levels caused by the drought has made conditions far more dangerous for the fish. “A tragic event is happening along the Oder River, an international river, and there is no transparent information about what is going on,” he said, calling on government authorities to investigate. People living along the river have been warned not to swim in the water or even touch it. Poland’s state water management body said the drought and high temperatures can cause even small amounts of pollution to lead to an ecological disaster but it has not identified the source of the pollution. In northern Serbia, the dry bed of the Conopljankso reservoir is now littered with dead fish that were unable to survive the drought. The water level along Germany’s Rhine River was at risk of falling so low that it could become difficult to transport goods — including critical energy items like coal and gasoline.
Firefighters partially surround deadly California fire
Firefighters have gotten their first hold on California’s deadliest and most destructive fire of the year and expected that the blaze would remain stalled through the weekend. The McKinney Fire near the Oregon border was 10% contained as of Wednesday night and bulldozers and hand crews were making progress carving firebreaks around much of the rest of the blaze, fire officials said at a community meeting. The southeastern corner of the blaze above the Siskyou County seat of Yreka, which has about 7,800 residents, was contained. Evacuation orders for sections of the town and Hawkinsville were downgraded to warnings, allowing people to return home but with a warning that the situation remained dangerous. About 1,300 residents remained under evacuation orders, officials said. The fire didn’t advance on Wednesday, following several days of brief but heavy rain from thunderstorms that provided cloudy, damper weather. “This is a sleeping giant right now,” said Darryl Laws, a unified incident commander on the blaze. In addition, firefighters expected Thursday to fully surround a 1,000-acre (404-hectare) spot fire on the northern edge of the McKinney Fire. The fire broke out last Friday and has charred nearly 90 square miles (233 square kilometers) of forestland, left tinder-dry by drought. More than 100 homes and other buildings have burned and four bodies have been found, including two in a burned car in a driveway. The blaze was driven at first by fierce winds ahead of a thunderstorm cell. More storms earlier this week proved a mixed blessing. A drenching rain Tuesday dumped up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) on some eastern sections of the blaze but most of the fire area got next to nothing, said Dennis Burns, a fire behavior analyst. The latest storm also brought concerns about possible river flooding and mudslides. A private contractor in a pickup truck who was aiding the firefighting effort was hurt when a bridge gave out and washed away the vehicle, Kreider said. The contractor had non-life-threatening injuries, she said. However, no weather events were forecast for the next three or four days that could give the fire “legs,” Burns said. Read: Wildfires in West explode in size amid hot, windy conditions The good news came too late for many people in the scenic hamlet of Klamath River, which was home to about 200 people before the fire reduced many of the homes to ashes, along with the post office, community center and other buildings. At an evacuation center Wednesday, Bill Simms said that three of the four victims were his neighbors. Two were a married couple who lived up the road. “I don’t get emotional about stuff and material things,” Simms said. “But when you hear my next-door neighbors died ... that gets a little emotional.” Their names haven’t been officially confirmed, which could take several days, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office. Simms, a 65-year-old retiree, bought his property six years ago as a second home with access to hunting and fishing. He went back to check on his property Tuesday and found it was destroyed. “The house, the guest house and the RV were gone. It’s just wasteland, devastation,” Simms said. He found the body of one of his two cats, which he buried. The other cat is still missing. He was able to take his two dogs with him to the shelter. Harlene Schwander, 82, lost the home she had just moved into a month ago to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law. Their home survived but her house was torched. Schwander, an artist, said she only managed to grab a few family photos and some jewelry before evacuating. Everything else — including her art collection — went up in flames. “I’m sad. Everybody says it was just stuff, but it was all I had,” she said. California and much of the rest of the West is in drought and wildfire danger is high, with the historically worst of the fire season still to come. Fires are burning in Montana, Idaho and Nebraska and have destroyed homes and threaten communities. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. California has seen its largest, most destructive and deadliest wildfires in the last five years. In 2018, a massive blaze in the Sierra Nevada foothills destroyed much of the city of Paradise and killed 85 people, the most deaths from a U.S. wildfire in a century. In northwestern Montana, a fire that has destroyed at least four homes and forced the evacuation of about 150 residences west of Flathead Lake continued to be pushed north by winds on Wednesday, fire officials said. Crews had to be pulled off the lines on Wednesday afternoon due to increased fire activity, Sara Rouse, a public information officer, told NBC Montana. There were concerns the fire could reach Lake Mary Ronan by Wednesday evening, officials said. The fire, which started on July 29 in grass on the Flathead Indian Reservation, quickly moved into timber and charred nearly 29 square miles (76 square km). The Moose Fire in Idaho has burned more than 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) in the Salmon-Challis National Forest while threatening homes, mining operations and fisheries near the town of Salmon. And a wildfire in northwestern Nebraska led to evacuations and destroyed or damaged several homes near the small city of Gering. The Carter Canyon Fire began Saturday as two separate fires that merged.
Western flames spread, California sees its largest 2022 fire
Crews battling the largest wildfire so far this year in California braced for thunderstorms and hot, windy conditions that created the potential for additional fire growth Sunday as they sought to protect remote communities. The McKinney Fire was burning out of control in Northern California’s Klamath National Forest, with expected thunderstorms a big concern Sunday just south of the Oregon state line, said U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Adrienne Freeman. “The fuel beds are so dry and they can just erupt from that lightning," Freeman said. “These thunder cells come with gusty erratic winds that can blow fire in every direction.” The blaze exploded in size to more than 80 square miles (207 square km) just two days after erupting in a largely unpopulated area of Siskiyou County, according to a Sunday incident report. The cause was under investigation. The blaze torched trees along California Highway 96, and the scorched remains of a pickup truck sat in a lane of the highway. Thick smoke covered the area and flames burned through hillsides in sight of homes. The fire Sunday cast an eerie, orange-brown hue, in one neighborhood where a brick chimney, stood surrounded by rubble and scorched vehicles. A second, smaller fire just to the west that was sparked by dry lightning Saturday threatened the tiny town of Seiad, Freeman said. About 400 structures were under threat from the two California fires. Authorities have not confirmed the extent of the damage yet, saying assessments would begin when it was safe to reach the area. A third fire, which was on the southwest end of the McKinney blaze, prompted evacuation orders for around 500 homes Sunday, said Courtney Kreider, a spokesperson with the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office. The office said crews had been on the scene of the fire since late Saturday but that the fire Sunday morning “became active and escaped its containment line." Several people in the sheriff's office have been affected by evacuation orders due to the fires “and they're still showing up to work so, (a) very dedicated crew,” she said. A deputy lost his childhood home to fire on Friday, she said. As the McKinney fire threatened, some residents chose to stay behind while others heeded orders to leave. Read: Wildfires in West explode in size amid hot, windy conditions Larry Castle and his wife, Nancy, were among about 2,000 residents of the Yreka area under evacuation orders. They left Saturday with some of their prized possessions, including Larry’s motorcycle, and took their dogs to stay with their daughter near Mount Shasta. Larry Castle said he wasn’t taking any chances after seeing the explosive growth of major fires in recent years. “You look back at the Paradise fire and the Santa Rosa fire and you realize this stuff is very, very serious,” he told the Sacramento Bee. In northwest Montana, a fire sparked in grasslands near the town of Elmo had grown to about 17 square miles (44 square km) after advancing into forest. Crews were working along edges of the fire Sunday, and aircraft were expected to continue to make water and retardant drops to help slow the fire's advance, said Sara Rouse, a spokesperson with the interagency team assigned to the fire. High temperatures and erratic winds were expected, she said. A section of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo that had been closed was reopened with drivers asked to watch for fire and emergency personnel. Visibility in the area was poor, Rouse said. In Idaho, the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest has burned on more than 75 square miles (196 square km) in timbered land near the town of Salmon. It was 21% contained by Sunday morning. Pila Malolo, planning operations section chief on the fire, said in a Facebook video update that hot, dry conditions were expected to persist Sunday. Officials said they expected fire growth in steep, rugged country on the fire's south side. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday as the McKinney Fire intensified. The proclamation allows Newsom more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery effort decisions and access federal aid. California law enforcement knocked on doors in the towns of Yreka and Fort Jones to urge residents to get out and safely evacuate their livestock onto trailers. Automated calls were being sent to land phone lines as well because there were areas without cell phone service. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive. The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the U.S. Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177-km) section of the trail from the Etna Summit to the Mt. Ashland Campground in southern Oregon. In Hawaii, the Maui County Emergency Management Agency said a brush fire was 90% contained but a red flag warning was in effect for much of Sunday. And in north Texas, firefighters continued in their effort to contain the 2-week-old, 10 1/2-square-mile (27 1/3-square-kilometer) Chalk Mountain Fire. The crews now report 83% containment of the fire that has destroyed 16 homes and damaged five others about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Fort Worth. No injuries have been reported.
Wildfires in West explode in size amid hot, windy conditions
Wildfires in California and Montana exploded in size overnight amid windy, hot conditions and were quickly encroaching on neighborhoods, forcing evacuation orders for over 100 homes Saturday, while an Idaho blaze was spreading. In California's Klamath National Forest, the fast-moving McKinney fire, which started Friday, went from charring just over 1 square mile (1 square kilometer) to scorching as much as 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) by Saturday in a largely rural area near the Oregon state line, according to fire officials. “It's continuing to grow with erratic winds and thunderstorms in the area and we're in triple digit temperatures," said Caroline Quintanilla, a spokeswoman at Klamath National Forest. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency Saturday as the fire intensified. The proclamation allows Newsom more flexibility to make emergency response and recovery effort decisions and access federal aid. It also allows “firefighting resources from other states to assist California crews in battling the fires,” according to a statement from the governor's office. Meanwhile in Montana, the Elmo wildfire nearly tripled in size to more than 11 square miles (about 28 square kilometers) within a few miles of the town of Elmo. Roughly 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the south, Idaho residents remained under evacuation orders as the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest charred more than 67.5 square miles (174.8 square kilometers) in timbered land near the town of Salmon. It was 17% contained. A significant build-up of vegetation was fueling the McKinney fire, said Tom Stokesberry, a spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service for the region. “It’s a very dangerous fire — the geography there is steep and rugged, and this particular area hasn’t burned in a while," he said. A small fire was also burning nearby, outside the town of Seiad, Stokesberry said. With lightning predicted over the next few days, resources from all over California were being brought in to help fight the region’s fires, he said. McKinney’s explosive growth forced crews to shift from trying to control the perimeter of the blaze to trying to protect homes and critical infrastructure like water tanks and power lines, and assist in evacuations in California’s northernmost county of Siskiyou. Deputies and law enforcement were knocking on doors in the county seat of Yreka and the town of Fort Jones to urge residents to get out and safely evacuate their livestock onto trailers. Automated calls were being sent to land phone lines as well because there were areas without cell phone service. Over 100 homes were ordered evacuated and authorities were warning people to be on high alert. Smoke from the fire caused the closure of portions of Highway 96. “We’re asking residents all over the area to be ready,” Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Courtney Kreider said. “Last night we were pushing out evacuations about every hour, and there are large portions of the county that are in warning areas." Moments later, she said, "Oh — we just added another zone to the evacuation warning.” Read:House approves bill to help West fight wildfires, drought The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the U.S. Forest Service closed a 110-mile (177-kilometer) section of the trail from the Etna Summit to the Mt. Ashland Campground in southern Oregon. Oregon state Rep. Dacia Grayber, who is a firefighter, was camping with her husband, who is also in the fire service, near the California state line when gale-force winds awoke them just after midnight. The sky was glowing with strikes of lightening in the clouds, while ash was blowing at them, though they were in Oregon, about 10 miles (about 16 kilometers) away. Intense heat from the fire had sent up a massive pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which can produce its own weather system including winds and thunderstorms, Grayber said. “These were some of the worst winds I've ever been in and we’re used to big fires," she said. “I thought it was going to rip the roof top tent off of our truck. We got the heck out of there." On their way out, they came across hikers on the Pacific Coast Trail fleeing to safety. They offered rides, but one hiker said he would just take a beer, which they gave him, she said. “The terrifying part for us was the wind velocity," she said. “It went from a fairly cool breezy night to hot, dry hurricane-force winds. Usually that happens with a fire during the day but not at night. I hope for everyone's sake this dies down but it's looking like it's going to get worse." In western Montana, the wind-driven Elmo fire forced evacuations of homes and livestock as it raced across grass and timber, according to The National Interagency Fire Center, based in Idaho. The agency estimated it would take nearly a month to contain the blaze. Smoke shut down a portion of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo because of the thick smoke, according to the Montana Department of Transportation. Crews from several different agencies were fighting the fire on Saturday, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fire Division. Six helicopters were making drops on the fire, aided by 22 engines on the ground. In Idaho, more than 930 wildland firefighters and support staff were battling the Moose fire Saturday and protecting homes, energy infrastructure and the Highway 93 corridor, a major north-south route. A red flag warning indicated that the weather could make things worse with the forecast calling for “dry thunderstorms," with lightning, wind and no rain. Meanwhile, crews made significant progress in battling another major blaze in California that forced evacuations of thousands of people near Yosemite National Park earlier this month. The Oak fire was 52% contained by Saturday, according to a Cal Fire incident update. As fires raged across the West, the U.S. House on Friday approved wide-ranging legislation aimed at helping communities in the region cope with increasingly severe wildfires and drought — fueled by climate change — that have caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses in recent years. The legislative measure approved by federal lawmakers Friday combines 49 separate bills and would increase firefighter pay and benefits; boost resiliency and mitigation projects for communities affected by climate change; protect watersheds; and make it easier for wildfire victims to get federal assistance. The bill now goes to the Senate, where California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has sponsored a similar measure.
House approves bill to help West fight wildfires, drought
The House on Friday approved wide-ranging legislation aimed at helping communities in the West cope with increasingly severe wildfires and drought — fueled by climate change — that have caused billions of dollars of damage to homes and businesses in recent years. The measure combines 49 separate bills and would increase firefighter pay and benefits; boost resiliency and mitigation projects for communities affected by climate change; protect watersheds; and make it easier for wildfire victims to get federal assistance. “Across America the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, and in this new normal, historic droughts and record-setting wildfires have become all too common,″ said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., the bill’s chief co-sponsor. Colorado has suffered increasingly devastating wildfires in recent years, including the Marshall fire last year that caused more than $513 million in damage and destroyed nearly 1,100 homes and structures in Boulder County. “What once were wildfire seasons are now wildfire years. For families across the country who have lost their homes due to these devastating wildfires and for the neighborhoods impacted by drought, we know that we need to apply a whole-of-government approach to support community recovery and bolster environmental resiliency,” Neguse said. “This is a bill that we believe meets the moment for the West.” Read: What Causes Wildfire? How to Prevent Forest Fire? The bill was approved, 218-199, as firefighters in California battled a blaze that forced evacuation of thousands of people near Yosemite National Park and crews in North Texas sought to contain another fire. One Republican, Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, voted in favor of the bill, while Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader was the only Democrat to oppose it. The bill now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has sponsored a similar measure. Both the House and Senate bills would permanently boost pay and benefits for federal wildland firefighters. President Joe Biden signed a measure last month giving them a hefty raise for the next two years, a move that affects more than 16,000 firefighters and comes as much of the West braces for another difficult wildfire season. Pay raises for the federal firefighters had been included in last year’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, but the money was held up as federal agencies studied recruitment and retention data to decide where to deliver them. The raise approved by Biden was retroactive to Oct. 1, 2021, and expires Sept. 30, 2023. The House bill would make the pay raises permanent and sets minimum pay for federal wildland firefighters at $20 per hour, or nearly $42,000 a year. It also raises eligibility for hazardous-duty pay and boosts mental health and other services for firefighters. The bill is named after smokejumper Tim Hart, who died fighting a wildfire in New Mexico last year. “The West is hot — hotter than ever — it is dry and when it is windy, the West is on fire,″ said Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash. “And we are seeing this every year because of climate change. That’s why this bill is so important.″ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the bill “a major victory for Californians — and for the country.″ The Oak Fire, the largest wildfire so far this year, “is ravaging our state,″ she said. “At the same time, countless of our communities regularly suffer lack of rainfall that can kill crops and further fuel fires.” The House bill would deliver “urgently needed resources” to combat fires and droughts, “which will only increase in frequency and intensity due to the climate crisis,″ Pelosi said. The bill includes $500 million to preserve water levels in key reservoirs in the drought-stricken Colorado River and invest in water recycling and desalination. Republicans denounced the measure as “political messaging,” noting that firefighters’ hourly pay has already been increased above $20 in most cases. The House bill does not appropriate additional money for the Forest Service or other agencies, and without such an increase, the Forest Service says it would have to lay off about 470 wildland firefighters. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, called it “egregious” that Democrats would seek to enact provisions that could lead to firefighter layoffs in the midst of a devastating wildfire season. “Democrats are finally waking up to the wildfire and drought crises, exacerbated by years of forest mismanagement and a lack of long-term water storage. Unfortunately, Democrats’ proposals are anything but solutions,″ Westerman said. He accused Democrats of failing to follow science showing the need to manage forests before fires begin, and said Democrats “fail to construct the kind of long-term infrastructure needed to make communities resilient to drought″ while prioritizing ”liberal talking points” about climate change. Neguse called that accusation outrageous and noted that many of the bills included in the wildfire/drought legislation are Republican proposals. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the bill was important to the whole country — not just the West, where wildfires and drought are a daily reality. “We are one nation indivisible and if one part of us is burning, we are all burning,” Hoyer said. Besides boosting firefighter pay, the bill enhances forest management projects intended to reduce hazardous fuels such as small trees and underbrush that can make wildfires far more dangerous. It also establishes grant programs to help communities affected by air pollution from wildfires and improve watersheds damaged by wildfire. Republicans called the thinning projects — which also include prescribed burns and removal of vegetation — meaningless without waivers of lengthy environmental reviews that can delay forest treatment by years. The White House said in a statement that it supports efforts to address climate change, wildfires and drought, but wants to “work with the Congress to ensure the many provisions in the (bill) avoid duplication with existing authorities and administration efforts.″
Wildfires in Germany, Czechia threatening tourist region
A large wildfire on the German-Czech border is spreading and threatening to destroy a forested national park popular with tourists. The fire in the region called Bohemian Switzerland on the Czech side and the Saxon Switzerland national park on the German side, which started on the weekend, had seemed to be under control, but spread again early Thursday, German news agency dpa reported. Hundreds of firefighters on both sides of the border and with help from neighboring Poland and Slovakia were battling the flames, while local authorities warned tourists to stay away. About 250 hectares of forest are currently burning and eight firefighting helicopters were helping to douse the flames, dpa reported. Read: What Causes Wildfire? How to Prevent Forest Fire? Another large forest fire in the Elbe-Elster district in the eastern German state of Brandenburg also flared up again on Wednesday evening, local authorities said. Germany's minister for agriculture said Wednesday night the government would help battle the fires and praised those already working to extinguish them. Germany's army has sent several military helicopters to both fires to support local units. “The emergency forces are already doing a great job here,” Cem Ozdemir said. The fight against the fire in Brandenburg has been further complicated because some areas are contaminated with World War II ammunition and can only be extinguished from the air by helicopters. It is too dangerous for firefighters to enter these areas as old ammunition triggered by the heat or by people stepping on it can explode at any time.