Western US Ravaged by Wildfires, Carib and East Coast Lashed by Storms
The smoke, the flames, the aching lungs, the evacuations, they are Summertime facts of life in the US West, where every wildfire season competes with memories of previous destruction.
This year was supposed to be mild after an extremely wet Winter and Spring but has ended up one of the worst in US history in land burned.
The foliage that sprouted from previous rain and snow has gone bone-dry in intense heat, feeding flames in places that have not seen downpours in months and strangling cities with smoke.
The biggest fires came a little later than usual in some states, after Labor Day, when the fire season traditionally starts to peter out.
A look at the fires:
“It’s kind of like living in a war zone.”
In addition to the fear of the flames, smoke never leaves.
Thousands of residents have evacuated as firefighters battle blazes statewide, including one devastating hiking trails and waterfalls in the scenic Columbia River Gorge.
Officials expect the fire near Brookings, OR to burn for at least another month. The weather is a wild card in a region accustomed to rain and fog. If it’s hot and dry, it will be a scary September.
“We don’t know what the weather’s going to do, and half the problem is that uncertainty,” a resident said.
“The fire came down so fast they almost didn’t get us out,” a resident told the Missoulian newspaper. “I don’t think it would have affected me the way it is now if I’d not seen the fire.”
It has burned 10 homes and 30 other buildings and threatened a community on the western shore of Lake Koocanusa Wednesday. Some 187 residents have fled West Kootenai, with most staying with families on the lake’s eastern shore or in recreational vehicles.
It’s among dozens of fires that have forced people from their homes, destroyed residences and filled the sky with smoke for months statewide.
Local recreationists and tourists mourned damage to popular hiking trails and campsites from a wildfire near Mount Rainier National Park.
It more than doubled in size to 68 square miles (175 square kilometers) and closed all back-country trails on the east side of the iconic national park.
Forest Rangers worked to alert hikers to leave the area. Some campers were told to have their gear packed.
Smoke swathed areas from Seattle to Spokane, where the air Wednesday was rated as hazardous.
“Everything is just a big haze,” Sister Placida Wemhoff the Monastery of St. Gertrude said. “Our eyes smart and sting.”
Cottonwood had the unwanted distinction of having the worst air quality in the nation for much of Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.
Idaho’s largest wildfire is being allowed to burn in a rugged wilderness area. Authorities say they plan to protect bridges, a ranch, and other high-value sites that could be threatened by the 110-sqm blaze.
Nearly 200 homes in a high-end neighborhood nestled in the foothills near a northern Utah canyon were evacuated Wednesday as crews battled a blaze that has burned three houses.
Calmer winds allowed firefighters to stop the 1-sqm fire from spreading toward more homes in the city of Ogden, said a spokeswoman for the US Forest Service.
“All we can do is just hope and pray.”
Fully 20 large blazes burned across the Golden State, including one outside Yosemite National Park that moved through ancient Sequoia trees and another that burned 5 homes in Los Angeles.
A big Labor Day weekend wildfire in the LA suburb of Burbank was reduced to a black scar but remained dangerous. It had burned near 1,400 homes.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Fire Department spokesman Erik Scott said of the potential for hotspots.
In Northern California, centers with air purifiers have opened and some schools have suspended classes as smoke from several wildfires fills the air. The health officer of far northern Humboldt County, urged people to stay indoors to give their lungs a break.
In neighboring Trinity County, a fire on both sides of a river was expanding north toward another fire after destroying 72 homes and forcing about 2,000 people to evacuate.
Outside Yosemite, crews gained ground against a blaze that burned halfway through a grove of 2,700-year-old giant sequoias. Officials said it had not killed any trees, which can withstand low-intensity fires.
Irma swept over islands in the Caribbean and is pummeling Puerto Rico with Florida in its sights as the Category 5 hurricane threatens to become the most expensive storm in US history.
South Florida residents picked store shelves clean and long lines formed at gas pumps Wednesday as Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 monster with potentially catastrophic winds of 185 mph, steamed toward the Sunshine State and a possible direct hit on the Miami metropolitan area of nearly 6-M people.
“It is coming at us like a ‘buzz saw’ one friend evacuating Miami told Wednesday afternoon.