Disasters & Accidents

Weather gives US firefighters a break, but forecast is worrisome

By Marc Arcas

San Francisco, Sep 13 (efe-epa).- Calm breezes, greater humidity and lower morning temperatures on Sunday helped firefighters in their efforts to contain the dozens of wildfires burning in the western United States, but the weather forecast in the coming hours nevertheless is of great concern.

Despite the favorable conditions on Sunday morning, the National Weather Service issued an advisory for the rest of the day and warned that the weather will probably contribute to the spread of existing fires and the start of new ones in Oregon and Northern California, the regions most affected by the blazes.

Of all the forecasts, the one that is most worrisome pertains to stronger winds in the region, which could send the fires out of control once again and result in losing all the advantages firefighters may have gained so far this weekend.

Since the start of most of the fires in mid-August, more than 30 people have died in the three US West Coast states – California, Oregon and Washington – tens of thousands of people are still evacuated from their homes due to the fire danger and a number of people remain missing.

Along with the better weather conditions, however, another positive note on Sunday was the announcement that almost 50 people who had been on the missing lists have been found alive in southern Oregon, an occurrence that significantly reduces the potential number of fatalities.

In Northern California, firefighters say they have the August Complex fire 28 percent contained in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties, the worst blaze in the state’s recent history and one which has burned at least 355,102 hectares (about 888,000 acres or some 1,388 square miles) in a mountainous zone difficult for firefighters to access.

The many fires are producing enormous quantities of smoke that is obscuring practically the entire sky throughout the region, and cities like Portland, Seattle and San Francisco – in Oregon, Washington and California, respectively – on Sunday are among the metro areas with the worst air quality in the world.

Weather forecasts, meanwhile, indicate that the wind coming in off the Pacific Ocean could begin to blow more strongly starting on Sunday afternoon, dissipating part of the smoke by Monday, at least in the areas closest to the coast.

One of the surprises on the weekend was the resignation of the fire chief for the state of Oregon, James Walker, for reasons that have not yet become known, and his replacement by the woman who, up to now, had been his assistant, Mariana Ruiz-Temple.

The majority of the fires erupted on the weekend of Aug. 15 due to an unusual electrical storm in the area that produced more than 10,000 lightning strikes in the drought-stricken region, and since then the dry conditions, strong winds and high temperatures have caused those initially small fires to spread catastrophically.

One of the elements that most worries authorities is that this situation is occurring even before October and November, which traditionally are considered to be “fire season” in California, and thus in the coming months the fire danger is likely to persist and even worsen.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to travel to California on Monday to learn firsthand about the situation and the efforts being made to battle the flames after holding several election rallies over the weekend in the adjacent state of Nevada and just before visiting Arizona, both of which are key battleground states in the November presidential election.


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