Then and now: A ‘megadrought’ in California

By Mark Kinver
Environment reporterPublished1 day agoShareRelated Topics

In our monthly feature, Then and Now, we reveal some of the ways that planet Earth has been changing against the backdrop of a warming world. Here, we look at the effects of extreme weather on a crucial reservoir that supplies water to millions of people in northern California.

This year is likely to be critically dry for California. Winter storms that dumped heavy snow and rain across the state are not expected to be substantial enough to counterbalance drought conditions.

Lake Oroville plays a key role in California’s complex water delivery system.

Bidwell Marina at Lake Oroville, California

Drag button to see how extreme drought has affected lake

Photo of Bidwell Marina, Lake Oroville, California, in July 2014 after several years of drought
July 2014
Photo of Bidwell Marina, Lake Oroville, California in July 2011
July 2011

Source: Getty

This 65km-square body of water north of Sacramento is the second-largest reservoir in California.

Not only does Lake Oroville store water, it helps control flooding elsewhere in the region, assists with the maintenance of water quality and boosts the health of fisheries downstream.

In 2014, more than 80% of California was in the grip of an “extreme drought”. Against this backdrop, Oroville’s capacity fell to 30% – a historic low level.

As the water level receded to hundreds of feet below normal levels, ramps and roads no longer reached the water’s edge.

More worryingly, the reservoir – when full – provided enough water for an estimated seven million households, as well as providing power for hydroelectricity facilities and irrigation for agricultural land.

Infographic - US drought conditions

‘Unusually destructive’

The dry conditions didn’t start in 2014, however, there had been a drought for years prior to Oroville recording its historic low level.

Indeed, the US space agency’s Earth Observatory had warned that the multi-year drought was having a wider impact on the region. Among its effects was a contribution to “unusually active and destructive” fire seasons and poor yields from agricultural land.

“There is strong evidence from climate models and centuries of tree ring data that suggest about one-third to one-half of the severity of the current drought can be attributed to climate change,” observed Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

Agency scientists added that the data suggested a “megadrought” might already be underway in this region – and that it could last for decades.

The latest update from the US Drought Monitor in December 2020, showed that much of the country’s western states were gripped by extreme or exceptional drought, with Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, Colorado and western Texas being the worst affected.

The damaged spillway and the eroded hillside at the Oroville Dam
image captionThe emergency spillway at the dam was predicted to collapse

The Drought Monitor releases maps showing the parts of the country with prolonged shortages in the water supply. It is produced jointly by the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

From one extreme…

Climate change is not just about a warmer world, it also means that the planet will see more extreme environmental conditions and weather. So, for example, episodes of flooding will increase, as well as episodes of droughts.

Lake Oroville was a perfect illustration of how these extremes can threaten our existing infrastructure.

While the lake’s levels reached a historic low in 2014, the reservoir’s vast embankment dam – the tallest in the US – was pushed to breaking point in February 2017.

Following fierce storms in the surrounding mountains, water was flowing into the lake at a rate of roughly one-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools each second. captionWhat went wrong with US dam?

Communities downstream had been evacuated, with more than 100,000 people being ordered to leave their homes.

Officials were struggling to allow water to flow out of the lake because the main spillway – a structure that provides controlled releases of water – and the emergency spillway had been eroded and damaged.

Yet they had to continue sending water down the valley because the reservoir was reaching capacity and there was a sense that there could be a “catastrophic failure” in the structure.

In the space of two years, the lake went from an unprecedented low to a capacity that had not been experienced before. Water cascaded over the emergency spillways, which had not previously been required.

Map of northern California

Traditionally, the lake was replenished by meltwater from a thawing snowpack in surrounding mountains, whose river systems fed the reservoir. June was the month when the reservoir was expected to reach its yearly maximum level.

However, in 2017, it was rain that caused the intense water flow. The reservoir had reached capacity in February, rather than the middle of the year, as usually happened.

Scientists again suggested that the event fitted into the paradigm of a warming world.

Speaking at the time to the Guardian newspaper, Prof Roger Bale, from the University of California Merced, explained: “With a warmer climate, we get these winter storms, which dump rain rather than snow.”

California Department of Water Resources staff monitoring the water flowing through the damaged spillway on Friday 10 February
image captionCalifornia Department of Water Resources officials closely monitored the cascade over the reservoir’s damaged spillway

The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) said that the “frequency and intensity of droughts, storms and extreme weather events are increasingly likely above 1.5C (above pre-industrial levels)”.

Failure to keep the global average temperature rise to below 1.5C, as outlined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, is likely to result in more of the world’s reservoirs or flood defences being tested to breaking point.

This is a stark warning for world leaders, who will be gathering once again this year at the UN’s annual climate summit (COP26) – to be held in Glasgow.

The meeting, which had to be postponed by a year because of Covid, will seek to raise global ambition on tackling climate change – with a view to keeping temperature rise within the 1.5C limit.

Our Planet Then and Now will continue up to the UN climate summit in Glasgow, which is due to start in November 2021

California’s iconic redwoods threatened by climate change

Jeff Berardelli  6 hrs ago

California’s iconic redwoods threatened by climate change (

Photographers in awe as rare Yosemite firefall illuminates El CapitanBlake Shelton Was Shocked Gwen Stefani Drove a ‘Minivan to Work,’ Says…

California’s iconic coastal redwoods, some standing since before Julius Caesar ruled Rome, are in a fight for their lives. They are increasingly threatened by wildfires that are larger and more intense due to the impact of human-caused climate change.a person standing next to a tree: Big Basin Redwoods State Park, San Jose, California, wildfire.© Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images Big Basin Redwoods State Park, San Jose, California, wildfire.

And it’s not just the redwoods — giant sequoias and Joshua trees are also in trouble. These majestic trees are unique to the West Coast and are an integral part of the fabric of California’s storied landscape. But the experts who know and love these trees are genuinely worried about their future.

Last year, 4.2 million acres burned in California’s worst fire season on record. Scientists say as the climate warms these fires will grow bigger at an accelerating pace. And although the giant redwoods and sequoias have been historically resilient to natural wildfire, these unnaturally intense fires are starting to overwhelm their defenses, with fires reaching higher up into their crowns.PauseCurrent Time 0:10/Duration 4:18Loaded: 17.93%Unmute0LOCaptionsFullscreenCalifornia’s redwoods fight to survive after being scorched by wildfiresClick to expand

Jaime Herrera Beutler posing for a photo
a man wearing a suit and tie
Ari Fleischer, Dana Perino are posing for a picture
FOX News Logo

It is estimated that 10% of the ancient redwoods that burned during the 2020 fire season in places like the Big Basin Redwood State Park, 50 miles south of San Francisco, will die. 

A couple of hundred miles to the east, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, 350 giant sequoias were killed as flames shot hundreds of feet high, burning far up to the canopy. To the south, in the Mojave Desert, about 1.3 million Joshua trees burned as firenadoes tore through invasive grass.a herd of giraffe standing on top of a dry grass field: Charred Joshua Trees are seen during the Bobcat Fire in Valyermo, California, on September 18, 2020.  / Credit: KYLE GRILLOT/AFP via Getty Images© Provided by CBS News Charred Joshua Trees are seen during the Bobcat Fire in Valyermo, California, on September 18, 2020.  / Credit: KYLE GRILLOT/AFP via Getty Images

CBS News visited Big Basin State Park earlier this month and met with two longtime forest scientists, Todd Keeler-Wolf, a vegetation ecologist, and Joanne Kerbavaz, the senior scientist at Big Basin.

“This fire was on a scale and of an intensity that there are no records of fires that have been that big in this vicinity,” Kerbavaz said of the August fire which raged through almost the entire park, engulfing 18,000 acres. 

It started as part of a lightning siege of 14,000 strikes which sparked 350 fires statewide. Lightning events like that are almost unheard of in California; this one was a result of a surge of moisture from a decaying tropical system off of Baja California. 

While that lightning event can be considered just weather chance, it coincided with a sweltering summer heat wave which was undoubtedly made worse by climate change. This heat, on top of a long-term climate-driven drought, dried out vegetation, turning it into a tinderbox just waiting for lightning bolts to spark fires.

In her 22 years at Big Basin, Kerbavaz says she has witnessed a shift: a once nurturing climate has experienced significant change. 

“There’s a consensus that things are getting hotter and drier, and most of us who lived in this area can feel that,” she said. “And there is a consensus that fog patterns have changed, and that we know that in the redwood forest fog patterns are essential to maintain the redwood forests in this climate.” 

She is concerned that in the coming decades, if the fog continues to shrink, the habitat suitable for redwoods that live further away from the ocean will also shrink.  a person standing next to a tree: Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California was hit by a wildfire in August 2020 that burned roughly 97% of the park's 18,224 acres. State Parks safety officer and ranger Gabe McKenna, center, looks at the damage. The park contains 4,400 acre of old-growth redwood forest and 11,3000 acres of secondary growth. / Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images© Provided by CBS News Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California was hit by a wildfire in August 2020 that burned roughly 97% of the park’s 18,224 acres. State Parks safety officer and ranger Gabe McKenna, center, looks at the damage. The park contains 4,400 acre of old-growth redwood forest and 11,3000 acres of secondary growth. / Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Since 2000, the western U.S. has been experiencing a megadrought, one of its worst droughts in 1,200 years. On top of that, since 1970, summers in California have warmed by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. These types of climate conditions, warmer and drier, set the stage for a longer fire season with larger, more intense fires.

For the redwoods — despite their extensive root system, bark 12 inches thick, and having survived repeated fires over their thousands of years of existence — these recent intense fires are overwhelming their natural defenses. 

Keeler-Wolf has the duty of surveying the wreckage from the August fires. Pointing up at a huge ancient redwood, he talks about the immensity of the fire. 

“It affected the entire tree right up to the very top. This one is a candidate for being pronounced dead, but we haven’t pronounced it yet,” he said.

Both scientists agree that these coastal redwoods are very resilient. Even when they are heavily damaged from fires, they can re-sprout new trees from their trunks and even their roots.

Kerbavaz explained, “There’s also dormant buds by the base that can re-sprout and actually form new trees. Even before the flames were out the plants were starting to come back. Redwoods were re-sprouting at the same time as adjacent areas were still burning.” 

Although approximately 1 in 10 of the burned redwoods will not make it, historically speaking, Kerbavaz says 90% should survive. But the loss of so many ancient trees, some of which had been standing for thousands of years, means that things will never look quite the same.

“I am hoping for a long lifetime, but realistically, in the next 40 years it may not look like it looked in the 40 years before. A lot of the trees have been burned. So, we do expect the trees to come back, but in some cases they will look quite different,” said Kerbavaz. a tree with snow on the ground: Torched trees smolder in the Alder Creek grove of Giant Sequoia National Monument in Springville, California, on October 28, 2020. The Castle Fire burned through portions of roughly 20 giant sequoia groves on the western slopes of the Sierra, the only place on the planet they naturally grow. / Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images© Provided by CBS News Torched trees smolder in the Alder Creek grove of Giant Sequoia National Monument in Springville, California, on October 28, 2020. The Castle Fire burned through portions of roughly 20 giant sequoia groves on the western slopes of the Sierra, the only place on the planet they naturally grow. / Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Sequoias posses many of the resilient qualities of the redwoods, but unlike the redwoods they cannot re-sprout with ease. That, combined with the fact that they live much further inland, away from the moist marine layer of the Pacific Ocean, makes them even more vulnerable to wildfire.

Park Williams is a Columbia University scientist and expert on the connection between fires and climate change. Through is research, he has observed an unprecedented difference in the climate and its impact on the forests. At a meeting in New York City in mid-January, I asked Park what his research has revealed. 

Jeff Berardelli: It seems to be happening to the Joshua trees, to the sequoias and to the redwoods. And those are all different microclimates. So what is going on?

Park Williams: Well, there are a lot of things going on, but the one thing that all forests across the western U.S. are experiencing is warming. And so as we warm up the atmosphere, these forests are more likely to burn.

Jeff Berardelli: These fires are able to burn higher up on these trees, causing these trees to die where they wouldn’t have died years ago. Is that right?

Park Williams: We know that fires were very common in these forests over the last millennia. These trees are designed to be able to tolerate fire, but they can only tolerate fire if these fires aren’t giant catastrophic events. These giant fires with flames that are hundreds of feet tall managed to kill many hundreds of these ancient majestic trees.

As giant as these fires are, Williams says this may be just the beginning. As the region continues to warm, wildfires will get worse at an accelerating pace.

“The really important connection between heat and fire is it’s actually exponential. And that means that for every degree of warming that you have in California, the amount of extra forest fire you get goes up more than it did in the previous degree of warming.”

All of the scientists interviewed for this story agree that if we don’t stop warming the planet, these majestic trees will be facing a losing battle. 

“We do fear that there might be some thresholds that are crossed. So that some of the species, some of the things that live here, will no longer be able to be sustained,” said Kerbavaz.TOPICS FOR YOU

Elusive Catalina Island Shrew, feared extinct, spotted for 1st time in years


by: Associated PressPosted: Jan 10, 2021 / 12:03 AM PST / Updated: Jan 10, 2021 / 12:04 AM PST

A tiny mouse-like animal has been spotted on Santa Catalina Island off Southern California for the first time since 2004, showing that the species is not extinct.

A Catalina Island Shrew was spotted in a photograph taken by a remote “camera trap” during a major effort to detect the diminutive animal early last year, the Catalina Island Conservancy said Wednesday.

(Photo by Catalina Island Conservancy)

“We have been looking for the Catalina Island Shrew for years,” said conservancy wildlife biologist Emily Hamblen said in a statement. “I thought, and really hoped, that they still existed somewhere on the Island.”

The Catalina Island Shrew was listed as a species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1996.

An adult shrew is just 3.74 inches (95 millimeters) long, including tail, and they weigh about 3.96 grams (0.14 ounce). According to the conservancy, shrews have such a high metabolism they can’t survive long without eating.

To try to spy a shrew, the conservancy rotated seven camera traps among 28 locations on the island between February and May 2020.

Each trap was an upside bucket with a camera pointing down, bait in the center and four small openings.

The 12 weeks of trapping produced more than 83,000 photographs and only a few thousand have been reviewed so far.

The conservancy says the next step is to determine how to promote the survival of the species.

Out-of-control Bond fire forces residents to flee in southern California

Vehicles are pulled off to the side of the road as the Bond Fire, driven by high winds, approaches Santiago Canyon Road in California on Thursday.

Vehicles are pulled off to the side of the road as the Bond fire, driven by high winds, approaches Santiago Canyon Road in California on Thursday. Photograph: Leonard Ortiz/APAssociated PressThu 3 Dec 2020 10.49 EST


Powerful winds pushed flames through southern California canyons early on Thursday as an out-of-control wildfire burned near homes and forced residents to flee.

The blaze in Orange county’s Silverado Canyon began late Wednesday as a house fire and quickly spread to tinder-dry brush as wind gusts topped 70mph (113km/h). The Bond fire exploded in size throughout the night and as the sun came up, an enormous plume of smoke was visible for miles.

Firefighters struggled in steep terrain amid unpredictable Santa Ana winds that have raised fire danger for much of the region.

Capt Thanh Nguyen of Orange county fire authority said crews were scrambling to stay ahead of flames that jumped major roads.Advertisement

“We’ve seen the wind change also drastically, so that’s what we’re telling all our personnel to be aware of – that constantly changing wind,” he told CBS LA TV.

Evacuations were ordered for several canyon neighborhoods near the city of Lake Forest and residents of other nearby areas were told to be ready to get out. It was not immediately known how many people were affected or if any homes were damaged.

The Bond fire is burning near the same area of October’s Silverado Fire, which forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.

The new blaze broke out as southern California utilities cut the power to tens of thousands of customers to avoid the threat of wildfires during the notorious Santa Anas.

Red flag warnings of extreme fire danger through Saturday were in place because of low humidity, bone-dry brush and the winds, which sweep down from the interior, the National Weather Service said.

Utilities in the populous region began cutting power on Wednesday to customers as a precaution to prevent gusts from blowing tree limbs into electrical equipment or knocking down power lines, which have sparked devastating wildfires in recent years.

Southern California Edison cut power to about 15,000 homes and businesses by late Wednesday night and was considering de-energizing lines serving about 271,000 customers in seven counties throughout the windy period, which could last into Saturday. It was one of the utility’s largest precautionary blackouts.

San Diego Gas & Electric pulled the plug on about 24,000 customers by Wednesday night with another 73,000 in the crosshairs. “We recognize losing power is disruptive, and we sincerely thank our customers for their patience and understanding,” the utility said.

A blaze on about 15 acres (6 hectares) in in San Diego county threatened about 200 homes and officials were working to evacuate them, said Capt Thomas Shoots with Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting agency.

Nearby apartments were under evacuation advisories. The fire reported late Wednesday had damaged some homes, KGTV reported.

California has already experienced its worst-ever year for wildfires. More than 6,500 sq miles (16,835 sq km) have been scorched, a total larger than the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. At least 31 people have been killed and 10,500 homes and other structures damaged or destroyed.

The latest fire threat comes as much of California plunges deeper into drought. Virtually all of northern California is in severe or extreme drought while nearly all of southern California is abnormally dry or worse.

Firefighters hope for a break in the wind as 2 wildfires burn in California’s Orange County with little containment

Chris WoodyardUSA TODAY0:190:49

LOS ANGELES — Tens of thousands of residents in California’s Orange County remained under evacuation orders Tuesday as two wildfires continued to threaten upscale neighborhoods.

As morning came, the Silverado Fire had consumed 17 square miles with only 5% containment, prompting an expansion of the evacuation orders to include sections of Mission Viejo, the Orange County Fire Authority reported.

About 70,000 Irvine residents were under evacuation order and another 6,000 in nearby Lake Forest. 

To the east, the Blue Ridge Fire has burned about 23¾ square miles with no containment as of Tuesday morning. Officials said more than 8,700 homes are under evacuation.

They include 5,958 in the Chino Hills, 2,500 in Yorba Linda and 276 in Brea. Ten Yorba Linda homes were damaged by the flames, but no structures had been reported lost in either of the two blazes.

About 1,000 firefighters were battling the Blue Ridge Fire and another 750 were on the lines of the Silverado Fire, OCFA reported. It was there that two firefighters on a hand crew were both critically burned Monday. Both suffered second- and third-degree burns on more than half of their bodies.

Hundreds of firefighters who defended homes overnight were hoping for a break from the capricious Santa Ana winds that blew up to 30 mph Monday, with gusts up to 70 mph on Monday. Winds were expected to drop to 10 mph with gusts up to 20 mph later in the day, the OCFA said.

A drop in the winds allowed the use of 14 retardant-dropping helicopters to resume after having been suspended Monday.

The Silverado Fire forced the evacuation of 60,000 Irvine residents.

Colorado wildfires:1 to 2 feet of snow helped contain the state’s largest-ever wildfires, but it may not be enough

Cause of the fires was under investigation, but the area’s major electric utility reported it could have been the cause of one of them.

Two lines may have touched, creating a spark that set off the Silverado Fire, Southern California Edison reported to regulators. At 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, it appeared a cable lashed to a telecommunications wire came into contact with a power line carrying 12,000 volts above it, said SCE spokesman Chris Abel.

The report came despite SCE being among the state’s utilities that are preemptively cut power to 38,000 users when high winds are forecast to try to prevent wildfires – and the potential liability for any damages they cause with them.

In Northern California, a series of small fires broke out Sunday night but were contained. The largest utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric, cut power to 345,000 customers as a precaution, affecting about 1 million people, but it had restored almost half of it by Monday night as the threat tapered off.

Contributing: Associated Press

90,000 people told to evacuate because of wildfires in Southern California

By Amir VeraEric Levenson, Stella Chan and Cheri Mossburg, CNN

Updated 11:41 PM ET, Mon October 26, 2020

A firefighter uses a hose as the Silverado Fire approaches, near Irvine, California, on October 26, 2020.

California and southwest US under heightened fire risk 02:25

(CNN)A wildfire that nearly quadrupled in size Monday, prompted tens of thousands of people to evacuate and caused two firefighters to suffer critical injuries may have been started by a power company’s equipment.Southern California Edison said a power line may have played a role in the ignition of the Silverado Fire — which has burned 7,200 acres near Irvine — a report filed with California Public Utilities Commission shows.The initial safety incident report describes overhead electrical facilities in the area where authorities think the fire started, but notes there was no activity on the circuit.”We reported the incident despite seeing no activity on the nearby 12-kV circuit nor any downed power lines because it appears that a lashing wire attached to a telecommunications line may have contacted SCE’s power line above it, possibly starting the fire,” SCE spokesman Chris Abel told CNN.The fire grew to its present size in less than a day, sending families in Southern California communities into searches for the safety of friends’ homes, hotels or evacuation centers.Because of the blaze and the new, 3,000-acre Blue Ridge Fire, Orange County Officials told 90,000 people to evacuate.Fire officials said 700 people are battling the two fires, and on Monday two of them were critically injured.The men suffered second- and third-degree burns while battling the Silverado Fire near Irvine, Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy told reporters.Fennessy visited the injured firefighters in the emergency room, but was unable to talk with the firefighters, as each is intubated.”They were not in a position where they could speak with me,” Fennessy said. “Our firefighters are some of the bravest in the world. This is a very hazardous job.”The unidentified men, ages 26 and 31, are part of Orange County Fire Authority’s ground crew. The team uses hand tools to stop wildfire flames from progressing, much like hotshots.Dry conditions, low humidity and windy weather have prompted planned power shutoffs.There are nearly 320,000 customers without power this evening, according to PowerOutage.US.The bulk of the customers are managed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for Northern California and Southern California Edison.

Flames and smoke force family to turnaround

Jesse Strickland and his family were among the tens of thousands to evacuate from the Silverado Fire and now his security camera might be the first clue to whether his house has damage.Strickland and his wife on Monday morning loaded up their two children and three pets into the SUV. As they drove away from their Irvine home, Strickland recorded the orange glow of the fire peeking through thick smoke about 1 mile from their home.Strickland was forced to turn around and honk his horn as he drove back the way he came to find another route, the video posted to Instagram shows.”We, fortunately, evacuated earlier this morning around 10ish. Took extra time to get on the freeway but was not too bad as they are now,” he said.The family along with their dog, chinchilla and bearded dragon are at a family friend’s house in Chino Hills.”So far so good,” he told CNN.He said the kids, a 12-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son are fine.”We are doing well. I think that we were well-prepared and didn’t overact in front of our children so they seem to be handling it fine,” Strickland said.Fire officials said Monday afternoon that no structures have been lost to the fire.

College cancels campus activities

The University of California, Irvine suspended all campus operations due to hazardous smoke and ash, university officials announced. Only essential employees — including those who work in housing and dining — should report to campus. All other employees were urged to stay or return home.The inferno began as a vegetation fire at about 6:47 a.m. local time Monday in the area of Santiago Canyon Road and Silverado Canyon Road, according to the city of Irvine.”The fire started in Silverado Canyon, and helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are on the way,” Mayor Christina Shea said in a news release. “The wind is making it move very quickly.”Videos posted by the authority show high winds whipping the flames into a frenzy in burned-out areas. said earlier the blaze was a “major fire” and was moving southwest at a quick pace.”Our priority right now is getting people evacuated and out of the path of the fire,” he said.Irvine listed six community centers where care and reception facilities were set up; as of Monday afternoon, three were listed as full.The Silverado Fire comes as the state and region are under major fire risks from hot, dry weather. More than 25 million people are under red flag warnings in California and the Southwest, including San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.Cal Fire said Monday that more than 4,000 firefighters are working to fully contain 22 large wildfires in the state in what has already been a historic fire season across the western US.

Firefighter Dies in Blaze Sparked by Gender-Reveal Celebration

Sean Plambeck  
A firefighter has died battling a fire that was inadvertently sparked by pyrotechnics for a gender-reveal celebration in Southern California, the authorities said Friday.

a plane flying over a forest: A helicopter dropped water on the El Dorado Fire in Angelus Oaks, Calif., on Tuesday.© Eric Thayer for The New York Times A helicopter dropped water on the El Dorado Fire in Angelus Oaks, Calif., on Tuesday.The U.S. Forest Service said the firefighter died on Thursday while working in the San Bernardino National Forest on the El Dorado Fire, which has burned through 19,000 acres since it was sparked on Sept. 5.

The name of the firefighter was being withheld until family members were notified, and the cause of the death was being investigated.

“Our deepest sympathies are with the family, friends and fellow firefighters during this time,” Zach Behrens, a Forest Service spokesman, said in a statement.

The fire began when a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” used in the gender reveal ignited four-foot-tall grass at El Dorado Ranch Park.

The family’s efforts to douse the flames with water bottles proved fruitless, Capt. Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said at the time. The family called 911 to report the fire and shared photos with investigators.

Criminal charges were being considered, Captain Milloy had said, but would not be filed before the fire is extinguished. Cal Fire could also ask those responsible to reimburse the cost of fighting the fire, he added.

“I can’t speak on their behalf,” Captain Milloy said of the family, “but personally, I can only imagine how terrible they have to feel for a lot of reasons.”

[Sign up for California Today, our daily newsletter from the Golden State.]

Gender-reveal celebrations became popular about a decade ago as a way for new parents to announce the sex of their child, often in the presence of family and friends. Simple versions of these celebrations often involve couples cutting open pink or blue cakes, or popping balloons filled with pink or blue confetti.

But they have also proved dangerous. In April 2017 near Green Valley, Ariz., about 26 miles south of Tucson, an off-duty Border Patrol agent fired a rifle at a target filled with colored powder and Tannerite, a highly explosive substance, expecting to learn the gender of his child.

When placed with colorful packets of powder and shot at, Tannerite can fill the air with colorful residue for gender-reveal parties: blue for boys or pink for girls.

The resulting explosion sparked a fire that spread to the Coronado National Forest. It consumed more than 45,000 acres, resulted in $8 million in damages and required nearly 800 firefighters to battle it. The border agent immediately reported the fire and admitted that he started it, the United States attorney for the District of Arizona said in September 2018.

Christina Morales and Allyson Waller contributed reporting.

Smoke from deadly wildfires in the West can be seen on other side of country

The fires burning on the West Coast is producing smoke that was seen in Virginia and New York skies on Monday.

By Phil Helsel

Deadly and historic wildfires in the West are sending smoke as far away as the East Coast, officials said.

The smoke was creating a hazy appearance in skies over part of Virginia, the National Weather Service said. It was also affecting New York City’s skies.

At least 36 deaths have been linked to the fires in California, Oregon and Washington state.

In Oregon, 10 people have died and thousands have been displaced.

“Without question, our state has been pushed to its limits,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said at a news briefing Monday.

Image: Bobcat Fire Burns East Of Los Angeles
Mill Creek Hotshots set a backfire to protect homes from the Bobcat Fire in Arcadia, Calif., on Monday.David McNew / Getty Images

Nearly three dozen fires were active Monday night, according to state data. Around 1 million acres had burned, and more than 1,100 residences have been confirmed destroyed, according to the state emergency management department.

Twenty-two people are characterized as missing.

Washington state has seen one death, and 25 are dead in California.

In California, where more than 16,500 firefighters are battling 28 major wildfires, the death toll grew by one Monday after officials in Butte County discovered the remains of someone believed killed by the blaze, Sheriff Kory L. Honea said.

The state’s deadliest fire, the North Complex in the Sierra Nevada Mountains region north of Sacramento, has now claimed at least 15 lives.

The inferno, driven by high winds, moved into Butte County and caused major damage to the communities of Berry Creek, Feather Falls, Brush Creek and others, Cal Fire has said.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news

More than 3.2 million acres — an area larger than Connecticut — have burned in California since the beginning of the year, and more than 4,200 homes or other structures have been protesters

After some help from the weather, so-called “red flag” conditions returned Monday to the northeastern part of the state, the agency said.

The largest fire in modern California history, the massive August Complex which as of Monday afternoon had burned more than 755,600 acres in Northern California, was 30 percent contained. That fire was started by lightning last month.

President Donald Trump visited California on Monday, as Gov. Gavin Newsom and other officials raised the issue of climate change for playing a role in the fires.

Trump interjected at one point and said, “It will start getting cooler.” After California Department of Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said he wished the science agreed, Trump replied: “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday called Trump a ” climate arsonist” and called for action. Climate change “requires action, not denial,” he said. “It requires leadership, not scapegoating.”

Oregon’s governor asked the president to issue a major disaster declaration. He previously issued an emergency declaration for the state, which frees up federal aid.

The state’s Congressional delegation urged that the major disaster declaration be approved, writing in a letter that the confirmed fire-related deaths are likely to increase, and that “entire communities have been destroyed.”

Cooler weather is forecast in Oregon for the end of the week, which “will be a tremendous help,” Brown said, but that “the smoke blanketing the state is a constant reminder that this tragedy has not yet come to an end.”

The Holiday Farm Fire, in Lane County east of Eugene, has burned more than 160,000 acres and destroyed homes, including those of Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Chief Christiana Rainbow Plews and a dozen volunteer firefighters. A fire station was also destroyed.

Brown hailed the fire chief as heroic for immediately ordering a level three evacuation — which means people must leave immediately — which allowed residents to escape. “She and her team remind us of why we love this state,” Brown said.

The more than 1 million acres that have burned in Oregon is double the average of around 500,000 during an entire wildfire season, the Oregon Congressional delegation said.

The state is also facing its worse drought in more than 30 years, which has resulted in extremely dry forest conditions, they said.

Another presidential assault on science as fires and pandemic rage



A defining trait of Donald Trump’s presidency is his incessant destruction of reason, evidence and science in the service of his personal whims, conspiratorial mindset and political requirements.

On a day when Democratic nominee Joe Biden branded him a “climate arsonist” and global warming burst to the center of the campaign, Trump again ditched research and data for his own wild hunches and odd theories about California’s wildfires. And his counter-factual tendencies, which are responsible for widespread harm but are nevertheless embraced by supporters as germane to Trump’s political brand, were at work on multiple fronts Monday with America under assault from concurrent crises.
As wildfires swept across the West, causing dozens of deaths, destroying property and polluting the air with smoke, Trump abruptly shut down an official who warned that climate change was fueling the flames — by saying the weather would soon start “getting cooler.” Even by his own standards, it was one of the President’s most shocking comments on global warming — which he has previously referred to as a “hoax.”
A hurricane barreling toward New Orleans, meanwhile, revived memories of Trump’s reported Sharpie doctoring of a government weather map to back up his false claim that Hurricane Dorian was headed to Alabama. Reaction is also building to reports that the White House has put a global warming skeptic in a leadership role at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for much of the climate research produced by the government.
New reports emerged, meanwhile, of the President’s spinners trying to cook the facts on the pandemic, about which he misled the nation and which will soon claim its 200,000th American partly as a result. Trump continued to flout epidemiological guidelines by cramming people into indoor events that risked spreading Covid-19, exacerbating disbelief and extreme frustration among medical experts. At a Latino outreach event, the President was the only person in a packed room who was socially distanced — granting himself protection that his campaign stops are denying attendees.

‘I don’t think the science knows’

These were just the latest occasions when a President who harbors bizarre theories on health, the environment and other issues — often distilled from conservative media conspiracy theorists — has turned away from the world-leading science and expertise that solidified US global leadership.
For years, Trump has rejected the counsel of his own intelligence services and preferred propaganda from US adversary Russia. He pushed discredited therapies for Covid-19, such as hydroxychloroquine, that federal regulators spurned. His Environmental Protection Agency has sent a wrecking ball through regulations meant to save the planet. He withdrew from the Paris climate accord to accommodate his embrace of fossil fuel polluters and has overturned fuel efficiency standards for cars.
But Trump’s visit to California for a briefing on the fires that have consumed more than 3 million acres in a record year and have also ravaged other Western states was perhaps his most stunning climate change intervention yet.
Trump doubled down on his theory that a failure to rake forest floors was responsible for creating tinderbox conditions. He cited an unnamed foreign leader who he claimed said they had mitigated their “explosive trees” problem by managing forest floors.
A consensus of scientific evidence has found that while forest management is important, longer dry seasons and warmer weather, including at night, are worsening forest fires in places like California. A study last year in the journal Earth’s Future found that between 1972 and 2018, California saw “a fivefold increase in annual burned area” and that “increased summer forest‐fire area very likely occurred due to increased atmospheric aridity caused by warming.”
Trump has no time for such science. After Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged there needed to be more brush clearance, he also asked the President to “respect” the scientific consensus that “climate change is real.”
When another local official told Trump it was time to take “our head out of the sand” by relying on the forest management excuse, the President pounced.
“It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch,” Trump responded.
“I wish science agreed with you,” the official replied.
“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said, closing the official down.
The exchange was a flagrant example of how the President simply dismisses any information that does not fit his preconceived idea of a problem. While many of Trump’s opinions do seem uninformed and not shaped by the almost limitless resources of the federal government, there is also a clear political motivation underscoring his responses.
The President has fixed priorities: For instance, promoting big oil companies. Accepting that climate change is real would require him to take some steps to address it. Since he is loath to do so, the President finds that ignoring the problem — and using his propagandistic Twitter feed, which is a gusher of misinformation and falsehoods — suits him better.

Trump’s dismissal of science is a power move

Rejecting the advice of highly educated scientists and expert government bureaucrats also sits well with the President’s political image as an outsider and scourge of elite political, academic and scientific establishments. It helps to solidify his bond with supporters, who prize that image and may themselves share Trump’s reluctance to accept changes to traditional lifestyles — which a national effort to combat global warming, for instance, might entail.
As such, Trump’s dismissal of science and fact is not just a personality trait, it’s also a key factor in the method he uses to build, wield and cling to power.
A similar sequence of events has played out during the pandemic — a once-in-a-century disaster that, as Bob Woodward shows in his new book, Trump decided to downplay to Americans for his own personal reasons in an election year.
Trump’s longtime hostility to mask wearing — which scientific experts say is critical to slowing the spread of the virus — was clearly rooted in hostility to what many of his supporters see as an infringement of individual rights.
Trump then ignored science when he pushed states to reopen before the pathogen had been suppressed — a development that helped unleash a wave of sickness and death across the Sun Belt. Now, Trump’s indoor campaign events, like a crammed rally in Nevada on Sunday, are a huge act of defiance against the scientific community and the counsel of experts — another political play.
“The nerve he has, to hold that kind of rally. I’m speechless.” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.

A scientific ‘bible’ corrupted by politics

In a fresh indication of how Trump’s political allies appear to be working his will inside government agencies that once prided themselves on their political neutrality, The New York Times first reported an extraordinary outburst on Sunday by Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official.
Caputo, who confirmed to CNN the statements made during a live video hosted on his personal Facebook page, accused career government scientists of “sedition” in their response to the coronavirus. He also claimed without evidence in the video that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts had become “political animals” and given up science. A federal health official told CNN on Saturday that Caputo’s communications team pushed to change the language of weekly science reports released by the CDC in a story first reported by Politico.
The news came as another body blow to scientists dealing with the pandemic.
“I find it abhorrent that political influences are trying and perhaps successfully inserting themselves into the CDC communications, which have always been a model of science-based rectitude, very, very rigorous,” Dr. William Schaffner, an internationally renowned infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
“They are the bible that everybody in public health reads not only in this country but around the world. We can’t have them contaminated with politics.”
On the pandemic, and many other issues for which the US government was once counted upon for reasoned, scientific problem solving, it’s too late for that.

2 LA County deputies ‘fighting for their lives’ after ambush shooting; Search for suspect underway

Two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies were shot at a Metro station in Compton Saturday evening, officials say.

COMPTON, Calif. (KABC) — A massive search for a gunman is underway as two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies are “fighting for their lives” after they were shot in the head in an ambush at the Metro station in Compton, officials say.

The incident happened Saturday at the Metro Blue Line station at Willowbrook Avenue and Compton Boulevard around 7 p.m. The location is a short distance from the Compton sheriff’s station.

Surveillance video of the shooting shows the suspect ambush the deputies as they sat in the patrol vehicle.

A man clad in dark clothing walks up to the parked vehicle at the Metro station, approaches the window on the passenger’s side and fires several times at close range. The suspect then runs off on foot. One deputy is seen emerging from the passenger side and stumbling around on foot for several seconds before the video ends.

Both deputies sustained multiple gunshot wounds and underwent surgery at a local hospital. They were described as alive but in critical condition.

“That was a cowardly act,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. “The two deputies were doing their job, minding their own business, watching out for the safety of the people on the train.”

“To see somebody just walk up and start shooting on them. It pisses me off. It dismays me at the same time. There’s no pretty way to say it.”

One deputy was described as a 31-year-old mother of a 6-year-old boy. Her husband came to St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood after the shooting.

The other deputy was a 24-year-old man and his girlfriend and parents came to hospital.

Villanueva said he swore in both deputies to office just 14 months ago in the same class.

Officials were not able to get a detailed description of the shooter other than a man. Officials cautioned that the surveillance video released from the scene uses a fisheye lens so the suspect’s height and weight may be slightly distorted from reality.

The department tweeted: “Moments ago, 2 of our Sheriff Deputies were shot in Compton and were transported to a local hospital. They are both still fighting for their lives, so please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.”

Deputies blocked off streets in the area and are searching for the suspect.

Massive manhunt launched for shooting suspect

Dozens of deputies were searching the area near the Compton metro station where a lone gunman ambushed two sheriff’s deputies, leaving them in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds.

The department had at least 14 homicide detectives on scene to investigate along with forensic specialists, the Special Enforcement Bureau, K-9 units and other department personnel.

President Donald Trump also reacted to the shooting, retweeting the sheriff’s department video and commenting: “Animals that must be hit hard!”

Compton Mayor Aja Brown posted a statement on Instagram: “I am devastated to learn of the tragedy that occurred in our city tonight. Both deputies and their families will remain in our prayers.”

A small crowd, including some apparent demonstrators, gathered near the hospital in Lynwood where the deputies were transported. Witnesses say members in the group were chanting anti-law enforcement slogans and at one point tried to get inside the hospital.

It appears a radio reporter was caught up in the chaos. Sheriff’s deputies were seen tackling a woman, later identified as reporter Josie Huang for 89.3 KPCC who had been covering the earlier press conference, to the ground and then taking her into custody. She appeared to be wearing media credentials as deputies took her into custody.

Hours after her arrest, Huang tweeted that she was headed home and said she would share more about the incident “after a little rest.”

Protesters show up at hospital where deputies are being treated for gunshot wounds

Several anti-law enforcement protesters showed up to a hospital where two deputies were being treated for gunshot wounds and a radio reporter was caught up in the chaos when deputies went to control the group.

Anyone with information about the shooting was asked to call LASD homicide detectives at (323)890-5500.