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Post-fire health survey now open to North Bay residents

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more about the UC Davis study, click here

Researchers at UC Davis hope to enlist thousands of Northern California residents in an online survey designed to gather the personal experiences, household circumstances and health effects from devastating wildfires that burned over 245,000 acres in six counties and killed 44 people.

About 140 people signed up in advance to take the survey, which went live Thursday (February 1).

But the push to get the word out is just beginning, with particular focus in hard-hit Sonoma and Napa counties, said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist and director of the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center.

“If you’re living there, you’re living it,” said Hertz-Picciotto, the research leader.

Residents of other affected counties, including Mendocino, which suffered significant losses, are urged to take part, as is anyone else affected by the fire and smoke that plagued the region for weeks beginning Oct. 8.

Researchers said the survey should take about 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

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Sonoma County wildlife show amazing recovery after wildfires

John Beck, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“I had no idea what to expect,” Steven Hammerich says, as he scans through wildlife images on his computer at Pepperwood Preserve.At the end of September and early October, the scene looks much like any other fall in Sonoma County. You see a lone bobcat on the prowl the night of Sept. 28. A deer wanders by on Oct. 2. A coyote stands alert on Oct. 7.

And then, at 1:57 a.m. Oct. 8, as the Tubbs fire roared through Pepperwood on its way from Calistoga to Santa Rosa, the motion-activated field camera captures frame after frame filled with a sea of flames and red-hot tracers of flying embers. A Douglas fir ignites and the temperature shoots up to 133 degrees by 2:15 a.m.

By the end, more than 85 percent of Pepperwood’s 3,200 acres — home to 900 species of plants and animals — would burn, mostly at a low to moderate intensity. By the time Hammerich and the rest of the Pepperwood staff returned several weeks later, many field cameras had completely melted. But in other cameras the storage cards survived, allowing them to piece together a rare narrative of wildlife survival.

“It really is like detective work,” says Hammerich, Pepperwood’s resident camera tech, as he cues up footage from the same E5 camera that captured the previous images before and during the fire.

Two days after the fire, the first sign of wildlife appears: The blurry head of a buck at 3:22 in the afternoon. Two days after that, a jackrabbit bounds by at 12:44 a.m. On Oct. 15, a deer appears at daybreak. And like that, in photo after photo, a coyote, a squirrel, more deer and another jackrabbit return. Other cameras on the preserve capture mountain lions on Oct. 13 and 16, a black bear on Nov. 6 and Nov. 24 and a bobcat on Nov. 8.

Read more at: Sonoma County wildlife show amazing recovery after wildfires

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California’s massive fires reveal our illusion of control over disasters 

Faith Kearns, BAY NATURE

I drove away from the Pepperwood Preserve in the Sonoma County hills on a hot and windy Sunday evening in October feeling hopeful. I’d spent part of the day talking with members of the California Naturalist Program about wildfire-induced emotional trauma in the region. As I arrived home in Berkeley later that evening, however, that peculiar fire weather feeling Joan Didion described as when the “winds show us how close to the edge we are” kicked into overdrive.

Several hours later, I awoke to the overwhelming smell of smoke and the news that people all over the Bay Area were hearing: a number of large fires were running wild through the beautiful place I’d left just the night before.

As the days went on, a horrifying picture emerged. Story after story of sudden and terrifying evacuations appeared. Whole neighborhoods had been awoken in the middle of the night by people—some police and firefighters, but many simply neighbors—banging on doors or honking horns as emergency alert systems lagged.

These reports from citizens are harrowing enough on their own but, as a scientist working on disasters like drought and wildfire in California for over a decade, I’m especially struck by the changing commentary from the emergency response community itself. As an example, Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott told the Sacramento Bee that “it’s becoming more the norm now to have multiple damaging fires” at the same time. In the Ventura County Star, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathon Cox said the fire was “unstoppable.” Santa Rosa Fire Chief Tony Gossner noted the pace of alerts and evacuations simply couldn’t keep up with the pace of the fire. These are remarkable statements from top-down, command-and-control institutions.

Read more at: California’s Massive Fires Reveal Our Illusion of Control Over Disasters – Bay Nature

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By a landslide

Tom Gogola, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

Read more at: By a Landslide | News | North Bay Bohemian

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Fire retardant use explodes as worries about water, wildlife grow

Matt Weiser, KQED SCIENCE

In 2014, scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service published a study showing that two fire-retardant formulations are deadly to Chinook salmon, even when heavily diluted in streams.

Chemical fire retardants are considered a vital wildland firefighting tool, helping to slow the spread of flames while ground crews move into position. But as their use increases, the harmful side effects of these chemicals are coming under increasing scrutiny.

The chemicals, usually dropped from low-flying aircraft, largely consist of ammonia compounds, which are known toxins to fish and other aquatic life. Studies have shown retardants can kill fish, alter soil chemistry, feed harmful algae blooms and even encourage the spread of invasive plants. Yet there is little regulation of their use, and no safer alternatives on the market.

In California, state firefighting crews have applied 15.3 million gallons of chemical fire retardants so far this year, according to data provided by CalFire, the state’s wildland firefighting agency. That’s a new record, and double the amount used just three years ago.

CalFire applied 2.7 million gallons of retardant in a single one-week period starting October 9 – also a record. Of that amount, about 2 million gallons were used on the North Bay wildfires, which killed 43 people and burned more than 8,000 structures in October as they swept across several counties north of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Sonoma and Napa.

Read more at: Fire Retardant Use Explodes as Worries About Water, Wildlife Grow | KQED Science

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Sonoma County fire cleanup weighs heavy on landfill

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Although nearly 260 destroyed homesites had been cleared of their post-fire debris in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood through Nov. 19, it represents less than a quarter of the burned properties in one corner of the devastating 36,807-acre Tubbs fire.

Just those cleared sites, however, produced a mountain of ash, twisted metal and charred wood — nearly 50,000 tons, according to county officials, with all of it going to Sonoma County’s Central Landfill.

The dump west of Cotati is the main disposal site for what local and state officials are calling the biggest debris removal from a wildfire in California history.

The scorched remains of more than 5,100 Sonoma County homes are bound for the Mecham Road location for burial — loads that have spiked daily traffic from heavy-duty commercial trucks and could burn through the life expectancy for one of the North Coast’s few operating landfills between Petaluma and the Oregon border.

Other than to confirm an increase of inflows from fire debris, a spokesman for Republic Services, the Arizona-based waste giant that operates the county-owned dump, declined to offer specifics about the number of trucks or how much material is now coming through the gates. He added that it presented no need for worries over capacity.

“From where we stand, as the operators, we are not concerned,” said Russ Knocke, Republic’s vice president of communications and public affairs. “Without a doubt it’s something that will factor into overall capacity at the site, but in terms of cause for immediate concern, again, I would say no.”

Still, to handle the additional level of waste and the sudden need for a place to unload it, Republic Services requested a four-month-long emergency waiver at the end of October for its daily weight maximums. Without that, only 2,500 tons of materials from a maximum of 900 trucks are permitted each business day.

Under operations covered by the emergency waiver, on the single biggest disposal day since the fire, the Central Landfill accepted 5,800 tons — about six times the most recent year’s pre-fire average. That compares to roughly 1,000 tons of municipal solid waste per day in 2016, and less than 860 tons daily in 2015.

Read more at: Sonoma County fire cleanup weighs heavy on landfill

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First aid for Sonoma County’s fire damaged soil

Douglas Kent, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Douglas Kent is the author of Firescaping: Creating fire-resistant landscapes, gardens and properties in California’s diverse environments

You are battered and fatigued, but the fight to save your property and community is far from over.

In the wake of recent wildfires on the North Coast, the risk of topsoil loss and the flow of debris has grown.

Erosion leaps as high as 200 percent following fires in urbanized areas. With this increase comes mass sedimentation, alteration of streambeds, property and infrastructure damage, and, in some cases, even injury and death.

We need to hold our ground.

Fires eliminate canopies, burn off leaf litter and expose the soil. When there is nothing to slow or stop them, wind and water gain leverage. Soil gets shoved around as a consequence.

But the problem is not just the lack of protective cover. Recently burnt landscapes also have to contend with repellency. Fires cook the waxes that are natural to our soils. When these waxes cool, they coat the first inch of soil with a repellency layer, stopping water from infiltrating.

The consequences can be dire when the lack of protective cover and repellency are combined. Fire-scarred communities can produce incredible amounts of runoff and debris flow.This runoff and debris can overwhelm storm water drainage systems, leading to extensive erosion elsewhere. Worse still, debris flowing down slopes can overrun homes, businesses and small communities. These types of events can, and have, lead to personal injury and death.

Read more at: First aid for Sonoma County’s fire damaged soil | The Press Democrat –

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Next challenge in Wine Country fires: colossal cleanup before winter rains 

Kurtis Alexander, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

While the worst of the wildfires is over for Wine Country, the region faces another daunting test: the cleanup of heaps of ash, twisted metal and blackened debris scattered across some 250 square miles of burned hills and valleys — an area five times the size of San Francisco.Never before has California seen such wildfire destruction. The blazes that roared through Napa and Sonoma counties this month obliterated at least 7,200 houses, barns and businesses, including entire neighborhoods, each with untold amounts of hazardous items now littered about, from pesticides to propane to melted plastics.

Residents are eager to get their properties cleared of the often toxic wreckage so that they can rebuild, though it will be months before any construction starts. Plans for the huge cleanup are still being worked out, with a goal of finishing early next year. The state will lead the effort, in partnership with the federal government, but only after the fires are extinguished and logistics are addressed.

Officials need to find landfills with enough space to take the rubble and get consent from landowners to clear their properties, matters that could take weeks. Once that’s done, the state is likely to hire hundreds if not thousands of contractors to truck out the debris from private residences and public property. Businesses and their insurers, though, will probably be responsible for cleanup at their sites.

Read more at: Next challenge in Wine Country fires: colossal cleanup before winter rains – San Francisco Chronicle

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Land UseTags , ,

How California’s most destructive wildfire spread, hour by hour 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

An analysis by The New York Times of satellite images, combined with on-the-ground surveys, provides a more complete picture of the origin, spread and devastation of the fire that killed at least 22 people in and around the city.

The Tubbs fire destroyed at least 5,200 homes and structures, shown on the map below, making it the most destructive wildfire in state history, as well as one of the deadliest. The Times analysis also shows how quickly the fire spread in the crucial initial hours.

Read more at: How California’s Most Destructive Wildfire Spread, Hour by Hour – The New York Times

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Wildfire smoke continues to hurt air quality in Napa, Bay Area

Maria Sestito, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER

To check on local air quality, go to the EPA’s AirNow site: https://www.airnow.gov/

The fires in Napa County are mostly contained, but that doesn’t mean residents can put their respirators away just yet. Smoke from wildfires across the Bay Area – including Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties – are continuing to contaminate the air, making it harmful to even breathe.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a health advisory in addition to a Spare the Air alert for Wednesday and Thursday, and says that the conditions may continue for “days to come,” according to a press release.

In the past two weeks, parts of the Bay Area have experienced air quality levels that are historically bad, said Walter Wallace, air district spokesman. Although levels were at times “hazardous,” he said, they’re comparable to a normal day in Beijing, China.

Read more at: Wildfire smoke continues to hurt air quality in Napa, Bay Area | Local News | napavalleyregister.com