The Biggest Wildfire You Never Heard About

Wildfires are on everyone’s mind after the historic destruction that began in Australia last year, where 34 people and billions of animals were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed, and around 18.6 million hectares of land were scorched clean of anything organic. But those were the statistics combined from a number of wildfires — not just the one. You might not be surprised to hear that the prize for largest wildfire is also granted to the Australian Outback.

It was eventually named the Black Friday Bushfire after it destroyed 4.9 million acres in Australia’s Victoria State in January 1939. 71 people died while it burned.  1939 as a dry year in other parts of Australia as well. Notable fires occurred in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

According to the Stretton Royal Commission: “On [13 January] it appeared that the whole State was alight. At midday, in many places, it was dark as night. Men carrying hurricane lamps, worked to make safe their families and belongings. Travellers on the highways were trapped by fires or blazing fallen trees, and perished. Throughout the land there was daytime darkness…Steel girders and machinery were twisted by heat as if they had been of fine wire. Sleepers of heavy durable timber, set in the soil, their upper surfaces flush with the ground, were burnt through…Where the fire was most intense the soil was burnt to such a depth that it may be many years before it shall have been restored…”

Many changes to fire coding laws and regulations were made following the catastrophic blaze. The Forests Commission Victoria was allowed a boost in funding to increase fire protections on public lands, and ultimately it gained more land to protect in the process. The common tactic of controlled burning — something the United States is only now finally considering — was implemented to reduce that risk of future wildfires. Of course, we know that doesn’t always eliminate the fires — because 2020.

Creating Fire-Resistant Buildings For Our Future

The recent string of wildfires — from Australia to the California coastline — has our lawmakers scratching their heads about what to do. The solutions range in potential impact, but some take us a step in the right direction. For example, the Teton County Board of County Commissioners recently voted to ban certain types of very flammable roofing. 

Fire Marshal Kathy Clay said, “We are stressed here with lots of UV light and very dry conditions. We have rain with snow. We have hail. And all of those make a detrimental impact on the fire resistance of a wood shake shingle over time.”

Not everyone agrees with the outcome of the vote. Per usual, some are calling for more research instead.

Senior Project Manager at Pie Consulting and Engineering Jordan Craig said, “Instead of just flat-out banning this material, get engineers and architects involved. Get the proper roof systems designed so that way you have a roof system that will perform just as well as any other roofing material out there.”

You might not care when you read about a random Long Island Spine Specialist whose business was lost due to arson, but this is the type of news that gets us through the day — we think about what we would have done, how we could have helped, and what we can do next time to ensure a building is constructed to be more fire resistant. The modern age is full of wonders, and we expect the danger of fire to decline in the coming decades!

One industry that shows signs of a future turn in the upward direction is glass making. Believe it or not, there is already a large market for fire-resistant glass around the world. This is only in part due to an increase in wildfires. The bigger reason why fire-resistant glass is such a “hot” commodity is because of the increase in high rise buildings, especially in developing countries. 

Other legislators believe that updated coding practices could reduce the impact on homeowners. Colorado is one state where these codes should probably be implemented, but none are on the books — and there are wildfires in the Colorado mountains every single year.

Matthew Reed-Tolonen put all his valuables in a fire-proof safe before he and his family evacuated from the East Troublesome fire in October of 2020. But it didn’t make a difference.

Reed-Tolonen said, “That was like the marriage license, birth certificates, all that kind of stuff. I thought I was good. I was like, ‘All right, it’s closed.’ And this is an expensive safe, we’re good. It didn’t do anything, just ash.”

After losing his new dream home to the fire, he plans to rebuild — but smarter and stronger. He wants to build farther away from trees and use a metal wainscoting on the exterior of the new home to help resist wildfires in the area. He could use brick or cement-fiber to make the house even more resistant to the harsh flames — but it doesn’t fit his vision.

California Wildfire Outlook For 2021 And Beyond

2020 was an all-around bad year — not only for Americans — and the Australia and California wildfires were only part of the problem. But thankfully those are problems that can be prevented in the future. California lawmakers are searching for ways to prevent the yearly wildfire chaos from becoming even worse. What will California’s forests look like in 2021 and beyond? Science paints a bleak picture if we do nothing.

4.1 million acres of California forests burned to the ground in 2020. Animals and people are without homes. Wineries lost decades worth of investment. Ecosystems were obliterated overnight. The worst part? Humans are to blame for these fires — and not the environment.

Native Americans used to prescribe fires to prevent larger wildfires from starting later. They knew that the foliage would grow back stronger than ever, too, so there was little downside in these planned blazes. But we’ve not used this system for ourselves. Instead, we implemented one that didn’t work at all: fire suppression. This has left our forests drier and more vulnerable to larger fires — and larger bills.

Around $230 million was spent on wildfire prevention last year. California Governor Gavin Newsom has now proposed a 2021 budget including a billion-dollar investment into wildfire prevention. Environmental groups say this is a step in the right direction but that an even bigger financial stimulus is needed to make a big difference — they’re calling for anywhere from $2 and $5 billion.

California Senator Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) said, “[Wildfires] are not just seen as sort of a rural issue or a hillsides issue, or suburban privileged issue, but as an equity issue. I think the public is there…It’s more getting the politics of Sacramento straight. I think we’re having trouble with that. People are ready.”

Retired Yosemite National Park Chief of fire and aviation Kelly Martin said, “The greater need is to really think about the economic impacts if we don’t do anything, if we don’t move in a direction of using more prescribed fire.”

Can I Sue For An Accident Involving Fire?

Accidents occur every single day — and many of them involve fire. This is because we typically grow up learning that fire requires fuel, oxygen, and heat to ignite and thrive. Take away any one of those elements and you can snuff out the fire, right? Technically, sure. But fires are more complicated than that, and different kinds of fires require different methods for extinguishing. Speaking of which, fire extinguishers can’t be used on all blazes!

Although most of us have trouble figuring out how to best extinguish various kinds of fires, it’s this lack of basic fire safety knowledge that results in a number of fire-related personal injury or property damage lawsuits. That’s because not knowing how to properly extinguish a fire can actually make it worse. Making it worse means that someone can sue for negligence (and if you’re the victim of one of these accidents, that means you probably can too).

Take one such case that occurred in January of this year: When Howard Kane took his daughter for a routine dental exam, a fire ignited in her mouth after one cosmetic dentist, Dr. Deep Karan Dhillon, made a simple mistake. Kane then sued for medical malpractice, which is personal injury involving medical practice.

The fire ignited when Dr. Dhillon used a diamond bur in the patient’s mouth. A spark ignited a cotton throat pack. The resulting fire lasted for a few seconds. That might not seem like a long time, but it was enough to do serious damage to the patient. She suffered burns on her lips, tongue, epiglottis, and throat. The medical report suggested that some of the patient’s injuries could result in permanent disability or disfigurement.

Attorney Alison Brasier said on behalf of the family, “When you have these procedures, you can have the perfect storm sometimes, and without the proper precautions, a hazard can be created. We want to raise awareness for parents and also to raise accountability, not only with this dentist, but others, so that this can be prevented from happening to another child.”

American Dental Association spokesman Jonathan Shenkin said, “This procedure is performed thousands of times by pediatric dentists, and I’ve never heard of this or known for this to have ever happened before. It sounds like a freak accident, to say the least.”

But understanding how fire starts might have helped prevent the accident. The tool had the capacity to create a spark — and there was fuel present.

How should you extinguish different types of fires? For fires with common sources of fuel like wood or paper, use water or a fire extinguisher. For fires with a fuel source involving a flammable liquid or gas, water won’t work and could actually make it worse. You’ll want to smother these with dry chemicals like ammonium phosphate or pressurized carbon dioxide. Water is also a hazard when electrical fires start. Extinguish these by first turning off the power! Carbon dioxide can then be used to completely extinguish the fire.

 

Arson Activity Skyrocketing Across The United States

The protests held by Black Lives Matter and their strongest allies have led to a rise in criminal activity across the United States. One of the most common crimes committed in the past two weeks was arson. The majority of the protests have been extremely peaceful, but the media has focused on the negative, adding that the likelihood of a coronavirus spike is nearly guaranteed — and pointing out that the virus is already spreading at a faster rate, although that spike was likely fueled by Memorial Day gatherings. 

Two men were charged with arson for allegedly attempting to set fire to Market House in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The plot went astray when one of the men, Andrew Garcia-Smith, set himself on fire instead. He was using a poorly fashioned molotov cocktail, but it didn’t quite work the way he wanted. He was arrested and charged after his wounds were treated.

In Tacoma, Washington, one 25-year-old woman stands accused of arson after attempting to set fire to no fewer than five Seattle police cruisers. According to U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran, she was successfully apprehended at her residence.

Moran said, “This defendant was captured by multiple cameras using an accelerant, lit like a blowtorch, to start fires in five vehicles — putting the public at risk and creating the very real possibility of a structure fire amidst the throng of people protesting downtown. I commend the painstaking work of law enforcement using a variety of images to identify the defendant and locate her so she can be held accountable.”

The video recordings of the incident were subsequently reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in conjunction with the Seattle Police Department. She was located because of distinguishing features and tattoos on her arms.

Are Fire Departments Adapting To The Coronavirus Outbreak?

One might think that firefighters represent one of the few professions that are primarily unaffected by the novel coronavirus outbreak. But that’s not quite true. Thankfully — but unfortunately — there will always be fires that need putting out, virus or no. Firefighters will continue to suit up for the greater good and put themselves at risk. However, the risk is greater now that a worldwide pandemic is upon us.

Many fire departments are making changes to keep people safe.

For example, calling emergency services for an emergency that doesn’t actually involve a fire will change which first responders show up. This is thanks to CDC guidelines meant to ensure that firefighters are available during actual fire-related emergencies.

Deputy Chief Desmond Dade of the Quincy Fire Department said, “Firefighting and rescuing is a main essential service we provide for Quincy, if our guys end up being quarantined because of the exposures, we can’t provide that service to the citizens of Quincy.”

The department is also implementing procedures to catch potential cases of coronavirus even before they spread. There will now be an employee at the door ready to take each firefighter’s temperature as they enter the building for a scheduled shift. It’s not yet known whether or not these procedures will have a noticeable impact since the virus can spread even before symptoms are shown. It can also survive on surfaces for days, making transmission even more likely.

Assistant Chief James Pioch said, “As far as I know, everyone in the department is practicing social distancing. When they go home from work, they stay there unless it’s absolutely necessary. I can tell you myself, I’ve personally practiced that. Only one of us in our household, and that’s myself, goes out to get what we need. And I’ve only had to do that once so far.”

The department is also committed to limited exposure by using gloves and masks when they do interact with the public during emergency calls.

Please maintain awareness when interacting with medical staff or emergency services. Their safety should be as much the public’s concern right now as is normally the other way around. Allow at least six feet of space in between persons when possible. Cough into your arm, not your hand. Wash your hands with soap and warm water often. And please, refrain from going outside unless absolutely necessary for groceries or exercise. 

These actions can help save lives!

Exxon Under Scrutiny After Massive Fire In Baton Rouge

A recent blaze at an ExxonMobil refinery has left many Baton Rouge residents wary about the company’s future in their Louisiana city. Only a week after the fire broke out, lawmakers have introduced comments made by members of the community to lawmakers who will have to decide how to further regulate the company responsible. ExxonMobil was quick to release a performance report almost immediately after the fire broke out. That wasn’t enough, residents say.

Lawmaker Cleo Fields said, “I want a meaningful dialogue.”

One of the biggest issues was frustration at the lack of response by Exxon or Baton Rouge officials when the fire began. They believe they should have been immediately notified of the danger — but they were not told.

One woman commented, “People need to know as quickly as they can to make decisions as quickly as they can and not be governed.”

Exxon employees struggled to contain the crowd, which had gathered at Star of Bethlehem Baptist sanctuary. One said, “I’m in a battle, okay? You need to understand that, and I have to make sure that firefighter goes home to his family at night, so it’s going to be a minute for us to set up, get our tactics in order, and get ready to go and get set up before I can contact public affairs, the environmental or whoever. Those guys want to get the information to you.”

But that’s the point. When a crisis occurs, everyone has their role to play — and one of those roles should be contacting government officials. Another should be contacting the public. Another should be contacting the affected environmental agencies. Those calls shouldn’t be difficult to make by those who are assigned to make them. Exxon was increasing the chaos through bad management instead of guiding those who needed guidance.

One person asked, “What is going on with Exxon and all, anybody else? I need to know that if I need to get my great grandbaby up out of the bed, where to take her, which route to take.”

After the fire, Exxon notified the public that the refinery fire released two carcinogens into the atmosphere: benzene and butadiene. Because of the amounts probably released, Exxon was forced to notify the Department of Environmental Quality immediately. Exxon ensured those in attendance that WAFB alerts were indeed made to nearby residents at approximately 12:20 a.m.

But that was already at least an hour after the fire broke out. 

Representatives for Exxon have said that a new alert system is in the works, but have failed to provide any information on how it might be implemented or what exactly it might do.

Should We Be Allowed To Sue The Government?

It sounds like a twisted question because we live in a country where we’re brought up to believe that “fairness” is an unalienable right — even though we don’t hear about it in the United States Constitution. But how many of us can say that we live in a fair world? How many of us can really argue that fairness is even possible? When you sue the government, you’re not being compensated by an organization — you’re being compensated by the individuals who fund it, i.e. you and me.

A Phoenix fire department was recently sued  after a fire truck collided with a pickup truck near Bethany Home Road/29th Ave., killing three of the pickups passengers: Kenneth Collins, 20; Dariana Serrano,19. An infant was also killed.

Sara Collins said, “We don’t get to have them in our lives anymore. Chase was a good father. She was a good mother. They had good hearts.”

Investigators were able to obtain surveillance video of the accident in order to conclude that no one was to blame for the collision. They did note, however, that the speed of the fire truck was partly to blame. The driver had it going at about 61 miles per hour at the time of impact. This was over the speed limit. The fire truck was blaring its sirens and lights. 

According to fire truck Engineer Paul Kalkbrenner, he thought “he was within the fire department’s standard procedures of 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.”

But he was going 20 miles per hour over the posted limit, which was 40 mph, according to investigators. 

Relatives of the deceased have filed a whopping $25 million lawsuit based on wrongful death. 

It’s understandable that the victims are angry and confused, and place blame on an engineer who was apparently disobeying standard operating procedures. But the city and the court will have to balance what the family deserves — in all fairness — with the greater good. $25 million in city resources pulled away from other projects already in dire need of funding could result in more deaths down the road. 

New technology is available to provide drivers with no excuse for not following standard operating procedure regarding the speed limit, and should be implemented to reduce such incidents. In the meantime, drivers who fail to do their job should be punished through termination or criminal charges. Families whose friends and loved ones have passed away due to these broken procedures deserve to be compensated — but in the confines of a system that only allows so much.

Are School Administrators Doing Enough On Fire Safety?

The last thing we want to hear as parents when our children return from school is that a fire broke out and they didn’t know what to do. Which is why we should make sure that our children know what to do while they’re at home. But that doesn’t mean school administrators and teachers aren’t responsible for our kids when under their supervision — they are educators, after all. But are they doing enough?

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation aimed at keeping our schools — both public and private — under stricter standards of fire safety. The law should result in more routine fire inspections by those who are most qualified to provide them: a fire department or specially trained county official. 

Schools that are in non-compliance with the new law will be forced to do so by the state’s Education Department, which has been given more teeth to order those inspections. The inspectors will be held to higher standards as well. Those who miss obvious details that should prevent fires will stand to lose their certifications — and their jobs.

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski and Senator David Carlucci back in 2017. It’s taken this long to move through the proper channels. Zebrowski said, “After years of working with state and local fire officials, we have finally updated the arcane regulations that were in place.”

To put the new laws into perspective, it wasn’t so long ago that schools could ask a janitor to perform these inspections. And much of the paperwork was hard copy. Until now, there has never been standardized, electronic systems for processing these inspections. On top of that, private schools have mostly been running outside the legal boundaries and laws that other schools must follow.

Zebrowski says that the new legislation means that hundreds of schools throughout the Hudson Valley will need to get up to code. “Lay people, regular folks, were able to inspect these schools that employed them and check off the boxes…When we started this process, about 50 percent of private schools weren’t inspected. Now, through regulatory changes, we’ve gotten up to 90 percent. With this bill, we’re hoping to get up to 100 percent.”

Justin Schwartz is a member of Rockland’s illegal housing task force. He’s concerned about the number of homes recently converted into yeshivas — an elementary school for Orthodox Jewish kids — without becoming compliant with new fire safety codes or undergoing inspection.

Schwartz said, “You don’t know what you’re really walking into. And if they don’t have adequate hall space or exit options, then it’s only one way in and one way out, it’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”

 

Painted Cave Road Fire Raging Near Santa Barbara After Most Other Northern California Wildfires Brought Under Control

California has been stuck under the spell of wildfires for months now, but they’re finally getting under control — mostly. A new fire broke out near Santa Barbara at East Camino Cielo and Painted Cave Road, which is situated in the Los Padres National Forest. 3,800 acres have already gone up in smoke, and the fire is nowhere close to being contained. People are starting to ask why this keeps happening.

It turns out that Native Americans might have the answers, if we’re willing to listen.

Santa Barbara County is in a state of emergency thanks to the new fire. Officials have requested that California Governor Gavin Newsom announce the same. The county wrote that the fire is “causing conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property within Santa Barbara County.” This is nothing new for California.

Ironically, it’s the state’s own fire prevention methods that are most to blame for the constant outbreaks — not the dry conditions, heat, or high winds. That’s because our methods don’t include prescribed burns, which ironically prevent the spread of unplanned forest fires that often rage completely out of control, potentially demolishing homes. But Native Americans were purposely setting fire to the countryside before European settlers even showed up.

These prescribed fires do more than just prevent uncontrolled burn. In addition to clearing away dangerous areas of dry brush, they also help maintain balance in animal populations and create natural meadows where animals, wild and farmed alike, can graze. 

The concept of “fighting fire” was developed from the 1880s until peaking in 1910 after a spate of wildfires were responsible for 86 deaths and a number of destroyed communities. Millions of acres of wooded area in Idaho and Montana disappeared in a flash. The event compelled the US Forest Service to extinguish similar fires in the future via new fire fighting methods. This also led to steep fines for everyone who used prescribed fires to reduce the surface area of dry brush — resulting in yet more fires.

Those fire prevention methods were largely unsuccessful. By 1968, our officials noticed that giant sequoias in California were on the decline. Our logic tells us that fire is a destructive force, but sequoias actually depend on it. Dry areas are “reset” when fire destroys the brush, and those areas typically grow up greener and stronger than before. Contrary to popular belief, fire is a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem. But we prevent them.

Scientists have long argued about the benefits of prescribed fires in preventing worse ones, but per usual, policymakers have declined to listen to the brightest minds — or the most experienced — we have at our disposal.