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Mon, 23 Jan 2017
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Costs of Alberta's Fort McMurray wildfire almost $10 billion

In this May 7, 2016 file photo, a wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
An assessment of the total financial effect of last spring's Fort McMurray wildfire is pegging the direct and indirect costs of the blaze at almost $10 billion.

The $9.9-billion figure includes the expense of replacing buildings and infrastructure, as well as lost income, profits and royalties in the oilsands and forestry industries, said MacEwan University economist Rafat Alam.

It also includes early estimates on indirect costs such as environmental damage, lost timber, and physical and mental-health treatment for residents and firefighters.

The estimate will go even higher, Alam said Tuesday.

"It's not fully done yet. More data kept coming and I'm sure it will keep coming in."

Alam said it can take up to 10 years to get a complete picture of everything that happened and what it cost.

Earlier this year, insurers estimated they'd be paying out about $3.7 billion for damage caused by the blaze, which firefighters dubbed "the beast."

Comment: Study: Wildfire seasons are more destructive and lasting longer almost everywhere on Earth


Wildfires burn 1 million hectares in Argentina over the last several weeks

Most of the fires are in the provinces of La Pampas, Rio-Negro, and Buenos Aires.

Wildfires in Argentina have burned approximately 2.47 million acres (1 million hectares) over the last several weeks. On December 22 NASA satellites started detecting heat from fires that grew to become some of the larger blazes on the east side of the country 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of the coastal city of Bahia Blanca.

Below is an excerpt from an article by NASA, and following that is a series of five more satellite photos showing the progression of the fires up through January 6:
Severe drought during the winter and spring of 2016 in northeastern Patagonia played a large role in the current fires, said Guillermo Defossé, a professor of ecology at the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco and researcher for the Centro de Investigación y Extensión Forestal Andino Patagónico (CIEFAP), an organization that monitors Patagonian forests.

"While historically these ecosystems were fire prone, during the last century the number of wildfires severely declined as a consequence of a great grazing pressure—grazers consumed all fine fuels that otherwise will carry the fires—and a successful policy of fire exclusion," Defossé wrote in an email.

"This masked, in part, the fact that these ecosystems are naturally highly flammable, with a fire recurrence time of about 20 - 25 years. During the last 10 years, however, a very sharp decline in wool prices and continuous drought—probably due to climate change—made several ranchers to reduce the number of sheep or directly abandon the ranching activity. This abandonment increased the availability and amount of fine fuels."

Bizarro Earth

2016 saw highest natural disaster losses in four years at $175 billion

© Rebecca Blackwell/AP
These houses in southwestern Haiti were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in October. Matthew was the most serious natural catastrophe in North America in 2016.
Hurricane Matthew. The earthquake in Japan. Flooding in the Deep South, China and Europe. Wildfires in Canada.

Last year sometimes felt like one natural catastrophe after another. Now, new figures from reinsurer Munich Re suggest that it was indeed a particularly bad year.

Natural catastrophes caused the highest losses worldwide in the last four years, at $175 billion, Munich Re said. It recorded some 750 events globally, including "earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves." The reinsurer added that about 30 percent of those losses were insured.

North America "experienced 160 loss events in 2016, the most since 1980," the reinsurer added.

Globally, the costliest single event was the devastating earthquake on the Japanese island of Kyushu, at $31 billion. Here's the breakdown of the five most costly disasters worldwide:


Huge wildfire burns 100 homes in Valparaiso, Chile

© Rodrigo Garrido / Reuters
Fire burns a house on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017
A raging wildfire burned 100 homes in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, forcing the evacuation of some 400 people. At least 19 residents were harmed, mostly by smoke inhalation, after the blaze broke out on the city's outskirts, fanned by high winds.

Valparaiso residents put on masks in an attempt to protect themselves from plumes of black smoke, AP reported.

The authorities have issued a maximum red alert.

"It was hopeless. The smoke was suffocating. It stung my eyes. So, we had to evacuate," Pablo Luna Flores, a local resident who lost his home, told AFP.

© Rodrigo Garrido / Reuters
Fire is seen on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017
"The fire was coming from the other side of the hill, down below. We never thought it would spread so far," added Rosa Gallardo, who also lost her home to the fire.

Comment: See also:


Forest fires in the Himalayas becoming 'unusually common'

© Press Trust of India
In the months of November and December when high-altitude areas of Dharchula and Munsiyari reel under sub-zero temperatures, forest fires have become unusually common, leading to suspicion that poachers are setting them off to trap endangered animals like musk deer.

Since the first week of November, 2016, residents of Munsiyari and Dharchula have reported witnessing smoke of forest fires more than six times in different parts of the two blocks. Fires were reported from the foothills of Panchachuli and Rajrambha peaks, van panchayat of the seasonal village of Burphu, Chipla Kedar forest of Askot Musk Deer Sanctuary and van panchayat of Pato village in Munsiyari in the last two months.

On December 16, van panchayat forests of the seasonal village of Gunji in Dharchula block also caught fire. "BRO and ITBP personnel were deployed to put it out," district magistrate of Pithoragarh, Ranjit Sinha, had said then. He also promised to put in place an inquiry into the incident.

Most recently, on December 28, locals of Munsiyari again spotted smoke at the foothills of Panchachuli peak.

Shekhar Kumar Neeraj, who heads TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network of World Wide Fund for Nature, told TOI, "Although I am not aware of these winter forest fire incidents in Uttarakhand, this is a definite approach used by poachers to trap and kill musk deer at such high altitudes."

Comment: India has seen a "really alarming" 55% increase in forest fires this year. Could outgassing be a factor?

Last week a rare winter wildfire ignited in Alaska, despite a foot of snow on the ground and forest fires broke out in Switzerland (in the dead of winter!)


India sees "really alarming" 55% increase in forest fires this year

With fires raging across Central Indian forests and the Himalayan Pine forests, the frequency of such blazes has risen by a drastic 55 per cent in the past year.

The number has touched 24,817 in 2016, a "really alarming" rise, from around 15,937 fires in 2015, says the report by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, headed by Rajya Sabha MP Renuka Choudhary, submitted on December 16. The committee has suggested a national policy on managing forest fires.

The increase is seen even though 2015, considered a drought year, had seen a decline in frequency of forest fires of around 16 per cent.

The three central States of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh contribute a third of the forest fires. Madhya Pradesh has seen a nearly ten-fold increase, from just 294 in 2015 to more than 2,600 in 2016.

The committee was formed after a series of devastating forest fires earlier this year, including the prolonged one that charred 4,000 hectares of forest land across 13 districts of Uttarakhand.

Comment: Another 'prominent factor' could be outgassing, possibly 'sparked' by an increase in atmospheric electric discharge events, such as lightning strikes and other 'cosmic' ignition sources?

This week a rare winter wildfire ignited in Alaska, despite a foot of snow on the ground and forest fires broke out in Switzerland (in the dead of winter!)

Fireball 3

Wildfires in southern Switzerland: what exactly happened here?

Wildfire Mesocco, Switzerland patches of burnt forest floor.
Several extensive and fast spreading forest fires rage in southern Switzerland, the first of them started on Tuesday night, Dec. 27th, 2016 in the mountains above the towns of Mesocco and Soazza, in the canton of Grison, Switzerland. One more forest fire started in the nearby Calanca valley. A further wildfire in the Leventina valley several dozen kilometers distance was immediately declared to be caused be a campfire of four careless teenagers.

No particular causes other then dry conditions and winds have been proposed for the other two locations. (winds were indeed moderate on site, no high wind speeds were recorded in the models of the Meterological Institute)


Rare winter wildfire ignites despite snow on the ground in Delta, Alaska

Delta, Alaska
A winter wildfire broke out near the Delta Junction High School last week despite the presence of more than a foot of snow on the ground.

The fire was spotted Dec. 20 by a woman walking her dog on the trails, according to a news release from the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Fire management officer Mike Goyette went to the fire Dec. 21 and found it burning and smoldering in the duff — the layer of dead plant material in the soil. Goyette estimated the fire covered a 50-by-20-foot area and caused between 20 and 30 trees to tip over from having their roots burned.

Goyette and a technician cut down the trees and put the burning moss and duff in a pile to burn itself out and keep the fire from spreading.

Comment: See also this other similar recent report: Forest fires break out in eastern Switzerland (in the dead of winter!)


Forest fires break out in eastern Switzerland (in the dead of winter!)

© Graubünden police
The Swiss army has been drafted in to help battle a huge forest fire in Graubünden amid reports of a separate fire in the eastern canton.

Cantonal police said on Thursday that several army firefighting helicopters had been in use since Wednesday morning to tackle the flames covering a wooded area between the villages of Mesocco and Soazza.

The army is being supported by civilian firms.

The blaze was reported shortly before 6pm on Tuesday evening.

"Owing to the strong winds the fire has spread from an area 200 metres by 600 metres to an area 600 metres by 1,200 metres," the police statement said.

Comment: Campfires or not, forest fires during a European continental winter are not exactly normal. Outgassing may be a factor here.

Video, courtesy of the Abrupt Earth Changes blog:


The United States' 10 most extreme weather events of 2016

In 2016, of all the weather events to affect the nation, four stood out: a hurricane, a flood, a drought and a blizzard. These four were historic and extreme, setting numerous records and affecting large areas. Unfortunately, they caused a great deal of suffering and economic losses.

Six other storm events, which were more localized, round out the top 10.

Tornadoes were not among this year's most significant weather events. This year was, generally, a quiet year both in terms of the overall number of tornadoes and tornado fatalities.

Much more than wind, in 2016, water (or, in one case, lack of water) caused the lion's share of weather-related deaths and damages.

As seven of the top 10 weather events involved extreme rainfall, and several 1-in-1,000 year events, perhaps you could call it the year of the flood.

Without further ado, here is our rundown of the most significant and extreme weather events of 2016 in the Lower 48:

1. Hurricane Matthew (September-October)

© Chris Keane/Reuters
Fuel tanks are seen after floodwaters rose because of Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, N.C.

Comment: For more coverage on the extreme weather affecting the entire planet, check out our monthly SOTT Earth Changes Summaries. Last month:

SOTT Earth Changes Summary - November 2016: Extreme Weather, Planetary Upheaval, Meteor Fireballs