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Tue, 21 Aug 2018
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"A threat to our livelihood": Record drought grips Germany's breadbasket

Two men sunbathing at the Rhine River in Duesseldorf, Germany
Two men sunbathing at the Rhine River in Duesseldorf, Germany, on July 26, 2018
Withered sunflowers, scorched wheat fields, stunted cornstalks - the farmlands of northern Germany have borne the brunt of this year's extreme heat and record-low rainfall, triggering an epochal drought.

As the blazing sun beats down, combine harvesters working the normally fertile breadbasket of Saxony-Anhalt in former communist East Germany kick up giant clouds of dust as they roll over the cracked earth.

"It hasn't really rained since April and that's the main growth period for our grains and the other crops - we've never seen anything like it," said Juliane Stein of Agro Boerdegruen, a farming conglomerate formed after German reunification in 1990.

"We've reached the point here in Germany where we're talking about a natural disaster that's a threat to our livelihood."

Comment: We're barely halfway through summer and already it has been on of the driest on record for vast swathes of the northern hemisphere:
wildfires eu graph


'Firenado' caught on film as emergency services battle California blaze

Carr fire shasta county california
© Reuters
The Carr Fire in California
California's raging Carr Fire has now scorched more than 48,000 acres of land, with firefighters filming how strong winds whipped flames into a deadly tornado as they battled to put out the persistent blaze.

California is facing a fire crisis at the moment with extremely dry weather making grassland ripe for the spread of wildfires. In Shasta County, where the Carr Fire is burning, an estimated 38,000 people have already fled their homes, according to ABC7.

Now firefighters servicing the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, where whole wooded areas were filmed burning bright red, have released images of the extremely dangerous conditions the face.


Deadly wildfires blaze across California amid fears that 'the worst is yet to come'

Carr fire in Redding
© Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
More than 3,000 firefighters have been deployed against the Carr fire in Redding. Hotter, drier summers have prolonged fire season.

At least three dead and thousands evacuated as officials worry potentially devastating fire season has only just begun

At least three people have died and thousands have been evacuated in California as eight active wildfires continue to burn across the state. More than 3,000 firefighters have been deployed to contain the flames, and the destruction is expected to worsen throughout the weekend as high temperatures and dry conditions inhibit efforts.

The state governor, Jerry Brown, has declared a state of emergency in northern California's Shasta county, and in southern California's Riverside county, to help provide local fire crews with the resources they need to battle the blazes. Donald Trump has not yet commented on the fires.

Redding, a city of 92,000 near the Oregon border, is at grave risk from the Carr fire, which has so far killed two people. The fire is only 3% contained and has already scorched more than 44,450 aces. "Really, we're in a life-saving mode right now in Redding," said the Cal Fire battalion chief, Jonathan Cox. "We're not fighting a fire. We're trying to move people out of the path of it because it is now deadly, and it is now moving at speeds and in ways we have not seen before in this area."

The Carr fire erupted on Monday 23 July and is being propelled by "extreme fire behavior and challenging wind conditions", according to CalFire officials. The blaze continues to threaten nearly 5,000 structures and 65 buildings have already been incinerated.

Comment: Seven of California's 10 largest fires on record have occurred since 2000 including last year's Thomas fire, the largest blaze in the state's recorded history.

Meanwhile in Greece the death toll has reached 87 people, with countless more missing, after devastating wildfires decimated seaside communities outside Athens.

See also: Situation critical in Greece as residents flee wildfires by jumping into the sea - At least 50 dead - UPDATES


'Very, very nasty terrain' confronts firefighters in deadly wildfire that closed Yosemite

yosemite fire
© AP Photo/Noah Berger
Hannah Whyatt poses for a friend's photo as smoke from the Ferguson fire fills Yosemite Valley, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Campsites and lodges emptied out after disappointed tourists were ordered to leave the heart of Yosemite National Park by noon Wednesday, as firefighters battled to contain a huge wildfire just to the west that has threatened the park's forest and sent up smoke that obscured grand vistas of waterfalls and sheer granite faces.
The first time Yosemite National Park closed because of wildfires, the iconic tourist attraction was celebrating its 100th birthday in 1990 and three major blazes shut down access for nine days.

On Wednesday, authorities shut down the popular Yosemite Valley portion of the park and told visitors to get out because of the unpredictable and difficult Ferguson Fire that has been chewing up forest and grasslands since it erupted 25 miles west of the park on July 13.

The closure is expected to last at least through Sunday, with fire officials saying they are making a concerted effort to stop the fire's advance through extremely steep, rugged terrain that makes battling the 60-square-mile fire particularly difficult.

"The terrain is very, very nasty in this area, both on the north and the south," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jim Mackensen said Wednesday as new evacuations were being ordered in Mariposa County. "Some of the fuel beds in the south have no recorded fire history going back 150 years.

"It's just choked with trees and dead trees and brush that have been accumulating over the years."


Death toll from raging wildfires in Greece up to 80, Russia promises aid

greece fire
© Valerie Gache / AFP
The death toll from the raging wildfires in Greece's Attica region has risen to 80, while up to 100 people are still missing. Moscow has expressed readiness to help Athens battle the fires and deal with the aftermath.

Most people have died in the eastern resort town of Mati, which was struck by a flash fire. The streets of the now-ghost town are packed with charred and melted cars, while rescuers are searching through the burned-out buildings.
greece fires
© Antonis Nicolopoulos / Eurokinissi / Reuters
An aerial view of the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, on July 25, 2018
"We're going from house to house, anywhere we believe there may be someone trapped, someone who burned inside, someone missing," chief of a volunteer rescue team, Dionysis Tsiroglou, told Reuters. "So far, our search has been fruitless."


Scorched Sweden faces continued "extreme" fire risk in coming days

sweden wildfire 2018
A chartered helicopter dumps a load of water ontio a smouldering spot in a forest near the village Grotingen in the Bracke municipality to fight one of many wild fires in central Sweden, 22 July 2018. Sweden meanwhile has called for emergency assistance from the European Union to tackle the dozens of wildfires raging across the country. Italian and French fire fighting planes as well as fire engines from Poland and firefighters from other EU countries joined in the efforts to contain and extinguish the wild fires. July 24, 2018 @ 2:00am
Sweden warned Monday of an "extreme" risk of fresh forest fires as much of Scandinavia baked in a heatwave and dozens of fires hit countries across northern Europe.

Sweden's civil protection agency MSB counted 27 active fires across the country on Monday, half the previous day's number, as temperatures were expected to soar as high as 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) this week.

Other European countries including France, Italy and Germany have sent a mix of plane, trucks and firefighters to help tackle the blazes as Sweden, where usual summer temperatures are closer to 23 Celsius, has struggled to contain the crisis.

Some 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of land has already gone up in smoke or continues to burn - an area twice the size of the city of Paris.

Comment: After a brutally cold winter and epic flooding throughout spring, Europe is now on fire:


Sweden now battling over 50 wildfires, authorities say some 'impossible to extinguish'

Sweden wildfires Jul 2018

Large numbers of evacuations have taken place over the past two days, and thousands more residents have been ordered to keep their windows shut to avoid breathing the smoky air.

More than 50 wildfires - 10 more than the previous day - are now alight across central and western Sweden, but also above the Arctic Circle, authorities confirmed on Friday.

Sweden's head of civil defense Dan Eliasson said fire crews were struggling to bring the most ferocious forest fires in years under control.

He said four of the fires had become too large for firefighters to extinguish. And with no rain in sight, the situation was unlikely to improve over the weekend, he said.

"We will not be able to extinguish the largest fires," Eliasson said. "In these cases, rescue services are working to minimize the spread of the flames and wait until the weather changes."

Comment: Euronews reports Poland has joined other EU countries helping to battle the wildfires which are being attributed to hot weather and low rainfall:
Data from the European Commission's Joint Research Centre showed that there had been 53 wildfires this year, as of Thursday.

Normally by this time of year, there would have been three such fires, its data showed.

Many parts of Sweden have seen their driest weather in the May to mid-July period since records began in the 19th century, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) said.


Situation critical in Greece as residents flee wildfires by jumping into the sea - At least 50 dead - UPDATES

greece wildfires
© REUTERS/Costas Baltas
A woman is in shock as she walks through cars where people fleeing the wildfires were burned alive at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece July 24, 2018.
Multiple wildfires across Greece's Attica region have claimed the lives of at least 49 people, firefighters say. With dozens of others injured, authorities have warned of further casualties and pleaded for an EU-wide response.

Around half of the victims are from the village of Mati, a holiday resort on the east coast of the Attica region, just 30km from Athens, the local fire brigade said. Local media also report that some 168 people were injured across the country.

"Some settlements have disappeared from the map," Mayor of Rafina Pikermiou, Vangelis Bournos told local newspapers.

Reporting that at least 15 wildfires are simultaneously raging across three fronts of the Attic peninsula, which includes the capital Athens, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos warned of a "very difficult night" ahead given the combination of intense western winds. He noted that at least 16 children are among those affected by the flames.

Comment: With 50 dead on just the first day, this tragedy is likely to surpass the 2007 wildfires, which were (at the time) 'unprecedented'...

Update 15:00 CET

As the fires continue to rage, the death toll has climbed to 60, while Croatia, Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Russia have offered to send much-needed help.

The accounts of the survivors are haunting and heartbreaking:
Nikos Stavrinidis had gone to his summer home in the Mati area with his wife to prepare it for his student daughter, who was coming to stay.

Before he knew it, the fire surrounded him.

"It happened very fast. The fire was in the distance, then sparks from the fire reached us. Then the fire was all around us," Mr Stavrinidis said.

There were six people in his group: Mr Stavrinidis, his wife and some of her friends.

They swam further out to escape the smoke, but as they did so, they began to be carried away by the wind and the current.

They lost sight of the shore and became disoriented.

"We couldn't see anything," he said.

Gale-force winds fanning the flames in the area also hampered firefighting efforts and whipped up the seas.

"We didn't all make it," Mr Stavrinidis said. One of the women in his group and one woman's son drowned.

"What upsets me and what I will carry in my heart is that it is terrible to see the person next to you drowning and not be able to help him. You can't. That's the only tragic thing," he said.

Mr Stavrinidis said he believed they were in the water for about two hours before being picked up by a fishing boat with an Egyptian crew.

"I'm grateful to all of them," he said.

"They jumped into the sea with their clothes still on. They made us tea and kept us warm. They were great."
greek fires 18
© AP/Thanassis Stavrakis
Flames forced many people to flee into the water.
Andreaas Passios, who lives next to a compound northeast of Athens where 26 bodies were reportedly found, said "everything happened in seconds".

"I grabbed a beach towel. It saved my life. I soaked it, grabbed my wife and we ran to the sea," Mr Passios said.

Mr Passios said he and his wife stayed by the sea for two hours.

"It was unbelievable. Gas canisters were exploding. Burning pine cones were flying everywhere."

When the flames died down, Spyros Hadjiandreou came searching for loved ones.

"My niece and cousin were staying here on holiday. I don't know if they made it out," he said.

"I don't know if they are OK. I haven't heard from them."
greek fires 2018
Giannis Labropoulis from the city Patras, west of Athens, was driving along the highway when flames seemed to come out of nowhere.

He told the ABC's PM he knew there was a fire, but could not have imagined how fast it would appear.

"We were driving through the flames all of a sudden in the blink of any eye, to be honest," he said.

"We just saw the road going into smoke, and then all of a sudden the flames were on the left-hand side of the car.

"All the houses that were on the hill beside the highway, they were completely burnt out."

Mr Labropoulis said the flames came within two to three metres of his car.

"We were so kind of shocked, because although we were in an air-conditioned car, we felt the heat coming in."

"We were able to drive just I think by luck, to be honest, because the things were going on so fast, the flames expanded so fast that we could not even imagine that in three seconds this thing could happen," he said.

"The problem was that as we were driving through with all these small branches from the trees flying around, we could hear the car going, 'tak-tak-tak'.

"It felt like somebody was kind of shooting at you."
Update 19:00 CET

The death toll is already up to 76 in just 24 hours. 26 dead bodies were found close together on the beach in Mati. Flames apparently ripped through the area faster than people could run. For comparison, 84 people were killed over two weeks of wildfires around Athens in late August 2007...


US and Mexico offer assistance as Canada battles 63 forest fires in northern Ontario

wildfires ontario July 2018
© Dr. Crayfish/Twitter
An environmental scientist who calls himself 'Dr. Crayfish' tweeted this photo of the scene from a boat in northern Ontario on Saturday. He wrote: 'Scary forest fires burning near Key River Ontario yesterday turned the sky orange!'

Crews fighting forest fires in northern Ontario are receiving help from other provinces, the U.S. and Mexico as they try to contain a cluster of blazes after days of hot and humid weather.

Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said in a release that, as of Sunday afternoon, 63 forest fires were burning in the northern and northeastern parts of the province, with 28 of them out of control. The ministry said 35 fires are either being held or being observed.

Isabelle Chenard, a fire information officer for the ministry, says 775 fires have consumed 181,000 hectares of the province this year. That number has grown more than 75 per cent since this time last year, she explained.

Since Canada Day, Chenard says, a swath of fires have been started by lightning strikes.

"Several waves of lightning that have passed through the northeast side of the province with very little precipitation," she added.


Sweden requests emergency assistance from EU to fight rapidly spreading, uncontrolled wildfires

forest fire  Ljusdal Sweden
© Maja Suslin / TT / NTB Scanpix
A forest fire in Ljusdal in Sweden on Tuesday.
Dozens of forest wildfires raged across Sweden Wednesday, prompting Stockholm to ask for emergency EU help to fight the blazes, which broke out during an extreme heatwave in the Nordic region.

The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) said two Italian firefighting aircraft had been sent to assist in badly hit areas of central Sweden, while Norway had dispatched six helicopters.

Norway has suffered from considerable forest fires of its own over the last week, with wildfires in 100 locations in the south last week, some of which were triggered by lightning.

One Norwegian firefighter lost his life responding to the blazes while the country's Home Guard has also been deployed to relieve strained fire services.

But the many forest fires that raged across southern Norway in recent days, particularly on Saturday and Sunday, are now under control or completely extinguished, news agency NTB reported on Wednesday.

Despite that, the Home Guard is still assisting fire services in some areas, VG reports.

Comment: See also: Evacuations ordered in Sweden as wildfires rage as far north as Arctic Circle