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15 billion-dollar natural disasters have already impacted the U.S. this year; 2017 tied for second-most all-time which was last year

Billion dollar US weather disasters
© The Weather Channel (screen capture)
A new record for the number of billion-dollar natural disasters in the United States may be set this year, with 15 such events already confirmed through September.

There were 12 billion-dollar weather disasters that began during the first half of 2017, and hurricane season has brought three storms that resulted in massive damage, including Harvey, Irma and Maria. The official damage costs are not available yet for these storms but are expected to be billion-dollar weather disasters, according to NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Tornado and severe thunderstorm events have made up the largest share and have added seven billion-dollar weather disasters to the list.

Two flooding events are also on the list: one in Missouri and Arkansas in late April early May and one in California in February. On the other side of the precipitation spectrum, the ongoing drought in Montana and the Dakotas has already reached more than $2 billion.

Rounding out the list is the severe March freeze in the Southeast that was preceded by unusually warm temperatures, resulting in $1 billion in damage to crops, and the wildfires in the Northwest.

In addition to the economic impact, these 15 events have resulted in the deaths of nearly 300 people.

Through September, 2017 is now tied with 2016 for the second-most billion-dollar disasters in a year, according to NOAA's database, which dates back to 1980. The year with the highest number of billion-dollar weather disasters is 2011, which had 16.

Comment: As well as the financial cost, the psychological toll of natural disasters needs to be considered also. See also:

New FEMA Director calls for Americans to develop "a true culture of preparedness" - but no one is listening


European wildfire numbers explode in 2017: Season average for hectares burned increases four or five-fold

wildfires europe
The number of forest fires in the EU has more than doubled so far this year, according to figures obtained by Euronews, affecting an area twice the size of Luxembourg.

There have been 1,671 blazes so far in 2017 - a huge increase on the 639 the bloc saw annually on average over the previous eight years.

Comment: As you'll see in the charts below, the data suggest it's more like a 4 or 5-fold increase in the number of wildfires, not a 2-fold increase.

Experts have blamed climate change for the rise, saying it has extended the traditional wildfire season and increased the frequency of blazes.

They have warned Europe's forest fires will rage more often in the future and engulf new areas.

Portugal, Italy and Croatia have all been hit this summer amid high temperatures and lower-than-normal rainfall.

Comment: But other parts of Europe have been hit with the reverse: low temperatures and above-normal rainfall, yet wildfires rage there too. Even Greenland! This is a snapshot from mid-October:

It comes after 64 people died in a forest fire in Portugal, with many victims caught in their cars as they tried to flee in June.

Comment: See also: Deadly wildfires sweep across Portugal and northern Spain killing at least 39 (UPDATE)


Terrorist arsonists blamed for wildfires in Portugal

Portugal wildfires

Raging fires run along a mountainside near Braga in northwestern Portugal. Wild fires have broken out in Santa Marta, Sameiro, Taipas and Braga.
A man who drove through raging wildfires in Portugal says luck was on his side after he filmed himself escaping the deadly blazes ravaging the region.

Wildfires have killed at least 39 people across Portugal and Spain as hundreds of blazes were fanned by strong winds caused by a hurricane, authorities said on Monday.

Thirty-five people - including a one-month-old baby - in Portugal have died and dozens have been injured, most of them firefighters, during fires raging in central and northern areas of the country.

Portugal's civil protection service said as of Monday morning, firefighters were fighting 145 separate blazes across the country, dozens of which are considered to still be serious.

In the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, authorities said that four people had died, two of them trapped in a car, as a result of blazes that were threatening inhabited areas prompting the evacuation of thousands.

Authorities in both countries said that the strong winds from Hurricane Ophelia in the Atlantic Ocean and high temperatures fanned the fires.

Investigations were also focusing on human and criminal causes, with political leaders accusing 'terrorist arsonists' of starting the blazes.


Deadly wildfires sweep across Portugal and northern Spain killing at least 39 (UPDATE)

Firefighter in Vigo, Galicia
A firefighter tries to extinguish a forest fire in Zamanes area, in Vigo, Galicia, northwestern Spain

Hurricane Ophelia's strong winds are blamed for fanning flames of deadly forest fires in Portugal and Spain

At least six people have been killed and around 25 others injured - mainly firefighters - during Portugal's worst day of the year for forest fires.

Around 500 blazes were reported in the country's central and northern regions where a state of emergency has been declared.

Soaring temperatures of up to 36 degrees celsius have been recorded - extraordinary for mid-October.

More than 100 fires were still burning late Sunday night with more than 5,000 firefighters battling the flames.

The worst outbreak of Portugal's fires in 2017 killed 64 people in June, with many dying on a road as they fled the rampant flames in their cars.

Wildfires are also ravaging north west Spain where at least three people have been reported killed and two more are missing.


Update (17 Oct.)

At least 39 people have died in wildfires raging through parched farmlands and forests in Portugal and Spain. Authorities said they were still battling 60 blazes in Portugal and another 50 in Spain.

Portugal's government has asked for international help, as it still tries to recover from its deadliest fire on record in June. It has declared a state of emergency in territory north of the Tagus river, which is about half of its land mass.

Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa declared a public emergency Monday, describing the fires as "devastating." He announced that all necessary means would be mobilized to fight the blazes. This has been a "dramatic year," he said, and promised action to prevent such large-scale fires in the future.

Flames ripped across countryside left tinder-dry by an unusually hot summer and early autumn, fanned by strong winds as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia brushed the Iberian coast. Officials in Portugal and Spain said arsonists had started some of the blazes.

In June, 64 people died in a huge forest fire in central Portugal. The government has been criticised for a slow, inefficient response and a lack of fire-prevention policies.


California wildfires: At least 10 dead, 1,500 structures destroyed as 20,000 flee flames sweeping through wine country (UPDATES)

Wildfires burn homes in Santa Rosa, California
© AP
Coffey Park homes burn in Santa Rosa, California
Raging wildfires in California's wine country have claimed at least 10 lives and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Wildfires whipped by powerful winds have swept through the region, destroying 1,500 homes and businesses as flames raged unchecked through high-end resorts, grocery stores and tree-lined neighbourhoods.

Several fires broke out virtually simultaneously and then spread rapidly overnight, sending residents fleeing as embers rained down and flames raged around them. Two hospitals in Santa Rosa, the largest city in the region with 175,000 people, were forced to evacuate patients.

Later in the day, fires from ruptured gas lines dotted the smoky landscapes of blackened hillsides. Fire trucks raced by smoldering roadside landscaping in search of higher priorities.

The flames were unforgiving throughout the city, torching block after block with little to salvage.

Hundreds of homes in the Fountain Grove area were leveled by flames so hot they melted the glass off of cars and turned aluminum wheels into liquid. One neighbourhood of older homes was scorched, leaving only brick chimneys and downed power lines.

Comment: Visitors to Disneyland posted images across social media showing California's famous theme park shrouded in an apocalyptic-looking orange haze as fires raged in the nearby Anaheim Hills.

The death toll from the California wildfires is expected to rise as blazes continue ripping through wine country, officials said. More than 100 people have been reported missing in Sonoma County, where at least seven people were killed because of the fires, making it one of the most devastating natural disasters in the county's history.

Here are some of the deadliest wildfires in California state history:

Griffith Park, Los Angeles County (October 1933): 29 dead

Tunnel - Oakland Hills, Alameda County (October 1991): 25 dead

Cedar, San Diego County (October 2003): 15 dead

Rattlesnake, Glenn County (July 1953): 15 dead

Loop, Los Angeles County (November 1966): 12 dead

Inaja, San Diego County (November 1956): 11 dead

Hauser Creek, San Diego County (October 1943): 11 dead

Iron Alps Complex, Trinity County (August 2008): 10 dead

Harris, San Diego County (October 2007): 8 dead

Canyon, Los Angeles County (August 1968): 8 dead

Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Update (11 Oct.)

The toll from Northern California's ranging wildfires continued to grow as officials said the fires destroyed up to 2,000 structures and killed at least 17 people and fear the death toll will continue to rise. Sonoma County alone has received about 200 reports of missing people since Sunday night, and sheriff's officials have located 45 of those people, said county spokeswoman Maggie Fleming.

In Santa Rosa, the Tubbs fire leveled an entire neighborhood, burned a Hilton hotel, turned big-box stores into smoking ruins and prompted the evacuation of two hospitals - Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and Kaiser's Santa Rosa Medical Center.

The two biggest blazes - the Tubbs fire and the Atlas Peak fire in Napa County - had burned 27,000 and 25,000 acres, respectively, said Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant. Both fires were uncontained, he added. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties. More images and videos have been released showing devastating scenes of one of California's deadliest wildfires.

Update (12 Oct.)

The death toll has climbed to 23 as wildfires continue to blaze almost completely out of control in California's wine country and firefighters expect weather conditions to take a turn for the worse. More than 20,000 people have headed to evacuation centers across the region, with more leaving their homes as new areas are threatened.

At least 3,500 homes and businesses have been destroyed since the wildfires started Sunday, making them the most destructive blazes in state history. About 8,000 firefighters are working across the state, along with 73 helicopters and 30 air tankers, according to a Cal Fire spokesperson. New resources are set to pour in following a request from California, including 175 engines from neighboring states and dozens more from federal agencies.

Satellite footage from before and after show the widespread destruction the flames have left in its wake.

California wildfires satellite
© Google Earth / NASA

Update (13 Oct.)

The number of people confirmed dead in wildfires sweeping northern California has climbed to 31, the deadliest in California since 1933, when 29 people died in fires at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Hundreds of people remain missing as at least 22 fires rampaged across the state's famous wine country. Strong winds that have fanned the flames eased in recent days, but forecasters warned they were set to pick up again on Friday night.

"We are not even close to being out of this emergency," Mark Ghilarducci, state director of emergency services, told reporters. State fire chief Ken Pimlott warned of "erratic, shifting winds all weekend".

California wildfires 12 Oct
More than 8,000 firefighters continue to battle the flames which have destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and homes over 170,000 acres (68,800 hectares) and displaced about 25,000 people.

Aerial footage shot in Santa Rosa, California on Tuesday showed the extent of damage after wildfires ravaged the area for the second day in a row.

Update (14 Oct.)

The scale of the disaster in California has became clearer as authorities said the fires had chased an estimated 90,000 people from their homes and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses. The death toll rose to 36, making this the deadliest and most destructive series of wildfires in California history.

In all, 17 large fires still burned across the northern part of the state, with more than 9,000 firefighters attacking the flames using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines. "The emergency is not over, and we continue to work at it, but we are seeing some great progress," said the state's emergency operations director, Mark Ghilarducci.

Dramatic video was released of body camera footage on the first night of the fire, showing an unnamed deputy braving wild flames and thick smoke to clear out a community already being devoured by the flames. "Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!" the Sonoma County deputy yells to drivers who are hesitating and moving slowly as they flee.

Meanwhile on Friday afternoon, a shallow 4.0 magnitude earthquake struck California's Mendocino County, north of Napa County, according to the US Geological Survey. The quake occurred near Mendocino County's Redwood Valley, an area in the northwest section of the state, where 34,000 acres have burned up since Sunday, due to the 17 wildfires in the region.

Windy conditions, joined with low humidity, could spread the flames drastically, the National Weather Service warned in a tweet.

The recent drought in California killed more than 100 million trees, according to a U.S. Forest Service's aerial survey last year. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack then warned, "These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California."

The latest update on the fires from RT America here:

Update (15 Oct.)

The death toll in Northern California wildfires has risen to 40 people, making them the deadliest in the state's history. Hundreds more people remain missing as thousands of firefighters continue to battle the blazes across the state. More than 10,000 firefighters, sent from all over the country, are making slow progress in fighting the deadliest blazes in state's history. Cal Fire reported that aircraft dropped more than 2 million gallons of "retardant" on fires since Monday.

"The devastation is just unbelievable. It is a horror that no one could have imagined," California Governor Jerry Brown said on a visit to Santa Rosa. "This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced."

Despite the effort, firefighters are finding it extremely difficult to contain the infernos, according to the latest statistics. As of 8pm Saturday, the Nuns Fire between Sonoma and Santa Rosa is only 15 percent contained, the Tubbs Fire between Calistoga and Santa Rosa is 50 percent contained, while the Atlas Fire in eastern Napa County is 48 percent contained. Another 13 inferno pockets continue to terrorize California residents as far north as Butte, Lake, Mendocino and Yuba counties. Progress, however, was made in the Cascade Fire, which has been roughly 87 percent contained on Saturday, Cal Fire said. Mandatory evacuation orders were also lifted in Solano County.

Overall the fires consumed nearly 214,000 acres (86,000 hectares) in seven days of intense activity, forcing some 100,000 people out of their homes, Reuters reports. Around 3,000 were evacuated on Saturday from the city of Santa Rosa. Roughly 5,700 structures were reduced to ash.

The National Weather Service extended the red flag warning for Northern California to 8am Sunday, warning of wildland fire combustion and rapid spread conditions. Wildfires began tearing through the north of the state on October 8.

Meanwhile two men who hiked for miles through northern California wildfire territory expecting a grim discovery were met with a joyful one instead, as they were reunited with the family's beloved dog Izzy.


Anaheim Hills, California: Twenty-four homes burned so far in 6K-acre Canyon Fire

Anaheim fires
© CBSLA.com
A brush fire that erupted in Anaheim Hills late Monday morning was fueled by strong Santa Ana winds and threatening homes, burning 6,000 acres so far, according to Anaheim Fire and Rescue.

At least 24 homes have destroyed in Anaheim, Orange and Tustin and more have been damaged. Fire officials noted that numbers could change. About 5,000 structures are threatened. Firefighters managed to get the fire 5 percent contained as of 9 p.m. Monday.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Orange County on Monday afternoon, along with a number of other California counties facing fires, in addition to emergency declarations issued earlier in the day.

There has been one minor injury to a firefighter.

The fire, labeled the Canyon Fire 2, started near Coal Canyon and the 91 Freeway - near where the Canyon Fire started several weeks ago. That fire burned east toward Corona, while this fire is burning west toward Anaheim, Anaheim Fire's Daron Wyatt said - at a much higher rate due to high winds, burning in hours the number of acres that the first Canyon Fire took a week to burn.

The fire has been driven by winds with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Strong daytime winds kept firefighters from directly attacking the fire from the air. As winds died down in the evening, helicopters equipped with night vision took off for nighttime water drops. "We're going keep the fight going all night long," said OCFA Captain Larry Kurtz. "There's not going to be a lot of sleep tonight." Low humidity also drove the fire's speed during the day. Humidity was expected to increase slightly overnight, slowing the fire's growth, officials hoped.


At least 1,500 structures destroyed by Northern California wildfires as state of emergency declared

Northern California wildfire

The remains of a car near the burning Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa Monday.
At least 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed as more than 14 fires ravaged eight counties throughout Northern California late Sunday and Monday morning, authorities said.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency as multiple fires forced thousands of evacuations across wine country as they burned tens of thousands of acres.

No deaths have been reported, but there have been injuries and people are unaccounted for, said Janet Upton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. She could not estimate the number of injuries.

The declaration authorizes the mobilization of the California National Guard.

One of the raging fires had Santa Rosa under siege Monday morning, with a large swath of the city north of downtown under evacuation order.

The fast-moving fire jumped the 101 Freeway, forcing hospitals to be evacuated and, witnesses said, burning homes and businesses.


Rare 'fire devil' captured on video as Portugal battles raging infernos

Fire devil
A rare and mesmerizing 'fire devil' was captured on video Saturday in the midst of Portugal's months-long battle with wildfires.

This natural phenomenon is a kind of tornado of flames. It occurs when fire, dust and wind combine in the air to create a blazing funnel.

Fire tornados can start in conditions where hot, dry air is rising rapidly, which, in turn, creates vertical columns of hot air. As more hot air is pulled into the column, a swirling effect is caused. The fire tornado then captures ash, flammable debris and embers, Live Science explains.

Comment: See also: September so far has been an almost apocalyptic month of environmental events

Fireball 2

Did a meteorite cause a brush fire in New Hampshire?

The blaze near Lost River Gorge seen overnight.
© Jack Varin/Real World New Hampshire
The blaze near Lost River Gorge seen overnight.
Investigators and fire officials in New Hampshire are looking into the possibility that a meteor may have started a brush fire that has currently burned through about 25 acres in the White Mountains.

Crews were working to contain the fire in the Lost River Gorge area Wednesday, and said that it was still spreading. A driver first called it in around 6:20 a.m. Tuesday.

Mackay told WBZ-TV a man walking through the area Wednesday told them he saw something - possibly a meteor - hit the side of the mountain while he was driving by the night before.

"He swears that something come out of the sky and hit the side of the mountain where the fire is," Chief Mackay said
. "We can't confirm it or deny it, we just took his word. We don't know if that is the cause."


Structures destroyed as nearly 100 bushfires burn across New South Wales, Australia

A total fire ban has been declared for Greater Sydney, the Illawara and most of the state's northeast today.

A total fire ban has been declared for Greater Sydney, the Illawara and most of the state's northeast today.
Structures have been destroyed by an out-of-control bushfire southwest of Port Macquarie, the NSW Rural Fire Service says.

The blaze, which was raging in the Innes View area, west of Comboyne, blackened about 950 hectares in hot and windy conditions on Sunday afternoon.

Dozens of firefighters and water-bombing aircraft attempted to get the flames under control and warned residents they would see smoke and possibly embers.

"Structures have been destroyed," the NSW RFS said in a statement.

"Building impact assessment teams are on the way to confirm the number and type."