Apple Fire Forces 7,800 to Seek Shelter in Coronavirus-Ravaged California
The Apple Fire sparked around 5 p.m. on Friday in Cherry Valley in Riverside County, The San Bernardino Sun reported. Dry air and vegetation fanned the flames, and it is now 20,516 acres and only five percent contained, according to the most recent update from the U.S. Forest Service.
"The fuels are there, and they're ripe," Daron Wyatt, a spokesman for area incident commanders, told The San Bernardino Sun.
#AppleFire timelapse between 9 and 10 PM August 1st. Taken from Mt. Edna just south of Banning. This is just showin… https://t.co/Lx71YUa6YR— Big Rock Moto (@Big Rock Moto)1596379707.0
The blaze has forced around 7,800 people to flee their homes, the Riverside County Fire Department said, according to CNN. But the evacuations have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. California has the most cases of any state in the nation and, as of Friday, had broken its daily death record four times in a little over a week, The Guardian reported.
How do you evacuate 7,800 people in a pandemic? A question I was hoping we wouldn't have to answer but wildfire & h… https://t.co/XnzBcZ9K9g— Amy Westervelt (@Amy Westervelt)1596383425.0
Evacuation centers have been set up at hotels and at Beaumont High School, with measures like temperature checks, mask wearing and social distancing in place, Riverside County Fire Department spokesperson Rob Roseen told CNN. But evacuees are still wary of seeking shelter in the school.
"Folks not taking advantage of it over concerns about COVID-19, we have measures in place. We planned for this months ahead," Capt. Fernando Herrera of Cal Fire told CBS Los Angeles.
Instead, the Red Cross has been helping evacuees find hotel rooms, according to LAIst, and families like the Mejias have stopped by the high school asking for their assistance in booking these rooms.
Marcella Mejia fled with her husband, three children, two dogs and 15 chickens Friday night when firefighters knocked on their door and told them to leave. They stayed with neighbors for the first two nights, but then Marcella came seeking out a room.
"We were told when we moved to Banning that it was a very high-risk area for fires," Mejia told LAIst. "But you never imagine this happening."
However, Red Cross volunteer Chris Ellsworth said it was sometimes difficult to find rooms immediately because the Red Cross, fire departments and individuals were all looking at once.
"You have a number of different groups of people looking for the same set of limited resources," Ellsworth told LAIst.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Red Cross had only helped fewer than 40 people.
So far, no one has been injured in the blaze, but one home and two outbuildings were destroyed, CNN reported.
#AppleFIRE [UPDATE] 1 single family dwelling and 2 outbuildings were destroyed by the fire near Avenida Miravilla i… https://t.co/M3OTTfZFoZ— CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire Department (@CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire Department)1596293504.0
The Apple Fire in the midst of a pandemic is also an example of how crises can compound each other. The climate crisis is making California's wildfires larger and more extreme, National Geographic pointed out. The state has warmed by about three degrees Fahrenheit this century, and warmer air means drier vegetation.
The Apple Fire in particular is being fueled by vegetation with record-low moisture levels, according to the Forest Service, as well as hot, dry air. Those fire-friendly weather conditions are expected to continue for the next few days.
The fire is also difficult to fight because its north and east sides are burning on steep hillsides that firefighting vehicles cannot access.
The way it is burning also means that it is not safe for firefighters to try and surround it.
"We don't want to put firefighters in a dangerous situation," U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Lisa Cox told The San Bernardino Sun. "It's burning in a straight line up a mountain."
There are 29 hand-crews, 9 Helicopters, 260 Engines, 11 Dozers and 48 Water Tenders battling the blaze, according to the Forest Service.
Smoke from the fire has drifted as far as Phoenix, Arizona.
Incredible GOES-West satellite imagery showing smoke from the #AppleFire making it all the way to #Phoenix this mor… https://t.co/PRSbXubIA9— NWS San Diego (@NWS San Diego)1596383485.0
Locally, the smoke was expected to cause unhealthful air quality in San Gorgonio Pass, the Coachella Valley and eastern Riverside County, according to The San Bernardino Sun.
- If You're Worried About the New Coronavirus, Here's How to Protect ... ›
- Coronavirus Trend Update: The Pandemic Is Far From Over - EcoWatch ›
Maryland will become the first state in the nation Thursday to implement a ban on foam takeout containers.
- New Jersey Legislature Passes 'Most Comprehensive' Plastics Ban ... ›
- Canada to Announce Ban on Single-Use Plastics - EcoWatch ›
- The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- Dunkin' Says Bye to Foam Cups (But Bring Your Own Thermos ... ›
- Maine and Vermont Pass Plastic Bag Bans on the Same Day ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ajit Niranjan
Leaders from across the world have promised to turn environmental degradation around and put nature on the path to recovery within a decade.
- Destruction of Nature Is Triggering Pandemics, Say Leaders of WWF ... ›
- The UN Wants to Protect 30% of the Planet by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
- New WWF Report Calls for Protecting Nature to Prevent Future ... ›
Just days after a new report detailed the "unequivocal and pervasive role" climate change plays in the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, new fires burned 10,000 acres on Sunday as a "dome" of hot, dry air over Northern California created ideal fire conditions over the weekend.
- California's Iconic Redwoods Threatened by Wildfires - EcoWatch ›
- California Wildfires Destroy Condor Sanctuary, at Least 4 Birds Still ... ›
- 7 Devastating Photos of Wildfires in California, Oregon and ... ›
- David Attenborough Calls For Ban on Deep-Sea Mining - EcoWatch ›
- Sir David Attenborough Set to Present BBC Documentary on ... ›
- David Attenborough Gives Stark Warning in New BBC Climate ... ›
Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
- Overlooked Flood Risk Endangers Homeowners - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Coastal Flooding Maps: Residents Deny Predicted Risks to ... ›
- Flooding Risk for U.S. Homes: Millions More Are Vulnerable Than ... ›