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Strong Winds Spark More Than a Dozen LA-Area Wildfires, Including a Blaze Near Reagan Presidential Library

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Strong Winds Spark More Than a Dozen LA-Area Wildfires, Including a Blaze Near Reagan Presidential Library
The Easy Fire threatens the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California Wednesday. MARK RALSTON / AFP via Getty Images

More than a dozen wildfires ignited around Los Angeles Wednesday as strong Santa Ana winds prompted the National Weather Service to issue "extreme red flag warnings" for Los Angeles and Ventura counties, BBC News reported.


"I don't know if I've ever seen us use this warning," forecaster Marc Chenard said.

The new fires come as California has been battling wind-driven blazes and enduring preventative power outages for about a week. While wildfires are natural in the state, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says the fire season has gotten longer because of the climate crisis.

One of Wednesday's fires, the Easy Fire, tripled in three hours and threatened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It was driven by almost hurricane-force gusts of more than 74 miles per hour, according to BBC News.

That fire sparked in Simi Valley at around 6 a.m. and spread to at least 1,648 acres, ABC 7 reported. It threatened 6,500 homes and destroyed one structure, prompting evacuation orders for around 30,000 people.

Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said that firefighters were making progress, but that the fight was not over yet.

"We still are not through this," he said at a 6 p.m Wednesday update reported by ABC 7. "We have another 24 hours of significant weather conditions and a lot of threat. Please stay aware, stay tuned and always be ready with a plan."

At one point Wednesday, the blaze menaced the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, surrounding the 1,300 acre complex, CNN reported. John Heubusch, the library's executive director, said a fire had never come so close before.

"The flames are licking right up the hills, right up to the parking lot," he told CNN-affiliate KLTA. "I think the parking lot will save the library."

Firefighters dropped liquid from the air and fought the fire from the ground, but they also had an unlikely ally: goats. A herd of up to 500 ate vegetation that otherwise would have fueled the fire.

"One of the firefighters mentioned that they do believe the goats' fire line helped them fight this fire," library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said, as CNN reported. "They just proved today how useful they really are."

The Easy Fire wasn't the only blaze to erupt Wednesday, according to The Guardian.

The Hill Fire broke out in Riverside County around 11 a.m. and another fire ignited near Fullerton in Orange County.

The Getty Fire, which ignited Monday, has burned 745 acres and destroyed 12 structures. It is now 27 percent contained.

Meanwhile, in Northern California, firefighters finally began to make progress on the Kincade Fire, which has burned through 76,825 acres and forced nearly 200,000 people to evacuate, BBC News reported. However, the Sonoma County Sheriff has finally lifted the evacuation order for much of the area, according to The Guardian, and the fire is now 30 percent contained.

Meanwhile, utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) began restoring power after two blackouts Saturday and Tuesday initiated in an attempt to prevent fires, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The utility said calmer-than-expected winds Wednesday meant it could begin restoring power everywhere except for Kern County. As of Wednesday evening, around 64,000 customers remained without power.

"Thank you for your patience, for your understanding," PG&E Corp. CEO Bill Johnson said at an evening press conference reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. "Let's all hope we can get back to normal soon, and stay that way for a long while."

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the Getty Fire ignited Tuesday. It has been corrected to reflect that fact that it ignited Monday.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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