Arizona fires burning south of Kearny

Wildfires in Arizona are burning near the town of Kearny, about 90 miles southeast of Phoenix.

The Romero Fire is estimated at 3,500 acres, spreading west and north through grass and brush. It’s 13 miles southwest of Kearny and 22 miles northwest of Mammoth, according to the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management. There is as of Saturday afternoon zero containment.

Romero Fire, Arizona, east of Casa Grande
Romero Fire, Arizona, east of Casa Grande

azcentral.com reported that another fire, the Circle Fire, has burned about 200 acres at the base of Antelope Peak southeast of Kearny. The fires are just north of the Freeman Fire, which burned 32,568 acres.

The Southwest Coordination Center (SWCC) reports that scattered to numerous wetting thunderstorms are predicted for the Mogollon Rim and parts of eastern Arizona. The region reported 17 new fires on July 19, with 1,517 recorded so far for 192,579 acres thus far in 2024.

The Southwest Region is at Preparedness Level 3.

about a mile

Russia declares multiple states of emergency as wildfires threaten thousands, government inaction continues

Multiple wildfires across Russia have caused officials to issue multiple states of emergency and evacuate thousands, while government officials are accused of largely ignoring the problem.

The latest state of emergency was issued by Novorossiysk Mayor Andrei Kravchenko on July 14, according to the Kyiv Independent. The city in southern Russia was forced to evacuate around 500 people from the fire that burned at least 153 acres as of July 15. More than 300 people, including workers from the Emergency Situations Ministry, were fighting the fire.

Two other regions declared wildfire-driven states of emergency at the beginning of July,  a Reuters article reported. The Republic of Sakha, also known as Yakutia, declared a federal state of emergency for wildfires on July 1. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations reported more than 107 registered wildfires burned more than 331,000 hectares (~818,000 acres) in the region.

The governor of the remote Siberian region of Tuva made the declaration on the same day as Sakha after a wildfire burned around 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) driven by intense heat, strong winds, and dry thunderstorms.

“At the moment, 23 forest fires have been registered on the territory of the republic,” said Vladislav Khovalyg, head of the Tuva region. “Most of them are in inaccessible mountainous areas. July as a whole promises to be the most difficult month in terms of the fire situation, and we have to fight for every hectare of forest.”

Experts warned that the nation was unprepared for an alarming wildfire season. The Moscow Times reported that limited state capacity for fire prevention and control, along with ongoing dry grass burning practices, worried experts of the potential for the season to turn into an annual crisis.

The “official indifference” was seen in real-time during the Siberia wildfires, which have burned an area the size of Normandy since the beginning of the year, French newspaper Le Monde reported. While the Russian government is preoccupied with its incursion into Ukraine, officials are neglecting necessary resources to fight wildfires burning throughout the nation.

“The problem is not just in the forest and its poor management,” an Irkutsk resident told Le Monde. “It’s largely in the heads of the people and the authorities, who don’t want to see it or fight it.”

The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations reported more than 107 registered wildfires burned more than 331,000 hectares (~818,000 acres) in the region.

Russia’s wildfire problem is exacerbated by Earth’s changing climate. Recent research has shown wildfires will worsen in the coming years, even in areas where wildfires are currently rare, such as Russia’s alpine regions. Smoke from the worsening wildfires, e.g. in Siberia, is projected to cause thousands of deaths and billions in costs for East Asia.

RELATED: Climate change will make wildfires worse, even in areas that don’t have wildfires today

The colors on the Russian Hydrometeorological Center’s map below represent the number of days of predicted “high” and “extreme” fire danger in April, according to the Moscow Times. The purple indicates less than one day, the yellow between one and three days, pink between four and six days, red between seven and nine days, and dark red over ten days.

Russian fire map
Russian fire map

Burning Weather Island

by Michael Hill
This feature originally ran in Wildfire Magazine
.

The peatland ecosystems of Central Kalimantan are transitioning from wildfire resistant to wildfire prone; with the potential huge release of carbon from burning peat stocks, it’s time for local and global actions to better protect these lands and communities.

As someone who has visited and observed wildfires in Indonesia for more than 20 years, I’ve witnessed the increasing loss of forest ecosystems and I recognize the potential for constructive international assistance.

Sebangau National Park
Sebangau National Park firefighters moving fire equipment on the fire ground. Photos courtesy of Sebangau National Park

In the Indonesian language, Kalimantan refers to the whole island of Borneo (the third largest in the world), while in English it describes just the 73 percent of the land mass located in Indonesia, containing about 70 percent of the island’s population.

Kalimantan covers 554,150 kilometers divided into five provinces and the non-Indonesian territories of Borneo, Brunei, and East Malaysia.

The meaning of the name Kalimantan — originally Kalamanthana — is burning weather island, referring to the very hot and humid climate.

Kalimantan is home to many cultures; the Dayak, or people of the interior, are Indigenous and have long used landscape fire in their agricultural practices to clean up land for slash-and-burn farming.

The smoke produced by burning peat is particularly hazardous. Besides its climate-warming carbon content, peat smoke contains toxins and other particulate matter, and in Indonesia, it is now being measured during times of wildfires as air pollution.

A volunteer firefighter with firefighting patrol boats on a fire in the Sebangau National Park, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. District level volunteer firefighting brigades in Central Kalimantan are locally known as Masyarakat Peduli Api, or MPA firefighters.

This system of using fire to clear farming plots in the rotating system of land use allows for conservation; preselected areas or fields are used for a predetermined number of years before they’re allowed to go back to nature to recover fertility, while another field is cleared by cutting and burning to be ready for planting until its fertile cycle is complete. Then another field is cleared, and the small scale of slash-and-burn continues as the land recovers after farming.

This system of rotating agriculture and wildfires to clear land has been culturally important. The Dayak use of fire for cleaning and clearing was extremely controlled historically, with organized groups using pre-constructed fire breaks and advance planning to consider predicted winds and fuel conditions.

The Dayak have been masters of using fire as their tool to clear their forest lands. However, cultural, modernizing, and competitive economic forces have brought changes which, during a severe dry season, can quickly transform some areas of the Indonesian part of this island into a thick smoke-filled hazard, lasting months and impacting the surrounding islands and even the cities of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Recent changes in vegetation and culture have swung the Dayaks’ historic mastery of fire in Kalimantan out of balance. The Dayak people are no longer the only Indonesians who live in the interior of Kalimantan, where the rainforests long acted as a moist blanket to keep out fires or retard fire growth. Also, within Dayak culture, changes are taking place as the people join the wave of progress brought by globalism sweeping the world which, as a byproduct, disconnects us from the natural world and our hands-on, sustainable practices. The landscape is being modified and fire use has fallen outside of its traditional Dayak checks and balances.

While most of the fires in Kalimantan are human-caused, the fire origins are complex. Many past fires arose from the fact that land ownership claims in Kalimantan historically have been legally proven with the use of applying fire to land for clearing, thus establishing legal usage. Other blazes are ignited by accident — or by fishermen to attract more fish or drive away mosquitos — or fires are lit by hunters to attract wildlife, and myriad other reasons.

Sebangau National Park firefighter moving hose across fire ground. Photos courtesy of Sebangau National Park

But in recent years, during extra hot and dry seasons, when fires do get started in what may now be often lighter fuels, they can spread quicker and carry flames into forest areas, or even into the swamp peat forests. And once the peat layer below ground is lit, it will burn underground down to the water table and then move laterally beneath the surface, consuming important thick layers of organic decaying peat matter.

These burns can become huge subsurface peat fires with their flames not visible until they occasionally climb up to the surface to consume vegetation. But the heavy smoke from these peat fires, referred to locally as smog/haze, will have local, regional, and global impacts. The Dayak historically did not apply fire to the forest where there were peat layers beneath it, as they were burning for their agricultural fields and they knew their crops would not grow in the peat region.

Peat swamp fires on Borneo are unique for wildfires because the peat itself, created from countless generations of falling and then decaying organic forest matter, has been built up into massive locked-up carbon stores —  and these peat stores burn underground as a slow smolder, releasing heat and smoke to the surface. The thick carbon stockpiles begin to release their carbon when the peat swamplands they are part of are dried by drainage canals created to open lands for timber harvest, home building, and other uses. If this dried peat is then consumed by fires, the huge pool of stored carbon that had been safely locked away will be released into the atmosphere, causing global concerns for air pollution and climate change.

The smoke produced by burning peat is particularly hazardous. Besides its climate-warming carbon content, peat smoke contains toxins and other particulate matter, and in Indonesia, it is now being measured as air pollution during times of wildfires.

Kalimantan fires became an international concern in 1997 when a massive man-made ecological disaster burned in the peat forests, and since then, because of that disaster’s compounding effects, additional new dryseason peat fires have created an accelerating cycle of fires, peat loss, and flooding.

Peat’s organic matter, lying below the surface in a swamp forest, has long functioned as a natural sponge; the small percent of its decaying matter is able to soak up as much as nine times its volume in water. This layer of peat acts as an absorber to dampen the effects of seasonal flooding river systems. However, now with large areas of peat lost to wildfire seasons in 1997, 2015 and 2019, the summer dry seasons are followed by rainy seasons and large flows of water are draining from the burned peat lands into Borneo’s river systems and to the sea, leading to much human property loss and misery along the way.

Protecting the remaining peat beneath the swamp forests has become a priority in Central Kalimantan for those understanding the issue, and over the last 20 years, people have been adapting to the situation. Groups of people in Central Kalimantan have been organizing into both volunteer fire militia and paid fire forces, ready during dry seasons to fight fire. With the help of Japanese, Indonesian, and English scientists, new tactics and techniques are explored, and in 2015, there arose an international effort to assist in fighting wildfires. Indonesian law enforcement has also been activated to target illegal burners with stiff penalties of up to 15 years in prison and 15 million Indonesian Rupiah (about $930 USD) in fines.

Internationally, an agreement among Southeast Asian nations has been developed to assist during times of high fire activity, though there are still very real needs for which international assistance would be greatly appreciated and valued globally — by reducing the peat fires and their massive carbon releases.

Indonesia is still adapting to the emerging wildfire issues in Kalimantan, and as such, has so far developed only limited capabilities, with a particular need for shared technology in fire detection and wildfire response equipment. Many other fire-prone areas of the world have developed and routinely share these types of technologies, and Indonesia should be added to this group. Indonesia has unique firefighting technology advances to share, such as locally developed fire response systems and cloud seeding.

Aircraft dropping water on vegetation has been found to have limited effectiveness on peat fires, and therefore the fires are fought from beneath the ground. The priority is to find a water source on a peat bed nearby; this water source must be safely away from the fire to prevent its burning, and it’s usually found by drilling down as if through the ice on a frozen lake.

Using an augur to bore beneath the peat to find the water table, crews will tap into the water with a firefighting water pump and install a series of pipes and hose to carry water to firefighters, who spray it where needed to cool the flames. These firefighting pumps and their draft drill holes are strategically laid out and are manned with crews across the path of wildfire or in its wake, depending on the responding agency to act as anchor points,  working outward with the cooling water while supporting each other. This is hard work, Kalimantan style, but necessary.

Indonesians are also experimenting with Japanese-developed soap agents that can be injected underground into the peat to extinguish flames, and the Air Force is using weather modification by cloud seeding to create rain. It is truly a fascinating time of change and adaptation for wildfires in Kalimantan.

While these changes are internal, the funding and support for Indonesia’s efforts can come from beyond the region’s borders. Indonesia’s emerging wildfire issues are global issues, considering the potential climate impacts of the massive carbon releases from the peat.

Better protection of the peat reserves could be accomplished by a change of local land ownership laws to allow for proof of ownership to be legally established in new ways, thereby supporting long-term management, conservation, and restoration. Instead of the historic local use of fire to clean property, incentives could be created toward fire prevention. Tree planting instead of clearing could be transformed into legal proof of land ownership. Indonesia has huge stockpiles of reforestation funds at the government level, and some of these funds could be invested into bank loans to assist in these efforts and for program development (and local hiring and training for landowners).

Water-canal damming is undertaken to allow the saturation of dried-out peat soils; these efforts could be greatly assisted by the international community, and as an essential byproduct of healing these soils could begin to return more of Kalimantan’s fire-resistant blanket of forest with the added benefit of assisting in the fire protection of its peat lands.

The damage to the peat lands over the past 20-some years is immense; however, to protect the remaining peat lands and their carbon sinks would require only strategic forest replanting above the damaged areas, such as along waterways after the area’s water levels are again raised from canal damming.

Kalimantan’s El Niño dry season fires, especially in the peat swamp areas, have the potential to affect the world’s climate with their associated huge carbon releases. For this reason alone, Kalimantan and Indonesia should be offered more support internationally in their efforts to help to protect the remaining peat swamp forests.

Kalimantan may be an island that seems isolated and far away, yet when the peat fires burn they impact us all with carbon releases, whether we can see the smog or not.

Learn more about Kalimantan’s wildfires, nature, and the Dayak culture on Michael Hill’s YouTube channel, Talking Wildfires with Michael Hill.

 

Michael Hill

 

Michael Hill began this journey in the 1980s as an American wildland firefighter, and across his career worked as a hotshot and smokejumper. For many years Hill has been, and still is, deeply interested in Indonesia’s and Australia’s wildfires. He serves as an associate editor for WIldfire magazine.

Eastern Canada wildfire evacuates thousands

A fire east of Québec in Newfoundland and Labrador has burned more than 24,000 acres and forced thousands to evacuate Labrador City. CNN reported that the “extremely aggressive inferno” was considered contained earlier this week, but weather changes on Friday blew the fire back to life and it spread rapidly. Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Andrew Furey said Saturday the fire had grown to 22,000 acres and had spread 13 miles in about four hours.

In a news conference on Sunday, Furey said weather conditions are favourable for firefighting. “We have some good news today. There is no significant growth in the size of the fire that is just northwest of Lab City,” he told reporters. The fire has burned through about 14,000 hectares (about 35,000 acres) to within four kilometres of the community — the same as Saturday.

Newfoundland and Labrador fires, ESRI map
Newfoundland and Labrador fires, ESRI map

Light rain, lower temperature and humidity, and northeast winds has kept  the fire away from the town and burning onto itself.

Four water bombers are fighting on the eastern front of the fire. Six to eight are fighting on the western side from Quebec.

Around 9,500 people were evacuated from Labrador City, said Jeremy Reynolds with the provincial government. “A contingent of essential personnel have remained behind to oversee the emergency response,” he said.

The remoted town of Labrador City, in the northwestern part of the province, is about 900 miles north of Canada’s capital city of Ottawa.

A province-wide outdoor fire ban prohibiting setting of fires on forest land or within 300 metres of forest land is now in effect in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Significant firefighting resources are currently dedicated to wildfire suppression near the communities of Labrador West.

Updates on the location, status, and size of active fires can be viewed online at the NL Active Wildfire Dashboard.

Labrador City fires
Labrador City fires

Residents were told to evacuate to the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay – a six-hour drive away.

Eastern Oregon fire burns to 73,000 acres

A new wildfire near the small Malheur County town of Brogan grew quickly to over 20,000 acres by Thursday evening, prompting closure of a 23-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 26 in eastern Oregon and evacuation alerts, along with call-up of two state structural-protection task forces, authorities said.

It’s burning on private and public lands 9 miles east of Ironside, and by this afternoon it was pushing 75,000 acres.

Cow Valley Fire, grew to about 20,000 acres Thursday, burning on both sides of U.S. Highway 26
The Cow Valley Fire burned to about 20,000 acres Thursday, on both sides of U.S. Highway 26

KTVB-TV reported that crews are battling two fires near U.S. Highway 26 in eastern Oregon. The Cow Valley Fire and the Bonita Road Fire both started early Thursday morning.

Others include the nearly 14,000-acre Larch Creek Fire south of The Dalles in Wasco County, which is still without any containment, and the nearly 4,000-acre Salt Creek Fire in Jackson County, about 16 percent contained.

The Larch Creek Fire grew from just 100 acres Tuesday afternoon, overnight and the next day, and by Wednesday night it was pushing 11,000 acres, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. Zach Urness with the Statesman-Journal reported that the fire was at 13,816 acres Friday morning after more than 3,000 acres of growth overnight. The fire remains at zero percent containment, and Highway 216 east remains closed between milepost 1 and 4.

Thursday afternoon brought windy conditions to the area but fire behavior moderated overnight with lower temperatures and winds. Overnight crews worked closer to the active areas, building line and securing perimeters around Shadybrook Road and Highway 216.

“Today, air and ground crews will be active on all sides of the fire, building fire line, reinforcing existing line, and monitoring for hot spots. Structure protection will be focused on the community of Tygh Valley, Pine Hollow and Shadybrook subdivisions, and along Highway 216,

 

The Wasco County Sheriff’s Office has issued a Level 3 “Go Now!” evacuation order from Friend Road, East to Elliott Road and Highway 197, South to Badger Creek Road, West to McCorkle Grade Road.

Residents of at least 41 homes were advised to evacuate. Several other areas are under Level 2 and Level 1 evacuation orders.

Check the latest evacuation maps from the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office

The area was under a Red Flag Warning for critical fire weather on Tuesday afternoon.

 

There are 22 large fires burning Oregon totaling over 145,277 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

Early afternoon Friday Vale District BLM said the Cow Valley Fire had burned over 73,720 acres. ODOT shared photos on TripCheck of the Cow Valley Fire yesterday.

Between Ironside and Brogan, eastern Oregon.

KTVB in Boise reported 30-50 homes in Brogan are threatened, and power was shut down for customers at risk from powerlines close to the fire.

It was one of three large new area fires, along with the 4,500-acre Huntington Mutual Aid Fire in Baker County, which forced evacuations and alerts in the Huntington area and Farewell Bend State Park, and the 1,867-acre Bonita Road Fire, also in Malheur County, reported early Thursday morning.

The fire is moving toward Malheur Reservoir and is threatening 30 to 50 homes in the Brogan community. Malheur County Sheriff’s Office is advising residents to prepare for evacuation orders. At one point, 16 aircraft were assigned to the fire, dropping water and retardant, along with seven engines and four dozers plus crews from Vale and Burnt River RFPAs and Sand Hollow Fire District.

Indigenous knowledge to be used in future Australian bushfire research

Australia’s National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week started on July 7 with a commitment from bushfire researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Canberra City.

The university has previously published numerous articles of landmark research on bushfires, including creating the world’s first extreme bushfire warning system, developing the first fire-retardant paint that passes the stringent BAL-40 test, and studying the long-lasting impacts of Australia’s “Black Summer” Bushfires.

University researchers have made a new commitment to future bushfire projects, vowing to incorporate more Indigenous practices.

“UNSW Canberra researchers are working to better incorporate Indigenous practices and understandings of fire in bushfire management, to better prepare for an increasingly uncertain future thanks to climate change,” a press release from the university said.

bushfires

Similar to the practices of various Native American tribes, fire played an intrinsic role in the lives of Australia’s Indigenous communities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for countless generations, and is still in use today.

Small controlled fires help them hunt, clear pathways through bush, and regenerate vegetation, according to The Nature Conservancy. “Cool Burns” have recently made a comeback after centuries of Euro-Australian suppression diminished the practice, caused by early colonizers’ view of fire as only a threat rather than a land-management practice. The loss of managed fire on Australia’s landscape, along with climate change, is a direct contributor to the severe bushfires that have burned the country since.

UNSW Bushfire Director Jason Sharples, a member of the Aboriginal Bundjalung people, said Indigenous fire knowledge adds needed depth to modern bushfire research.

“Local Indigenous people would know the land was ready for a burn when certain environmental indicators aligned, for example, when wattle flowers fell and when certain cloud formations were observed over prominent mountains,” Sharples said.

“Essentially, Country told them the right time to burn, and the people would offer fire as a gift back to Country. From a Western scientific perspective, this aligns with selecting the correct season based on the native flora, and only burning on a day when temperature and relative humidity conditions are within an acceptable range, as indicated by the cloud formations.”

UNSW is already working on two projects with the commitment to Indigenous practices in mind. One of the projects is studying how ridgelines, which correspond closely with Indigenous Songlines, cause unique wind patterns and influence fire spread. The other project compares modern bushfire regimes in southeast Australia with traditional fire regimes, Indigenous calendars, and cultural fire lore to better understand how climate change will affect future bushfires.

The university’s commitment pairs well with this year’s NAIDOC theme: “Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud and Proud.” The theme conveys the strength and vitality of the nation’s Indigenous cultures which have stayed alive for generations despite historic and ongoing oppression and persecution.

“NAIDOC Week is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of promoting the cultural practices and learnings of Indigenous Australians and this will remain central to the work we do within UNSW Bushfire,” Sharples said.