Category Archives: FIRE-WILDFIRES

Battery Fires Reveal Risks of Storing Large Amounts of Energy

Battery Fires Reveal Risks of Storing Large Amounts of Energy: Scientific American.

STORAGE RISK: Storing large amounts of energy, in batteries or other devices, inherently poses risks — but also offers benefits. Image: Mariordo/Wikimedia Commons

People still need electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, which is why renewable energy developers are increasingly investing in energy storage systems. They need to sop up excess juice and release it when needed.

However, storing large amounts of energy, whether it’s in big batteries for electric cars or water reservoirs for the electrical grid, is still a young field. It presents challenges, especially with safety.

The most recent challenge first appeared in May, three weeks after a safety crash test on the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors Co.’s plug-in hybrid. The wrecked vehicle caught fire on its own in a storage facility, raising questions about its lithium-ion battery.

Last week, after a series of additional side-impact crash tests on the Volt battery, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched what it called a “safety defect investigation” into the risk of fire in a Chevy Volt that has been involved in a serious accident.

Problems have also afflicted spinning flywheels, which allow power plants and other large energy users to store and release powerful surges of energy. In Stephentown, N.Y., Beacon Power’s 20-megawatt flywheel energy storage facility suffered two flywheel explosions, one on July 27 — just two weeks after it opened — and one on Oct. 13. The company declared bankruptcy earlier this month.

In Japan, sodium-sulfur batteries at Mitsubishi Materials Corp.’s Tsukuba plant in Ibaraki prefecture caught on fire on Sept. 21. It took firefighters more than eight hours to control the blaze, and authorities declared it extinguished on Oct. 5.

NGK Insulators Ltd., the company that manufactured the energy storage system, said it is still investigating the incident’s cause and has halted production of its sodium-sulfur cells, which are installed in 174 locations across six countries.

“Clearly, storing large amounts of energy is difficult from a physics standpoint; [the energy] would rather be somewhere else,” said Paul Denholm, a senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

He explained that energy naturally wants to spread out, so packing it into a small space like a battery or a fuel cell creates the risk of an uncontrolled energy release like a fire or explosion. Similar issues come up with mechanical storage, whether it’s water behind a dam, compressed air underground or spinning flywheels.

Some storage risks are ‘grandfathered’
However, these risks are not unique to storing electricity. Fossil fuels, which are technically forms of stored energy, pose plenty of problems in their extraction, refining, distribution and delivery.

“We basically have grandfathered these risk factors. Gasoline catches on fire all the time,” said Denholm. Electrical energy storage systems aren’t inherently riskier than petroleum or natural gas, according to Denholm, but their risks are different.

The NHTSA shares Denholm’s assessment when it comes to cars. “Let us be clear: NHTSA does not believe electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than other vehicles,” said the agency in a press release earlier this month responding to the Volt fire. “It is common sense that the different designs of electric vehicles will require different safety standards and precautions.”

For batteries, the main issue is how they control the heat they generate. “What you really want to avoid is cascading failure,” said Denholm. “A failure of any one of those batteries is not a huge event, but if you don’t have proper thermal management, a failure in one battery can cause failure in another.”

This condition, known as a thermal runaway, happens when a cell fails and releases its energy as heat. This heat can cause adjacent cells to fail and generate heat, as well, leading to melting materials and fires.

Controlling temperatures is relatively simple when the batteries are in a fixed location, say, next to a wind farm, but it becomes harder when they are placed in a car or bus.

“The biggest thing that people become concerned about [for batteries in cars] is the ability to be able to tolerate abuse,” said Joe Redfield, principal engineer at the Southwest Research Institute, a nonprofit engineering research and development group.

In a car, a battery is exposed to a wide range of humidities, temperatures and electrical loads. All of these factors influence the battery’s reliability, and if they get too extreme, they can cause a thermal runaway condition.

New problem for firefighters
The problem is compounded by the fact that newer lithium-ion batteries store more electricity than other electrochemical storage systems. “The lead-acid battery has been around a long time” and is a mature technology, said Redfield. “The energy levels of lithium-ion batteries are much, much, much greater than that of lead-acid storage.”

This becomes a major problem for firefighters and first responders in the event of an accident involving lithium-ion batteries. Water can’t always be used to extinguish an electrical fire, since water can conduct electricity.

In addition, in the case of a thermal runaway, it’s usually not the batteries that catch fire but their fumes, though lithium itself is flammable. Even after the fire is extinguished, the batteries can still generate tremendous amounts of heat and reignite fumes, hampering rescue efforts.

One solution is to separate batteries into modules, making it easier to isolate a failed battery from the rest. Another trick is to have a master kill switch, a mechanism that quickly disables the electrical system and discharges the batteries.

The Department of Energy and the National Fire Protection Association are working together to train firefighters and rescue workers to identify these switches in vehicles and grid storage systems as well as in how to respond to battery fires, according to the NHTSA.

Redfield said that the best way to prevent such incidents is with a battery management system that evenly distributes electrical loads and controls temperatures. “It’s not just for safety; it’s primarily there to provide performance and battery life,” he said.

Electrics get high marks in crash tests

“As the operating temperature increases, the lifetime diminishes dramatically. You want to ensure the longest battery life, and if you achieve that, then you’re clearly in the safety limits of the operating environment,” he added.

Overall, Redfield expects that energy storage systems will help increase renewable energy use and curb fossil fuel dependence in the United States. The bumps along the road are significant, but they do not result from an inherent flaw in the idea.

“Failures in new technology have almost always been the result of design shortcuts that were made in putting the new technology into progress. Every now and then, you have some uncharted territory — things we haven’t seen before — but typically, they are few and far between,” said Redfield.

“It really is going down the same path we’ve gone down many times before. We don’t need to make the same mistakes we’ve made with liquid fuels.” After the earlier testing, NHTSA gave the Volt a five-star crash test rating — the agency’s highest — and it did the same for Nissan’s all-electric Leaf.

Meanwhile, a second testing agency, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, has given the Chevrolet Volt a “G,” the highest safety score possible, after side crash tests on the front, side, rear and rollovers.

Research by an affiliate of the insurance group, the Highway Loss Data Institute, estimates that overall chances of being injured in a crash are 25 percent lower in hybrids because their large batteries make them heavier than similar gasoline-powered cars.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500

Fires in Russia and China

Fires in Russia and China : Natural Hazards.

Fires in Russia and China

acquired October 8, 2011 download large image (5 MB, JPEG)
acquired October 8, 2011 download GeoTIFF file (35 MB, TIFF)
acquired October 8, 2011 download Google Earth file (KMZ)

Smoke clouds the skies across northeastern China and southeastern Russia in this image taken on October 8, 2011, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. Widespread fires are marked in red.

The dry, windy weather of autumn created hazardous fire conditions in northeast China. On October 9, officials in Heilongjiang province raised the fire alert level to its second-highest level, said Xinhua news. Russian officials, meanwhile, reported monitoring four large wildfires in the Far Eastern Federal District, which includes the area shown here.

  1. References

  2. EMERCOM of Russia. (2011, October 10). Fire situation as of 06:00 10.10.2011. Accessed October 10, 2011.
  3. Xinhua. (2011, October 9). Hundreds evacuated for grassland fire in NE China. China Daily. Accessed October 10, 2011.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

Instrument: 
Aqua – MODIS

Fires in Queensland, Australia

Fires in Queensland, Australia : Natural Hazards.

Fires in Queensland, Australia

acquired September 26, 2011 download large image (4 MB, JPEG)
acquired September 26, 2011 download Google Earth file (KMZ)

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite detected several fires burning in southeast Queensland on September 26, 2011. The fires are outlined in red.

The fire season in Queensland, Australia runs through the dry winter and spring. The Queensland government declared a fire danger period from September 4, 2011, to January 2, 2012, when fires are allowed by permit only. The fires shown in this image likely include both deliberately set fires and natural wildfires.

Many of Australia’s ecosystems require fire to stimulate growth and regenerate some plant species. As a result, the landscape is extremely prone to fire and burns easily.

  1. References

  2. CSIRO. (2008, February 14). Bushfire in Australia. Accessed September 26, 2011.
  3. CSIRO. (2008, April 30).The months of a fire season. Accessed September 26, 2011.
  4. Queensland Fire and Rescue Service. (2011, September). Fire danger period declared. Accessed September 26, 2011.

NASA image courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

Instrument: 
Aqua – MODIS

High Cascades Complex Fires, Oregon

High Cascades Complex, Oregon : Natural Hazards.

High Cascades Complex, Oregon

acquired September 9, 2011 download large image (4 MB, JPEG)
acquired September 9, 2011 download GeoTIFF file (30 MB, TIFF)
High Cascades Complex, Oregon

acquired September 9, 2011 download large image (5 MB, JPEG)
acquired September 9, 2011 download GeoTIFF file (35 MB, TIFF)

Firefighters completely contained the High Cascades Complex fires on September 16, 2011. Burning in northern Oregon—primarily in the Warm Springs Reservation, belonging to the Wasco and Palute Tribes—the fires were started on August 24 by a lightning storm. By September 16, the fires had burned 108,154 acres.

Smoke rising from Badger Butte indicates that at least one fire was still active on September 9, when the Landsat 5 satellite acquired these images. The top image shows the fires in natural color, similar to what the human eye would see. The lower image includes infrared light. It shows the location of newly burned land more readily than the top true-color image.

The infrared image shows five distinct burned areas in brick red. Other red areas in the scene are either old burn scars, exposed lava flows, or land that is clear for other reasons. All of the burned areas shown are part of the High Cascades Complex.

  1. Reference

  2. InciWeb. (2011, September 15). High Cascades Complex. Accessed September 16, 2011.

NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using Landsat data provided by the United States Geological Survey. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

Instrument: 
Landsat 5 – TM

2 killed in Norway cruise ship fire

2 killed in Norway cruise ship fire – Yahoo! News.

OSLO, Norway – Two people were killed and at least nine injured on Thursday in a fire on a cruise liner operating on a popular route along Norway’s craggy coast, officials said.

Police said they received information that an additional four people were missing, but could not immediately confirm it. Nine people were taken to the hospital, two with serious burns and smoke injuries.

The MS Nordlys, with 262 people on board, was evacuated after it caught fire at 9:20 a.m. (0720 GMT) before arriving in Alesund, 230 miles (375 kilometers) northwest of Oslo. More than 100 passengers were evacuated into lifeboats before the ship reached port.

The remaining passengers and some crew left the vessel as smoke was still billowing from the burning ship. Hurtigruten ASA, the Norwegian operator of the ship, said eight of its crew were among those sent to hospital.

Police said they sealed off parts of Alesund because of the heavy smoke.

The MS Nordlys, traveling north from Bergen, is one of several ships that ply the Norwegian coast on the popular 1,500-mile (2,500- kilometer) cruise between the southwestern city and Kirkenes, high above the Arctic Circle near the Russian border.

The line carries both tourists eager to see the spectacular western coast and locals from coastal cities and hamlets.

Wildfires Rage across Drought-Stricken Texas

Wildfires Rage across Drought-Stricken Texas: Scientific American Gallery.

 

Enlarge NASA/GSFC, Rapid Response MORE IMAGES

Texas, which has suffered extreme droughts in 2011, is now grappling with deadly, widespread wildfires. Two people were killed September 4 in a fire in Gladewater, Texas, and officials said September 6 that two more had died in  the massive Bastrop County fire near Austin. More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in the past several days, according to the Texas Forest Service (TFS), and dozens of fires continue to burn across the Lone Star State.

NASA’s Earth-orbiting Aqua satellite captured this photograph of eastern Texas, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico on September 6. (State borders have been overlaid for reference.) In the past week the TFS has responded to 172 fires on 54,653 hectares; more than 1.4 million hectares—2 percent of the state’s land area—have burned this year.

The first half of the year was the driest on record in Texas. In June the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 213 Texas counties as natural disaster areas; nearly all of the state is currently classified as drought level D4 (exceptional drought), the highest such listing on the National Drought Mitigation Center’s U.S. Drought Monitor. But the droughts and fires of 2011 may only be a preview of things to come; climate change is expected to raise temperatures and could also reduce rainfall in Texas, according to climate models.

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Teen arsonists sought over Texas wildfire

Cops: Teen arsonists sought over Texas wildfire – Weather – TODAY.com.

Police in Texas were hunting three teenagers after a wildfire caused $1.4 million in damage in an Austin suburb, officials said.

The blaze destroyed nearly a dozen homes and caused the evacuations of 500 people in Leander, according to residents and media reports. Investigators were treating the wildfire as arson.

Dawn Camp, 33, a fire evacuee from Leander near the Austin city limits, hadn’t heard the phone ring and didn’t know it was time to flee her home until she smelled smoke and walked out the front door to see her neighbor’s home burning.

“Fire was raining down on my yard,” she said.

Story: Rising death toll in Texas wildfires She grabbed her children, put them in the car, and started down the road. A block later, she jumped out and gave the keys to her 18-year-old daughter, who spirited her younger siblings, ages 8 and 10, to their great-grandmother’s house.

Camp then walked home to coax her cats, Bugbite and Moonshine, out of the house. But police were in her yard.

“They wouldn’t let me back in,” she said, standing outside a shelter at Rouse High School in Leander. Walking along a main street through the quiet subdivision, Camp said the smoke was so thick she couldn’t see or breathe.

Slideshow: Wildfires scorch Texas (on this page)

A passerby picked her up, and she rejoined her family. Later, a relieved Camp reported that she was able to see her house — and both the home and the cats were fine.

“I saw some houses that were burned, but our little half of the street was fine,” Camp said. The cats “were thirsty, but they were wonderful.”

The wildfire in Leander had been extinguished by Tuesday afternoon.

There were also signs that firefighters were gaining ground on the Bastrop County wildfire, which has destroyed more than 600 homes and blackened about 45 square miles.

The Texas Forest Service said Wednesday that the blaze was 30 percent contained.

Agency spokeswoman April Saginor said lighter winds have helped and that the weather conditions mean Wednesday “should be a good day for” those battling the wildfires.

The Bastrop blaze is the most severe of the more than 180 wildfires reported in the past week across drought-stricken Texas.

“It is certainly a remarkable fire in terms of evacuations and the number of homes that have burned,” Ken Frederick, spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, told Reuters.

Altogether, fires in Texas have destroyed a total of more than 1,000 homes and caused four deaths, including the two at Bastrop, marking one of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in state history.

Governor Rick Perry said Tuesday that a 100-member search team would begin to comb the area around Bastrop for more possible victims Wednesday morning.

Video: Gov. Rick Perry: Wildfires have been ‘devastating’ (on this page) He deployed Texas Task Force 1, the state’s elite search team, to help local authorities. The team includes a dozen search dogs.

Texas Task Force 1 was also sent to New York following the Sept. 11 attacks and to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Perry cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina to deal with the crisis. On Tuesday, he toured a blackened area near Bastrop, about 25 miles from Austin.

“Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything,” he said after the tour. “The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning.”

The governor would not say whether he would take part in Wednesday evening’s Republican presidential debate in California, explaining that he was “substantially more concerned about making sure Texans are being taken care of.”

But campaign spokesman Mark Miner said in an email later in the day that Perry planned to be there.

Story: For GOP, debate is where expectations meet reality Perry, a favorite of the Tea Party movement who has made a career out of railing against government spending, said he expects federal assistance with the wildfires. He also complained that red tape was keeping bulldozers and other heavy equipment at the Army’s Fort Hood, 75 miles from Bastrop, from being put to use. Fort Hood was battling its own fire, a 3,700-acre blaze.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration has approved seven federal grants to Texas to help with the latest outbreak, and “we will continue to work closely with the state and local emergency management officials as their efforts to contain these fires.”

About 1,200 firefighters battled the blazes, including members of local departments from around the state and crews from out of state, many of them arriving after Texas put out a call for help. More firefighters will join the battle once they have been registered and sent where they are needed.

Five heavy tanker planes, some from the federal government, and three aircraft capable of scooping 1,500 gallons of water at a time from lakes also took part in the fight.

“We’re getting incredible support from all over the country, federal and state agencies,” said Mark Stanford, operations director for the Texas Forest Service.

The disaster is blamed largely on Texas’ yearlong drought, one of the most severe dry spells the state has ever seen.

Interactive: Texas drought (on this page)

The fire in Bastrop County is easily the single most devastating wildfire in Texas in more than a decade, eclipsing a blaze that destroyed 168 homes in North Texas in April.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor said state wildfire records go back only to the late 1990s.

California fire started by plane crash, threatens homes

California fire threatens 800 homes – CNN.com.

The fire started when a small plane crashed southeast of Tehachapi, California, on Sunday.

The fire started when a small plane crashed southeast of Tehachapi, California, on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 4,759-acre fire starts after plane crashes
  • Firefighters, working in “extreme conditions,” have fire 5% contained
  • Roads are closed, evacuations suggested, power lines threatened
RELATED TOPICS

(CNN) — A fire caused by a plane crash threatened 800 homes or structures in Tehachapi, California, on Monday, with nearly 5,000 acres ablaze in rugged terrain, according to state and local officials.

The fire started Sunday and was 5% contained by Monday, but there was no estimate of when it would be fully contained, according to a statement from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Kern County Fire Department. Evacuations were recommended in the area threatened by the fire and at least three roads were closed, the statement said.

A relief center has been set up at Jacobsen Junior High School in Tehachapi for evacuees.

“Firefighters are working in extreme conditions, high heat, low humidity, with the potential for erratic winds,” according to the statement. The fire was burning in a mix of grass, brush and trees in steep rugged terrain, officials said. It was moving southeast toward Old West Ranch, Tehachapi City and Oak Creek and local power lines were threatened, according to the statement. Bulldozers were building perimeter lines to try to halt the fire, the statement said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to provide money to offset the state and local costs of fighting the fire.

Wildfires whip through drought-stricken Texas

The plane crashed and burned near Mountain Valley Airport in Tehachapi, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told CNN. He said local authorities had confirmed one death, but did not know whether any other people were aboard. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will look into the cause of the crash, Gregor said.

Six hundred firefighters were on the scene trying to corral the 4,759-acre fire. The effort also involves 69 engines, 21 fire crews and two helicopters, according to the fire agencies’ statement. One injury has been reported and one structure has burned, the statement said.

Besides the Kern County Fire Department, others agencies fighting the fire include the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the Ventura County Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority. The Red Cross and other agencies also were on the scene.

Texas wildfires destroy 700+ homes in two days

Texas wildfires destroy more than 700 homes in two days – CNN.com.

Bastrop, Texas (CNN) — Wildfires continued to rage Tuesday in Texas, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes near Austin and Houston as firefighters struggled to gain the upper hand against flames, winds and fatigue.

“Texas is in a difficult situation right now and our priorities are pretty simple. No. 1 is to protect life at all costs,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the state Division of Emergency Management.

The Texas Forest Service said it has responded to 181 fires that have burned more than 118,400 acres over the last week.

The fires have killed two people and, according to the forest service, destroyed more than 700 homes since Sunday. More than 1,000 homes have burned in the state since fire season began in November, Gov. Rick Perry’s office said.

The largest fire, near Austin, has spread across 30,000 acres, destroying more than 600 homes and forcing the evacuations of at least 5,000 people, officials said Tuesday. Known as the Bastrop County Complex, the fire has burned largely uncontrolled since it began Sunday afternoon.

“I don’t think it’s registered in our brains that our house is gone and that, really, half of Bastrop is gone,” said evacuee Claire Johnson.

The danger from a fire near Houston — called the Magnolia fire — appeared to be lessening for the most populated areas. Harris County, which includes Houston, said the fire was no longer a threat there. Also, many residents were being allowed back into their homes Tuesday in neighboring Montgomery County.

Perry: Wildfires trump politics
Wildfire prompts evacuations in Texas
Wall of smoke dominates Texas skyline
Wildfires continue to plague Texas

About 4,000 homes in Montgomery had been evacuated, according to Lt. Dan Norris of the county’s emergency management office. Firefighters continued to battle hot spots in Montgomery, but the bulk of the problems from the Magnolia fire now appear to be centered in Waller and Grimes counties, Norris said.

Another blaze in Grimes County, the Riley Road fire, has destroyed 20 homes and has hundreds more in its path, the forest service said. It had burned 3,000 acres as of Tuesday, according to the forest service.

Two major fires in Travis County destroyed 44 structures and damaged 74 others, Roger Wade, a spokesman for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday.

Authorities planned to allow residents of the Steiner Ranch area, burned by one of those Travis fires, to return to their homes Tuesday afternoon.

“We have made progress, but there are smoldering islands here, and we will be working day and night,” said Jim Linardos, the fire incident commander.

While most of the damage has been to homes and other structures, a wildfire killed a woman and her 18-month-old child Sunday when flames engulfed their home near Gladewater, officials said.

Four firefighters working the Magnolia fire were taken to the hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion, according to the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management. One also had an ankle injury. All injuries were minor, the agency said.

The Bastrop County fire started Sunday and spread quickly though Monday on winds fueled by Tropical Storm Lee. It chased at least 2,500 people who registered with evacuation centers from their homes, and likely more.

Firefighters accustomed to attack a fire head-on could do little more than pick around the edges, trying to protect whatever they could, said Tom Boggus, director of the Texas Forest Service.

“We’ve been very defensive. It’s all we could do until now,” he said. “By the end of the day we hope to gain a lot of ground on this.”

Winds that had peaked at nearly 30 mph had calmed to little more than half that Tuesday, giving firefighters a chance to move to the fire’s front and try to slow its advance, Boggus said.

Still, the damage is staggering, said officials who have toured the area.

“Bastrop County is not the same,” county Judge Ronnie McDonald told CNN affiliate KXAN-TV in Austin.

Historic drought in Texas has created ideal conditions for the rapid spread of wildfire.

So far in 2011, 7.2 million acres of grass, scrub and forest have burned in wildfires nationwide. Of those, 3.5 million — nearly half — have been in Texas, according to Inciweb, a fire-tracking website maintained by state and federal agencies.

Tuesday marks the 294th consecutive day of wildfires in Texas, according to Inciweb.

More than 2,000 firefighters are working fires across the state, Boggus said.

Fatigue is a major issue, Boggus said, especially for volunteer firefighters from local departments who form the backbone of the response. Boggus said Texas officials are seeking additional resources from around the country to help battle the fires.

Read more about the Texas fires from CNN affiliates KXAN and KVUE. Are you there? Share photos, video, but stay safe.

Bastrop, Texas (CNN) — Firefighters southeast of Austin, Texas, battled strong winds Monday as they struggled to gain ground against a fast-moving wildfire that has so far scorched some 25,000 acres and destroyed close to 500 homes.

Another fire in eastern Texas killed a mother and her 18-month-old child when flames engulfed their mobile home Sunday near Gladewater, the Gregg County Sheriff’s Department said.

“We got a long way to go to get this thing contained,” Gov. Rick Perry said about the fire raging near Austin. “I have seen a number of big fires in my life. This one is as mean looking as I’ve ever seen.”

Dozens of fires are burning across the parched state, the Texas Forest Service said Monday.

Earlier, the governor issued a statement in which he called the wildfire situation in Texas “severe” and said that all state resources were being made available to protect lives and property.

“We will pick up the pieces. We always do,” he told reporters.

Wall of smoke dominates Texas skyline
Waiting for the wind to die in Texas
Wildfires continue to plague Texas

Texas is battling its worst fire season in state history. A record 3.5 million acres — an area roughly the size of Connecticut, Perry said — have burned since the start of the season in November as hot and dry weather, coupled with a historic drought, made conditions ripe for rapid fire growth.

“It’s a very serious, scary situation,” said Jan Amen, a Texas Forest Service spokeswoman. “The drought has gone on so long — it’s just bone dry. Anything that catches fire takes off.”

Over the weekend, officials said low relative humidity and strong winds from Lee, which made landfall as a tropical storm but then weakened, further fanned the flames.

A red flag warning was in effect for much of east, south and central Texas on Monday, with wind gusts of up to 35 mph in places, according to the National Weather Service.

A fire broke out about 45 miles north of Houston Monday afternoon. It was moving between 15 and 20 mph and threatening homes, said Rhonda Reinholz with the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department.

Another fire burned in the Steiner Ranch subdivision in Travis County, forcing families out of their homes. Justin Allen evacuated from there with his five kids. Though he does not think the flames will reach their house, which is tucked near the back of the development, they are close enough to worry about, he said.

“It’s pretty scary,” said Allen. “And it’s really sad for everyone that’s in that path.”

The outbreak of wildfires prompted Perry to return to Texas from South Carolina, where he was scheduled to participate in a forum for Republican presidential candidates.

The massive, uncontained fire in Bastrop County, near Austin, was the state’s largest Monday. It destroyed 476 homes, according to Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald, and threatened about 1,000 others, officials with the forest service’s incident management team reported. About 5,000 residents evacuated as flames approached, officials said.

‘There’s nothing left of these houses’
Perry: Wildfires trump politics
Winds whip up Texas wildfires
RELATED TOPICS

Lisa Ross learned she needed to leave her Bastrop home when her husband called 911 after realizing a looming fire had darkened the skies above.

“You learn what is valuable in life, and it isn’t the stuff,” she said. “It’s people in your life, and what means something to you.”

Cars crammed with belongings and pets packed a gas station on a highway near Austin, attorney Jonathon A. Zendeh Del said. “I’ve lived in Texas almost all my life, and I’ve never seen a fire that big in central Texas,” he said.

Officials issued a boil water notice for parts of Bastrop Monday. Dark clouds of smoke billowing across the sky could be seen miles from the fire.

Satellite images Monday showed the fire stretching over about 25,000 acres, jumping the Colorado River and a highway, the Texas Forest Service said.

More evacuations are likely as the fire spreads, officials said. Already, hundreds of people are in shelters as dangerous flames keep them from finding out whether their homes survived.

“We have been told already from three people that live in that area that our house has been burnt. I had a gut feeling that it did not, but now it’s looking worse and worse,” said Gisele Vocal, an evacuee. “We just have to wait now.”

Firefighters used Black Hawk helicopters to douse flames with a mixture of water and fire retardant Monday, officials said.

The fire forced parts of state highways 71 and 21 to shut and additional road closures were expected.

At least 63 new fires across Texas on Sunday burned nearly 33,000 acres, the state’s fire service said. Fires were reported in at least 17 counties.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/09/06/earlyshow/main20101919.shtml

September 6, 2011 8:08 AM

“No containment” of Texas wildfire

(CBS/AP)

Last Updated 9:52 a.m. ET

BASTROP, Texas – Firefighters trying to control a wind-fueled wildfire that has destroyed nearly 600 homes in Central Texas were looking for a few overnight hours of diminished winds as thousands of evacuees spent the night away from their threatened homes.

There’s been no significant rainfall over central Texas for a year, said CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds, and today the consequences of that are being seen in Bastrop and other areas.

Since December, wildfires have consumed 3.6 million acres of Texas – an area the size of the state of Connecticut.

Unfortunately, there is no rainfall in the forecast for the foreseeable future.

The Texas Forest Service put out statement saying, “This is unprecedented fire behavior. No one on the face of this Earth has ever fought fires in these extreme conditions.”

Tom Boggus, director of the Texas Forest Service, told CBS’ “The Early Show” that as of this morning “There’s no containment right now.”

“We’ve been in a defensive mode for a couple of days now, and really all you can do is get people out of the way, protect homes where you can, and make sure our firefighters are safe,” Boggus told anchor Erica Hill. “But today, the winds have died down so we can probably be much more aggressive, and we hopefully can get some containment on all these fires in the Austin area.”

Texas wildfire destroys nearly 500 homes
Winds whip up Texas wildfires

 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry left the campaign trail Monday and returned to Texas for the latest outbreak of blazes. He told “The Early Show” Tuesday that he doesn’t know whether he will participate in the first Republican debate since he entered the raced for president while his state continues to battle persistent wildfires.

Perry mum on GOP debate as Texas wildfires rage

Boggus said 90 percent of wildfires are caused by people – directly, or through the electricity used by us. Texans are aware of the fire dangers. “People get it, they understand it,” he said. “Especially now it’s heightened with the news media … people understand to be very, very careful. And with the high winds people understood how dangerous and how volatile this state is.

“It’s historic. We’ve never seen fire seasons like this. We’ve never seen drought like this. This is an historic time that we’re living in, and so people know and understand they’ve got to be extremely careful,” Boggus said. (To watch the interview click on the video player below.)

Fires in Eastern Russia

Fires in Eastern Russia : Image of the Day.

Fires in Eastern Russia

acquired July 28, 2011 download large image (3 MB, JPEG)
acquired July 28, 2011 download GeoTIFF file (34 MB, TIFF)
acquired July 28, 2011 download Google Earth file (KMZ)

192 fires burned throughout the Russian Federation on July 28, 2011. Most of the fires burned in the northwest, but the fires in the Far East were far more impressive from space.

This image, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite, shows fires burning in parts of Khabarovsk, Amur, and Sakha (Yahkutiya) on July 28, 2011. The large image (download) shows many more fires across the broader region. The fires are marked in red. The Russian government reported 19 large fires in this region on July 28, and RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency, reported 41 fires on July 29.

While the fires are widespread, it is the dense smoke that stands out. The fires are not threatening any settlements, according to the Russian government, but the smoke poses its own risks. Smoke carries tiny particles that can irritate the eyes and respiratory system.

It’s not possible to tell from the image how the fires started, but 90 percent of the fires that start within 90 kilometers of a settlement in Russia are caused by people. Beyond that point, 40 percent of the fires are set by people and 60 percent are caused by lightning.

The Russian government has dedicated 7,328 people to fighting wildfires throughout the country. Weather conditions in the Far East were challenging.

  1. References

  2. AIRNow. (n.d.). Smoke from agricultural and forest fires. Accessed July 31, 2011.
  3. EMERCOM of Russia. (2011, July 29). Fire situation on the territory of the Russian Federation. Accessed July 31, 2011.
  4. RIA Novosti. (2011, July 29). Firefighters continue to battle wildfires in Russia’s Far East. Accessed July 31, 2011.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.