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Fires and explosions
Fires and explosions
29 October 2003 – Coal mine, Chongqing, China
Twelve miners have been killed and several others injured when a gas explosion tore through a coal mine in south-west China's Chongqing municipality, local media said. The accident happened at noon, yesterday when 22 miners were working in the pit in Jijiang county, said the People's Daily Web site. Based on preliminary information, 12 of the miners were killed and one is in critical condition with doctors trying to save his life, the report said. Nine others escaped serious injury, it said. The cause of the accident is under investigation.
25 September 2003 – Wildfires, United States
A wildfire near the Cascade Springs area of the Uinta National Forest has grown to 4,300 acres, and Thursday's forecast hot and dry conditions were not expected to help containment efforts. The US Forest Service ordered additional crews, including 200 fire-fighters, to join six helicopters and two air tankers battling the fire. The fire was burning along the south end of the Wasatch State Mountain Park, but was not close to any campground areas or trails, said Loyal Clark, US Forest Service spokeswoman.
Today's goal was to keep the fire from moving further north where it would endanger hiking and camping spots, said Clark. A planned 600-acre fire grew out of control Tuesday (23 September) when gusting winds blew embers outside the fire lines. At one point, the fire was moving 70-80 ft/min, prompting fire crews to pull off and air tankers to make retardant drops.
26 September 2003 – Fire activity was light throughout the nation yesterday. The Northern California Area experienced moderate initial attack activity. Two new large fires were reported, one each in the Southern California and Eastern Great Basin Areas, and two large fires were contained, one each in the Northern California and Northern Rockies Areas.
1 October 2003 – Initial attack activity was moderate throughout the Southern California Area and light throughout the rest of the states. Four new large fires were reported in the Southern Area.
4 October 2003 – An 800-acre wildfire on the eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains threatened several ranches and habitat of the spotted owl yesterday, authorities said. The northward-moving blaze was 20 per cent contained. “The fire was pretty calm overnight. There was increased humidity, lower temperatures,” said Robin Renteria, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino National Forest. The blaze began on Wednesday afternoon (1 October) on a ridge between Lytle Creek Canyon and Lone Pine Canyon. Its cause remained under investigation.
About 680 fire-fighters were working the blaze, carving fire-line in ranch lands covered by six-foot- high chaparral, Renteria said. Five homes and five outbuildings were threatened but there were no evacuations, Renteria said. The spotted owl is on the federal list of threatened species. Lytle Creek is about 45 miles east of Los Angeles. Also yesterday, fire officials said more than 2,000 acres of the Mendocino National Forest had been burned, with no projections for when the fire would be contained. More than 1,000 personnel, including air tanker and helicopter crews, were busy fighting the blaze first reported on Sunday morning, according to fire officials at the Northern California fire scene. Fire lines were constructed to slow the blaze and cooler temperatures could help limit its spread. The fire has been difficult to control because it is burning in very steep, rugged terrain in lots of timber, grass and old logging debris. There have been no injuries reported or structures destroyed because of the fire.
24 October 2003 – A wind-driven wildfire closed in on several Southern California communities today, destroying four houses and forcing fire-fighters to make their stand in back yards. Thousands of people were evacuated and two major freeways were closed. More than 4,000 acres have burned since the fire started Tuesday near the San Bernardino National Forest. Fire- fighters supported by water-dropping aircraft battled flames in back yards in Rancho Cucamonga, where four houses were destroyed today. The fire also reached the outskirts of Fontana and Rialto, in the sprawling suburbs about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The flames were fanned by hot, dry desert winds of 25 mph and higher, and temperatures were expected to reach the high 90 s later in the day. The fire was only 17 per cent contained by late morning.
24 October 2003 – Initial attack was moderate in southern California and light throughout the remaining states. Two new large fires were reported, one in southern California and Minnesota. Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming are experiencing very high to extreme fire indices.
26 October 2003 – Wildfires threatening the Los Angeles suburbs have doubled in size, consuming at least 15 houses and forcing thousands more people to flee. Some 3,500 homes were threatened as the fire zone grew to 10,000 ha in just 12 h, as the winds drove the flames towards outlying parts of the second largest US city, officials said. Hot desert “devil winds” fanned the flames from the slopes and ridges of a mountain range further into residential areas about 100 km north-east of downtown Los Angeles. “It's been a very bad day indeed,” said Robin Renteria, fire information officer for San Bernardino National Forest, where the blaze is raging. “The fire has spread dramatically because the winds have been driving it hard and were also strong enough to prevent us from flying fire fighting aircraft, allowing it to spread further.” The blaze was so intense that it sent a thick haze of smoke over Los Angeles. The fire was only 23 per cent contained as 2,200 fire fighters battled to control it, up from 1,400 fighting the flames a day earlier.
The fire, that officials say was started on Tuesday by arsonists, has consumed a total of at least 15 homes, two outbuildings, six cars, a boat and a fire fighting helicopter that had been forced to land due to mechanical difficulties. Officials estimated the damage as US$6 million, with the flames showing no signs of abating.
The blaze, one of at least six that have broken out in southern California in recent days, is menacing the areas of Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga, in San Bernardino County. Three new upscale housing developments in Rancho Cucamonga, where seven houses have already been burned down, were most at risk as the region's strong Santa Ana winds whipped up the flames. Fire fighters were ploughing open fields between residential areas to create fire breaks and lighting controlled blazes to consume the fires' fuel and stop them from advancing. Fire fighting teams have been ordered to move to the stricken area from all over California.
26 October 2003 – A wildfire leaped through dense housing tracts in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains yesterday, destroying more than 50 homes, threatening at least 1,000 others and forcing thousands of people to flee under a sky thick with smoke and tinged orange-red by flames. The fire was propelled by fierce Santa Ana winds as it devoured 6,000 acres of chaparral within hours. The blaze and an even larger wildfire nearby closed highways and choked the region with heavy smoke and flaming ash. San Bernardino County officials requested more fire-fighters from the state because local ranks were depleted. The county also asked the governor to declare a state of emergency and the request was under review, said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services. Winds were gusting to 45 mph, pushing embers ahead of the fire mass and adding to the pall of smoke from a 16,000-acre fire about a dozen miles away in the Rancho Cucamonga area. The fire in Rancho Cucamonga, meanwhile, jumped down a hillside into an area of $1 million homes yesterday. Feeding on head-high scrub oak and chaparral, it marched into the northern edge of the city, burning at least two homes and forcing hundreds to evacuate. There were 3,400 homes threatened in the city and surrounding communities of Lytle Creek and Upland, Beckley said. The mountain community of Mt Baldy was also ordered to evacuate. Other wildfires threatened to spread as winds and heat rose. In northern Los Angeles County, 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, a fire near Santa Clarita swelled to 3,000 acres and a voluntary evacuation was called for 328 homes in the town of Piru, less than 5 miles away.
Authorities feared that fire might connect to a fire near Piru in Ventura County, which had charred about 1,250 acres yesterday but was burning away from homes. That blaze in steep, rugged terrain was burning into the Sespe Condor Sanctuary and could threaten the endangered California condor. At the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, 50 miles north of San Diego, fire- fighters battled a 4,700-acre blaze that threatened about 300 homes in nearby De Luz. The cause of the fire remained under investigation, although authorities said one possibility being examined was that it was linked to ammunition used on Tuesday in the base's training exercises.
27 October 2003 – California's wildfires wreaked havoc with travel plans, disrupting air traffic nationwide and forcing weekend gamblers on their way back from Las Vegas to find alternate routes. Aircraft scheduled to fly to Los Angeles International Airport, San Diego's Lindbergh Field and other regional airports were grounded for varying lengths of time, FAA spokesman Paul Turk said in Washington, DC, Los Angeles-bound flights were delayed an average of about 6 h, the FAA reported on its Web site. By late afternoon, the average delay was down to just over 3 h, but the longest delays had grown to more than 16 h. About 100 flight cancellations were recorded by major airlines at Los Angeles International between midmorning and 1700 h, yesterday said Nancy Castles, spokeswoman for the city airports department. The problem began about 0900 h when a fire on the Marine Corps' Miramar Air Station in San Diego forced evacuation of the FAA's Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control. The facility's functions were transferred to a centre near Palmdale in the Mojave Desert that normally handles high-altitude traffic. “The net effect is a somewhat reduced ability to take in traffic,” Turk said. By yesterday evening, FAA controllers at Los Angeles International were handling about half the normal hourly arrival rate of 70 aircraft, said Castles.
28 October 2003 – Dry, shifting winds kept weary fire-fighters off balance yesterday as the Southern California fires advanced along three major fronts, one of them pushing into the north- western reaches of the city of Los Angeles. By last night, the three-day toll stood at 14 dead, 1,518 homes destroyed and more than 500,000 acres burned. Wind and visibility improved enough for air tankers to join the fire-fight, and tenacious crews beat back flames from the Ventura County city of Fillmore. By late yesterday afternoon, weather forecasters said, a shift had begun toward cooler, moister conditions – the best possible news for those whose homes lie in the paths of the fires. But the ten separate blazes stubbornly persisted, threatening more homes and lives in a broken arc from Ventura County east to San Bernardino County and south to Tijuana. “This will be the most expensive fire in California history, both in loss of property and the cost of fighting it,” Dallas Jones, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, said in a telephone news conference yesterday. He said he could not yet estimate the extent of the loss. San Diego County has been hit hardest by the latest series of fires – at least three under investigation as possible arson – and lost dozens more homes yesterday when flames jumped across Interstate 8 and rampaged through the Crest and Alpine communities in the mountains east of San Diego. Among the houses destroyed was that of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), who had been critical of Gov. Gray Davis for not responding aggressively enough to the fire. Fire crews fought desperately to keep that fire from joining another and creating what one fire-fighter worried would be an “unstoppable hurricane of fire.” One fire crossed the Mexican border into Tijuana, and an unrelated fire destroyed ten homes near Ensenada. San Diego officials dramatically increased their damage accounts yesterday after damage assessment teams fanned out across the county to examine fire-ravaged neighbourhoods. By the end of the day, they had more than double their count of destroyed homes to more than 900, making these fires the most destructive in the county's history. In the north, a blaze that began in Simi Valley crossed from Ventura County into Los Angeles County and advanced menacingly toward the foothill communities of Porter Ranch and Chatsworth. In the San Bernardino Mountains, fire-fighters took a risky gambit by setting controlled burns south of Lake Arrowhead in an effort to halt the advance of a fire that threatened a string of resort communities home to more than 45,000 people. President Bush declared a disaster area in the stricken region, opening the way for federal assistance to fire victims in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties. The fires forced the closures of hundreds of schools and businesses. Hospitals reported a large number of people suffering breathing problems from the thick haze that hung over much of the region in a toxic blanket. Some areas were blanketed by a snow-like coating of ash. Airports from Los Angeles to San Diego continued to experience delays that rippled across the nation's air system for a second day yesterday as Federal Aviation Administration officials worked to bring a San Diego air traffic control centre back in service by this morning. Officials closed the radar control centre, which routes traffic into and out of the region's airports, after it was threatened by fire on Sunday. In Ventura County, fire crews battled on two fronts as the 90,000-acre Simi fire threatened exclusive canyon communities on the Los Angeles County line, and fire-fighters were credited with saving Fillmore from a 50,000-acre blaze that marched to the city limits. No more homes were burned, authorities said, keeping at 30 the number of structures damaged or destroyed during the Simi fire, which began on Friday night near Santa Clarita. The fiercest fire-fight occurred shortly after daybreak yesterday at the easternmost end of Simi Valley, near the equestrian community of Santa Susana Knolls and rugged Box Canyon, an eclectic mix of aging wooden cabins and whitewashed million-dollar homes.
There, 900 exhausted fire-fighters, who had been on the front lines for days, joined air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers to confront a huge blaze that jumped the Ronald Reagan Freeway and headed south. That prompted mandatory evacuations in a cluster of canyon and hillside communities straddling the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, including parts of the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles. Twenty miles north, an additional 800 fire-fighters struggled to keep a separate wildfire in Los Padres National Forest from spreading and destroying homes in nearby Fillmore and Piru. The fire, which began on Thursday near Lake Piru, was 90 per cent contained at 1,250 acres on early Sunday. But late Sunday, swirling Santa Ana winds blew it out of control, forcing fire crews to burn strips of vegetation around homes to save them. By yesterday morning, the fire had consumed 50,000 acres and only 5 per cent was contained. The Piru fire burned hundreds of acres at the southern edge of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, and fire crews were trying to prevent it from pushing westward across Sespe Creek and heading toward the high mountains that ring Santa Paula and the Ojai Valley. By the end of the day yesterday, fires in San Diego County had burned more than 300,000 acres in the course of a 3-day rampage. An estimated 10,000 people had been routed from their residences. San Diego officials reported two more fire-related deaths. They also determined that one of the 11 people whose death had been counted Sunday as fire-related actually had died of other causes. The total of deaths in the San Diego fires now stands at 12, but Kolender said his office is investigating the possibility of other fatalities. An estimated 50,000 people were left without electricity.
Military bases in the region scaled back activities. The blaze called the Old fire, which has destroyed 450 homes, continued to burn out of control in the San Bernardino Mountains, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 more residents in its unrelenting advance toward Lake Arrowhead and surrounding mountain communities. The fire's stubborn western flank also crept along the foothills above Devore, near the interchange of the 15 and 215 freeways, forcing residents to flee but sparing homes in the rural neighbourhood. In the mountains, water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers joined fire crews in an attempt to stop the advance of flames. While other regions welcomed the shift from easterly Santa Ana winds to cooler coastal breezes, fire-fighters in San Bernardino County worried that the westerly flows could push the fire up the mountainside and into Lake Arrowhead, Running Springs and other mountain communities. During a lull in the winds yesterday afternoon, ground crews set a string of risky controlled burns near the Rim of the World Highway just west of the community of Rimforest, hoping to clear the ridge top of fuel before the main body of fire reaches the highway. The goal was to prevent a catastrophic firestorm around Lake Arrowhead, but some flames jumped the highway nevertheless. About 2200 h, flames leapt across the highway, and headed toward a nest of emergency radio repeater antennas used by law enforcement. Shortly before midnight, the fire overwhelmed that area and was proceeding north toward mountain communities, including Lake Arrowhead, which was about 4 miles from the front of the fire. The Grand Prix fire, which ravaged parts of Rancho Cucamonga and Claremont, retreated into the mountains yesterday and was threatening Mt. Baldy Village, forcing federal authorities to close Angeles National Forest. It had scorched a total of 57,000 acres. Residents were allowed to return to their homes in Rancho Cucamonga, San Antonio Heights, Upland and Rialto. Many schools in the area will remain closed today. Fire-fighters were optimistic about controlling a fire in Riverside County. The Mountain fire, which began Sunday near Temecula, destroyed 26 buildings and 13 vehicles, authorities said.
29 October 2003 – A catastrophic wave of wildfires ravaging southern California would be the most expensive disaster in the state's history, officials warned. California Governor Gray Davis said he expected the bill from the 14 blazes roaring across the most populous and richest US state to shoot up to US$2 billion in the coming days.
“This may well be the worst disaster the state has faced,” the outgoing governor said of the 14 fires, many of which are now thought to have been sparked by arsonists. “I expect the cost in the next few days to near US$2 billion,” he said, adding that the figure included loss of infrastructure, relief and fire-fighting efforts. Other officials agreed, but warned it was very difficult to estimate the extent of the damage as the flames continued to consume the south of the state. “These blazes look almost certain to become the most expensive in California history in terms of both damage and fighting the fires,” Patty Roberts of the governor's Office of Emergency Management said. The blazes have destroyed at least 217,200 ha in the south of the state, destroying about 2000 homes and killing at least 16 people in California and two in neighbouring Mexico. Media reports have estimated that the economic damage to the state, which is the world's fifth biggest economy, would come to between US$500 million and US$3 billion.
29 October 2003 – A fast-moving wildfire forced the evacuation of thousands of homes south of Denver today as fierce wind fanned a handful of devastating blazes along the eastern Rockies. The 100-acre fire chewed through hills of scattered pine and sent smoke pouring over Denver's far southern suburbs. Evacuation orders affected 3,000 homes and businesses. In addition, 21 busloads of students were evacuated from an elementary school north of Castle Rock. South Metro Fire spokeswoman Robin Adair said air tankers were brought in because there were no hydrants in the area. The fire was one of two major blazes that erupted north and south of Denver, pushed by winds signalling the arrival of a cold front.
The evacuation included homes in five subdivisions about 25 miles south of downtown Denver. Helicopters hovered above the haze as sirens sounded. No injuries were reported, nor have authorities determined the cause of either fire. The second blaze, moving through tinder-dry forests and pine-covered hillsides north-west of Boulder, scorched more than 500 acres in a matter of hours. Some 300 people were forced to evacuate the area around tiny Jamestown, Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said, and the blaze threatened several homes and other structures. Evacuation shelters had been set up in Boulder. “The wind is just driving this thing and creating a very dangerous situation,” said James Burrus, Boulder County's information officer. “We're not going to put a crew up there to do direct attack. It's suicidal.” Flames leaping 100 ft into the air and fanned by winds up to 60 mph pushed fire-fighters off the front lines, while a vast plume of smoke spread across the plains and settled over Boulder, shrouding the college town. He said 100 fire- fighters were battling the blaze, and officials had asked for nearly 200 more. The area was low on fire-fighters and equipment because many have been sent to help battle wildfires in California, said Bruce Mygatt, fire chief of the Boulder Rural Fire Protection District. “We're not dangerously low, but we are low on personnel and smaller truck apparatus for these type of fires,” he said. “For now, they seem to have ample resources up there.”
30 October 2003 – A fire-fighter died in Southern California's raging wildfires today, as thousands fought to keep wind-driven flames from destroying historic mountain towns in San Diego County. Three other fire-fighters were injured in the same incident, which occurred between Julian, a former gold mining town, and the hamlet Santa Isabel, which are being ravaged by the 101,200 ha Cedar fire, state fire officials said. Authorities also discovered the body of the 13th victim of the Cedar fire near a home in the town of Alpine. The unidentified body was believed to be that of a woman who had refused to leave her home and was reported missing earlier in the week. The two deaths bring to 20 the number of people killed in the 17 wildfires burning from north of Los Angeles to the United States-Mexico border, including two in Mexico. More than 12,000 fire-fighters are fighting the nine major fires and eight smaller offshoots that have destroyed more than 242,800 ha. US Forest Service officials warned of “significant” building losses in Lake Arrowhead, a resort town in the San Bernardino Mountains, 113 km east of Los Angeles. The San Bernardino firestorm, which chased more than 50,000 residents off the mountain, was poised to engulf nearby Running Springs. Meanwhile, fire crews in Los Angeles County waged an intense battle against a 40,000 ha blaze that leaped Interstate 5, a major Southern California artery, and headed for a neighbourhood of newly built homes. The fire closed Interstate 5 for about 2 ½ h as 16 metre- high flames came within metres of homes in the Stevenson Ranch section of northern Los Angeles County and police evacuated some residents quickly. California fire officials warned the two largest wildfires could take an “apocalyptic” turn if they reach “a dead line” of diseased and highly flammable trees in the San Bernardino Mountains.
31 October 2003 – Colder weather, bringing rain and possibly snow, has proved a boon to fire- fighters trying to control the worst of Southern California's wildfires that have become the state's worst fire-related disaster.
The relentless week-long inferno, raging from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border, has destroyed more than 2,500 homes and killed 20 people including a fire-fighter. The 10 major fires have charred about 730,000 acres – an area slightly smaller than the US state of Rhode Island. California Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the destruction caused by the so-called Old Fire, which ravaged resort communities in the San Bernardino Mountains. “This will be the most expensive natural disaster this state has ever incurred,” California State Governor Gray Davis said. “The fires could not only end up being the largest but the longest in duration.”
Fire-fighters managed to hold the line on the two largest and most active fires in San Bernardino and San Diego counties, which were threatening Julian and Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains – two of the state's favourite tourist spots. “I received word from all incidents that due to weather, progress was made on perimeter control in almost all incidents,” said Ray Snodgrass, deputy chief director of the California Department of Forestry. The crew were nearly powerless on Wednesday (29 October) to stop a towering firestorm that ran through the outskirts of Lake Arrowhead and neighbouring communities in the San Bernardino Mountains, destroying an estimated 350 homes. A thick fog and high winds grounded helicopters and water-dropping aircraft yesterday but ground crews built barriers to stop the fire from turning westward into Big Bear, another popular destination for nearby Los Angeles. Julian, a former gold mining town, was encircled by flames but largely unscathed as the cooling trend helped fire-fighters gain ground on two deadly wildfires in San Diego County. By yesterday, temperatures had dropped 208F from the weekend and forecasters expected the cold, moist front to last at least 3 days. The focus turned to the devastating aftermath of the second most costly wildfire in Californian history, with insurance claims likely to reach more than $1 billion in uninsured losses. Tens of thousands of people were without homes – either because of mandatory evacuations or because their homes had been burned to the ground or made uninhabitable. Many have spent nights sleeping in their cars, others have camped out with friends and some are living in tents set up at rescue centres. Throughout the region, health officials warned of “unprecedented pollution” caused by the fire which rained ash up to 100 miles away from the source of the blazes, keeping school children indoors, and an increase in people reporting breathing problems.
31 October 2003 – Fire-fighters have contained the 3,500-acre wildfire in the foothills north-west of Denver yesterday, along with a second fire of more than 1,000 acres near Castle Rock south of Denver. Authorities said at least 12 homes were destroyed around Jamestown; eyewitnesses counted up to 18. No homes were lost in the fire south of Denver. Both fires erupted on Wednesday (29 October) and spread quickly ahead of winds gusting to 50 mph. Both were believed to have been caused by downed power lines. Boulder County sheriff's Lt. Joe West estimated the cost of fighting the Jamestown fire at $400,000, excluding property losses. No cost estimates were available on the Castle Rock fire.
1 November 2003 – California's wildfires have slowed their rampage through brush-choked mountains as storms moved in and fire-fighters solidified gains made in containing the huge and destructive blazes. “Overall, we have had very little additional activity for the fires today,” Ray Snodgrass, chief deputy director of the state's forestry department, told a briefing late yesterday. Snodgrass reported that each of the six fires still being tracked was at least 25 per cent contained – progress made by ground crews digging trenches by hand and with bulldozers around the fires' perimeters. “We hope to get through the next period of weather, continue with construction of fire lines and continue with mop-up operations so when the weather clears. We are able to hold the fires where they are,” he said. Significant rain and snowfall were forecast for the hard-hit mountain areas in San Bernardino and San Diego counties, where firestorms incinerated entire suburban neighbourhoods. Late yesterday, a flash flood ripped through the northern part of the burn region in Ventura County and National Weather Service forecasters warned of mudslides. Teams of hydrologists and soil and wildlife experts have been dispatched to burned zones where the ground has barely cooled to try to prevent denuded hillsides from collapsing on the rubble and remaining homes, officials said. The more than 100,000 residents who fled their homes over the past week trickled back into areas charred by the ten major fires to see if their homes were among the more than 2,800 destroyed in the record-setting 750,000 acre fires. The blazes burned drought-stricken brush and diseased pine forests from north of Los Angeles to the Mexican border, killing at least 20 people, including a fire-fighter and about a dozen residents trapped by the fast-moving flames.
Steve Westley, state controller and California's chief auditor, said the total cost of the fires could be $12 billion. Speaking at the Milken Institute in Los Angeles, Westley said the hit to the state's budget could require “a short-term tax increase” – something Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigned against during the October recall election. Outgoing Gov. Gray Davis, who visited fire victims yesterday with Schwarzenegger, said more than 5,000 residents had applied for government aid at two centres. “This is going to be a long haul for some of these victims and that's why I want to get money in their hands,” Davis said yesterday evening. He condemned arsonists suspected of setting the Old Fire in San Bernardino County, calling the still unidentified men domestic terrorists. The cause of many of the fires was still under investigation, but most were set by people, fire officials said.
1 November 2003 – Declaring victory over firestorms which have ravaged many Southern California mountain communities for the last 10 days, officials sent fire-fighters home today, saying the blazes were all but extinguished. The talk among fire-fighting and emergency management agencies turned from battling the wildfires that charred almost 750,000 acres and destroyed nearly 3,400 homes to helping the victims with financial aid to rebuild and restart their lives. Fire-fighters credited the weather for helping to put an end to the devastating fires, after the flames were drenched today with heavy rains, snow and near freezing temperatures – conditions that were due to continue for the next few days. “This is the day we didn't believe we would ever see,” said Andrea Tuttle, director of the California Department of Forestry. “We don't have any more hot flames anywhere.”
Looking back on the disaster, Tuttle said, “The real story is the hundreds of thousands of structures saved.” She added there were still some smouldering spots, such as burning logs and soil, but fire crews were cleaning those up. Outgoing California Governor Gray Davis said he had asked that the federal government shoulder more than the usual 75 per cent cost of disaster emergency relief funds. California, strapped with a potential $10 billion budget gap for 2004, can ill afford the fire bill, which has been estimated by various state officials at between $2 billion and $12 billion. Davis said more than 5,000 residents had applied for government aid and Ridge said cheques for fire victims should be in the mail next week. Mike McGroarty, deputy chief of fire operation for California's Office of Emergency Services, said the fires, which killed 20 people and forced tens of thousands to evacuate, had “pretty much slowed and in some cases have stopped.” McGroarty said the fire crews would begin to go home depending on how far they were from their home base, with Nevada and Northern California teams heading out first. More of the 100,000-plus residents who fled their homes over the past week were allowed to go back to their communities charred by the ten major fires to see if their homes were among the more than 3,334 destroyed. One area where residents will not be allowed back for a while, however, is Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains north-east of Los Angeles. The rains that hit the area today also brought rockslides, blocking state Highway 18, the only road into the popular tourist resort. Tuttle said the town was without power.
2 November 2003 – A second wave of residents displaced by Southern California's wildfires returned home today as a weekend of cooler, calmer weather helped fire-fighters begin to get the upper hand. As the threat began to diminish, authorities also sent home some of the thousands of fire-fighters who have been battling blazes scattered from San Diego County to the suburbs of Los Angeles. Some evacuees got the go-ahead yesterday to check on their homes. The fire that started 25 October in Upper Waterman Canyon on the edge of the San Bernadino National Forest, consumed 91,285 acres. In the last week, that blaze and half a dozen others across Southern California have burned about 750,000 acres, destroyed nearly 3,400 homes and killed 20 people. In San Bernardino County, some fire- fighters were beginning to head home, said US Forest Service spokesman Bob Narus, although he could not say exactly how many. In San Diego County, fire-fighters were expected to begin leaving after spending a few hours resting this morning, said California Department of Forestry spokeswoman Barb Daskoski. Though fog, lower temperatures and even snow slowed the spreading flames, more than 12,000 fire-fighters were still on the lines early today. The San Bernardino fire came to a standstill yesterday, and fire-fighters allowed homeowners to survey the damage. Residents of nearby Big Bear Valley were given the go-ahead to return today. “It's lying there right now not doing anything,” Big Bear City Fire Chief Dana VanLuven said of the Old Fire, which was 72 per cent contained today. “The threat is still very real, but we are confident we can hold it off.”
Authorities said an arsonist started the fire on Old Waterman Canyon Road, a winding two-lane leading from San Bernardino to Upper Waterman Canyon, a community of 66 homes and a seasonal fire station. All but eight of those homes and the fire station were consumed. Despite a reward of $110,000 and the distribution of a composite sketch, the arsonist has not been caught. Fire- fighters across the region took advantage of the weather to build firebreaks near communities that could be threatened again next week with the expected return of hot Santa Ana winds. Fire-fighters near Sugarloaf burned piles of dead trees and dry brush. “With this inclement weather, they feel they can burn that stuff safely, which will provide increased fire safety for communities later on this week when the wind and weather conditions are expected to change,” said US Forest Service spokeswoman Anne Westling. In San Diego County, the 281,000-acre Cedar Fire – the largest individual blaze in California history – was 90 per cent contained today after burning for 6 days in the mountains north-east of San Diego. In all, five fires were not yet fully contained yet today in three California counties. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who toured a relief centre in Claremont yesterday, said he was unsure if the nation had ever seen such destructive wildfires.
The major blazes alone have cost more than $50 million to fight so far. The secretary also defended a Bush administration decision not to declare Southern California forests an emergency tree-removal zone before the current fires erupted into one of the state's worst disasters.
3 November 2003 – Exhausted fire-fighters were sent home today as remaining crews doused hotspots and watched for new ones. More than 27,000 people remained displaced from their homes, but that was well down from the 80,000 at the peak of the fires, said a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services. All fires were expected to be surrounded by tomorrow, if not by this evening, said Andrea Tuttle, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Cool, moist air smothered the remaining flames after a front moved in off the Pacific on 31 October and brought rain to some areas and snow in the mountains. “The weather continues to be healthy for us,” Tuttle said. The 91,000-acre Old Fire, the last of the blazes to threaten communities, was 83 per cent contained as it smouldered in forests atop the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles. Small plumes wafted up from charred areas as scattered fire engine crews sprayed smoky spots and utility crews restrung lines to restore power. The number of fire-fighters was nearly halved from a peak of more than 16,000 brought in last week to battle the flames that swept across more than 743,000 acres, caused more than 20 deaths and destroyed more than 3,570 homes.
Efforts were rapidly turning to preventing mudslides and flooding. “With the weather now, the race is on to get that work,” said CDF Deputy Chief Bill Schultz. San Diego County's 280,000- acre Cedar Fire was at 99 per cent contained while the 56,700-acre Paradise Fire was at 75 per cent. San Bernardino County's Grand Prix Fire was 97 per cent contained after burning more than 59,000 acres, and the nearly 64,000-acre Piru Fire in Ventura County was 80 per cent surrounded. In the San Bernardino mountains, temperatures were just above freezing as clouds and fog hung low over mountaintop valleys from Big Bear west to the Lake Arrowhead area, where hundreds of homes burned last week. Many evacuees from Big Bear began returning home yesterday, but much of the Lake Arrowhead area remained off limits.
4 November 2003 – Fire-fighters contained the biggest and deadliest of Southern California's wildfires today and turned their attention to mopping up other blazes and heading off mudslides when the rains come. San Diego County's 280,000-acre Cedar Fire was fully surrounded after cool weather and on-and- off rain helped fire-fighters. “It's a load off,” said Lora Lowes, a spokeswoman for the fire-fighting effort. Officials said four other fires were expected to be contained by the end of the day. Fire-fighters got a morale boost from a visit by President Bush, who surveyed some of the damage done by the blazes that have killed at least 22 people, destroyed about 3,600 homes and burned more than 740,000 acres of brush and timber. The next danger could be mudslides, because the fire has burned away the trees and bushes that keep soil in place on hillsides. Crews planned to begin reseeding, digging flood- control trenches and bringing in sandbags. Crews also planned to move away from the front lines to hunt for hot spots and possibly bodies that have not been counted. “They're going area by area, systematically, to the communities that burned,” Lowes said. Bush toured San Diego County's fire areas with Governor Gray Davis and Governor- elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.
More than 27,000 people were still out of their homes, down from 80,000 at the peak of the fires, said Carl DeWing, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services. Many fire-fighters had been sent home as well: There were about 6,600 on the fire lines today, down from nearly 9,000 the day before.
24 November 2003 – Coal Mine, Xiaotun, Henan Province, China
Fourteen miners are dead and nine more are missing after a gas explosion at a coal mine in China's central Henan province, state media has reported. The blast at the Sundian coal mine in Xiaotun township occurred with 57 miners underground. Thirty-four survived but at least 14 perished, said the Xinhua news agency. Five people in charge of safety and maintenance at the mine were being questioned by police.
25 November 2003 – Dynamite Factory, Kukatpally, Andhra Pradesh, India
At least seven people were killed and three injured today in an explosion at a dynamite factory in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, police said. The blast occurred at Indian Dynamite Ltd in Kukatpally, on the outskirts of the Andhra Pradesh state capital Hyderabad, said Mahender Reddy, commissioner of police. “We have recovered seven bodies. The search for more is still on. We don't yet know the reasons for the blast or how it happened,” Reddy said.
26 November 2003 – An explosion in a detonator factory run by India's Defence Ministry killed at least ten workers on Tuesday (25 November), a police commissioner said. The blast occurred at Indian Detonators Ltd in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. At least ten workers were killed when the building collapsed on them, said Mahinder Reddy, a police commissioner of the area. He said the explosion in Kukatpally, a suburb of the state capital Hyderabad, could have been caused by a short circuit. Seven bodies were immediately recovered from the debris. Police and company officials have begun investigations.