After burning for months, Montana looks like a fiery apocalypse.

Sep 7, 2017 by

Briefly

Stuff that matters


slow burn

Governor Steve Bullock declared a statewide fire disaster for the third time on Saturday and called this year’s fire season “very challenging and unprecedented.”

Wildfires have burned more than half a million acres in the state since July. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality warned of “unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality in western Montana and advised residents to avoid prolonged outdoor exposure.

Over Labor Day weekend in Glacier National Park, visitors evacuated a popular area and a park building went up in flames.

Take a look at other fiery scenes from around the state:

The beginning of September is usually when fire season begins to wrap up. But the wind, hot temperatures, and dry conditions in Montana show little sign of letting up — and neither do the flames.


Honey, I shrunk the EPA

Trump promised ‘tremendous cutting’ at the EPA. We’re beginning to see what that looks like.

Nearly 400 employees have left the agency since Aug. 31, largely due to buyouts. The EPA is on course to become the smallest it’s been since Reagan was president in 1988.

And it’s not just people: The phrase “climate change” has been singled out and eliminated in grant applications, according to Washington Post interviews with employees. That effort is led by past Trump campaign aide John Konkus, who reportedly calls it the “double c word.”

Konkus, an EPA public affairs officer, has been given the responsibility of vetting the hundreds of millions in grants annually awarded by the agency to universities and nonprofits. Former EPA officials told the Washington Post that they had never heard of a similar arrangement. Konkus has already canceled $2 million in grants. Big job for a guy with little experience in environmental policy.


Irma-geddon

Hurricane Irma has reached American soil.

The storm, which is lashing Puerto Rico today, is the strongest ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Irma is packing sustained winds of 185 mph and is likely to skirt close by the northern shore of Puerto Rico later in the day. Irma has notched wind speeds over a single 24-hour period that are stronger than any other hurricane in history.

Puerto Rico is especially ill-equipped to deal with the expected impact from Irma. The local power company estimates that it could take up to six months to restore electricity to the entire island if it’s hit. More than 2.6 million people live in the San Juan-metro area, and official shelters can accommodate just 62,000. The storm, which could cost Puerto Rico billions, is an unwanted burden for the commonwealth’s government, already $120 billion in debt.

Irma also hit the U.S. Virgin Islands hard on Wednesday — along with many other parts of the northern Caribbean. The hurricane is expected to make landfall in the mainland United States in a few days — the second potentially catastrophic storm to do so in less than two weeks.


Inferno season

Wildfires are raging across California, too.

There are 23 big fires in the state, reports the Sacramento Bee, from the 90,000 acre Eclipse Complex in the north to the La Tuna fire in the south, the biggest in the history of Los Angeles.

Of course, California’s fires are part of a larger trend across the American West. Swaths of Montana resemble a fiery apocalypse, and it’s raining ash under a brown sky in Seattle. Climate change has cranked up the dial on summer heat, drought, and tree death. Combine all this with years of fuel buildup from fire suppression, and you create bigger and more frequent fires.

Because we put out wildfires (or try to), there’s lots of wood on the ground, and there are more trees growing close together. Hot, dry weather leaves a lot of those trees dead and parched. Add a spark, and all you need is a marshmallow the size of the White House.


R(ain)ing of Fire

Rain in Seattle is normal. Raining ash, however, is not.

Fires have been raging throughout the West all summer. But this morning, Seattleites awakened to a drizzle of ashes and smoky sky — which is new.

The Seattle Times reports that there are currently five major fires in frightening progress across the state. On Monday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency in response to the increased danger of wildfires, citing drier and hotter than usual air conditions. He warned that the Washington National Guard and State Guard might be called upon for further aid in putting out the flames because of currently strained resources.

If it feels like everything has been on fire lately, that’s because it’s true. Los Angeles is just now recovering from a massive wildfire, dozens burned throughout Oregon, and Montana declared a statewide fire disaster. Even Seattleites are probably feeling some major déjà vu — only a few weeks ago, Canadian wildfires buried the city under a layer of smoke for days.

We can expect smoky skies over Grist HQ for the next few days.


troubled waters

Yikes, 13 of Houston’s Superfund sites flooded during Harvey.

An AP reporter visited seven sites on Thursday, and found that all were underwater.

One site, the Highlands Acid Pit, Jason Dearen writes, was barely visible above the churning San Jacinto River, and “the air smelled bitter.” Nearby, “a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel.” At the San Jacinto River Waste Pits — which are full of dioxins and other hazardous substances — “the flow from the raging river washing over the toxic site was so intense it damaged an adjacent section of the Interstate 10 bridge.”

The EPA later confirmed that, using satellite imagery to check a total of 41 Superfund sites, 13 had flooded. Employees had begun inspections on Monday for damage and possible contamination, but have yet to release any findings. The agency also, bizarrely, put out a statement calling the AP’s story “incredibly misleading” and “inaccurate” — without contradicting any of its facts.

An Obama-era EPA report found Superfund sites are threatened by stronger storms, flooding, and sea-level rise. New EPA director Scott Pruitt has said he wants to double down on Superfund cleanup efforts — and that’s despite Trump’s “skinny budget” proposing significant cuts to the remediation program.

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