LOS ANGELES • Nearly 8,000 residents of Riverside County in Southern California were forced to evacuate their homes last Saturday as a wildfire spread uncontained across more than 1,600ha, the county fire department said.
The fire, dubbed the Apple Fire by local firefighters, was reported last Friday in Cherry Valley, a community about 120km east of Los Angeles, and had destroyed at least one family home as of Saturday evening. Photographs shared by the Riverside County fire department on Twitter on Saturday showed thick plumes of smoke filling the sky over the mountainous region in the United States. Residents of 2,586 homes, totalling around 7,800 people, had been told to evacuate, the department said.
The fire had grown from 283ha last Friday night to nearly 1,700ha the next night and was 0 per cent contained, the authorities said.
Another wildfire burning near the Arizona-Utah state line had spread across 4,519ha, the authorities said on Saturday, adding that fire behaviour would be extreme over the weekend due to dry fuel, high heat and erratic winds.
The blaze, dubbed the Pine Hollow Fire, was caused by lightning on Wednesday night and then was fuelled by dry grass, brush and woodland, InciWeb, an interstate incident information system, reported on its official website, saying that complex terrain and bad weather were hampering efforts to contain the blaze. Some 208 firefighters are battling the blaze, the report said, with no reports so far of damage or injuries. The fire was also 0 per cent contained.
Meanwhile, the number of forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon last month rose 28 per cent from July last year, satellite data showed on Saturday, fuelling fears that the world’s biggest rainforest will again be devastated by fires this year.
Brazil’s national space agency INPE identified 6,803 fires in the Amazon region in July, up from 5,318 the year before. The figure is all the more troubling given that 2019 was already a devastating year for fires in the Amazon, triggering a global outcry. That has put pressure on Brazil, which holds around 60 per cent of the Amazon, to do more to protect the massive forest, seen as vital to containing the impact of climate change.
The fires are largely set to clear land illegally for farming, ranching and mining. Activists accuse Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change sceptic, of encouraging the deforestation with calls to open up the rainforest to agriculture and industry.
Last Thursday alone, satellites detected 1,007 fires in the Amazon, INPE said. That was the worst single day for fires in the month of July since 2005, said environmental group Greenpeace.
Mr Bolsonaro has deployed the army to fight the fires, but activists say that does not go far enough to address the causes of the problem.
Fires increased 77 per cent on indigenous lands and 50 per cent in protected nature reserves from July last year, Greenpeace said, showing how illegal activities are increasingly encroaching on those areas.
The fire season in the region typically runs from around June to October. Exacerbating the situation this year, experts say, is the resulting smoke that risks causing a spike in respiratory emergencies in a region already hit hard by Covid-19.
INPE data had already showed it was a record-breaking July for fires in the Brazilian Pantanal, the largest tropical wetlands in the world. There were 1,684 fires there last month, more than triple the number in July last year.
REUTERS, XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE