Washington Wildfires Wreaking Woe

The Sleepy Hollow fire near the north-central Washington State city of Wenatchee started in the afternoon of June 28, 2015. The cause is unknown but natural causes have been ruled out, leaving intentional or accidental human-origin causes to blame. Unseasonably high temperatures, early drought conditions, and high fuel loads have elevated fire risk in the area much earlier in the summer than normal. The fire started outside the city, but wind drove it into residential areas of this city of 33,000. Hundreds of residents were evacuated. It has burned 2950 acres and has destroyed 29 primary residences. Embers blew into the commercial business district and subsequent fires destroyed four businesses; some were large agricultural processing or storage warehouses, raising concerns about hazardous material involvement. Those areas have been secured and hazardous materials contained.

The Chelan WA County Commissioners have issued an emergency declaration of the area as a high danger area, banning all outdoor burning and the use of fireworks. Some roads are restricted to local resident and emergency use only. The evacuation center has been moved from a high school to a church.  The BNSF rail line (a major NW transportation corridor) was closed but has been re-opened.

The number of firefighting personnel involved with this fire is 336; they are primarily volunteers. They have incurred a few injuries including heat exhaustion; no injuries to the public have been reported. With limited numbers of firefighters available, four days of firefighting already, and new fires reported in the area, firefighting personnel is stretched to the limit. With the Sleepy Hollow fire 47% contained as of the evening of June 30 evening, some are being re-deployed to other emerging fire situations.

The majority of efforts have switched from response to recovery, assisting those who have lost their homes and businesses. A local footwear business is offering free shoes to all fire victims. A fruit packing business offered its facilities to a competitor whose fruit packing facility was destroyed, thereby helping the business continue operating during fruit harvest season. These responses demonstrate that even during periods of drought and wildfires, human hearts can contain bottomless wellsprings of compassion and hope.

–Submitted by Susan Kerr, WA State EDEN Delegate

 

Weather Wednesday – Tropical Depression Bill and Flooding

It’s often said in areas of drought in the southern U.S. that it takes a tropical storm to reverse the situation. This year, as we know, the Texas-Oklahoma drought was fairly well broken by a lingering storm system over Memorial Day weekend which resulted in more than 30 deaths.

BILL_qpfNow comes what is left of Tropical Storm Bill, already as of this morning, reduced to a tropical depression. Some parts of Texas into Arkansas may see 2 to 5-inches of rain in the next day. While these rain totals don’t match some from the Memorial Day storms, they are excessive and flash flooding is a possibility.

As the remnants of Bill move slowly to the northeast across the next several days the heaviest rain will eventually spread into southern Illinois and on to Indiana by late Friday night into Saturday. Here’s the latest hydrological forecast discussion.

In fact, the remnants of Bill will interact with a stalled frontal system which has caused periodic heavy rain for more than a week as it waffled up and down across Illinois and nearby states.flood map Flood warnings have been issued for several rivers in Illinois and extend into portions of the Mississippi River bordering the state. Flooding in Illinois ranges from major to minor and areas of heaviest precipitation have varied daily.

On Monday, tornado warning sirens sounded in downtown Chicago, a relatively rare occurrence. A funnel cloud was observed east of Midway Airport and another near Millenium Park which is just east of Michigan Avenue in the heart of the city. No touchdowns were reported, but some photos taken at the time show an unmistakable wall cloud.

http://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/discussions/hpcdiscussions.php?disc=qpfpfd

http://videowall.accuweather.com/detail/videos/trending-now/video/4299689121001/watch:-huge-wall-cloud-moves-over-chicago?autoStart=true

Meet a Delegate Monday: Andy Vestal

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Dr. Andy Vestal, who will have a breakout session at the EDEN Annual Meeting. 

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN? Dr. Andy Vestal

I got involved in EDEN about a month before Hurricane Katrina, in July of 2005. I was immediately led to the effort because of a six-year grant for animal disease and homeland security response and recovery. Within a month of being in this position, Hurricane Katrina hit followed by Hurricane Rita, and we realized we had a lot to do preparedness-wise. The fall of 2005 was my first visit to the EDEN Annual Meeting in Fargo, North Dakota. It was an experience for me to see the overall mission and goals of the organization: to help people help themselves.

2. Without divulging too much of your annual meeting material, can you tell us how the strike teams were formed?

After any incident an after action report is filed. After [Hurricane] Ike the report stated there was high priority to establish mission ready teams of seasoned County Extension Agents, CEA, that were deployable. The first teams were established in the Gulf Coast, where 7 million Texans live.

3. What are some of the disasters that have affected Texas over the past few years and how have you been involved?

In 2008 when Hurricane Ike hit us it was a challenge; 32,000 families lost their homes along with a large agricultural loss. Hurricane Ike, though only a category 2 hurricane, was about 450 miles wide. It pushed an 18 foot wall of water 20 miles inland, covering mostly ranchland that had about 35,000 head of cattle. We realized that within 72 hours the cattle would have saline toxicity, because all they had to drink was salt water. We deployed our strike teams to create Livestock Supply Points, LSP’s, and from September 13 to 30 we received and distributed over 125 semi-truck loads of feed and hay. By week 3, we started shipping about 15,000 head of cattle into other parts of the state.

In 2011 every geographic region of Texas had challenges with wildfires; there were over 32,000 in the state, and dozens were 50,000 acres or greater; over 3 million acres burnt. Our Livestock Supply Points and CEA strike teams were again activated to stand up 13 LSP’s. Our goal was not to put out fires, but to help landowners with displaced livestock. We received and distributed approximately 120 semi-truck loads of hay and feed. We were much better prepared, because we had about 50 County Extension Agents that were seasoned, trained, and mission ready.

4. What has been the most rewarding thing you have done in terms of disaster preparedness for your state?

The Hurricane Ike recovery, “Operation No Fences” on YouTube shows the land and livestock owners response, along with county agents and other volunteer organizations. The support we built for them was rewarding to our county extension agents because we had farmers and ranchers that had lost everything. To find that we had a mobilized team supporting them was unexpected, but extremely helpful. We estimate we saved the USDA indemnity program more than $10 million by shipping cattle out, since it saved their lives, and it costs about $600 a head to bury cattle. Also about 80% of the cattle shipped out had brands and/or ear tags; we had brand inspectors to help identify the rightful owners. Through these efforts we were able to maintain the strong fabric of the local agricultural economy in that area.

5. Have you worked on any multi-state projects through EDEN and what have those been?

I have had two major multi-state projects through EDEN. Both were funded by the Department of Homeland Security, DHS, at Texas A&M. The goal of the first was to strengthen crisis communications. We adopted the Association for Communication Excellence, ACE, group’s curriculum called “Media Relations Made Easy.” We incorporated an animal disease issue scenario into the training and partnered with multiple land grant universities to host a series of six workshops using that curriculum. We had about 180 Ag communicators from 29 states and Canada attend.

The second project was partnering with 22 state veterinarians and extension programs to test and establish an animal health network in those states. This program is still up and running. The mission of that project was to improve upon the state veterinarian’s capability to have early detection and rapid response to animal diseases, especially in smaller, hobby farms.

6. What do you think is the most important thing EDEN delegates can do to help the citizens in their states?

Learn from other state’s experiences. There’s a lot of different material and experiences that states can learn from each other. When we learn from each other we may reinvent something we learned from Washington State to fit our state, but the fact that we have guidance is extremely valuable.

If you haven’t yet registered for 2014 EDEN Annual Meeting, follow this link to register.