Ukraine pins hopes on weather to beat deadly forest fires
More than 1,200 firefighters, rescue workers and National Guard are fighting fires in three locations
Smolyanynove (Ukraine) (AFP) – Forest fires in eastern Ukraine that have killed five people and left dozens homeless are being brought under control by firefighters, officials said on Wednesday.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the situation was improving and he had seen no new fires during a fly-over with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior officials.
The blaze began on Monday in Lugansk region and engulfed Smolyanynove, a village just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the front line of Ukraine’s war with Russia-backed separatists.
Pine trees were still smouldering on Wednesday near the village which was dotted with the remains of charred houses.
More than 1,200 firefighters, rescue workers and National Guard are fighting blazes in three locations, Avakov said.
Firefighting planes were also dispatched despite fears that Russian-backed separatists could shoot them down.
More than 100 homes have been destroyed entirely in two villages, with dozens more damaged, according to the ministry.
An AFP correspondent in Smolyanynove saw animal corpses and scorched buildings with their window panes melted and gardens burned.
The village was enveloped in thick smoke with flames still visible in nearby forests on Wednesday.
– ‘No threat’ –
„I am 70 years old and I have nothing left,” said Viktor, a villager whose house completely burned down.
Some residents were barefoot because they had fled their homes so quickly.
„I have never seen that in my life,” said Vasyl, a rescuer, dousing water over a smouldering fire in the charred remains of a house.
Avakov said the wind had died down since Tuesday, making it easier to battle the blaze.
„We flew over the site and we did not see any additional fires… we do not see a threat,” he said.
Twenty people have been hospitalised, the Attorney General’s office has said, and some elderly residents’ children have been evacuated from the region, according to governor Sergiy Gaidai.
The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that six people had died as a result of the fires, but revised the death toll down to five.
An official told AFP on condition of anonymity that there was „confusion” over the numbers and that the figure could rise with some people unaccounted for.
– ‘Extreme temperatures’ –
Some local residents believe the fire was started deliberately to hide illegal logging in the area.
„Everyone believes it was an arson,” 37-year-old local resident Oleksandr said.
The police said it was considering three possible causes, including extreme weather conditions, careless handling of fire, and deliberate arson.
Ukraine has been hit by a heatwave in recent days — including in the east of the country — which is believed to have contributed to the spread of the fire.
Scientific models predict that changes in climate will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, like catastrophic fires or devastating hurricanes.
„When temperatures rise to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), this is extreme temperature,” Anatoliy Prokopenko, a deputy head at the Ukrainian Hydrometeorological Centre, told AFP.
Even if the fire was started on purpose, „the weather conditions contributed to the spread of fire,” he said.
Earlier this year, a huge fire engulfed the Chernobyl exclusion zone, devastating lush forests at the scene of the world’s worst nuclear accident and dealing a major blow to its ecosystem.
The Florida Department of Health (DOH) confirmed that one person was infected by a brain-eating amoeba in the Tampa area, just before the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The unidentified individual contracted naegleria fowleri, which is a single-cell amoeba that can produce a rare but often fatal infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), according to the department.
The DOH reported on July 3 that the case was in Hillsborough County but did not outline exactly where the infection was contracted or the patient’s current condition.
In an interview with AccuWeather, Dr. David Kaufman, professor and chair at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in the Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology, revealed what it’s like to contract this brain infection and the physical impacts it leaves behind if one lives.
Only four people out of the 145 known infected individuals in the United States from 1962 to 2018 have survived, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
„Survival is rare,” Kaufman said.
|Cyst of naegleria fowleri in culture. (Image via the Center for Disease Control)|
„A brain infection due to this amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) is quite rare. It invades the brain usually by nasal absorption of warm to hotter lake or occasionally poorly chlorinated swimming pool water that is contaminated,” Kaufman said.
There have been 37 cases of naegleria fowleri in Florida since 1962, according to the Department of Health. But between 2009 and 2018, only 34 infections were reported in the entire United States. Of those cases, 30 people were infected when spending time in recreational bodies of water, three were infected after performing nasal irrigation with contaminated tap water, and another person was infected by contaminated tap water used on a backyard slip-n-slide, the CDC said.
It is also possible to contract naegleria fowleri in swimming pools that are not properly chlorinated or contaminated neti pots. Officials emphasize that a person can’t contract naegleria fowleri from drinking contaminated water since it’s only contracted through the nose.
While infection rates are low, the DOH issued a warning to residents of Hillsborough County on late last week, given the potentially deadly consequences of infection.
Health officials urged locals to avoid nasal contact with water from taps and other sources, including bodies of open water such as lakes, rivers, ponds and canals. Those locations are where infections are more likely in the warmer summer months of July, August and September.
The amoeba enters through the nasal passages, and according to Kaufman, it can invade the brain through infection of the olfactory nerve, which is the nerve that provides the sense of smell. It can also enter the brain by invasion through the bones that make up the facial sinuses. The amoeba cannot be passed from person to person.
„Symptoms can emerge within 24 hours although it may take a few days for issues to emerge,” Kaufman said.
Significant headache associated with stiff neck and fever can be early signs, Kaufman reports. The development of a seizure, face, arm or leg weakness or loss of speech can all be symptoms as well.
„If the brain infection becomes overwhelming, anti-amoeba medication many times are ineffective. The exact time this infection becomes untreatable can vary depending on a number of factors,” Kaufman said.
As with anything, Kaufman said the sooner treatment occurs the better.
The neurological residual from this sort of infection can vary greatly from very minor issues such as periodic mild headache to extreme issues such as uncontrollable seizures, paralysis, blindness, a chronic vegetative state or a continual coma, according to Kaufman.
Kaufman stresses it is an extremely rare infectious disease, especially in cooler lake waters in northern locations like Michigan.
„In areas such as hot springs or certain lakes in places like Florida, it is also quite rare but can occur. For prevention, logical preventative measures could include avoiding exposure of water to the nasal passages,” Kaufman said.
The CDC says naegleria fowleri is a „heat-loving organism” and thrives best at temperatures up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
|Tubers float on a river Wednesday, May 20, 2020 as parks reopen. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)|
Anyone who has symptoms should seek medical attention immediately, especially if the onset of symptoms comes after swimming in warm freshwater.
„If after swimming in a warm to hot lake, or even if you have not done this, if there is a significant unrelenting, very painful headache especially associated with a stiff neck or fever or if a new neurological issue develops such as a newly developed seizure disorder, arm, face or leg weakness or loss of speech, consider rapid access to an emergency room,” Kaufman said.
These complaints can be due to any progressive neurological issue in addition to a brain infection, according to Kaufman.
The DOH has urged people who experience those symptoms to „seek medical attention right away, as the disease progresses rapidly”.
According to CBS News, the four people known to have survived an infection caught it at its earliest stages.
„Remember, this disease is rare and effective prevention strategies can allow for a safe and relaxing summer swim season,” the DOH said.
Keep checking back on AccuWeather.com and stay tuned to the AccuWeather Network on DirecTV, Frontier and Verizon Fios.
Parts of Eastern North Carolina and the Outer Banks could see as much as 4 inches of rain in the coming days as a tropical storm potentially takes shape off the coast, according to the National Weather Service.
Forecasters say a tropical storm “is likely to form within the next day or so.”
The weather system moved over the southeastern United States from the Gulf of Mexico over the past couple of days and is expected to strengthen as it heads out over the Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Hurricane Center.
If the storm does continue to build, it will be named Tropical Storm Fay. The Hurricane Center gives the system a 70% chance of developing into a named storm by Friday morning.
The low-pressure system is expected to move just offshore of the Outer Banks on Thursday and then turn north-northeast along the East Coast, the Hurricane Center forecasts.
“Regardless of development, the low is expected to produce locally heavy rainfall that could cause some flash flooding across portions of eastern North Carolina, the coastal mid-Atlantic, and southern New England during the next few days,” forecasters said Wednesday.
People along the Outer Banks can expect gusty winds and heavy rain Thursday.
Thunderstorms in eastern North Carolina and along the Outer Banks on Wednesday could dump up to an inch or 2 of rain per hour, according to the National Weather Service in Morehead City.
The storm system already dropped almost 2 inches of rain between Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina, the National Weather Service said.
The United States has experienced 10 extreme weather events so far this year that each caused at least $1 billion in damages, according to new figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This makes 2020 the sixth consecutive year with at least 10 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, a new record, NOAA officials said. The latest assessment demonstrates the extensive economic and societal impact of — and the country’s vulnerability to — extreme weather events, which in some cases are expected to become either more frequent or more intense because of climate change.
The busy first half of 2020 also puts it on pace to rival 2017, which had 16 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, and holds the record for the most such events in a year. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, 2020 is currently tied with 2011 and 2016 for the most billion-dollar disasters in the first six months of the year.
All of 2020’s billion-dollar disasters through the end of June were due to severe storms, which NOAA said affected more than 30 states. The most destructive so far was the outbreak of more than 140 tornadoes from Texas to Maryland on April 12 and 13 that resulted in an estimated $3 billion in damages and caused 35 deaths.
Hail storms and severe weather across Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri on April 7 and 8 resulted in an estimated $2.6 billion in damages but no fatalities, according to NOAA. And rounding out the top three was an outbreak of severe weather across several Midwest and Ohio Valley states in late March, where high winds, hail and two dozen reported tornadoes led to an estimated $2.4 billion in losses.
So far, the most destructive weather and climate events of the first half of 2020 have caused a total of 80 deaths and nearly $18 billion in damages.
NOAA has tracked the economic and societal impact of weather and climate events in the U.S. since 1980. Over those four decades, there have been 273 disasters where overall damages were at least $1 billion, with the total cost exceeding $1.79 trillion.
And the economic risk will likely remain high in the future, as global warming causes more widespread drought, more severe wildfires and fuels more intense storms and hurricanes.
Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at the National Centers for Environmental Information, said it’s uncommon that 2020’s billion-dollar disasters to date are all from severe storms, but he added that these types of weather events tend to cluster at certain times of the year.
“It is a bit unusual that we did not have any billion-dollar winter storm or flooding events during the first half of the year,” Smith said in an email. “However, the months March to June are when the U.S. experiences the majority of the severe storm events (tornadoes, hail and high wind damage) just like we have so far in 2020.”
The wildfire season in the western U.S. and the Atlantic hurricane season are about to ramp up in the coming months. NOAA previously predicted that 2020 would see a busier-than-normal hurricane season. The agency’s projections included a 70 percent chance of 13 to 19 named storms with winds of 39 miles per hour or higher. Of those, six to 10 could become hurricanes, including three to six “major” hurricanes that reach Category 3 or higher.
“We have had a preview of the hurricane potential given the ongoing record number of named storms so early in the 2020 hurricane season,” Smith said.
And though the first half of 2020 is at near-record pace for billion-dollar disasters in the country, Smith said he hopes the next six months are more subdued.
“We hope the fall months of 2020 do not mirror the 2017 and 2018 hurricane and western wildfire seasons,” he said. “During 2017 and 2018 the U.S. experienced historically damaging and costly hurricane and wildfire seasons.”