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Wednesday, 21 August 2013 17:21

Feds running out of money to fight wildfires

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) - Running out of money to fight wildfires at the peak of the season, the U.S. Forest Service is diverting $600 million from timber, recreation and other areas to fill the gap.

The nation's top wildfire-fighting agency was down to $50 million after spending $967 million so far this year, Forest Service spokesman Larry Chambers said Wednesday in an email.

Wildfire spending by other federal agencies takes the total to $1.2 billion.

Chambers says the $50 million the Forest Service has left is typically enough to pay for just a few days of fighting fires when the nation is at its top wildfire preparedness level, which went into effect Tuesday.

There are 51 large uncontained fires burning across the nation, making it tough to meet demands for fire crews and equipment.

Published in National News

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Evacuating residents say the smoke is unbearable and Idaho officials say high winds are forecast again today in the area of a wind-driven wildfire near Sun valley that's burning its way through sage and pine trees.

Sheriff's deputies have expanded evacuation orders to 1,600 homes for the 100-square-mile Beaver Creek Fire included residences in drainages and foothills west of the towns of Hailey and extending to north of Ketchum in central Idaho.

More than 600 state and federal firefighters were working to get the blaze under control and protect property in the affluent resort region that's a second home to celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. Another 1,000 firefighters will join the battle.

Managers at the Sun Valley Ski Resort turned on water cannons that are normally used for wintertime snowmaking, in case sparks from the fire threaten mountaintop lodges

Published in National News
Friday, 09 August 2013 02:15

California wildfire destroys 26 homes

   BEAUMONT, Calif. (AP) — A rapidly spreading wildfire chewed through a rugged Southern California mountain range on Thursday, destroying more than two dozen homes, threatening more than 500 other residences and forcing some 1,800 people to flee.

   Six people were injured, while more than 1,400 firefighters and nine helicopters battled the flames as they pushed eastward along the San Jacinto Mountains, a desert range 90 miles east of Los Angeles, Cal Fire Riverside Chief John R. Hawkins said.

   A man near the origin of the fire suffered serious burns, Hawkins said. Five firefighters were also injured, including two who suffered heat exhaustion. Officials did not have details to release on the other three.

   After surveying badly charred areas, many of which burned amid the fire's out-of-control growth in the hours after it broke out, officials said 26 homes and one commercial building were destroyed and two other structures were damaged.

   Hawkins said the wind-fed fire that sparked at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday is one of the "most rapidly spreading, dangerous fires that I've seen" in his 50 years as a firefighter.

   The fire was estimated at nearly 22 square miles Thursday, with 20 percent containment, but it was growing, causing concern that the direction could change in the area, which is known as a wind tunnel.

   "The conditions at the front right now are very dangerous," Hawkins said.

   Authorities still have not determined what caused the fire.

   Evacuation orders were issued in five towns. Flames were marching toward the hardscrabble town of Cabazon, where hundreds scrambled to leave in the pre-dawn hours Thursday as the mountain ridge behind their homes glowed red.

   Many returned after sunrise to pack up more belongings and watch the flickering line of fire snaking along the brown, scrubby mountains.

   Linda Walls, 62, sat with her family in lawn chairs and watched fire crews scrambling to douse the flames marching toward her modest home less than a quarter mile away. An American flag flapped in the gusty wind that kicked up the fire. She wiped her brow, feeling the scorching heat.

   Gray and pink-tinted clouds billowed across the otherwise crystal blue sky. Neighbors could be heard coughing as they filled the beds of pickup trucks with motocross bikes, boxes of clothing, toys and packaged food.

   "It seems to be taking off now," she said as sirens whirred by. "All you see are the firemen inside the blaze."

   At the end of her street, a group of ostriches paced in their cages as the hill above them burned. A firefighter rushing by said they would do what they can to protect them. Nearby another pen was filled with goats.

   In the nearby town of Banning, Lili Arroyo, 83, left with only her pet cockatiel, Tootsie, in its cage and a bag of important papers from her home, which was rebuilt after being destroyed in a 2006 wildfire.

   "The smoke was so bad you couldn't see," said Arroyo, who lives in the town of Banning. "There were embers and ash coming down all over the sky. The smoke was really thick. I was starting not to be able to breathe."

   Evacuation orders covered an RV resort called the Silent Valley Club, the rural communities of Poppet Flats, Twin Pines, Edna Valley and Vista Grande, portions of the city of Cabazon along Interstate 10, and a camping area known as Black Mountain.

   A veteran of many evacuations, Dana Wright, 43, wiped away a tear as she entered a shelter at a Beaumont school and went with her family to watch TV news. She had no idea whether her Poppet Flats home of 11 years had survived. Friends said a nearby home had burned.

   She and her husband hoped to find a way back up into the mountains. "I just want to look to see if we have a house," she said.

   Most of Southern California's severe wildfires are associated with Santa Ana winds caused by high pressure over the West that sends a clockwise flow of air rushing down into the region.

   This week's fire, however, was being fanned by a counter-clockwise flow around a low pressure area over northwest California.

   It was the second major wildfire in the San Jacinto Mountains this summer. A blaze that erupted in mid-July spread over 43 square miles on peaks above Palm Springs, burned seven homes and forced 6,000 people out of Idyllwild and neighboring towns.

   The latest fire also burned in the footprint of the notorious Esperanza Fire, a 2006, wind-driven inferno that overran a U.S. Forest Service engine crew. All five crew members died. A man was convicted of setting the fire and sentenced to death.

   After touring the area, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who lives in Riverside County, said 165,000 acres have burned in California this year and climate change is setting conditions for more disastrous blazes, while budget cuts are limiting resources to fight them.

   "Unless we take action, things are only going to get worse," she said.

   A different blaze, a 60-acre wildfire, near Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains forced evacuations of about 75 homes in several mountain communities Thursday afternoon.

   The fire broke out around noon, and firefighters struggled to beat back flames in steep terrain. Homes along several winding mountain roads were being evacuated.

   Wrightwood is a mountain community popular with skiers located about 40 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

 

___

 

Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Published in National News

YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) - Gusty, hot winds blew an Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix, overtaking and killing 19 members of an elite fire crew in the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.

   The "hotshot" firefighters were forced to deploy their fire shelters - tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat - when they were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, state forestry spokesman Art Morrison told The Associated Press.

   The flames lit up the night sky in the forest above the town, and smoke from the blaze could be smelled for miles.

   The fire started Friday and spread to 2,000 acres on Sunday amid triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions. Officials ordered the evacuations of 50 homes in several communities, and later Sunday afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office expanded the order to include more residents in Yarnell, a town of about 700 residents about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.

   Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said that the 19 firefighters were a part of the city's fire department. The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.  

   Fraijo said in a news conference that the department is grieving the loss of so many of its members.

   "By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly," he said.

   He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when "something drastic" occurred.

   "One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective - kinda looks like a foil type- fire-resistant material - with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it," Fraijo said.

   "Under certain conditions there's usually only sometimes a 50 percent chance that they survive," he said. "It's an extreme measure that's taken under the absolute worst conditions."

   The National Fire Protection Association had previously listed the deadliest wildland fire involving firefighters as the 1994 Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., which killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames.

   Morrison said several homes in the community of Glenisle burned on Sunday. He said no other injuries or deaths have been reported from that area.

   About 200 firefighters are fighting the wildfire, which has also forced the closure of parts of state Route 89. An additional 130 firefighters and more water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft are on their way.

   Federal help was also being called into to fight the fire, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said.

   Prescott, which is more than 30 miles northeast of Yarnell, is one of the only cities in the United States that has a hot shot fire crew, Fraijo said. The unit was established in 2002, and the city also has 75 suppression team members.

   The Red Cross has opened a shelter at Yavapai College in Prescott, the sheriff's office said.

   U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, whose district includes Yarnell, shot off a series of tweets Sunday night sending his condolences to those affected. He said his office will remain in contact with emergency responders and would offer help to those who needed it.

   Other high profile Arizonans expressed their shock on Twitter, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who called it "absolutely devastating news." U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted that he was "sick with the news."

   

 
Published in National News

DEL NORTE, Colo. (AP) — A wildfire fueled by wind and dead trees has brought dread to the 400 evacuated residents of a popular mountain tourist enclave in Colorado.

Fire crews with tankers and hoses at the ready stood guard in hopes of saving South Fork. The unpredictable fire is making that an uncertain prospect.

Dozens of fire crews were positioned around neighborhoods in the town, working to remove propane tanks and wood piles that could help ignite homes.

Authorities said the 47-square-mile fire was a few miles southwest of town last night and had been advancing at a rate of about a mile an hour.

Meantime, a third fire sparked to the West, raising concerns it would move toward the town of Creede, which has about 300 residents.

And to the east, in south-central Colorado, nine structures and four outbuildings have been lost in a wildfire that forced the evacuation of about two dozen residents and more than 170 Boy Scouts since Wednesday.

Published in National News

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