EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

A wildfire can burn more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s more than twice as hot as the surface of Venus. Its flames can reach more than 50 meters high.

Wildfires can get so big that they create their own weather systems, with hurricane force winds. On the ground, the average wildfire moves twice as fast as the average person can run.

How do wildland firefighters tame such an inferno?

Afternoon Fishing Restrictions Lifted In Oregon

Sep 1, 2015

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife rolled back afternoon fishing restrictions Tuesday for most rivers around the state.

Since mid-July, fishing for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and trout has been prohibited after 2 p.m.

Low water levels and warmer-than-average temperatures this summer were hard on fish species in the region.

This is the second story in our two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing the way the Northwest looks to reservoirs to meet its water needs. Read part one here.

This summer’s hot, dry weather has left Northwest apple growers hurting for water to irrigate their orchards. It’s a hint at what’s predicted as the climate continues to warm.

Marine life is struggling to survive in the oxygen-starved waters of Hood Canal.

It’s common during the summer for fish to struggle for oxygen in this long, deep inlet of Puget Sound. But the lack of oxygen is at record lows, researchers say, forcing fish up out of the depths, gasping for air.

Hundreds of rockfish hovered in shallow water, listlessly crowded together to access the limited oxygen closest to the surface. Wolf eels, normally reclusive creatures, came out of their dens, “panting” so as to move water over their gills and avoid suffocating.

The Washington State Department of Ecology has just released its draft environmental review of two proposed oil terminals on the Washington coast. A third proposed terminal has not yet begun the environmental review process.

The terminals could be built in Grays Harbor, near Aberdeen, doubling current vessel and train traffic levels there.

The state's review found that traffic delays at railroad crossings in the nearby communities of Hoquiam and Aberdeen would increase significantly.

Obama's Alaska Trip Prompts Arctic Drilling Protest

Aug 31, 2015

People protesting oil drilling in the Arctic marched through downtown Portland Monday, and held a “die-in.” They're trying to send President Obama a message as he travels to Alaska this week.

Several dozen protesters carried placards, chanted and made their way to the federal building downtown, where some lay down for a “die-in.”

They said drilling in the Arctic will wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystem, and could bring the world closer to the 2 degree Celsius temperature increase scientists are warning about.

Rebuilding A Forest After The Burn

Aug 31, 2015

The Canyon Creek Complex has left big swaths of Malheur National Forest with charcoal stumps and ashen hillsides. When the first big rain of the year comes through, much of that ash will end up clogging streams and culverts if measures are not taken now to shore up vulnerable hillsides.

An energy company wants to build a transfer terminal in Longview, Washington that could handle liquefied petroleum gas and crude oil, according to documents reviewed Friday by OPB.

The project is an expansion on an already proposed oil refinery for Longview.

The documents were obtained by Columbia River Keeper through a public records request. They describe an “off-load and transfer terminal” at the Port of Longview that could handle up to two unit trains per day.

USFS Spends $10M Per Day On Wildfires In Oregon

Aug 28, 2015

Around the region, thick smoke has become commonplace as homes and other structures have been destroyed.

Fire managers said Friday they expect this fire season to last until through September and well into October.

Lawmakers are hoping a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate could help with mounting costs. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo (R) are working with other western senators to change the way wildfire suppression gets funded.

The bill would pay for wildfires out of a disaster account, similar to clean up from hurricanes and tornadoes.

The proposed site of the reservoir is widely used by local outdoors recreationists. On a hot sunny morning, Jeff Becker and her horse, Vinnie, enjoyed a trail ride in a place that could one day be under water.

“I can see the point of maybe making a reservoir if it will help the situation with the water. It’s probably going to get drier in the future years, not wetter,” Becker said, adding that the DNR will eventually log the land anyway. “That may be a very good use for that land once all the trees come down.”

What's The Deal With Dam Removals?

Aug 27, 2015

In the past decade, several high-profile dam removals have happened in the Northwest. The Marmot Dam on the Sandy River in Oregon was demolished in 2007. Three dams along the main stem of Oregon’s Rogue River came down between 2008 and 2010.

Q&A: The Wildfire-Climate-Change Connection

Aug 26, 2015

Wildfire season is in full swing, with more acres burned so far than in an average year.

Here in the Northwest, we’ve been hearing daily about all the wildfires burning. Many more communities are dealing with the smoke blowing in from those fires.

Scientists are studying the connections between climate change, drought and wildfire. And policymakers and fire managers are trying to keep pace with new demands on resources as firefighting costs continue to rise. Here are some of the big questions — and answers — about the connection between climate change and wildfires.

Killing Seabirds To Save Salmon On The Columbia

Aug 26, 2015

It's after 10 p.m. and I'm on a boat at the mouth of the Columbia River.

We're circling around East Sand Island, where thousands of seabirds are nesting in total darkness. I'm pretty sure the captain, Rob Gudgell, thinks I'm nuts.

"Why did you want to come out at night?" he asks.

Eight fires are burning more than 4,000 acres in Washington’s North Cascades. The largest of the fires has damaged transmission lines, leading Seattle City Light to shut down power generation at three dams on the Skagit River.

The utility is losing $100,000 in revenue each day that the lines are down. Conditions have remained unsafe for repair crews to work on the power lines.

Q: Have the fires damaged the dams?

Bonnie Milligan has a big voice.

And in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival musical, Head Over Heels, she does a lot of belting. That’s the loud, powerful, high singing associated with performers like Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.

The problem is, it’s been a smoky summer in the Pacific Northwest. Wildfires have had communities from Eastern Washington to Portland to Northern California gasping through days and weeks of poor air quality.

And belting and smoke don’t mix.

Air quality is classified as good Monday morning and visibility improved in cities along Interstate 84 and throughout the Willamette Valley after smoke from numerous fires funneled down the Columbia River Gorge.

The smoke moved in quickly. Satellite imagery from MODIS shows that it took about 24 hours for Oregon and Washington to be completely covered.

For Fire Crews in Chelan, Safety Is Top Priority

Aug 23, 2015

Fire crews Saturday had an easier time with wind in North Central Washington. That meant it was easier to fight the Chelan Complex. It also meant the area had unhealthy levels of smoke.

Smoke continued to rise from a smoldering fire a few feet away from a mobile home on Lake Chelan. Helicopters dipped water from the lake and dumped it onto hot spots. The area is still under a mandatory evacuation order. The fire, called First Creek, is two percent contained.

The Canyon Creek Complex near John Day is still growing, but shelters are closing up and people are heading home after days away.

By Sunday morning, the blaze had grown to more than 69,000 acres. Fire officials say a lot of that was strategic – they’re burning land with controlled blazes to funnel the fire into an area that was burned three years ago.

The Grant County Sheriff’s Office says 39 homes have been destroyed in the fire so far.

Still, many evacuation alerts have been downgraded and people are returning to their homes after days away.

The Oregon Transportation Commission adopted new rules Friday requiring railroads to increase the amount of information they share with state officials. Months in the making, the rules come in response to concerns over the state’s readiness for oil train spills and fires.

Emergency responders will now get immediate notification from railroads for incidents involving hazardous materials. Those notifications include information about the type, quantity and placement of any materials on the train.

More Than 875K Acres Burning Across The Northwest

Aug 21, 2015

President Obama declared a state of emergency Friday for Washington state, where several wildfires are burning uncontained.

More than 875,000 acres are now burning across the Pacific Northwest, as more than 9,200 firefighters and support personnel are working to protect homes and save lives.

Currently, the top fire in the region is the Okanogan Complex, burning in north central Washington. Fire officials said mandatory evacuations are in place for the town of Tonasket, where about 1,000 people live.

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