Taking too long? Close loading screen.
Connect with us


Amid devastating US fires, experts urge fire prevention rethink



It is the fuel – the dry grass, the crispy leaves, the parched shrubbery and the dead trees caused by climate change’s shortened rainy season – that is making the 2020 fire season one of the worst in US history.

Some 3.4 million hectares (8.3 million acres) were burned in Washington state, Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming by mid-October. In 2019, about half as much territory was burned in the western United States.

The fires raging across the region were raised during the first US presidential debate between Donald Trump and the Democratic challenger Joe Biden last month.

“The forest floors are loaded up with trees, dead trees that are years old and they’re like tinder and leaves and everything else. You drop a cigarette in there the whole forest burns down. You’ve got to have forest management,” said Trump, when asked about the blazes.

The president previously alienated many in the fire community – firefighters, academics who study fire, and forestry management types – with a 2018 tweet about “proper forest management” during the deadly Camp Fire in California.

More than 62,000 hectares (153,000 acres) were burned in that blaze, 14,000 homes destroyed and 86 people were killed.

Although Trump has spoken and tweeted about forest or fuels management, his administration has not increased funding for it. Moreover, Trump’s scepticism towards climate change means his words have not been warmly received by those who work in the field.

“I am sick of [the issue] being politicised,” said Lenya Quinn Davidson, University of California Fire adviser, adding the scale of the fires showed the need to change policy towards fire management. “These wildfires have really brought attention to the need for prescribed burns.”

In this file photo from September, firefighters take a break from battling the Creek Fire [Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images]

Prescribed burns

A prescribed (or controlled) burn is an operation where firefighters enter forests and set the fuel alight in a contained, controlled burn. The result is when fire season begins, the flames have less vegetation to feed on and are less powerful.

The practice of prescribed burns has a long history among Native American communities as a tool of fire prevention. Yurok Tribe Cultural Fire Management Council President Margo Robbins told Al Jazeera the tribe has adapted its use of fire since its inception.

“Yurok cultural lifeways are fire-dependent. Some of the plants we rely on for basket-weaving materials need fire in order to reproduce. Our traditional food sources, such as deer, salmon, acorns and berries benefit from fire.”

With the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s came settlers and the Federal Government, and the Yurok and other Native Americans in California were removed from their lands.

The settlers rejected the Indigenous practice of intentional tribal burns; California outlawed it in the 1850 Act for the Governance and Protection of Indians, which also allowed Native Americans to be enslaved.

Karuk Tribe Deputy Director of Eco-cultural Revitalization Bill Tripp, whose tribal lands border Robbins’s, said the fire suppression era intensified with the passing of the Federal Weeks act of 1911, which enabled purchased land to be turned into national forests under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service.

“The Forest Service took it upon themselves to kill native Americans for burning,” he told Al Jazeera.

A slurry bomber drops retardant over the CalWood fire near Buckingham Park northwest of Boulder [Eric Lutzens/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images]

Increased political will?

Tim Ingalsbee, a former wildland USFS and NPS firefighter who now runs the FUSEE think-tank told Al Jazeera huge wildfires could be prevented if there were a more robust state and national prescribed burn strategy.

“There wouldn’t be the big catastrophic fires that burned small towns, it would not be the disaster we’re seeing today,” he said.

Robbins says the intensity of the fires this year has created the national political and bureaucratic will to do more prescribed burns in order to prevent wildfires.

“I think that we have turned a corner and the tide is changing in terms of people’s view of, of what needs to be done,” she said.

National Park Service (NPS) Communications officer Tina Boehle told Al Jazeera the NPS and the US Forest Service (USFS) have a solid fire suppression policy.

“The National Park Service fuels management programme, which includes prescribed fire, continues to be of vital importance mitigating the risk of severe wildland fire,” she said.

“We all use the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, which has three goals – restore and maintain landscapes, create fire-adapted communities and respond to wildfire.”

“That said, the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy recognizes that differences exist among partners and stakeholders on varied missions, legislation, and values to be protected,” Boehle added.

US Department of Agriculture Communication Coordinator Larry Moore, who speaks for the USFS, told Al Jazeera the USFS budget is $4.45m for the fiscal year

“About 60-70 percent of the USDA Forest Service annual accomplishments for hazardous fuels reduction are accomplished by prescribed fire,” he said.

“We will work closely with state partners to determine management needs and stewardship priorities. We will use all the tools available to us, including prescribed fire, and unplanned ignited fire (like lightning) to mitigate the risk of catastrophic fire.”

Lenya Quinn-Davidson said smart prescribed burns would save communities [Thomas Stratton/Al Jazeera]


Like in many western states in the fire zone, the environmentalist movement and the conservation movement are influential in California politics.

In the Golden State, in order to do a prescribed burn, one must obtain a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency so there is no violation of the Federal Clean Air Act, which dictates the amounts of pollutants that can be released into the air.

“There’s a lot of hurdles, and a lot of the fire community has given up,” said Inglesbee.

The fire community welcomed the recent drafting of the National Prescribed Fire Act by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which would fund fire suppression for Federal, state and local agencies that are cash strapped because of this year’s brutal fire season.

But it remains doubtful if the bill will get to the Senate floor for a vote, with COVID-19 economic relief legislation and the Supreme Court Justice nomination taking up much of the Senate’s time.

For now, Ingalsbee said people living in wildfire zones need to change their approach: “We have to re-learn how to live with fire, as the Native Americans did for millennia.”


Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Will the US succeed in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?



After a month of hostilities and two failed ceasefires, Armenia seems to be on the losing side in its decades-old conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Since September 27, Azerbaijan and Armenia have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region recognised as Azerbaijani territory but dominated by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s.

Azerbaijani forces pushed deep into the mountain enclave saying they “liquidated” hundreds of Armenian soldiers.

Turkey, Azerbaijan’s staunchest ally, pledged to send troops “if requested” by Baku, amid claims that it had allegedly dispatched pro-Ankara fighters from Syria and Libya. Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied the allegations.

Russia, Armenia’s strategic ally and main international backer, has not dispatched a single soldier, although it keeps thousands at a base in the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri, less than 400km from the front lines.

It also has not provided its advanced Krasukha-4 electronic warfare systems stationed at the Gyumri base that can deactivate Turkish and Israeli drones that Azerbaijan used with lethal efficiency.

Washington steps in

So, many in Azerbaijan were convinced that a round of peace talks in Washington, DC, on Friday, would bring about a long-awaited solution to the oldest armed conflict in the former Soviet Union.

“Perhaps, a certain breakthrough will take place in Washington considering that every day, the Azerbaijani army blows devastating blows on the enemy, exhausting it and liberating new areas,” Emil Mustafayev, a Baku-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and his Armenian counterpart Zohrab Mnatsakanyan held separate meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

After the talks, Pompeo urged both sides to “end the violence and protect civilians”.

“The secretary also stressed the importance of the sides entering substantive negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to resolve the conflict based on the Helsinki Final Act principles of the non-use or threat of force, territorial integrity, and the equal rights and self-determination of peoples,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told journalists after the meeting.

The United States, Russia and France co-chair the Minsk Group, a body that has tried – unsuccessfully – to settle the conflict that became “frozen” after the 1994 ceasefire with sporadic flare-ups and shootouts along the heavily-fortified border.

Pompeo added in a tweet that he and both foreign ministers discussed “critical steps” to halt the violence.

“Both must implement a ceasefire and return to substantive negotiations,” he said.

The truce started at 7am local time on Monday, but was immediately broken, with both sides accusing each other.

Before meeting with Pompeo, both ministers had rushed to Moscow earlier in the week to meet with Russian diplomats.

No breakthrough for Trump?

US President Donald Trump has succeeded in finding ways out of political stalemates.

The author of the Art of the Deal, a 1987 bestseller, boasted of “eliminating” North Korea’s nuclear threat and has normalised Israel’s ties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

“Let’s say that it isn’t the first time Trump is organising a diplomatic breakthrough,” Nikolay Mitrokhin, a researcher at Germany’s Bremen University, told Al Jazeera.

However, he thinks that the Nagorno-Karabakh conundrum is too far from Washington’s political grasp – and that the way out cannot be found without Moscow.

“But this is the case when he’s got nothing to offer to the sides, he’s not influencing the situation in the region. And Armenians should try not to vex Putin with these talks, otherwise he may refuse to help them,” Mitrokhin said.

In its dealings with the Southern Caucasus region, Washington has relied too much on boosting ties with Azerbaijan and neighbouring Georgia, but neglected Armenia despite the presence of a large and affluent Armenian diaspora in the US, Mitrokhin said.

Therefore, Armenia did not expect the talks to be successful at all – and many saw them as a ploy to show off Trump administrations’ peacemaking efforts just days before the November 4 presidential vote.

“It is more about Washington trying to show leadership prior to the election, and nothing is expected,” Richard Giragosian, a political analyst based in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, it is too early to write off Armenia-backed forces, some observers insist.

“Judging by the fact that Armenia is limiting the use of force and is not utilising, for example, its ballistic missile system Iskander, it does not see the situation as critical,” Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based defence analyst with the Jamestown Foundation, a US think tank, told Al Jazeera.

“Azerbaijan is, possibly, hoping that Armenia will soon ask for peace and will be inclined to cede sizeable areas. [But] Armenia is counting on full-scale diplomatic pressure on Azerbaijan,” he said.

US Armenians

Pompeo faces domestic pressure from the Armenian diaspora in the US, especially in Southern California.

US reality television star of Armenian descent Kim Kardashian said on October 10 that she would donate $1m for humanitarian efforts in the conflict zone.

The next day, at least 20,000 rallied in front of the Azerbaijani consulate in Los Angeles with Armenian flags.

A group of mayors and politicians, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, sent a letter to Pompeo urging the Trump administration to help peacefully settle the conflict. In the letter, they used the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh – Artsakh, after a medieval Armenian kingdom in what is now the enclave.

“As proud representatives of Armenian-American communities across our country, we share their deep concerns about the violence being inflicted upon Artsakh, the growing number of civilian casualties, and the involvement of regional actors like Turkey and Iran,” the letter read.

Ethnic Armenians have historically formed the majority of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh, but Communist Moscow made it part of Soviet Azerbaijan in 1923. When the perestroika reforms started in the waning days of the USSR, they urged Moscow to make the enclave part of Armenia, and held a referendum to cede from Azerbaijan in 1991.

Baku never recognised the referendum, and the subsequent conflict became the first open war between two former Soviet republics. It killed more than 30,000 and displaced hundreds of thousands, as Armenians occupied districts outside their enclave that were dominated by ethnic Azerbaijanis.

Even though Armenia has not recognised Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence, its military and economic support was crucial.


Continue Reading


Surrounded by rubble, Azerbaijanis mourn their losses



Ganja, Azerbaijan – It is Sunday, the afternoon sun is bright and 41-year-old Rovshan Asgarov stands in the remains of his neighbourhood.

He is surrounded by rubble. Bricks, wires, wood and metal that once held his house together are piled up around him.

Against the grey backdrop, which is covered in a layer of dust, there is a shock of pink – an abandoned toy, a little plastic car that would have brought a young child endless joys.

On October 17 at around 1am, his neighbourhood in central Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second city, was shelled.

“All members of our family were trapped in the rubble, including me,” he told Al Jazeera. “I shouted loudly so that anyone could hear my voice. They helped, I came out.”

At the time, eight of Asgarov’s relatives were at home.

Five died: his father Suliddin; younger brother Bakhtiyar; his sister Sevil and her 10-month-old daughter Narin, and another niece, Nigar, his elder sister’s daughter.

Thankfully, his wife and youngest son were not at home. But his elder son was, 15-year-old Amin.

“I can still hear my son saying, ‘Father, help me,’. My son was injured and is currently in hospital.

“My mother Silduz was also released from the hospital. My mother and son (Amin) still do not know about our losses. My mother’s health condition is not good and we do not know how to tell the bad news.”

According to Ganja politician Mushfig Jafarov, 15 people were killed and more than 50 were injured in the attack, which Azerbaijan blames on Armenia-backed forces.

As is customary in Islam, Asgarov’s relatives were buried on the same day they died.

Teymur, Asgarov’s brother, held 10-month-old Narin tightly before she was lowered into a grave.

He cried as he hugged her tiny body, covered in a white sheet, one last time. A photo of the moment has been widely circulated, as a symbol of the human cost of the war.

Teymur carries his 10-month-old niece Narin, who was killed with other relatives including her mother, Sevil, when a rocket hit their home in the city of Ganja [Umit Bektas/Reuters]

“We buried the mother and the child in the same grave. The other girl we lost in our family was my elder sister’s daughter, Nigar. She would have turned 15 on October 18. We also buried her that day,” Teymur told Al Jazeera.

Teymur lives with his family in another neighbourhood of Ganja.

“Even though we were far from the scene, my son, a sixth-grader, was stunned by the sound of a rocket fired by Armenians, and now he has a speech impediment.”

Since September 27, Azerbaijan and Armenia have been fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory but controlled by ethnic Armenians.

Two attempts at a truce, brokered by Russia, had failed to stop the clashes. A third, brokered by the US, was announced late on Sunday and came into effect on Monday morning. Like the previous two, there were reports of the ceasefire being broken almost as soon as it began.

The Azerbaijani Prosecutor General’s Office has opened a criminal case against the Armenian military-political leadership in connection with the October 17 attack, the Azerbaijani APA news agency reports.

Ramin Gahramanov lost his teenage daughter, sister and her two children in the attack [Seymur Kazimov/Al Jazeera]

So far this month, three assaults on the city have killed at least 26 people, including six children and 10 women.

Ramin Gahramanov, 41, lost four family members on October 17 – his daughter Laman, sister and her two children.

Laman had been hoping to go to university this year having won her place, but was unable to enjoy life as an undergraduate before she died.

“The Scud rocket hit directly our home,” said Gahramanov.

His relatives were pulled from the rubble a day after the attack. The bodies, he said, were unrecognisable.

Some survivors have returned to the site to collect any belongings that escaped damage – essential items and those that hold memories of their late loved ones.

Ramiz Agayev, 45, lost his father.

“My father fell on me from the second floor, I was downstairs,” he told Al Jazeera.

Ramiz has been coming to his ruined house for several days now.

“We usually take the children’s winter clothes, if we can find any. But everything is in a useless state, even my car. I asked my relative to use his car to collect what is left here.”

The Azerbaijani government has promised the victims new homes, a welcome move. They told this reporter that they are reassured that they will be provided with high-quality, new apartments. But no one, they said, can replace their family members.


Continue Reading


China to sanction Boeing, other US firms over Taiwan arms sales



China says it is imposing sanctions against units of Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to ‘uphold national interests’ after US approved $1.8bn in new weapons for Taiwan.

China will impose unspecified sanctions on the defense unit of Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Raytheon Technologies Corp. after the U.S. approved $1.8 billion in arms sales to Taiwan last week.

The sanctions will be imposed “in order to uphold national interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Monday in Beijing. “Boeing Defense” would be among those sanctioned, he said.

The State Department last week approved $1.8 billion in new weapons for Taiwan and submitted the package to Congress for a final review. The submission comes two months after the U.S. and Taiwan completed the sale of 66 new model F-16 Block 70 aircraft from Lockheed, and as tensions between the two superpowers continue to escalate ahead of the American election.

Boeing Defense is one of the broader company’s three business units, according to its website. A spokesperson for Boeing emphasized the firm’s relationship with China in the aviation space.

Boeing has “worked together successfully with the aviation community in China for almost 50 years to support Chinese efforts to ensure a safe, efficient and profitable aviation system to keep pace with the country’s rapid economic growth.”

“It’s been a partnership with long-term benefits and one that Boeing remains committed to,” the spokesperson said in the emailed statement.

Representatives from Raytheon weren’t immediately available for comment outside of normal U.S. business hours.

Zhao condemned Lockheed’s F-16 Block 70 sale at the time, saying it violates the One China principle, interferes in China’s internal affairs and will have a “major impact” on U.S.-China relations. Taiwan’s presidential office thanked the U.S for the sale. In July, China — which considers Taiwan part of its territory — had announced sanctions on Lockheed Martin for a previous arms sale to the island.

U.S. arms manufacturers face strict limitations on what kind of business they can do with countries deemed by Washington to be strategic rivals, such as China. Lockheed generated 9.7% of its revenue in the Asia-Pacific region last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, though that’s not broken down by individual countries.

For Boeing, China’s action comes at a delicate time. The company, reeling from the hit to air travel from the coronavirus pandemic, is trying to get its besieged 737 Max plane back into the air after two fatal crashes saw it grounded around the world. China was the first place to ground the plane, and also has the world’s biggest 737 Max fleet.

Europe’s top aviation regulator said earlier this month the plane will be safe enough to fly again before the end of this year, while U.S. Federal Aviation Administration chief Steve Dickson flew the Max in September and said the controls were “very comfortable.”

China, which had nearly 100 Max planes in operation prior to the grounding, doesn’t have a clear timetable for allowing the plane back into the air, Feng Zhenglin, director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, told reporters in Beijing last week.


Continue Reading