‘Catastrophic’ wildfires continue to spread
UNITED STATES: Fuelled by the return of strong winds, the wildfires burning through California wine country exploded in size and number yesterday as authorities issued new evacuation orders and the death toll climbed to at least 21 – a figure that was expected to rise higher still.
Three days after the fires began, firefighters were still unable to gain control of the blazes that have turned entire Northern California neighbourhoods to ash and destroyed at least 3500 homes and businesses.
‘‘We are literally looking at explosive vegetation,’’ said Ken Pimlott, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. ‘‘These fires are changing by the minute in many areas.’’
The entire historic town of Calistoga, population 5000, was evacuated. In neighbouring Sonoma County, authorities issued an evacuation advisory for the northern part of the town of Sonoma and the community of Boyes Hot Springs. By the time the advisory was issued, lines of cars were already fleeing.
‘‘It’ll go up like a candle,’’ resident Nick Hinman said when a deputy sheriff warned him that the winds could shift the fires towards the town of Sonoma proper, with 11,000 residents.
Ash rained down over the Sonoma Valley, covering windshields, as winds begin picking up toward the potentially disastrous forecast speed of 50kmh.
The wildfires rank as the thirddeadliest and most destructive in state history, and officials have warned that the worst is far from over. ‘‘Make no mistake, this is a serious, critical, catastrophic event,’’ Pimlott said.
The fires have burned through a staggering 686 square kilometres of urban and rural areas.
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said 22 wildfires were burning yesterday, up from 17 the day before. Officials voiced concern that separate fires would merge into even larger infernos.
They said 8000 firefighters and other personnel, 550 fire trucks, 73 helicopters and 30 air tankers were battling the blazes, and more resources were pouring in from Oregon, Nevada, Washington and Arizona.
Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said hundreds of people were still reported missing.
Fires were ‘‘burning faster than firefighters can run, in some situations’’, Emergency Operations Director Mark Ghilarducci said. - AP
Rohingya attacked, says UN
Myanmar security forces have brutally driven out half a million Muslim Rohingya people from northern Rakhine state, torching their homes, crops and villages to prevent them returning, the United Nations human rights office said yesterday. It said the ’’clearance operations’’ began before Rohingya insurgent attacks on police posts on August 25, and included killings, torture and rape of children. The UN said the campaign was ‘‘well-organised, coordinated and systematic’’, and began with Rohingya men aged under 40 being arrested a month earlier, creating a ‘‘climate of fear and intimidation’’.
Drone kills ‘White Widow’
British Islamic State recruiter SallyAnne Jones, dubbed the ‘‘White Widow’’, has reportedly been killed in a US drone strike. Jones was killed close to the border between Syria and Iraq by the US Air Force strike in June, according to British tabloid The Sun. She and her husband Junaid Hussain went to Syria in 2013 to join Isis. He was killed by a US drone in 2015. News of her death was not made public amid fears that her 12-year-old son may also have been killed, according to the newspaper. Jones, who was previously a member of an all-girl punk rock group, left her home in Kent after converting to Islam. She used her Twitter account to recruit women and provide advice on how to travel to Syria and construct home-made bombs.
New French MPs shun wine
The novice MPs who entered
France’s parliament after President Emmanuel Macron’s election victory pledged to revolutionise French politics. In one way, they have - they drink only half the amount of wine their predecessors swilled. Officials say MPs belonging to Macron’s La Republique en Marche party prefer soft drinks. The change has forced the National Assembly to cancel an order for 5100 bottles of claret, saving about €77,000 (NZ$129,000). Some of the newcomers drink beer instead of wine, although most appear to prefer non-alcoholic drinks, and the National Assembly’s bar is struggling to keep up with the rise in demand for soft drinks.