NewsThe West

OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Science says hotter weather turbocharges western wildfires

Author: Associated Press - August 24, 2018 - Updated: September 10, 2018

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In this Aug. 7, 2018, file photo, firefighters monitor a backfire while battling the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire near Ladoga, Calif. The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found. As human-caused climate change has warmed the world over the past 35 years, the land consumed in flames has more than doubled. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)In this Aug. 7 file photo, firefighters monitor a backfire while battling the Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire near Ladoga, Calif. The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found. As human-caused climate change has warmed the world over the past 35 years, the land consumed in flames has more than doubled. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Science says hotter weather turbocharges West’s wildfires

As temperatures rise in the U.S. West, so do the flames.

The years with the most acres burned by wildfires have some of the hottest temperatures, an Associated Press analysis of fire and weather data found. As human-caused climate change has warmed the world over the past 35 years, the land consumed by flames has more than doubled.

Experts say the way global warming worsens wildfires comes down to the basic dynamics of fire. Fires need ignition, oxygen and fuel. And what’s really changed is fuel.

“The warmer it is, the more fire we see,” said University of Alberta fire scientist Mike Flannigan.

Federal fire and weather data show higher air temperatures are turbocharging fire season.

The five hottest Aprils to Septembers out West produced years that on average burned more than 13,500 square miles, according to data at the National Interagency Fire Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .

That’s triple the average for the five coldest Aprils to Septembers.

The Western summer so far is more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average. California in July logged its hottest month in 124 years of record-keeping.

A degree or two may seem like not much, but it is crucial for fuel. The hotter it is, the more water evaporates from plants. When fuel dries faster, fires spread more and burn more intensely, experts said.

For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit that the air warms, it needs 15 percent more rain to make up for the drying of the fuel, Flannigan said.

The number of U.S. wildfires hasn’t changed much over the last few decades, but the area consumed has soared.

From 1983 to 1999, the United States didn’t reach 10,000 square miles burned annually. Since then, 10 years have had more than 10,000 square miles burned, including 2017, 2015 and 2006 when more than 15,000 square miles burned.

New Mexico

New Mexico sues Wells Fargo over unauthorized accounts

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — New Mexico is suing Wells Fargo over a scandal in which the financial institution was accused of opening millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts across the nation to meet unrealistic sales quotas, state Attorney General Hector Balderas announced.

Balderas’ office filed a lawsuit in district court alleging that Wells Fargo violated state laws, following major fines and penalties already levied by federal regulators because of the scandal, which severely damaged Wells Fargo’s reputation.

Balderas claimed Wells Fargo opened more than 20,000 fake accounts in the name of New Mexico residents and that that the bank enrolled consumers in unauthorized products and lied to them about their status.

Michael English, a spokesman for Wells Fargo in New Mexico, said the company has taken significant steps to make things right for customers, employees and the communities where it does business.

Nationally, Wells Fargo was rocked in 2016 by the scandal over practices in which employees created millions of accounts without customers knowing about or authorizing them.

Wells Fargo Chief Executive Tim Sloan apologized during a congressional hearing last fall and the company has since changed its sales practices and ousted executives. The bank also paid $185 million in fines and agreed to set aside $142 million for customer remediation and settlement expenses as part of a nationwide class-action lawsuit.

The attorney general’s case focuses on violations of the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act.

Arizona

Once zealously controlled by a religious sect, a small town tries to rehab its image — with beer

COLORADO CITY, Arizona — The religious leader predicted many an apocalypse in his time as the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was supposed to be one in 2005. Then it was delayed until 2012. Scratch that — 2016.

But Warren Jeffs, convicted in 2011 of sexually assaulting two child brides, is still behind bars, serving a life sentence. And a different kind of apocalypse is slowly descending on the town, fueled by hops, barley and grains.

Edge of the World Brewery and Pub opened in March on Center Street — a development unthinkable even a year ago. Last month, a vape shop opened across the street from the town hall.

None of this pleases Joseph Allred, a member of the current council and an FLSD member who is not up for reelection.

“When you bring in a lot of things America likes — particularly the vices like alcohol and tobacco and that sort of thing — you lose a lot of the enjoyments of the simple things,” he said.

Gwen Darger, one of the owners of Edge of the World, said she knew it would be a statement to open a bar here. A Colorado City native, she had no business or brewing experience but believed the region was ripe for commerce.

She got a local brewer to begin making a stout, IPA and pale ale before Colorado City was able to deny the application to make and sell beer. Darger said they did an end run by going directly to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control for approval. The state approved it in August.

Sitting at the bar drinking a Mudshark Morning Buzz Stout, Derrick Holm, 24, said he’s sometimes bewildered by what is happening in the town that had been in the dark for so long.

“It’s still hard to believe,” he said. “The religion kept us from getting bigger and from socializing with each other. This has become a great place to finally meet people and just talk and hang out.”

Montana

Montana governor touts ability to win in Trump country

Montana’s Democratic governor was in Iowa last week railing against money’s corrupting influence in government and talking up his ability to win in Trump country, but he continued to deflect questions about his plans for a 2020 presidential run.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s speech at the Iowa State Fair marked his third trip to the Hawkeye State this year and comes a week before he travels to another early-voting state, New Hampshire, as he explores a potential campaign.

The two-term governor lacks the national name recognition of some of the top-tier Democrats considering a challenge to President Donald Trump, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden.

Bullock’s trying to change that with trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, where he is introducing himself as both a politician with bipartisan appeal and as a crusader against dark money in election campaigns.

David Parker, a political science professor at Montana State University, called Bullock a second-tier candidate with clear strengths but with a major weakness in that “no one knows who he is.”

Bullock told the audience that he won re-election as a Democrat in 2016 in a state that President Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points, and that he pushed bills through a Republican-led legislature on campaign finance reform, Medicaid expansion and increased public school spending.

The key is to show up where Democrats don’t usually go, engage the people there and listen to them, he said.

Idaho

State board fires University of Idaho athletic director

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho State Board of Education last week fired University of Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear after an investigation into how his department handled sexual assault and harassment complaints.

Spear, the athletic director since 2004, has been on paid administrative leave since April 3 while an investigation was underway into complaints filed by three women, including two student athletes, against a football player in 2012 and 2013.

Both the university and Spear have acknowledged that Title IX policy wasn’t followed when one of the female student athletes accused the football player of sexual assault; the football player was later dismissed from the team when a surveillance video surfaced backing the woman’s allegation.

All three allegations were reported to school officials and Moscow Police at the time.

Spear’s latest contract was for $196,958 annually through February 2020.

Spear has cited confusing policies and a lack of Title IX training while discussing his actions in 2012-13.

Associated Press

Associated Press