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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Weekend weather forecast calls for hot and hotter

A record heat wave will continue to roast much of the USA through the weekend, fanning wildfires in the Colorado Rockies, threatening outdoor workers and causing some municipalities to cancel fireworks in time for July Fourth.

Cconstruction workers Santiago Gomez and Jorge Moreno take a break during a road construction project in Chicago. By Sitthixay Ditthavong, AP

Cconstruction workers Santiago Gomez and Jorge Moreno take a break during a road construction project in Chicago.

By Sitthixay Ditthavong, AP

Cconstruction workers Santiago Gomez and Jorge Moreno take a break during a road construction project in Chicago.

The heat has broken all-time records from the northern Great Plains to the Southeast already this week. The rest of the month will bring even more scorching heat from Boston to Atlanta, with temperatures reaching into the low 100s, said Meteorologist Michael Palmer of The Weather Channel.

"To get this kind of heat in late June is unusual and most likely historic for many areas," Palmer said. Temperatures will gradually cool in the latter half of next week, but "It'll be hot on July Fourth just about everywhere."

This week's temperatures broke records in some areas that date to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Benkelman, Neb., cooked at 114 degrees Wednesday, beating a previous June record of 111 set in 1936, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

The weather will continue to harry firefighters battling the Waldo Canyon wildfire that has destroyed hundreds of homes in Colorado Springs.

Public safety officials in some communities warn that more fires could be started by Independence Day fireworks as the holiday approaches.

Crews in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., dealt with a brush fire last month that nearly burned a cabin with 60 people in it. The cause was fireworks, Fire Chief Tony Watson said.

In Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, County Judge Nelson Wolff banned aerial fireworks for the weekend because of the heat and dry conditions.

The 60-hour ban covers "sky rockets with sticks and missiles with fins, anything the takes off before it explodes," spokeswoman Laura Jesse said. Wolff has asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry to extend the ban to July 5, she said.

In Rapid City, S.D., where Wednesday's 106-degree heat beat a June record set in 1974, 25 roofers working for Black Hills Roofing have been starting at 6 a.m. to beat the heat, co-owner Christa Headid said.

"You want to make sure you get enough fluid and salt pills to keep their electrolytes up," Headid said. "We did work a shorter day because of the heat."

Contributing: Sean Dreher of WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tenn.

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10,000 still displaced in raging Colorado wildfire

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Making steady progress Saturday against the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, crews kept a wary eye on weather that was getting warmer and drier as National Guard troops were deployed to help local police get things back to normal.

Destroyed homes sit beside homes left untouched by fire in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on Saturday in Colorado Springs. By Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Destroyed homes sit beside homes left untouched by fire in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on Saturday in Colorado Springs.

By Spencer Platt, Getty Images

Destroyed homes sit beside homes left untouched by fire in a neighborhood affected by the Waldo Canyon fire on Saturday in Colorado Springs.

"The weather is making progress in a bad direction. Hotter, drier, with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. Winds will shift from one direction to another," said Incident Commander Rich Harvey.

The 26-square-mile Waldo Canyon fire was 45 percent contained by Saturday afternoon. It was one of many burning across the West, including eight in Utah and a fast-growing blaze in Montana that forced residents in several small communities to leave.

About 1,200 personnel and six helicopters were fighting the Waldo Canyon fire, and authorities said they were confident they'd built good fire lines in many areas to stop flames from spreading.

"Crews made progress all around the fire,'" said Harvey, who was cautiously optimistic. "The fire potential is still very, very high. It's extreme and explosive."

Two bodies were found in the ruins of one house, one of almost 350 destroyed in this city 60 miles south of Denver. The victims' names haven't been released. Police Chief Pete Carey said Saturday afternoon the approximately 10 people who had been unaccounted for had now been located.

Police did not expect to discover other victims in the rubble.

More than 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen helped Colorado Springs police staff roadblocks and patrol streets. Carey said Saturday the presence of military personnel will allow his department to resume normal police work in the rest of the city.

About 10,000 people remain evacuated, down from more than 30,000 at the fire's peak.

The mood was light as evacuees filtered back into an unscathed neighborhood of winding streets and split-level homes within an easy walk of the burned area.

High school counselor Pat Allen and her husband, Vic Miller, were all smiles less than five minutes after returning to their tri-level home on a quiet cul-de-sac.

"I'm just wanting to kiss the house, dance with the neighbors", Allen said.

Their house didn't smell of smoke. Their electricity was out for two or three days but the popsicles in their freezer didn't melt, she said.

Around the corner, retiree Nina Apsey wandered in search of eight small, solar-powered lights that somebody had taken from her yard during the evacuation.

"I'm assuming it was vandalism," she said.

Prized possessions still piled into the Hyundai sport-utility vehicle in her garage included caribou antlers and antelope and deer head mounts. As flames bore down, she'd also taken a small ceramic cowboy statue. Her late husband taught her how to hunt. He resembled the cowboy, she said.

She wasn't too perturbed about her missing lights because nothing else was touched.

"If that's the worst that happened to me, I'm blessed," she said.

On Sunday people whose homes were burned will be allowed to tour the affected areas. Authorities said some residences would be cordoned off with police tape, and people would not be allowed beyond that point.

The home of Janine Herbertson and her 15-year-old daughter, Tessa Konik, remained unburned amid 150 others that were destroyed, said Herbertson as they ate lunch outside a Red Cross shelter.

Even so, "I'm afraid to go on the tour tomorrow and see our neighborhood in ruins," she said.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire that broke out on June 23, and which so far has cost $8.8 million to battle. Dangerous conditions had kept them from beginning their inquiry.

Among the fires elsewhere in the West:

• Utah: Residents were sifting through the ashes of more than 50 houses destroyed by a central Utah wildfire. Homeowners were allowed to return Saturday to Indianola along Utah's scenic Route 89. In all, eight wildfires are burning across Utah.

• Montana: Authorities in eastern Montana ordered the evacuation of several communities Saturday as the Ash Creek Complex fires, which has burned more than 70 homes this week, consumed another 72 square miles. The blaze grew to 244 square miles overnight.

• Wyoming: A wind-driven wildfire in a sparsely populated area of southeastern Wyoming exploded from eight square miles to nearly 58 square miles in a single day, and an unknown number of structures have burned. About 200 structures were considered threatened.

• Idaho: A fast-moving 1,000-acre wildfire in eastern Idaho that destroyed 66 homes and 29 outbuildings was expected to be contained Saturday. Some 1,000 residents were evacuated; it was unclear when they would be allowed back.

• Colorado: The last evacuees from the High Park Fire in northern Colorado have been allowed to return home as crews get closer to full containment. The 136-square-mile fire killed one resident and destroyed 259 houses, a state record until the fire near Colorado Springs destroyed 346 homes. In western Colorado, the 18-square-mile Pine Ridge Fire was 10 percent contained.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Sadness in Colorado as widespread as smoke

Jonni McCoy saw flames in her rearview mirror as she drove away from her home and the fire that eventually consumed her Colorado Springs neighborhood.

Smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire drapes the foothills Wednesday in Colorado Springs. By Chris Schneider, Getty Images

Smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire drapes the foothills Wednesday in Colorado Springs.

By Chris Schneider, Getty Images

Smoke from the Waldo Canyon fire drapes the foothills Wednesday in Colorado Springs.

She lost her home, her grandmother's furniture and everything else she hadn't stored across town when officials started warning her about the fires crisscrossing her state Saturday.

Officials don't know how many houses have been destroyed in Colorado's Waldo Canyon Fire, which has forced the mandatory evacuation of what the Associated Press reported was more than 32,000 people from the Colorado Springs area. They tell stories of hurried escapes, tall flames engulfing homes and thick smoke that makes breathing and seeing almost impossible. The anxiety is palpable, the sadness as widespread as the smoke.

"It just roared right through the whole section of town," said McCoy, 54, of the fire she witnessed as she fled Tuesday. "It was like mayhem. People were just running. It was gridlock trying to get out. You couldn't see more than 15 to 20 feet in front of you. It was just this brown haze smoke that just descended upon you."

McCoy, her husband, Beau, daughter, Jessica, 20, and dog, Mowgli, fled to a friend's home across town. They're living in the basement for now.

On Tuesday night, McCoy, an author of books on personal finance, was on Facebook and saw a picture of her neighborhood. Her house was gone.

"It was horrifying," she said. "It's hard to believe it's real."

Lindsey Fredrick grasped frantically for clothes and rushed her three children out of their Green Mountain Falls home when police told her she had 20 minutes to get out Saturday.

A day earlier, the fire wasn't that bad. She and her husband, David, didn't imagine they would be in a Red Cross shelter in Colorado Springs with only a few important papers and belongings by Tuesday.

"I'm definitely anxious about what the damage will be and if we'll be able to make it back," Fredrick, 29, said. "It's definitely stressful. All of our material possessions are there. The kids are antsy and stressed out because they are in an unfamiliar setting."

She described a calm scene at the shelter, where people wearing hospital masks smelled of ash. Dark smoke plumes hung outside.

Her family's evacuation separated them for days and took them across three shelters. Fredrick wasn't worried about the fire when her husband left Saturday morning to run a quick errand. When he tried to return home, police had blocked off the roads. Three days passed before they were reunited.

By David Zalubowski, AP

Onlookers watch from a field by Coronado High School as smoke rises from a wildfire burning near Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

Officers led Fredrick and her children, Sam, 2, Sid, 4, and Lilly, 10, through a cloud of smoke and into a car. They went to a shelter in Woodland Park for about an hour, then to one in Divide where they spent three nights, she said. On Monday, Fredrick posted an ad on Craigslist and paid someone to drive her to Colorado Springs, where her husband was staying with a friend.

"There are a lot of Red Cross volunteers who are trying to keep our spirits up," she said. "I haven't seen too many people cry. Most people are mellow. I guess they are just dealing with it."

Catherine Barde, a Red Cross spokeswoman in Colorado Springs, said the organization has four shelters in the area and that hundreds of people have come through the doors.

Heather Hendricks, 25, spent most of Wednesday afternoon trying to persuade her father to leave her parents' Colorado Springs home. The house has been in their family for 50 years, but now it is in a mandatory evacuation zone. "There's no convincing him to leave unless the fire is lapping at the door," she said.

Hendricks, her mother and brother saw flames engulf a home 4 miles from their house Tuesday as they drove past. "There was a huge wall of smoke," said Hendricks, who was visiting from Denver. "It was a surreal experience."

On Wednesday afternoon, she and her brother watched as helicopters circled their neighborhood and black smoke neared. She was still hoping her father would leave.

"Everybody is just getting ready to get out," she said. "I'm just praying."

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Florida: 7 state deaths related to storm Debby

LIVE OAK, Fla. (AP) – Florida officials said Thursday that Tropical Storm Debby was responsible for seven deaths in the state.

Tommy and Dorothy McIntosh walk away from their daughter's flooded home in Live Oak, Fla., Wednesday. By Dave Martin, AP

Tommy and Dorothy McIntosh walk away from their daughter's flooded home in Live Oak, Fla., Wednesday.

By Dave Martin, AP

Tommy and Dorothy McIntosh walk away from their daughter's flooded home in Live Oak, Fla., Wednesday.

State emergency operations spokeswoman Jessica Sims said that two people died in Pinellas County, including a 41-year-old woman caught in a riptide Wednesday at St. Pete Beach.

She was among eight people pulled from rip currents on St. Pete Beach on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, lifeguards on Clearwater Beach helped three people from the water who got caught in a rip current.

Storm-related deaths were also reported in Highlands, Pasco, Polk, Lake and Madison counties. They include a Highlands County woman who died in a tornado spawned by the storm on Sunday, as well as a 71-year-old man who suffered a heart attack and was found dead in flood waters outside his Indian Rocks Beach home in Pinellas County.

In addition, a South Carolina man disappeared Sunday off Alabama's Orange Beach in rough waters churned up by the storm.

Authorities said Wednesday they had suspended a five-day-old search for a 32-year-old Eric Pye of Summerville, S.C., after dozens of searchers using boats and sonar had failed to locate him.

The Orange Beach safety director, Melvin Shephard, told The Associated Press that accounts indicate Pye was wading near the beach's edge Sunday when the backwash of a large wave dragged him into the Gulf of Mexico. Debby was churning up 8- to 10-foot waves there at the time, he added.

Debby hovered in the Gulf of Mexico for days before slowly blowing across northern Florida this week; the storm dumped more than two feet of water in some parts.

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott traveled to some of the hardest-hit areas in Florida to survey flood damages. He told officials and some victims that he empathized with them.

"I grew up in the Midwest and the Missouri River used to flood," said Scott, who was raised in Kansas City. "You think about it as you go down and see the families who are devastated when their houses are under water."

Scott noted that the Suwannee River has yet to crest.

"There's more to come," he said.

Suwannee County Sheriff Tony Cameron said he hadn't seen so much flooding in Live Oak and surrounding areas since 1964, when he was 11 and Hurricane Dora flooded the small, north-central Florida community. Then, he helped his grandfather pump water out of the city.

"The problem we have right now is sink holes, that's our number one problem at this time," Cameron said Thursday afternoon. "We've got a lot of roads that are still under water. There are probably 300 cars scattered around the county sitting under water."

More than 150 people remained in shelters in Suwannee and Pasco counties on Thursday.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Oppressive heat hits battered eastern U.S.

Stifling heat will suffocate the nation from Indiana to Florida on Monday, as millions of people from the Midwest to the East Coast struggle without power for a third straight day.

Patrick Gonzalez looks over a fallen tree that is blocking a residential street in Washington's Cleveland Park neighborhood on Sunday. By Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

Patrick Gonzalez looks over a fallen tree that is blocking a residential street in Washington's Cleveland Park neighborhood on Sunday.

By Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

Patrick Gonzalez looks over a fallen tree that is blocking a residential street in Washington's Cleveland Park neighborhood on Sunday.

A heat wave that began last week will continue to drive temperatures into the 100s from Indianapolis to Atlanta through the Fourth of July holiday Wednesday.

Heat warnings have been issued for parts of Alabama, Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio. In St. Louis, the National Weather Service warned of "dangerous heat" as temperatures climb to 106 Monday.

Already, the heat wave has "broken hundreds of daily records and quite a few all-time records," said Weather Service meteorologist Katie LaBelle. "The heat is actually a very significant threat, especially with all the power outages. Coming behind that storm, with all the damage it caused, reacting to the heat is a high priority, making sure people can find cool places while they wait for the power to come back on."

Temperatures topped 109 in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky over the weekend. Meteorologists in Jacksonville said the combination of 100-degree temperatures and high humidity there made it feel like 118.

Power companies said late Sunday it could take up to a week to restore electricity to more than 3 million who lost power after a ferocious summer storm cut a swath of destruction Friday night across 11 states, killing 14 people, toppling trees, knocking out traffic lights, and sending thousands of people to shelters and into community pools to escape the heat.

Some states declared emergencies and activated disaster-response agencies. Governors in New Jersey and Ohio called out the National Guard. The Department of Energy reported Sunday afternoon that 2.6 million people still lacked power. About 596,000 were without power in Maryland; 642,000 in Virginia; 61,000 in Washington, D.C.; 74,000 in Indiana; 700,000 in Ohio; 510,000 in West Virginia; and 125,000 in New Jersey.

First Energy said 560,000 of its customers in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia lost electricity. The company predicted it would need a week to restore power to the hardest hit areas, particularly in West Virginia, where the storm damaged more than 50 transmission lines and 70 substations.

Officials focused on the most vulnerable residents: children, the sick and the elderly.

In Washington, D.C., officials canceled summer school for Monday as they continued to assess storm damage. The city opened libraries and recreation centers and extended the hours at community pools to give residents without power respite from the heat. The city dispatched National Guard troops to powerless intersections to direct traffic and keep people away from debris and downed power lines.

In Ohio, where an 80-mph wind collapsed a barn, killing a 70-year-old woman, National Guard troops mobilized to check neighborhoods for people needing help while residents without power gathered at malls, movie theaters and churches. At the Plains-Athens Community Church of the Nazarene in southeast Ohio, families on Sunday watched movies, played board games and cooled off with donated ice cream.

Maryland opened 74 cooling stations to help residents cope with the heat and was canvassing hospitals and nursing homes to ensure they have enough power to keep elderly and sick residents cool, Maryland Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ed McDonough said. The number of people without power is similar to power outages following hurricanes, he said.

"That's still an awful lot of people without power in the extreme heat we're having now," McDonough said. "It's still an event that's going to take days instead of hours. We didn't have the kind of warning you have with hurricane so they couldn't stage repair crews ahead of time."

In Virginia, where Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency, the storm knocked out the 9-1-1 system. O'Donnell said the storms caused the most widespread, non-hurricane-related power outage in that state's history. A wastewater treatment plant in Lynchburg lost power and discharged at least 250,000 gallons of water into the James River.

"This is not a one-day situation," McDonnell said. "It is a multiday challenge."

John Swift who lost power at his home in a Richmond suburb toughed out the power outage without complaint. The heat, he said, was the "biggest nuisance."

"I've got a camp stove. I've got cold showers. I don't watch TV. It's not a big deal," said Swift, 60.

Extreme heat in Colorado hampered firefighters as they tackled a patchwork of wildfires across the state. At Pine Ridge, 13 miles east of Grand Junction in the Bookcliffs, fire authorities said hot, dry conditions with southwest wind heightened the potential for "extreme fire behavior, intensity and growth."

The fire, which began with a lightning strike on June 27, has burned nearly 13,000 acres. Firefighters struggled to contain a massive fire in Waldo Canyon, three miles west of Colorado Springs, which has destroyed 346 homes and threatens 20,000 more. The city has canceled Fourth of July fireworks.

"The city is currently in extreme fire danger due to lack of moisture, heat and wind," city officials said in a press release.

In Dublin, Ohio, Lori Schaffert used a borrowed generator to alternately power her refrigerator and freezer while her 5-year-old daughter and a friend played board games and helped her make pickles from their garden's cucumbers.

"You come to appreciate the simple life a little more in these times," she said.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Millions find ways to cope without power after storms

PURCELLVILLE, Va. – With no power at his home, Morgan Smith has been sleeping on the floor where he works at Market Street Coffee. On Monday morning, the barista was joined by people who crowded into the cafĂ©— one of the few places in this rural corner of Loudoun County with power and free, working Wi-Fi — to charge cellphones and work on their laptops.

David Robertson and Steve Jones fill their shopping cart with juice at the Mick-or-Mack IGA grocery store on July 2 in New Castle, Va. By Jeanna Duerscherl, AP

David Robertson and Steve Jones fill their shopping cart with juice at the Mick-or-Mack IGA grocery store on July 2 in New Castle, Va.

By Jeanna Duerscherl, AP

David Robertson and Steve Jones fill their shopping cart with juice at the Mick-or-Mack IGA grocery store on July 2 in New Castle, Va.

Among them was Anna Novaes of nearby Lovettsville, who had spent the night in her basement and showered at a gym. "We've had to be creative," she said.

As record heat cooked states from Indiana to Maryland and more than 2 million people were still without power after weekend storms, the tired, the sleepless and the sweaty yearning for some cool found refuge in odd spots.

Nearly 2.7 million people in 11 states still lack power after a ferocious fast-moving storm, called a "derecho" for its straight-line winds, struck Friday. Authorities say 17 people died, many because of falling trees, as the storms traveled west to east. Power companies say full restoration will take until the end of the week.

The power failures complicated the Monday morning commute as drivers navigated around downed trees and did the four-way stop dance at knocked-out traffic lights. Adding to the aggravation, temperatures topped 100 in the South and hovered in the upper 90s elsewhere.

At The Vine Church in Dunn Loring, Va., air conditioning was a sure-fire inducement for expanding the flock. A hand-painted 3-foot-by-6-foot sign on its lawn beckoned: "We have A/C. Join us."

Power had roared back at the United Methodist church around midday Saturday, pastor Todd Schlechty said. He and his family had taken refuge there after enduring the heat at their powerless house. "If we don't have power, I figured a lot of other people didn't have power," he said.

So with assistance from his son, 8, and daughter, 12, Schlechty painted the sign and invited the community to partake of the cool air. And as things go in a modern-day ministry, Schlechty rigged extension cords and power strips in the sanctuary so people could recharge their electronics along with their spirits. "We had a lot of people come in with cellphones and tablets and laptops," he said.

Yesterday, in addition to worship services, the church organized a cookout and a kickball game. Families stayed until late in the evening, Schlechty said.

"The church is interested in being a help in the time of need," he said.

In the Washington metro area, the now powerless found themselves at loose ends as their BlackBerrys lost juice and their iPad batteries withered.

Simone Rathle of SimoneInk, the Bayou Bakery's public relations firm said that the snaking line of people who descended on the Arlington, Va., site, seconds after the doors opened wanted to know one thing — is the Wi-Fi working?

Bayou Bakery's chef David Guas on Monday offered two drinks designed to beat the heat, cold hibiscus ginger tea and Thai basil mint latté, at half-price along with the free Internet.

"They were slammed for hours," Rathle said.

Other restaurants in the area let customers know their power status on Twitter using the hashtag #WhatsOpen, Rathle said.

In Ohio, entire towns blacked out, but for a handful of emergency generators.

The hospital in Newark, a city of 40,000, got power Monday, but little else did. In nearby Granville, Denison University closed and sent students home. Still, the village's four-day July Fourth fair will go on as planned Wednesday, organizers said, powered by generators supplied by the amusement ride company.

The lack of air conditioning sent Terry Ann Grove, 71, on a trip down memory lane, but only for a moment.

"It makes me remember what life was like when I was a kid," Grove said as she bought ice, bread and peanut butter at one of a handful of open stores in Newark. "It's worse now because we're used to air-conditioning and McDonald's any time you want it."

Grove spent a day with a daughter who had power in Columbus, 45 minutes away, but she returned to be home even though power wasn't expected until this weekend. "That's what porches are for, I guess," she said.

Lines for gasoline, which lasted as long as an hour on the weekend, were gone by Monday. A custom of treating broken traffic lights as a four-way stop sign had taken over. And while most businesses and nearly all homes were without power, pockets of all services could be found within a 5- or 10-mile drive.

"It's hard on the wallet," said Becky Latham, a fast-food worker who will lose several days' pay because her restaurant is closed. "Less money earned and more money spent. That's what the storm brought me."

Others say they feel trapped by the heat and lack of power.

Emma Patrick, 91, said she feels like she's living inside a giant booby trap. When the storm tore through her town of Beckley, W.Va., on Friday, it toppled a tree onto her roof, bringing with it a tangle of electrical wires.

"These electrical wires are all in my house, all in my roof, all over the doors," Patrick said. "I just don't know what to do. I am terrified to move around because the tree is through the roof and the wires are connected to it."

The power is out, but she doesn't know whether the wires dangling from the rafters are live. Meanwhile, her food is rotting and she says she hasn't eaten in two days.

"What do you do? I am a nervous wreck. I am terrified. What if I die here?" Patrick said.

To the power company, Patrick is one of thousands in precarious, powerless situations. Nearly 60% of Appalachian Power's customers are without electric service as a result of Friday night's storm.

"The electric company is saying, 'You just have to wait,' " she said.

To pass the time, Patrick, who has cancer, says she prays.

"I don't have anywhere to go. I can't see the news. I can only pray to God," she said. "I am praying and asking God, 'Please Lord, don't let this house burn up.' "

Contributing: Dennis Cauchon in Granville, Ohio, and Natalie DiBlasio in McLean, Va.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

'Unreal': Residents tour Colo. blaze devastation

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) – People who fled the most destructive fire in Colorado's history were allowed visits to the most devastated neighborhoods Sunday, and many found their homes among the nearly 350 burned to the ground. Two bodies have been found in the ruins, and officials did not expect to find more.

What is left of a burned home in Colorado's Mountain Shadow neighborhood on Friday. By Carolyn Kaster, AP

What is left of a burned home in Colorado's Mountain Shadow neighborhood on Friday.

By Carolyn Kaster, AP

What is left of a burned home in Colorado's Mountain Shadow neighborhood on Friday.

Residents marveled at the random path of disaster. Nothing remained of C.J. Moore's home but the concrete, but the letters in her mailbox were unscathed.

It's just unreal. Unreal," she said. "Good lord! I've never seen anything like this. And thank God there was nobody there. Thank God there were no people here. There would have been no been no hope."

Nearby cars were burned to nothing but charred metal, but three neighbors' homes were untouched. Melted bowling balls were scattered in Moore's front yard.

About 7,000 people would be allowed to return to their homes for good Sunday night. That would leave about 3,000 still evacuated, down from more than 30,000 at the peak of the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs.

The fire was 45 percent contained late Saturday night after a long week of shifting winds that frustrated firefighters. It was one of many burning across the West, including eight in Utah and a fast-growing blaze in Montana that forced residents in several small communities to leave.

Authorities at the Colorado Springs fire said they were confident they had managed in many areas to stop flames from spreading.

"We're cautiously optimistic," incident commander Rich Harvey said Sunday. "We still remain focused on things that could go wrong."

The two victims' names haven't been released. Police Chief Pete Carey said Saturday the approximately 10 people who had been unaccounted for had been located.

Investigators were still trying to determine the cause of the fire that broke out on June 23, and which so far has cost $8.8 million to battle. Dangerous conditions had kept them from beginning their inquiry.

Among the fires elsewhere in the West:

•Utah: Residents were sifting through the ashes of more than 50 houses destroyed.

•Montana: Authorities ordered the evacuation of several communities Saturday as the Ash Creek Complex fires, which have burned more than 70 homes this week, continued to grow.

•Wyoming: A wind-driven wildfire in a sparsely populated area exploded in size, burning an unknown number of structures.

•Idaho: A fast-moving wildfire that destroyed 66 homes had been expected to be

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Debate over use of military planes grows after fires, crash

Eight of the government's biggest firefighting airplanes sat on the tarmac for weeks as fires erupted across the Rockies last month because incident commanders first called in smaller, privately owned aircraft to bombard flames with water and retardant.

A C-130 plane releases fire retardent over the Colorado wildfires on Monday. Stephany D. Richards, USAF/AFP/Getty Images

A C-130 plane releases fire retardent over the Colorado wildfires on Monday.

Stephany D. Richards, USAF/AFP/Getty Images

A C-130 plane releases fire retardent over the Colorado wildfires on Monday.

The military's C-130 tankers were not called to duty until June 25, weeks after large fires began destroying homes and causing deaths across the West. The planes flew multiple missions in Colorado before one crashed fighting the White Draw fire in South Dakota on July 1, killing three members of its crew. The cause of the C-130 crash remains under investigation.

The remaining planes were temporarily grounded but resumed flying today.

Federal law prohibits fire managers from calling in the military planes until they first call in private aircraft leased to the government. The law has been the subject of some debate in the aftermath of the recent fires.

Beth Lund, leader of the national-level Type 1 Incident Management Team that managed the 87,284-acre High Park Fire near Fort Collins, Colo., says that contrary to popular belief, the bigger planes aren't necessarily better.

"Fires don't get put out by red stuff coming out of the air," she says. "It's boots on the ground."

U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., calls the U.S. Forest Service "negligent" for not deploying the tankers sooner. He says there's no doubt homes would have been saved if the military tankers had been called for sooner. He says firefighters have told him that one large tanker could easily stop or significantly slow a fire when it's only a few acres but that cost and deployment time make them a last line of defense.

"The people on the ground are crying for help," Gallegly says. "I think they have a better sense of what they need than someone sitting at a desk."

The National Guard's Mobile Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) slide into a C-130 cargo plane and can drop 3,000 gallons of water or red retardant slurry onto a fire. In comparison, the first privately owned air tankers usually called to fires can drop 820 gallons of retardant but are more maneuverable.

Forest Service critics such as retired Los Alamos National Laboratory astrophysicist Chick Keller say the agency clings to outdated firefighting methods because the American public and Congress refuse to fund and deploy modern aerial firefighting techniques such as drones and large tankers such as MAFFS.

"We spent $1 billion last year in the United States on fire suppression, and we didn't get much suppression — we just lost forests and houses," says Keller, former director of the University of California's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics and co-founder of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center in Los Alamos, N.M. "The Air Force should do what it does best: protect Americans."

The High Park wildfire that started June 9 destroyed at least 259 homes and killed a woman before two military MAFFS were activated June 25. Fort Collins resident Chrissa Allison says she watched as nearby homes burned and wondered why the military planes didn't join in sooner.

"If that isn't an emergency, then what the heck is?" Allison says.

"Just because they are the biggest tool doesn't make them the best tool," says Reghan Cloudman, a U.S Forest Service spokeswoman. "Air tankers don't put out fires. Firefighters put out fires."

Once activated, the two MAFFS joined the fight against the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, the Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs that killed two people and destroyed 346 homes.

Lund says she's comfortable with her decision not to use the tankers on the High Park fire once they became available. She says firefighters with hand tools, fire engines and bulldozers successfully protected hundreds of homes: "The real heroes are the guys on the ground."

Gallegly and Keller say proper use of very large tankers could make them the first line of defense, not the last. "They can do in 30 seconds what it takes five bulldozers three days to do," Gallegly says. "They can do a job no one else can do."

Hughes reports for the Fort Collins Coloradoan.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

'Epic dryness' feeding Western wildfires

In the Rocky Mountain West, firefighters say they've never seen the trees and grasses this dry so early in the summer.

A couple watch a wildfire as it rolls through housing subdivisions in the mountains north and west of Colorado Springs on Wednesday. By David Zalubowski, AP

A couple watch a wildfire as it rolls through housing subdivisions in the mountains north and west of Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

By David Zalubowski, AP

A couple watch a wildfire as it rolls through housing subdivisions in the mountains north and west of Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

"It's epic dryness," says Beth Lund, leader of the incident management team assigned to the High Park Fire, which has burned 135 square miles near Fort Collins, Colo., and destroyed at least 257 homes. It is now the most destructive in recorded Colorado history.

But hardly the only one. Ten separate fires are burning in Colorado, prompting a planned visit Friday by President Obama. They threaten the U.S. Air Force Academy, the town of Boulder and the city of Colorado Springs.

Colorado isn't the only state affected by an exceptionally severe fire season, with crews battling blazes in Alaska, Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

"The whole Central Rocky Mountain range is a tinderbox," says Ron Roth, of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordinating Center in Lakewood, Colo.

A light winter snow pack, dry spring, more people living in what was once wilderness and the long-term effects of climate change have all conspired to make this an especially bad fire season, Roth says. "We've got trees torching, tornadoes of fire — this is extreme fire behavior," he says.

The exceptional danger is a combination of very dry vegetation and waves of lightning storms, says Lee Bently, a public information officer for the incident management team responsible for the High Park Fire. "It's just instant ignition."

The front range of the Rockies has been suffering a long siege of dry weather, says Ed Delgado, national predictive services meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

Climate change is undoubtedly playing a role, if only in the distribution of invasive insects, Delgado says. The pine bark beetle has been migrating north for years as warmer winters allow it to survive outside its previous range. The insects have killed millions of acres of forest, leaving behind tinder-dry wood.

"When that timber goes dead, it doesn't make for a real good situation when the fire comes," Bently says.

Those fires are all the more dangerous to humans because of the increasing numbers of Americans who choose to live in what once would have been called wilderness. "As people move into those urban interface areas, it creates more of a challenge for us to suppress those fires," Roth says.

Contributing: Hughes reports for the Fort Collins Coloradoan

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Colorado wildfires ruthlessly march on

An earlier version of this story misstated the size of the High Park wildfire.

The Waldo Canyon blaze destroyed much of the Mountain Shadows subdivision in Colorado Springs. By RJ Sangosti, Denver Post via AP

The Waldo Canyon blaze destroyed much of the Mountain Shadows subdivision in Colorado Springs.

By RJ Sangosti, Denver Post via AP

The Waldo Canyon blaze destroyed much of the Mountain Shadows subdivision in Colorado Springs.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — As flames from a destructive, uncontrolled wildfire licked the southwestern end of their campus, more than 1,000 cadets arrived at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Thursday to begin their studies.

Housing units in the southern part of the 18,500-acre academy had been evacuated Tuesday as a precaution, and a 10-acre fire briefly flared in that area Wednesday, academy spokesman Harry Lundy said.

Processing of the 1,045 "doolies," as freshmen are known, went smoothly at the north end of campus despite the looming Waldo Canyon wildfire. Evacuees are being housed at nearby military facilities, he said.

President Barack Obama will tour wildfire-stricken Colorado Friday, where thousands of people have been displaced by out-of-control blazes.

The president's visit comes as about half of the active federal firefighting resources are in Colorado, where extremely hot and dry conditions have triggered several large wildfires during the last month.

Nationally, firefighters were battling 41 major fires Thursday, the National Interagency Fire Center reported. Hot weather, lightning strikes and dry, unpredictable winds pushed the number of fires to 242, 11 of them defined as large by the fire center. The definition varies depending on terrain and danger to human habitation, said Coleen Decker at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise.

There were 2,864 firefighters at work, aided by 107 helicopters dumping fire retardant and water. The firefighting cost for the year so far: $119.8 million, according to the center.

The weekend will bring little relief to Colorado Springs, Decker said. Temperatures might dip slightly from 103 degrees to 100, she said. Flame-spreading winds are forecast to be weaker, but thunderstorms could light new fires .

Colorado, with three major blazes, has the worst of it. The Waldo Canyon wildfire has burned more than 28 square miles, including neighborhoods in Colorado Springs. Mayor Steve Bach said 346 homes have been incinerated, making it the most destructive fire in state history.

Northwest of Fort Collins, firefighters said they were getting ahead of the 136-square-mile High Park fire that killed a woman and destroyed at least 257 homes after being sparked by lighting June 9. The fire was 75% contained and could be under control early next week, said Jim Toomey of the Larimer County sheriff's office.

Near Boulder, containment of the Flagstaff wildfire west of the city grew to 30%. The fire burned 300 acres, but 26 families that were evacuated Tuesday when the fire began were allowed back Thursday evening.

The fire was "one ridge away from impacting the city," said Dan Rowland, a spokesman for the Flagstaff wildfire management team. "That would have been a game-changer."

"We are on heavy alert going forward," he said. "We're watching it every day."

|-|

Hughes also reports for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Weise reported from San Francisco.Contributing: Associated Press

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Heat and storms bring tragedy and misery to the East

Blistering heat and massive power outages driven by violent storms held much of the eastern U.S. hostage Saturday, with no end to the misery in sight.

Neighbors inspect a downed tree Saturday on a heavily damaged block the morning after a massive storm knocked out trees and power in Forest Glen, Md. By Allison Shelley, Getty Images

Neighbors inspect a downed tree Saturday on a heavily damaged block the morning after a massive storm knocked out trees and power in Forest Glen, Md.

By Allison Shelley, Getty Images

Neighbors inspect a downed tree Saturday on a heavily damaged block the morning after a massive storm knocked out trees and power in Forest Glen, Md.

More than three million people lost power after the storms, and at least 13 people have died, authorities said. Hardest hit was the Washington, D.C., area, but outages were reported from Indiana to New Jersey. Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and the District of Columbia declared emergencies.

The heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, added to the region's woes. Washington reached 104 degrees on Friday — topping a record of 101 set in 1934 — and temperatures were heading back there Saturday.

Power companies warned that restoration after Friday night's storms could take days, and the National Weather Service provided an equally bleak picture, warning that much of the region could see 100 degrees for the next few days.

And the possibility of more severe weather also loomed.

Shaun Dakin, 45, of D.C. suburb Falls Church, Va., has been without power since 10:30 Friday night. He said he was home with his son, Joseph, 8, when the storm hit. Within seconds, what had been a warm and calm evening turned into a wet and raging storm.

"The wind just boomed," he said. "It was lightning and rain and thunder all at once."

Jimmy Bosse, 40, of Potomac, Md., had been listening to news reports and was expecting a storm to roll through his neighborhood Friday night. He wasn't prepared for the intensity, however, and became one of the thousands who lost power.

"It was like a fireworks display," Bosse said. "You look out your window and you can't see anything and then there's a flash of lightning and it's like daytime for second."

After losing power, he avoided opening his refrigerator and assessed the damage around his neighborhood Saturday. His block was spared but half a mile away, debris was widespread.

"There's trees on cars and roads and power lines across the streets," Bosse said. "There are branches everywhere."

He was planning to go to his sister-in-law's house in Washington, D.C. Saturday when he got power back.

Bosse, a software developer, said he's thankful for his power but hopes Amazon's Cloud, which allows users to store information wirelessly, will be back up soon.

The storms took down Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud in North Virginia, affecting several popular websites and social media outlets Friday night, according to reports by Forbes and Mashable.

Netflix, Instagram and Pinterest, among others, were all out of service for a period following the Cloud outage. As of Saturday the Cloud remained affected but many of the sites were back up and running.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said six deaths had been blamed on the storm in that state. Another was killed by a falling tree in Maryland. And in New Jersey, police in Pittsgrove said two cousins aged 7 and 2 died when a tree fell on their tent while camping with their families at Parvin State Park.

Dominion Power, with almost 2.5 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina, reported more than 660,000 customers without power Saturday afternoon. Pepco was reporting 406,000 power outages in the District of Columbia and the suburban Maryland's Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"We have more than half our system down," said Pepco spokeswoman Myra Oppel. "This is definitely going to be a multi-day outage."

By Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

An American beech tree fell on Capital Hill grounds across from the Supreme Court building after a powerful overnight storm in Washington D.C.

Winds in excess of 70 miles per hour uprooted trees and blew down limbs, bringing down power lines and poles all over the region and making power restoration an arduous task, said Pepco regional president Thomas Graham.

Graham warned that the weather forecast for the Washington area called for more thunderstorms today, which could cause additional outages.

"We'll work full force and around the clock until every customer is restored," he said.

Some utilities reported progress. Duke Energy said it had restored power to almost 100,000 of the 178,000 households that were left without electricity in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area.

Elsewhere:

•West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency after more than 500,000 customers in 27 counties were left without electricity.

By Patrick Semansky, AP

Workers use a golf cart to carry branches from a tree that fell onto the 14th fairway at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday.

•More than 20 elderly residents at an apartment home in Indianapolis were displaced when the facility lost power due to a downed tree. Most were bused to a Red Cross facility to spend the night, and others who depend on oxygen assistance were given other accommodations, the fire department said.

•The city of Baltimore opened five cooling centers for residents and extended public pool hours amid high temperatures and power outages, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

The National Weather Service warned that high temperatures this afternoon will exceed 100 degrees across the mid/lower Mississippi River Valley eastward through the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast today. Some are are expected to break record high temperatures.

"The above normal readings combined with increased humidity will create dangerous heat index values ranging from 105 to 115 degrees," the weather service said.

Courtney Mann, a pediatric emergency physician at WakeMed Hospitals and Health in Raleigh, N.C., warned that the public should know how to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, a precursor to potentially deadly heat stroke.

By Allison Shelley, Getty Images

A woman inspects a car left in the middle of the road after a massive storm knocked out power in Takoma Park, Md.

Early signs include mild dizziness, nausea, headache, muscle cramping, and fatigue. Such symptoms should be treated by drinking cooling fluids or sports drinks, and immersing in cool baths, air conditioning or mists.

Anybody exhibiting confusion with a temperature of 104 after external heat exposure should get emergency treatment in a hospital, Mann says. "They can die from heat stroke," she says.

Children and the elderly are physiologically most vulnerable, but according to statistics provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the great majority of 75 patients reporting heat-related symptoms in the past two weeks were in the 25-to-64 age range.

Mann says people working or exercising outdoors should limit activity to early morning or late evening and take multiple breaks.

"The most effective way to get rid of heat is through evaporation," she says.

Contributing: Cindy Schroeder, The Cincinnati Enquirer; Associated Press

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

For those without power, patience wears thin, tempers flare

Across the Midwest and up and down the East Coast, millions of people are living without power.

Linemen from Gulf Power of Pensacola, Fla., work to replace downed power lines in Middleburg, Va., July 3. By Cliff Owen, AP

Linemen from Gulf Power of Pensacola, Fla., work to replace downed power lines in Middleburg, Va., July 3.

By Cliff Owen, AP

Linemen from Gulf Power of Pensacola, Fla., work to replace downed power lines in Middleburg, Va., July 3.

And they are not happy about it.

More than 900,000 households remain without power early Wednesday in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio, the states hardest hit by the storm Friday night that packed 80-mph winds.

Residents are waiting for power in homes where the heat has risen to 90 degrees. Many have tossed away hundreds of dollars worth of food and sought shelter in hotels.

All the while, they seethe toward electric utility companies they say are taking way too long to make repairs and have not been responsive to their concerns. In Washington, D.C., there are calls to investigate how the local public utility responded to the emergency.

"All the people in my neighborhood are extremely frustrated," says David Scholl, a Bethesda, Md., lawyer who has been without power since Friday. He says Pepco, the electric company that provides service to his D.C. suburb, has been unresponsive.

He says the company provides conflicting information on its website and through its hotline. Over the course of five hours on Tuesday, he says the company went from reporting no outages in his neighborhood to two customers affected to 602 customers affected.

He says at least once a year he loses electricity for several days because of some weather event. And he doesn't understand why.

"Nobody holds Pepco accountable," he says. "This is business as usual."

Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson says no one expected the storm's severity. The majority of Washington, D.C.-area customers are expected to have power by 11 p.m. Friday.

"This was not a storm where tree limbs just fell on our wires," Anderson says. "This was a storm where large mature trees were uprooted and lifted and just thrown into our poles — snapping our poles in half and wrapping our high-voltage wires around homes, businesses and cars."

Power companies that serve the Midwest and East Coast say they are working as quickly as possible, but repairing power lines and transmission stations takes time.

"When trees take down wires and poles come down, we have to physically replace the poles and put those wires back on those poles," Scott Surgeoner, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, which serves Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

He says as many as five times the normal amount of the company's regular workers were out working on the restoration efforts.

American Electric Power, which provides service for Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan and Kentucky, said 667,000 customers remained without power on Tuesday. That's down from 1.4 million after the storm, says spokeswoman Terri Flora.

She says most customers can expect to have their power back by this weekend. She says 306 transmission stations, which are mostly in fields or mountains and carry up to 785,000 volts of electricity to smaller stations that distribute electricity to communities, went down during the storm.

She counseled patience.

But customers say they are running out of it.

Jenna Hatfield, 31, of Cambridge, Ohio, has been without power since Friday. She, her husband, Josh, and their children, Nicholas, 6, and Parker, 4, were vacationing in North Carolina when the storms hit and drove home through a very dark West Virginia, she said.

Five days later, all the food in the refrigerator and freezer spoiled. She's heard she won't get power back until July 8.

"I'm very frustrated at this point," she says. "Nobody seems to think that we are a priority. I really don't think it should take over a week to restore power. Two to three days is an inconvenience. Over a week, you're messing with my livelihood."

Hatfield, editor for BlogHer.com, says she's had to take her children to work with her at a friend's house to get some air conditioning and do her job.

The family has a generator, which they use to plug in two fans, the refrigerator and a light at night.

She says American Electric Power needs to find another way to release information, other than online, because most affected people do not have access to the Internet.

Serena Golden, 25, of Washington, D.C., had power throughout the storm, but lost it Sunday night. She doesn't know why or when it will come back.

"I have so little information," says Golden, an associate editor at Inside Higher Ed. "It does make me mad because I feel like there's nothing I can do."

The Fourth of July holiday and the heat wave — when temperatures are expected to reach 99 degrees on Thursday — are making things worse, she says. There's also a looming rate increase from Pepco.

"It seems like if you want to charge even more money then you should provide even better service," she says.

While they wait, Golden and her three housemates avoid the upstairs rooms.

"None of us has been able to sleep because it's so hot," Golden said. "My housemates are really upset and angry — we're all pretty unhappy."

In D.C., Councilwoman Mary Cheh says she plans to ask the council's public services and consumer affairs committee as well as the district's public service commission, which oversees Pepco, to launch an investigation into how Pepco handled the storm-recovery efforts.

Cheh, who was without power for days after the storm, said she's received e-mails from frustrated residents. She said she wants to look into the company's response time during power outages, whether Pepco has enough staff and how it handles communications during emergencies.

"All we have is Pepco's generalities about the kind of job they did," says Cheh, who along with other council members met with Pepco on Tuesday. "I want something more in depth and reliable."

Relatives of seniors Jean and Ray Fitzgerald are boiling over Pepco's response. Anita Henck, of Los Angeles, and her son, Andrew, have scoured information online and called the utility's phone line every day to find out when her parents, who live in Bethesda, Md., will have their power restored.

It took the company three days to even post that a power outage occurred in Fitzgerald's neighborhood.

"Pepco's record of poor service is legendary," Anita Henck says. "But their lack of service for the elderly is disheartening."

Jean Fitzgerald is 79 and has breast cancer. She just started radiation therapy. Ray is 81. The temperature in their home reached 86 degrees in recent days. If it gets hotter, the couple will find a hotel, says Jean Fitzgerald.

A Depression-era baby born in the South and raised on a farm, Jean Fitzgerald says they are managing — for now.

"I don't want to live like this for many months," she says. "We have to be patient in this kind of thing and I know that, but sometimes patience wears thin."

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Society not ready for heat waves coming with climate change

Health officials are better prepared for heat waves than they used to be, but they have more to do in the face of climate change, experts say.

Evelyn Levitt, 7, kneels in the waters of Old National Bank's fountain in Evansville, Ind., on June 25. Denny Simmons, Evansville Courier & Press/AP

Evelyn Levitt, 7, kneels in the waters of Old National Bank's fountain in Evansville, Ind., on June 25.

Denny Simmons, Evansville Courier & Press/AP

Evelyn Levitt, 7, kneels in the waters of Old National Bank's fountain in Evansville, Ind., on June 25.

"Nationally and internationally we are much more aware of the danger of extreme heat than we were in 1995," says sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave: A social autopsy of disaster in Chicago, about the three-day heat wave that caused 739 excess deaths and thousands of hospitalizations in 1995.

"We're more prepared than we were in 1995. A lot of Americans are still vulnerable, and our power grid is vulnerable, too."

Medical workers reported few problems related to the past week's heat wave in parts of the USA that suffered extreme temperatures but were spared Friday night's storms that knocked out power to more than 3 million customers.

But in the District of Columbia, where heat and power outages struck together, sick patients at home who rely on electronic medical devices suffered doubly, and hospitals had to improvise, says Bill Frohna, chairman of the emergency department at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. "Before the storm came we saw some heat-related stuff, but once you throw the power issue on top of the heat, families didn't know what to do," Frohna said. "When no one has power they don't have a backup plan."

Even the Washington hospital had a plan for heat and a plan for outages, but not a plan for the two together, Frohna said.

After storms cut power to millions, hospital workers Saturday saw a spike in patients with chronic diseases who need electricity to operate home dialysis units and machines that deliver intravenous fluids, medications, tube feedings and oxygen, Frohna said.

Many arrived at the hospital with temperatures of 104 and could have been discharged after emergency cooling treatment and hydration, if they had a safe place to go, but they didn't, Frohna said.

Instead, hospital workers opened waiting spaces in part of the emergency room and the hospital's central registration area to let patients convalesce with their family members while caseworkers searched for cool, safe places with power where they can be sent.

Overall, the hospital saw a daily increase of 15% to 30% above normal during the weekend and Monday, Frohna said.

"Saturday (was) one of our biggest Saturdays in recent memory," he said.

Parts of the country that did not lose power because of the storm fared better.

In Indiana, where the heat wave has been going strong for a week, 153 emergency patients visited the state's emergency rooms for heat-related issues in all of last week, says Amy Reel, spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Health. The number of heat-related injuries has been relatively small because everyone is taking the heat seriously, says Wishard Hospital emergency physician John Boe. "There's more awareness of how dangerous this kind of weather can be," Boe said.

The news media have gotten better at getting the word out. Hospitals are better prepared. Public officials have made more cooling centers available and neighbors are checking on neighbors without air conditioning, Boe said.

Boe, who teaches at Indiana University's Department of Emergency Medicine, says the Chicago heat wave of 1995 was a turning point in his field.

"In our teachings, they always talk about the Chicago heat wave," he said.

Multiple factors led to the high death toll of the Chicago heat wave, Klinenberg says. High humidity combined with triple-digit heat and little nighttime cooling to turn the lakeside city into a furnace. Mayor Richard Daley and the city's fire and health commissioners were away on vacation. And the city failed to implement its plan for extreme heat, Klinenberg says.

High demand for electricity caused outages, and much of the city lost water as residents opened hydrants to cool off and then fought with city officials trying to close them. Most of the fatalities were elderly, isolated bachelors in the poorest sections of town, Klinenberg says.

Even worse disasters happened in Europe in 2003, when 70,000 excess deaths were caused by an extreme heat event that lasted three weeks, and in Russia in 2010, when a heat wave caused 50,000 excess deaths.

The USA has yet to experience such an extreme heat event, but some experts believe that with climate change it's only a matter of time.

Climate projections see global warming driving longer, warmer and more frequent heat waves for North America in coming years, says Princeton climate scientist Ngar-Cheung Lau.

Essentially, global warming raises the odds of heat waves, and at the same time worsens their effects due to the warmer temperature it brings on average, he says. "One cannot attach certainty to any one weather event being driven by climate change, but this heat wave is certainly striking in its size, severity and duration, similar to the sort of heat waves seen in climate projections," Lau says.

Klinenberg says cities such as Washington, Philadelphia and New York City are ill prepared.

"We need to make sure that cities can get through the worst heat wave," he says. "In New York City, police officers drive through streets using loudspeakers asking people to turn down their air conditioning during the day. The power grid can't handle it."

Contributing: Dan Vergano

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Weather alerts coming soon to smartphone near you

MINNEAPOLIS – Millions of smartphone users will soon begin receiving text messages about severe weather from a sophisticated government system that can send a blanket warning to mobile devices in the path of a dangerous storm.

Bob Burns holds his smartphone Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Minnetonka, Minn. Jim Mone, AP

Bob Burns holds his smartphone Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Minnetonka, Minn.

Jim Mone, AP

Bob Burns holds his smartphone Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Minnetonka, Minn.

The new Wireless Emergency Alerts system gives the National Weather Service a new way to warn Americans about menacing weather, even if they are nowhere near a television, radio or storm sirens.

Beginning Thursday, the system will notify people about approaching tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards and other threats. When a warning is issued for a specific county, a message of no more than 90 characters will cause late-model smartphones in that area to sound a special tone and vibrate.

Users do not have to sign up for the service or pay for the text message. And people who prefer not to get the warnings can opt out of the system.

"These alerts will make sure people are aware of any impending danger and provide them with the information needed so they can be safe until the threat is over," said Amy Storey, spokeswoman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, an industry trade group that helped set up the system.

The system does not yet work with all smartphones or in all areas. It is part of a broader alert network the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched in April that can also send public-safety warnings from the president and participating state and local governments. But the weather service estimates that more than 90% of the messages will be about storms.

The weather warnings will include tornadoes, hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, flash floods, extreme winds, blizzards and ice and dust storms. Designers were concerned about overloading users with too much information, so they deliberately limited the messages to warnings, not watches, and excluded severe thunderstorm warnings, weather service spokeswoman Susan Buchanan said.

Wireless carriers serving almost 97% of U.S. subscribers have agreed to participate, including the biggest nationwide companies — AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA. Each of the four offers at least some phones capable of receiving emergency alerts, with more on the way.

Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile say they offer the service nationwide. AT&T only offers it in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore., at the moment. Spokesman Michael Balmoris said the company will add additional markets over time but declined to say which ones or when.

Government officials don't have a good handle on exactly how many capable devices are already in use, but Damon Penn, assistant administrator for national continuity programs at FEMA, said the number is probably in the millions.

He said smartphone users should check with their carriers to find out whether service is available and if their device is able to use it. He said many people own phones equipped to get the new alerts but don't know it yet.

Sprint spokeswoman Crystal Davis said most Sprint smartphones now in use can receive the alerts thanks to recent automatic software upgrades. All new models will be equipped, as will all new tablet devices.

One unanswered question is when the legions of Apple iPhone users will be able to receive alerts. Buchanan said iPhones are supposed to join the system in the fall, but she didn't know if that means only new iPhones, or if software upgrades will make older models capable, too. Representatives of Apple Inc., which is highly secretive about its product upgrades, did not respond to several messages seeking details.

FEMA's system carries three kinds of alerts: presidential alerts, which might deal with national security information such as terrorist attacks; imminent-threat alerts, which include weather warnings as well as public-safety messages from local authorities; and Amber Alerts issued by law enforcement agencies for kidnapped children.

Phone users can opt out of the imminent threat and Amber Alerts, usually just by changing their settings, but they can't opt out of presidential alerts.

Twenty-eight state or local emergency management agencies in about a dozen states are authorized to send imminent-threat alerts. Eighty-three others are in the process of getting certified.

Agencies have different ideas for the system. Minnesota is considering using it for chemical spills or nuclear accidents. In southern Florida's Miami-Dade County, it might convey hurricane evacuation information.

Curt Sommerhoff, Miami-Dade's director of emergency management, said the alerts will permit authorities to distribute urgent information to people in danger "whether you're a resident, employee or visitor."

On the streets of downtown Minneapolis, a couple of smartphone users were open to receiving the unsolicited weather and other warnings.

"I spend enough time reading junk on my phone that's of no real benefit to me. I might as well read something useful," said Bob Burns, a Minnetonka attorney sitting at a sidewalk cafe as he worked on both an iPhone and an iPad. "It's putting technology to use for the public good."

Dan Smith, a photographer from Reston, Va., who was in Minneapolis for a convention, said he was worried that the messages could became intrusive.

"It's like email. It used to be you only got stuff you wanted. Now you get 20 junk messages for every good one," Smith said.

The system doesn't use the satellite-based global positioning system to determine a phone's location. Participating carriers just send an alert out from every cell tower in the affected county, and capable smartphones pick it up.

So if a user from Minneapolis travels to Kansas City, Mo., that person would get local warnings for Kansas City, not their home city. That feature sets the system apart from weather apps that deliver information based on users' ZIP code but don't automatically update their locations when users travel.

Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist at the national Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla, said in a typical year most smartphone users will probably receive relatively few weather alerts.

"Even in those areas of the country where there's a lot of severe weather, the frequency with which you would be alerted is pretty low," Carbin said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Heat, power outages continue assault on East, Midwest

An unrelenting wave of stifling heat continued to blanket the East and Midwest on Monday as millions of people struggled without power for a third straight day.

A car crushed by a fallen tree on Carrington Road in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday. By Parker Michels-Boyce, AP

A car crushed by a fallen tree on Carrington Road in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday.

By Parker Michels-Boyce, AP

A car crushed by a fallen tree on Carrington Road in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday.

About 2 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey and as far west as Illinois were without power Monday morning. And utility officials said that for many the power would likely be out for several more days.

Since Friday, severe weather has been blamed for at least 22 deaths, most from trees falling on homes and cars. The culprit was a ferocious summer storm that cut a swath of destruction Friday night across 11 states, toppling trees, knocking out traffic lights, and sending thousands of people to shelters and into community pools to escape the heat.

The heat wave that began last week was expected to drive temperatures into the 100s from Indianapolis to Atlanta through the Fourth of July holiday.

The worst of the outages remained in the areas around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. To alleviate commuter congestion Monday, federal and state officials gave many workers the option of staying home. Federal agencies opened in Washington, but non-emergency employees had the option of taking leave or working from home. Maryland's governor also gave state workers wide leeway for staying out of the office.

Heat warnings have been issued for parts of Alabama, Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio. In St. Louis, the National Weather Service warned of "dangerous heat" as temperatures climb to 106 degrees on Monday.

State public health officials have issued a boil-water advisory for all of West Virginia, where Environmental Health Services Director Barbara Taylor said statewide power outages related to the Friday night storm have put many water supplies at risk, and the advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Since a storm pushed a tree through the roof of her Beckley, W.Va., home, Emma Patrick, says she's been living with a tangle of electrical wires. "These electrical wires are all in my house, all in my roof, all over the doors," Patrick says. "I am 91 years old with cancer. I am terrified to move around. I don't know if these wires are live or dead."

"The electric company is saying; 'You just have to wait.' I have been calling and calling and calling and these people act like they just do not care."

In Ohio, about 445,000 residents and businesses were without power in the aftermath of the state's worst storm since 2008, when it was battered by the remnants of Hurricane Ike. About 200 National Guard members were going door-to-door in the Columbus and Dayton areas Monday to check on residents who might need help. Columbus planned to open fire hydrants to help residents cool off.

"It makes me remember what life was like when I was a kid," said Terry Ann Grove, 71 , buying ice, bread and peanut butter at one of a handful of open stores in Newark, Ohio. "It's worse now because we're used to air-conditioning and McDonald's any time you want it."

Grove spent a day with a daughter who had power in Columbus, 45 minutes away, but returned to be home even though power wasn't expected until this weekend. "That's what porches are for, I guess," she said.

In nearby Granville, nobody had electricity, except for a few emergency generators. Denison University closed and sent students home. However, the village's four-day July Fourth fair was scheduled to start Wednesday -- with or without power -- powered by generators supplied by the amusement ride company.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency, saying the storms caused the most widespread, non-hurricane-related power outage in that state's history. A wastewater treatment plant in Lynchburg lost power and discharged at least 250,000 gallons of water into the James River.

"This is not a one-day situation," McDonnell said. "It is a multiday challenge."

With no power at his home, barista Morgan Smith has been sleeping on the floor of Market Street Coffee in rural Purcellville, Va., for the last two nights. The store - which never lost power - is one of the few places in the western Loudoun County town with free wifi, and Monday morning, was busy with people charging cell phones and typing on laptops.

"People have been very flustered," Smith said. "Exhausted."

In the shop, Anna Novaes of nearby Lovettsville caught up on work while her daughter, Anna Luiza Mendonca, used her own laptop to take an online English class. The family lost power Friday night, and utility NOVEC forecast the outage would last until Tuesday afternoon.

"We've had to be creative," Novaes said. "We've been sleeping in the basement because it's fresher and cooler down there. And we've been going to the gym to take showers."

John Swift who lost power at his home in a suburb of Richmond, Va., toughed out the power outage without complaint. The heat, he said, was the "biggest nuisance."

"I've got a camp stove. I've got cold showers. I don't watch TV. It's not a big deal," said Swift, 60.

Already, the heat wave has "broken hundreds of daily records and quite a few all-time records," said Weather Service meteorologist Katie LaBelle. "The heat is actually a very significant threat, especially with all the power outages. Coming behind that storm, with all the damage it caused, reacting to the heat is a high priority, making sure people can find cool places while they wait for the power to come back on."

Weekend temperatures topped 109 in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Meteorologists in Jacksonville said the combination of 100-degree temperatures and high humidity there made it feel like 118.

Some states declared emergencies and activated disaster-response agencies. Governors in New Jersey and Ohio called out the National Guard.

Officials focused on the most vulnerable residents: children, the sick and the elderly.

In Washington, D.C., officials canceled summer school for Monday as they continued to assess storm damage. The city opened libraries and recreation centers and extended the hours at community pools to give residents without power respite from the heat. The city dispatched National Guard troops to powerless intersections to direct traffic and keep people away from debris and downed power lines.

Maryland opened 74 cooling stations to help residents cope with the heat and was canvassing hospitals and nursing homes to ensure they have enough power to keep elderly and sick residents cool, Maryland Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ed McDonough said. The number of people without power is similar to power outages following hurricanes, he said.

"That's still an awful lot of people without power in the extreme heat we're having now," McDonough said. "It's still an event that's going to take days instead of hours. We didn't have the kind of warning you have with hurricane so they couldn't stage repair crews ahead of time."

In western Pennsylvania, power had been restored to 95% of the 63,000 customers who suffered outages during the storm. The rest were expected to have electricity back late Monday.

Contributing: Gary Strauss, Anthony DeBarros and Natalie DiBlasio in McLean, Va., Dennis Cauchon in Ohio and the Associated Press

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Northeast hits upper 90s for 2nd day

BOSTON (AP) – Temperatures in the Northeast soared into the upper 90s Thursday for a second day as residents fled to pools and beaches, tourists reorganized their sightseeing itineraries and street vendors and store owners made a small fortune selling bottled water and other cold drinks.

Construction worker Andrew Barbosa, right, splashes his face with water from an open hydrant in New York City on Thursday. Temperatures in the Northeast soared into the upper 90s. By Kathy Willens, AP

Construction worker Andrew Barbosa, right, splashes his face with water from an open hydrant in New York City on Thursday. Temperatures in the Northeast soared into the upper 90s.

By Kathy Willens, AP

Construction worker Andrew Barbosa, right, splashes his face with water from an open hydrant in New York City on Thursday. Temperatures in the Northeast soared into the upper 90s.

New York's Central Park was forecast to reach a record 98 degrees. Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., will see similar heat with temperatures inching into the upper 90s and low 100s. The official first day of summer Wednesday set records from New York City to Burlington, Vt.

In the nation's capital on Thursday, a bit of resourcefulness has helped at least some tourists hit all the hotspots despite the scorching heat.

Nolan Shoffner, 36, who was vacationing with his parents and 10-year-old son, Parker, said the family had rearranged some of their plans, like visiting the Lincoln and World War II memorials on Monday when it was cooler.

Since then, they've been doing outdoor activities like the White House and Capitol in the morning and saving cool, indoor museums for the afternoon.

"There's not a lot of places you can hide," Shoffner said of the heat as he stood outside the U.S. Capitol after taking a picture with his family.

In Boston, even as temperatures soared into the 90s, many took the heat in stride.

At the city's Franklin Park Zoo, gorillas sucked on ice treats and ostriches waded through spray mists in an effort to keep cool.

Spokeswoman Brooke Wardrop said the 100-year-old zoo routinely takes weather precautions with its animals.

Meanwhile, many flocked to area beaches to enjoy the stretch of heat. Dave Remillard, 50, went to Wollaston Beach in Quincy, just south of Boston. But instead of going in the water, he sat on a beach chair near his car and sunbathed.

"It's still a little cold to go swimming. The surf's still a little cold," he said, sipping a large cup of iced coffee. "I hope we have a hot summer. We haven't had one in a while."

In New Jersey, forecasters say temperatures could combine with humidity to make it feel like 110 degrees in parts of the state. Thermometers might not drop below 80 until the wee hours of Friday morning.

"American Idol" hopefuls in Newark got a bit of a break from the heat Thursday morning when they were ushered inside the Prudential Center to register to audition.

Providence, R.I., which is expected to have a heat index as high as 102 degrees, is operating cooling shelters and offering free public transit to discourage driving.

In preparation for the sweltering weather, golf course officials at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut have IVs ready to go at a medical tent where dozens were treated for heat exhaustion Wednesday.

Emergency medical services director John Quinlavin said people need to drink more water at the stations set up around the course. Forecasts for the area call for temperatures just short of 100 degrees.

"People are coming in dizzy, a little nausea, vomiting, generally poor feeling overall," he said. "We generally have a more mature audience here, and we do see a lot of the elderly having some problems with the heat."

With high heat and humidity forecast across the region, public health officials warned residents to not leave pets or children in vehicles as temperatures can quickly escalate and lead to heat stroke and death.

Two dogs left in a hot pickup truck in western Massachusetts died as a result of the heat Wednesday afternoon.

Erika Mueller, a co-owner of South Deerfield Emergency Veterinary Hospital, said the well-meaning dog owner left the animals in the truck with a window open and a supply of water, but the temperatures soared into the 90s, which can surpass 100 in a vehicle.

Bashir Saleh, a Times Square food vendor, glanced at a tiny thermometer Thursday morning and looked up with a wry grin: The temperature in his cart was pushing 100.

"I'm exhausted," said Saleh, a native of Afghanistan who'd been working already eight hours as the heat rose near his propane-gas fueled coffee maker.

But it's worth it to him, he said. He makes more money on the hottest days selling iced coffee and other drinks.

Sporting a visor with an American flag, Saleh, who'd fled war in his native land, said that even when he's sweating to earn a living, "I think, God bless America. For a few days, I can sacrifice."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ's. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Report: By 2030, Calif. coast to see seas rise by six inches

The West Coast will see an ocean several inches higher in coming decades, with most of California expected to get sea levels a half foot higher by 2030, according a report released Friday.

A man walks in the parking lot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. By Jeff Chiu, AP file

A man walks in the parking lot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

By Jeff Chiu, AP file

A man walks in the parking lot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

The study by the National Research Council gives planners their best look yet at how melting ice sheets and warming oceans associated with climate change will raise sea levels along the country's Pacific coast. It is generally consistent with earlier global projections, but takes a closer look at California, Oregon and Washington.

Although the six inches expected for California by 2030 seem minor, the report estimated that sea levels there will be three feet higher by 2100. About 72% of the state's coast is covered by sandy cliffs, and the rest include beaches, sand dunes, bays and estuaries.

"Rising seas increase the risk of coastal flooding, storm surge inundation, coastal erosion and shoreline retreat, and wetland loss," the report said. "The cities and infrastructure that line many coasts are already vulnerable to damage from storms, which is likely to increase as sea level continues to rise and inundate areas further inland."

Northern California, Oregon and Washington can expect a less dramatic increase — about four inches by 2030 and two feet by 2100 — because seismic activity is causing land to rise north of the San Andreas Fault, offsetting increasing sea levels, and drop south of it. The fault runs out to sea at Cape Mendocino.

The most immediate threat over the next few decades will come from periodic ocean-warming El Nino events, said Gary Griggs, director of the Institute for Marine Sciences at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who was one of the scientists assembled by the council to produce the report.

"During those events, sea level is elevated as much as a foot above normal and then we've got typically larger waves coming in with the high tides," particularly in the Northwest, he said.

If a major earthquake occurs beneath the Pacific Ocean off Oregon, in what is known as the Cascadia subduction zone, that could cause the land to drop, allowing sea level to rise another three feet, the report said. Such a major temblor occurred 300 years ago.

The report was commissioned by states and federal agencies looking for detailed information so they can plan for an accelerated rate of erosion along beaches, bluffs and sand dunes that are already crumbling into the sea.

"A lot of the data we had before was worldwide data or has the caveat, 'Can't be used for planning purposes,'" said Susan Hansch, chief deputy director of the California Coastal Commission. "It all comes down to the better data you have, the better decisions you can make."

Sea levels rise for two reasons due to global warming.

Warmer water expands, which can cause as many as 23 inches of sea level rise by 2100, according to the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Then, warmer temperatures cause ice sheets in Greenland and west Antarctica to melt slowly, adding another foot or more to sea levels by 2100, scientists said. But those estimates are for the planet as a whole. Some places will see higher seas and others will get less dramatic increases.

Globally, sea levels have risen about eight inches over the last century, but the rate has been increasing significantly, said Griggs.

The report summarized published projections, such as the IPCC report of 2007, and updated it with computer modeling, as well as an analysis of tidal gauge readings and satellite measurements along specific sites on the West Coast.

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Colo. wildfire tops 100 square miles

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The High Park Fire has hopscotched, scorched and charred through more than 100 square miles since it began June 9, destroying almost 200 homes.

Fire burns trees on the High Park wildfire near Livermore, Colo., on Tuesday. The fire already has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9. By Ed Andrieski, AP

Fire burns trees on the High Park wildfire near Livermore, Colo., on Tuesday. The fire already has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9.

By Ed Andrieski, AP

Fire burns trees on the High Park wildfire near Livermore, Colo., on Tuesday. The fire already has destroyed at least 189 homes since it was sparked by lightning June 9.

For the first time, reporters were allowed access behind road closures so they could show the public what happened.

It isn't pretty.

The fire destroyed a blue single-story home across from the entrance to Picnic Rock State Park, leaving little but a foundation and a tangle of debris. But a few yards east, a white pickup truck sat untouched. Grasses and trees are blackened and burned in front of the house, but a large satellite dish to the west appeared unharmed.

Just north of the mouth of Poudre Canyon entrance, the fire destroyed another house despite firefighters' efforts to stop the blaze in that area.

"Unfortunately, the fire got ahead of us," said Poudre Fire Authority spokesman Capt. Patrick Love, who led the tour Wednesday. "It was not only difficult to see, but the fire was spreading quickly. We were outstripped."

A reporter and photographer flew over the burn area Tuesday afternoon and saw large unburned areas within the main fire perimeter, in some places looking like tiger stripes or leopard spots.

And on Wednesday's tour, Love pointed out how the south side of the Picnic Rock area was relatively unscathed and still covered with vegetation that Love said potentially could reignite.

"And then we're off to the races again," Love said, referring to the possibility of a new fire breaking out.

The tour included only two areas where residents had been allowed to return and did not encompass the hardest-hit areas where most of the 189 homes were destroyed and a woman was killed in her cabin before she could escape the flames.

"It's going to be years before this area returns to the way it was," said John Schulz, a spokesman for the Larimer County Sheriff, while standing on the grounds of the untouched Gateway Park Natural Area. "While it will be different, we hope we'll still be able to offer a good experience for our visitors and our residents. But it will be a different experience."

Wildlife also will be affected for years to come. Most birds and mammals, except those too young or too old to flee, have been able to travel to less intense areas, said Mark Vieira, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist. They likely will return when new grasses sprout from the ashes.

But fish face big challenges: At first, fish are threatened with the heat of the fire itself. Next comes the slurry firefighters drop from the air to douse the blaze. Finally, following the blaze, ash and large amounts of sediment flow into streams.

Ash can clog a fish's gills, said Randy Hampton, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Stream health also affects the ability of insects, food for the fish, to breed.

Almost 2,000 firefighters are working to battle the blaze, which is considered 55 percent contained. Now officials want to keep unscathed sections within the burn area from igniting. Costs are approaching $20 million.

(Contributing: Bobby Magill and Madeline Novey, Fort Collins Coloradoan)

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