Home Emergency Management News EDM Wednesday Briefing: Wildfires Ravage Southern California

EDM Wednesday Briefing: Wildfires Ravage Southern California


Emergency and disaster management briefing for December 6, 2017: A raging wildfire that spread rapidly in Southern California destroyed at least 150 structures, multiple wildfires spawned by the Santa Ana winds prompted the evacuations of tens of thousands of people in Southern California, officials issue air quality alerts across large swath of Southern California, FEMA may garnish employees wages for exceeding pay limitations, a thwarted assassination plot leads to the arrest of two individuals by London authorities, air carriers announce restrictive policies regarding smart bags on commercial airplanes, a Missouri police officer is in critical condition after being shot by a burglary suspect, watches and warnings have been issued for at least seven counties in New York for the season's first lake effect snowfall.

  1. A raging wildfire broke out in Ventura County, California late Monday evening rapidly consuming at least 55,000 acres as embers were quickly carried large distances by the 40 to 70 mph Santa Winds. Dubbed the Thomas Fire, the blaze has already destroyed 150 structures, prompted evacuations for thousands, and is threatening at least another 3,000 homes. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared emergencies for Ventura and Los Angeles counties as more than 1,000 firefighters battle the raging wildfire that continues to burn out of control with zero percent of the wildfire being contained. 
  2. Winds on Tuesday also whipped up several other fires, including two additional major fires in Southern California, The Creek Fire, which began just outside the City of Los Angeles, and the Rye Fire, in Santa Clarita, prompting a total of over 150,000 evacuations as firefighters struggled to fight the fires. The fires have also caused nearly 43,000 power outages, with more being likely since fires were burning along transmission paths. The fires have prompted road and highway closures and many schools throughout the fire ravaged areas are also closed on Wednesday.
  3. Due to the multiple wildfires, portions of Southern California are now under an unhealthy air quality alert, including portions of the Fernando Valley, Lake View Terrace, Slymar, Malibu, and Santa Monica. Unpredictable Santa Ana wind patterns, currently the longest and strongest in duration this season--at least three days--according to the National Weather Service (NWS), have sent smoke and ash throughout the area. As a result, health officials are urging residents, especially children and the elderly, if they smell smoke-filled air to remain indoors, limit outdoor activity, and be aware of their surroundings.
  4. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) might require employees to pay back monies they earned while working overtime for the nation's recent disasters, but who may still be forced to work without any additional pay. The agency may be garnishing wages of some 500 federal disaster first responders who worked back-to-back emergencies due to the unprecedented hurricane season this year. FEMA states that the maximum earnings limitation may have been reached by some of its employees, almost all in management, and FEMA is currently monitoring their status. Reports indicate that laws dating back to the 1960s set limits for what federal employees may make at different levels, resulting in the maximum earnings limitations.  
  5. Authorities in London arrested two individuals last week helping to thwart an attack that they believe was an alleged plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, Theresa May. It is believed to have been the ninth alleged Islamist plot to have been thwarted this year. The plot emerged as part of the investigation into the terrorist attacks that occurred in England in March and June and it is believed that the attack would have begun with an improvised bomb at the gates of Downing Street.
  6. Smartbags may be a popular gift this Christmas season, but airlines are already implementing restrictive policies regarding the use and transportation of the bags. First cited as a concern by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), American Airlines was the first air carrier to issue restrictive policies, including removal of the lithium ion batteries in checked luggage. Many of the bags already on the market do not meet this requirement since the batteries are unable to be removed. In addition, the carrier requires smart bags traveling in the cabin to be powered off in order to be transported, and Delta and Alaska Airlines are likely to follow suit with similar policy implementations in the near future. 
  7. Ryan O'Connor, 44, a police officer in Arnold, Missouri, was shot by a handcuffed burglary suspect he was transporting to be booked on Tuesday morning. The officer was only yards away from the facility, but never entered the sally port, prompting officers inside to go outdoors where they found the SUV crashed into a fuel tank. Officers discovered O'Connor and the suspect with critical gunshot wounds to their head/neck areas and transported both to area hospitals where the suspect was later pronounced dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. 
  8. The season's first lake effect snow is geared up to hit portions of New York along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. A total of seven counties in close proximity to those lakes, including Chautauqua, Jefferson, and Wyoming, are under lake effect snow watches or warnings beginning Wednesday night through Friday morning, with accumulations of anywhere from 1 to 18 inches possible, likely making travel difficult or impossible. The National Weather Service has also issued a gale warning for Lake Ontario, with wave heights of 10-14 feet and wind gusts of 40 mph until 1:00 pm on Wednesday.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.