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California fire nips at Reagan presidential library, people and horses flee

Horse owners evacuate the Easy Fire amid smoky skies. Image: Christian Monterrosa / AP /  Shutterstock By Mark Kaufman2019-10-30 12:47:30 -0700 Horse owners fled with their animals Wednesday morning as a new blaze erupted on Southern California’s parched terrain.  The wind-whipped Easy Fire, born near Easy Street in the city of Simi Valley north of…

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California fire nips at Reagan presidential library, people and horses flee
Horse owners evacuate the Easy Fire amid smoky skies.
Horse owners evacuate the Easy Fire amid smoky skies.

Image: Christian Monterrosa / AP /  Shutterstock

By Mark Kaufman

Horse owners fled with their animals Wednesday morning as a new blaze erupted on Southern California’s parched terrain. 

The wind-whipped Easy Fire, born near Easy Street in the city of Simi Valley north of Los Angeles, made a vigorous run at Ronald Reagan’s hillside presidential library, but the blaze, promptly attacked by firefighters, has so far been stopped near the edges of the landmark. Yet flames have spread over some 1,300 acres while threatening more than 7,000 homes, according to the Ventura County Fire Department (as of 11 a.m. PST). 

“We were able to protect the library,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Chad Cook at a press conference. But Cook noted the entire region is still under threat. 

Sprawling Southern California is experiencing a stretch of particularly extreme fire weather, wherein a nasty confluence of powerful fall winds, profoundly dried-out land, and human development and activity (like sparks from cars or power lines) in fire country produce rapidly moving blazes.

What’s more, 21st-century wildfires have the added benefit of a relentlessly warming climate. Recent research has found the climate-driven drying of California’s vegetation makes fires easier to start. And once started, these blazes then spread rapidly over greater areas than in previous decades.

At October’s end, much of California’s brush is yellow, brown and withered. And for the next two days, dry winds gusting east from the desert (called Santa Ana winds) will create explosive conditions. 

“This presents itself as very high fire danger,” National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Tardy said Tuesday night. Tardy added that the region’s fire-prone vegetation, or fuels, are at “near-record lows” for moisture.

Foreseeing the spread of flames, the local Ventura Country Sheriff has so far issued evacuations to some 7,000 homes on Wednesday, meaning about 26,000 people, and their horses (there are lots of horse owners in the area). 

Extreme winds are projected to blow over Southern California through Thursday. For some, it will be a smoky, and truly unsettling, Halloween. 

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Voyager 2 has reached interstellar space — Future Blink

We couldn’t find the page you were looking for. We found all your missing socks.

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Voyager 2 has reached interstellar space — Future Blink

We couldn’t find the page you were looking for.

We found all your missing socks.

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Shaky California turns on its long-awaited quake alert app

Quakes can’t be predicted. But unassuming Californians can now be alerted that a significant temblor has hit and it’s time to promptly “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” before their world starts shaking. On Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state’s Earthquake Early Warning System, which means Golden State denizens from the northern Redwoods to…

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Shaky California turns on its long-awaited quake alert app

Quakes can’t be predicted. But unassuming Californians can now be alerted that a significant temblor has hit and it’s time to promptly “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” before their world starts shaking.

On Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state’s Earthquake Early Warning System, which means Golden State denizens from the northern Redwoods to the Salton Sea can be alerted of imminent shaking in two major ways.

The first part of the system is the new, free MyShake app (available on iOS and Android phones) which will notify the app’s users about nearby quakes. The second element is Wireless Emergency Alerts which automatically blasts out text messages (the same way you receive an emergency Amber alert) after a quake has been detected. Both alerts, which can give people seconds to tens of seconds of warning, receive quake information from the U.S. Geological Survey’s innovative, sensor-based, ShakeAlert system.

The new MyShake app, developed at the University of California, Berkeley, is a significant, though still prototypical part of California’s quake warning plan. It works, “but it will improve over time,” Richard Allen, director of UC Berkeley’s Seismological Laboratory, said at a press conference Thursday. “We want every Californian to download the MyShake app,” added Mark Ghilarducci, the director of California’s Office of Emergency Services.

“There’s not really a downside,” John Vidale, a seismologist and professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California, said of the app. “Conceivably it could tell us before the shaking starts,” said Vidale, who was not involved in creating the app but has tested earlier versions of quake alert apps.

What’s more, the app uses smartphone sensors to detect significant earthquakes. 

“In addition to alerting you about impending shaking [MyShake] turns your phone into an earthquake sensor,” noted Wendy Bohon, a geologist at the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology. Bohon also had no role in developing California’s early warning system.

As the app’s UC Berkeley creators note online, “Our testing has shown that most modern phones in use today can record earthquakes down to magnitude 5 within 10 km of the epicenter.” (A magnitude 5 is a moderate quake “felt by nearly everyone” and will result in some broken dishes and windows, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.) MyShake’s software will get progressively better at identifying quakes as more people use the app.

For now, text messages will be sent out to Californians who feel quakes with an intensity as low as 4.5, a light quake felt by many people indoors. But the MyShake app will send alerts at even lower quake intensities of 3, said UC Berkeley’s Allen. This will match the current alert thresholds of the separate ShakeAlertLA app, released in January exclusively for Los Angeles denizens. The app angered many Angelenos in July when they felt a level 3 quake but didn’t receive alerts. At the time, the L.A. app was set to notify users of shaking intensities of 4 or higher. 

Finding the best alert levels for both text and app systems will require tweaking. “It will not be static,” Governor Newsom said. And there’ll certainly be ample opportunity for finding the ideal alert thresholds, as there will be plenty more quakes

Quake destruction in Northridge in 1994.

Quake destruction in Northridge in 1994.

Image: Chuck Jackson / AP / Shutterstock

The big takeaways 

Any “shake alert” received via text or the MyShake app is only a warning, albeit a potentially major warning.

“The most useful thing is to have your head up [figuratively] and know what’s happening,” said Vidale. “We want people to do sensible things.”

That means dropping to your hands and knees, covering your head and neck with an arm (ideally crawling under sturdy furniture if available), and holding on until the shaking stops.

“ShakeAlert can save lives and reduce the chance of injuries by giving people time to take protective actions like ‘Drop, Cover and Hold on’ before shaking from an earthquake arrives,” said Bohon. “It will also potentially give them time to move away from dangerous or hazardous locations.”

But this early warning system comes with a major limitation, emphasized Bohon. If you’re very close to an earthquake’s epicenter, you may not receive an alert before shaking, or violent shaking, begins. “This is because the system needs time to determine the earthquake’s size and likely shaking levels and it also needs time to distribute the alert,” she said. 

Most Californians live in quake country, so they should already have their plans together. “People should be sure to continue to prepare for earthquakes before they happen,” said Bohon. “The few seconds to tens of seconds that ShakeAlert may provide is obviously not enough time to take critical actions like making an earthquake kit, securing heavy furniture to the walls, bolting the home to the foundation, etc.”

When future quakes hit, Californians now have a new tool in their co-existence with a volatile, incessantly moving earth. 

“Should it work well?” asked Bohom. “Hopefully, yes. ShakeAlert is an innovative technology that will improve over time.”

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The 2019 Fat Bear Week champion is in a league of her own

Welcome to Fat Bear Week 2019! Katmai National Park’s bears spent the summer gorging on 4,500-calorie salmon, and they’ve transformed into rotund giants, some over 1,000 pounds. The park is holding its annual playoff-like competition for the fattest of the fat bears (you can vote online between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8), and Mashable will…

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The 2019 Fat Bear Week champion is in a league of her own

Welcome to Fat Bear Week 2019! Katmai National Park’s bears spent the summer gorging on 4,500-calorie salmon, and they’ve transformed into rotund giants, some over 1,000 pounds. The park is holding its annual playoff-like competition for the fattest of the fat bears (you can vote online between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8), and Mashable will be following the ursine activity. 


Drew Hamilton knew it immediately. 

“Holly is going to win,” he texted me. 

Hamilton, who views bears professionally as an Alaskan bear viewing guide, landed in remote Katmai National and Preserve in late September. He was there to spy the bears before they climbed hills, dug dens, and went into hibernation.

He easily spotted Bear 435 “Holly,” who the park officially announced Tuesday as the winner of the 2019 Fat Bear Week contest. 

“It’s almost like the river got higher when Holly went in the water to catch a fish,” said Hamilton.

“You almost get the sense watching her that she’s getting fatter before your eyes,” he added. 

“It’s almost

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