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Oregon city looks like a bomb flattened it as state deploys mobile morgue for wildfire victims

Over a million acres have burned in Oregon, displacing thousands of people in what officials describe as a “perfect storm.”

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As the West Coast continues struggling to control devastating fires, the small city of Detroit, Oregon, which lies roughly 120 miles southeast of Portland, has been destroyed by the fires so comprehensively that it “looks like a bomb went off,” according to local residents.

The flattening of the rural town comes as Oregon State Police have deployed the first-ever mobile morgue in expectation of what officials have warned over the weekend could be a “mass fatality incident,” with at least 10 deaths confirmed and another 50 people unaccounted for.

The small city of Detroit, which has a population of about 210 residents, is only one of multiple towns that have been devastated by the unprecedented wildfires that have spread across western Oregon, forcing tens of thousands to be evacuated and displacing countless people as thousands of homes have been reduced to ashes.

“We have approximately 20-25 structures still standing, and the rest are gone,” the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District announced on Facebook.

Hi everyone, I returned from our district late last night. I'll start with the good news: Idanha is safe. As far as we…

Posted by Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District on Sunday, September 13, 2020

Detroit’s City Hall, which also serves as the district office for the local fire department, was one of the many buildings consumed by flames.

“Our primary focus is protecting the structures that are still standing,” officials said. “Several of our firefighters have also lost their homes. They are working through their own losses while also fighting to protect homes still intact.”

Sandi Elwood, who grew up in Detroit, was horrified when she drove into town to assess the damage. Multiple buildings were utterly annihilated by the fires, including her old church, the bar where she once worked, the marina where she would hang out during the summer, as well as her mother’s home and those belonging to countless others.

“I thought, ‘What did I just see?’” Elwood told the Oregonian.

Her mother, who was evacuated from the city, still hasn’t seen the scorched ruins of her hometown – but is feeling numb nevertheless.

“The reality will probably hit her when she’s standing on her property,” Elwood said.

Elizabeth Smith was another Detroit local whose every possession was lost when the wildfire swept through the town.

“Our homes are absolutely destroyed,” Smith told KATU. “I’ve seen a few videos and photos and my lovely little house that we remodeled 12 years ago in this beautiful canyon area is absolutely flattened. It looks as though a bomb went off.”

The small community had gone from no evacuation order to an urgent level three “go now” mandatory evacuation notice in a matter of only a few hours. Some residents remain frustrated by the poor communication.

“I’m not going to blame anybody. It’s what it is,” said Detroit Mayor Jim Trett. “But yeah, we would have liked to have more of an alert. But I can’t blame anybody because this thing just came like a freight train.”

The mayor compared the explosive Lionshead Fire to the Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, California, two years ago.

“If you remember the Paradise Fire in 2018, it’s the same topography: three canyons coming down like a funnel into the city of Paradise at the bottom of the funnel,” Trett explained. “When I heard that two years ago I said, that’s Detroit.”

The terrible damage wrought by fires remains incalculable, as huge fires spanning several have burned 4.6 million acres so far – an area equivalent to Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

The 94 major blazes have mainly burned rural zones and forest land, but major urban centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland have seen their air quality plummet and the sun blotted out due to the toxic smoke being pumped out of the fires, increasing the risk of lung infections and infectious diseases.

Oregon Department of Forestry Fire Chief Doug Grafe expects that at least eight of Oregon’s wildfires will continue burning “until the winter’s rains fall,” while California still has four months left of fire season.

Emergency workers are also fighting to recover bodies from the fire, and in some cases have located the corpses of victims but have been unable to recover them due to harsh conditions.

Dozens remain missing in the western Oregon counties of Jackson, Lane, and Marion, according to Gov. Kate Brown.

For the first time in Oregon’s history, the state has now activated a 75-person regional response team to recover bodily remains and operate a mobile morgue. The state has long trained for such an event but up to now, hasn’t been forced to use it. Certified death investigators, law enforcement personnel, criminalists and forensic scientist will be aiding the team’s efforts, reports the Oregonian.

While Oregon’s fires usually consume 500,000 acres annually in the state, “this week alone, we burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon,” Gov. Brown said.

“We saw the perfect fire storm,” she added. “We saw incredible winds. We saw very cold, hot temperatures and, of course, we have a landscape that has seen 30 years of drought.”

The terrible nature of the fires confirms the worst forecasts of climate experts, Oregon-based wildland fire ecologist and former wildland firefighter Timothy Ingalsbee told Democracy Now.

“These are climate fires,” Ingalsbee said. “And they’re the product of extreme heat waves and prolonged droughts and then very low humidities.”

“Though some scientists hesitate to attribute a single event to climate change, these are exactly the conditions predicted by climatologists,” he added. “And where once they were rare — I mean, they’re not entirely unprecedented in our prehistoric past — they will become much more frequent in the days ahead.”

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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