Saturday, August 5, 2017

Massive Fires Blaze Across U.S., Canada And Europe, New Anthrax Has Emerged - 'On A Rampage'

You may have missed the memo (we get it, there’s been a lot going on) but the world is currently on fire as massive blazes burn in the United States, Canada, and across Europe. To give you a sense of the scale of the inferno, we’ve included maps of the wildfires, as well as images from some of the fiery scenes. Here, is the lowdown.
Here in the United States the Forest Service is reporting that 2017 is shaping up to be a worse than average fire year based on acres of federal, private and state land burned. So far, 5.6 million acres of land has burned this year, or 1.8 million acres more than the ten year average of 3.8 million acres burned by this time. Some states like Nevada are saying that 2017 is the worst fire season in 15 years, while Montana has already used up much of its firefighting budget, even as much of the state remains in drought conditions according to the US Drought Monitor. The state may have to tap into reserve and federal funding but that isn’t the only cost. Brent M. Witham, a 29-year-old firefighter from Mentone, California, was killed cutting down a tree while working on the Lolo Peak Fire.

map of US wildfires

PopSci built this map using Incident Information Web data and it's accurate as of August 4th. You can click here to find an interactive version.

Across the border from the United States, fires are also currently scorching Canada’s British Columbia. This is the province’s second worst fire season on record and NASA satellites have identified the conflagration from space. It’s unsurprising that the smoke is billowing over the border into nearby Seattle in Washington state which is also under a heat advisory. On Thursday, the city hit a record breaking 94 degrees at the Seattle Tacoma airport. The regular high for the region at this time of year is 77 degrees. Between the heat and the fact that the region has been, according to US Drought Monitor is unnaturally dry that wildfires are knocking on their door is unsurprising.

On the other side of the globe, if you load up the European Commission’s fire map, it looks like the end of the world, especially in Italy and Romania. So far, an area just slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island has burned. The total is already roughly three times the normal amount of summer wildfires. Back in June, 60 people died over the course of one weekend in Portugal due to wildfires. Thirty people were killed when the fires reached roads on evacuation routes. And as the map makes clear, those fires don’t seem to be abating.
Wildfires are also plaguing Sibera in Russia, an image NASA has managed to capture on satellite footage, along with large swathes of Brazil.

European Union, current situation wildfires. You can [click here]( to use the interactive version.

Back in the United States, some of the fires will continue to blaze until at least October, based on data in the Incident Information System.

 A magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck south Mindanao island in the Philippines on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The quake's epicenter was 21 miles (34 km) east of the city of General Santos, which has a population of almost 600,000.
The USGS said the quake was 46.2 miles (74 km) deep but European quake agency EMSC put it at only 6.2 miles (10 km) deep, which would increase its impact.
The temblor, initially reported as a magnitude 6.0, struck at 8:30 a.m. (0030 GMT), the USGS said.
A magnitude 5.8 earthquake is considered moderate and is capable of causing considerable damage.

After getting ahold of the genetic blueprints for molecular weapons, relatively harmless bacteria transformed into one that can cause anthrax—in places and animals where the original anthrax bacteria doesn’t. And it’s wreaking havoc.
Using data collected over a 26-year period, researchers found that this strange version of anthrax is running rampant in tropical rainforest habitats of Sub-Saharan Africa, killing off broad swaths of mammals. In fact, researchers estimated this week in Nature that this "rainforest anthrax" could wipe out chimpanzee populations in the Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï National Park within the next 150 years. It’s currently associated with nearly 40 percent of all chimp deaths there. And researchers are just getting started on understanding risks to humans, which have so far been thought to be low.
Figuring out the scale and prevalence of this rainforest anthrax will be “critical for mitigating against the detrimental effects” to wildlife and “assessing human infection risk,” the researchers, led by infectious disease expert Fabien Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, conclude.

Researchers have known about the existence of this alternative cause of anthrax for more than a decade. However, they’ve known little about its whereabouts and spread.

Classic anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis, which tends to strike ungulates (hoofed mammals) in seasonal outbreaks in arid locales, such as the African savannahs. The bacteria can cause infection in skin, lungs, or intestines. In humans, B. anthracis causes ghastly skin lesions, and severe respiratory and intestinal infections—which have mortality rates as high as 85 and 60 percent, respectively.
The alternative anthrax bacteria appear to cause an identical anthrax disease in animal models. But, those bacteria aren’t B. anthracis; they’re cousins, B. cereus, commonly found in soil and food. Usually, these are relatively harmless, with some strains known to cause a minor fraction of food poisoning cases. But the ones causing alternative anthrax are different. They just so happen to have gotten their grips on B. anthracis’ virulence plasmids—circular, shareable bits of DNA that contain the genetic code for their disease-causing gene products.
Researchers dubbed these alternative anthrax bacteria: B. cereus biovar anthracis, or Bcbva.
Regional sampling suggested Bcbva was widespread and indiscriminate. It showed up in 5 of 11 test locations and seemed to be present all the time, not just in seasonal bouts. It also didn’t just strike ungulates but a variety of animals: chimps, mongooses, porcupines, six monkey species, and duikers (a type of antelope).

But the chimps seemed to be hit particularly hard by the microbe. Based on population data and modeling on the already endangered chimp populations studied in TNP, the researchers estimate a high likelihood that Bcbva will wipe out these slow-reproducing primates within the next 150 years.

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