Weather Causes Injury, Concerns on Both Coasts

Liz Carey

Yosemite Valley, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Employers and employees on both coasts face dangers from weather extremes this week, as fires and floods rage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

In California several wildfires are raging across the state, as high heat and humidity along the West Coast hamper firefighting activities. In Yosemite Valley, at least one firefighter is dead and another seven firefighters have been injured, according to fire officials.

Officials with Yosemite National Park have ordered an evacuation of the park for the protection of visitors and employees.

Other fires across the state are burning, some of them out of control. Some 75 fires are raging across nearly 4 million acres of land in what is being called an unusually active fire season.

Last week, the Carr Fire, in California, was said to be out of control. Scott McLean, information officer with Cal Fire, said the fire was headed toward Redding, a town of about 90,000 people. As of this morning, more than 900 homes had been destroyed in the area, according to AccuWeather.

“It’s a very aggressive fire,” McLean said in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com. “It’s been burning for a while, so we’ve got a lot of work to do still there.”

McLean said that while injuries and fatalities were not common, they do happen.

Braden Varney, a heavy equipment operator with Cal Fire, was killed when the bulldozer he was driving overturned and slid down an embankment, McLean said.

“It’s not normal to lose a firefighter, but it does happen,” McLean said. “It just goes to show you how dangerous this job is.”

The fires are aided by temperatures above 100 degrees, erratic winds and low humidity, officials said.

On the East Coast, severe flooding is hampering activity along the Atlantic seaboard. More than three days of rain has left part of the East Coast from North Carolina up through Virginia and Maryland, Pennsylvania and Western New York.

Despite requests for rescue, no injuries have yet been reported.

Crystal Nosal, spokesperson for the Alexandria, VA police department, said that she was not aware of any injuries in her area, and that the high water is not unexpected.

“Alexandria regularly experiences flooding because we are a coastal City,” she said in an email interview with WorkersCompensation.com.

Rains were expected to end, but officials warn that more flooding and hazards left behind by rising waters could still make the area dangerous to enter.

And in Hawaii, the Kilauea volcano continues to erupt, sending more lava into the ocean and around the volcano. More than 20 people have been injured since the eruption began in May. One man was injured near his home when he was struck in the leg by a lava bomb, and another 23 were injured, one seriously, when the tour boat they were in viewing the lava was struck by a lava bomb.

Shane Turpin, captain of the boat that was hit by the lava bomb, told CNBC he didn’t see what happened. According to him, the boat was about 500 yards from where the lava flow hit the ocean when he decided to move closer.

“As we were exiting the zone, all of a sudden everything around us exploded,” he said. “It was everywhere.”

In response, the Coast Guard has prohibited boats from being closer than 984 feet from where the volcano’s lava flows into the sea. Tour boat operators said they will continue to take visitors to see the lava.

Moku Nui Lava Tours Captain Kanoa Jones told CNBC he would continue to run lava tours. According to his website, he has three tours running per day. Jones, who was unavailable for comment to WorkersCompensation.com by press time, told CNBC, “If we stop operating, it not only hurts us, it hurts the community.”

For safety reasons, Hawaii County limits access to the lava on land. Boat and helicopter tours of the lava flows, at about $250 per person, are the only way for tourists to view the volcano.

While the Kilauea volcano has been “erupting” for more than 35 years, the recent eruptions in May entered the volcano into a new phase where it began oozing lava through fissures in a residential neighborhood. Officials said it may be as much as two years before the current eruption subsides.

It was unclear, after interviews with several Hawaii County departments, whether or not any county employees had been injured during the volcano’s eruption.