First Fires, Then Floods: Climate Extremes Batter Australia

WEE WAA, Australia — Two years ago, the fields outside Christina Southwell’s family home near the cotton capital of Australia looked like a dusty, brown desert as drought-fueled wildfires burned to the north and south.

Last week, after record-breaking rains, muddy floodwaters surrounded her, along with the stench of rotting crops. She had been trapped for days with just her cat, and still didn’t know when the sludge would recede.

“It seems to take for bloody ever to go away,” she said, watching a boat carry food into the town of Wee Waa. “All it leaves behind is this stink, and it’s just going to get worse.”

Life on the land has always been hard in Australia, but the past few years have delivered one extreme after another, demanding new levels of resilience and pointing to the rising costs of a warming planet. For many Australians, moderate weather — a pleasant summer, a year without a state of emergency — increasingly feels like a luxury.

Black Summer bush fires of 2019 and 2020 were the worst in Australia’s recorded history. This year, many of the same areas that suffered through those epic blazes endured the wettest, coldest November since at least 1900. Hundreds of people, across several states, have been forced to evacuate. Many more, like Ms. Southwell, are stranded on floodplain islands with no way to leave except by boat or helicopter, possibly until after Christmas.

La Niña in full swing, meteorologists are predicting even more flooding for Australia’s east coast, adding to the stress from the pandemic, not to mention from a recent rural mouse plague of biblical proportions.

pregnancies on pause, shows that the El Niño-La Niña cycle has been around long enough for flora and fauna to adapt.

more than doubled since the 1970s.

Ron Campbell, the mayor of Narrabri Shire, which includes Wee Waa, said his area was still waiting for government payments to offset damage from past catastrophes. He wondered when governments would stop paying for infrastructure repairs after every emergency.

“The costs are just enormous, not just here but at all the other places in similar circumstances,” he said.

60 percent of the trees in some places. Cattle farmers culled so much of their herds during the drought that beef prices have risen more than 50 percent as they rush to restock paddocks nourished (nearly to death) by heavy rain.

Bryce Guest, a helicopter pilot in Narrabri, once watched the dust bowls grow from above. Then came “just a monstrous amount of rain,” he said, and new kind of job: flights to mechanical pumps pushing water from fields to irrigation dams in a last-ditch effort to preserve crops that had been heading for a record harvest.

On one recent flight, he pointed to mountains of stored grain — worth six figures, at least — that were ruined by the rains, with heavy equipment trapped and rusting next to it. Further inland, a home surrounded by levees had become a small island accessible only by boat or copter.

“Australia is all about water — everything revolves around it,” he said. “Where you put your home, your stock. Everything.”

The flood plains in what is known as the Murray-Darling basin stretch out for hundreds of miles, not unlike the land at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The territory is so flat that towns can be cut off with roads flooded by less than an inch of additional rain.

That happened a few weeks ago in Bedgerabong, a few hundred miles south of Narrabri. On a recent afternoon, a couple of teachers were being driven out of town in a hulking fire truck — equipment for one disaster often serves another. Across a flooded road behind them, three other teachers had decided to camp out so they could provide some consistency for children who had already been kept out of school for months by pandemic lockdowns.

Paul Faulkner, 55, the principal of the school (total enrollment: 42), said that many parents craved social connection for their children. The Red Cross has sent in booklets for those struggling with stress and anxiety.

“Covid has kept everyone from their families,” he said. “This just isolates them even more.”

He admitted that there were a few things they did not discuss; Santa, for one. The town is expected to be cut off until after the holidays as the waters that rose with surging rains over a few days take weeks to drain and fade.

In Wee Waa, where the water has started to recede, supplies and people flowed in and out last week by helicopter and in a small boat piloted by volunteers.

Still, there were shortages everywhere — mostly of people. In a community of around 2,000 people, half of the teachers at the local public school couldn’t make it to work.

At the town’s only pharmacy, Tien On, the owner, struggled with a short-handed staff to keep up with requests. He was especially concerned about delayed drug deliveries by helicopter for patients with mental health medications.

Ms. Southwell, 69, was better prepared than most. She spent 25 years volunteering with emergency services and has been teaching first aid for decades. After a quick trip into Wee Waa by boat, she returned to her home with groceries and patience, checking a shed for the stray cats she feeds and discovering that only one of her chickens appeared to have drowned.

She said she wasn’t sure how much climate change could be blamed for the floods; her father had put their house on higher stilts because they knew the waters would rise on occasion.

All she knew was that more extreme weather and severe challenges to the community would be coming their way.

“The worst part of it is the waiting,” she said. “And the cleanup.”

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British Columbia’s Flooding Is Worse Because of Climate Change

The intense rains and heavy winds that descended last week on British Columbia, the Canadian province known for its mountains, coastline and majestic forests, forced 17,000 people from their homes, emptying entire towns and inundating farms.

Vancouver, Canada’s third-largest city, lost its road and rail links to the rest of the country, cut off by washed-out bridges and landslides.

It was the second time in six months that the province had endured a major weather-related emergency, and experts say the two disasters are probably related to changes in the climate.

British Columbia has been besieged this year by record-breaking heat, wildfires and floods. The disasters have killed hundreds — including three people in the recent rains — and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The impact has rippled across Canada after hobbling the province and the port of Vancouver, which is vital to the country’s economy.

record temperatures as high as 121 degrees Fahrenheit brought drought and uncontrollable wildfires. The heat, which was concentrated in the province’s interior, killed 595 people from June to August, and fire consumed an entire town.

North America’s first carbon tax. It has also taken physical measures. The port in Vancouver, he said, has been lifted by about three feet to accommodate rising sea levels.

But province’s mountainous nature, he said, limits what is possible and will make rebuilding a difficult and prolonged process.

“To try and make everything resilient is very hard,” he said. “We don’t have many options for routes coming through the mountains.”

The delays in reopenings will most likely significantly affect all of Canada since Vancouver’s port connects the country to Asia, both for imports of consumer goods and economically vital exports of resources like grains and potash for fertilizers. While a rail line to the port in Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia remains open to the east, Professor Prentice said that the port could not physically handle all of Vancouver’s traffic on top of its normal operations.

While it may be possible to beef up the transportation network during rebuilding, Professor Prentice said that the only long-term solution remained dealing effectively with climate change.

Ms. Smith of Clean Energy Canada said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had a credible and ambitious climate plan but that the country had yet to rein in its oil and gas industry, particularly oil sands operations based largely in neighboring Alberta.

“We need to reduce the emissions from the oil and gas sector; it is one of Canada’s biggest challenges,” she said. “All of these other good policies, we need to see them implemented without delays. There’s a lot of inaction that gets disguised as flexibility, and we’re past that time.”

While the water has started to recede in most flood zones, it is unclear when evacuees will return home or abandoned cars will be returned to their owners. And more danger may be ahead for British Columbia. Forecasts predict another batch of heavy rain this week.

Winston Choi-Schagrin contributed reporting.

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Why Louisiana’s Electric Grid Failed in Hurricane Ida

Just weeks before Hurricane Ida knocked out power to much of Louisiana, leaving its residents exposed to extreme heat and humidity, the chief executive of Entergy, the state’s biggest utility company, told Wall Street that it had been upgrading power lines and equipment to withstand big storms.

“Building greater resiliency into our system is an ongoing focus,” the executive, Leo P. Denault, told financial analysts on a conference call on Aug. 4, adding that Entergy was replacing its towers and poles with equipment “able to handle higher wind loading and flood levels.”

Mr. Denault’s statements would soon be tested harshly. On the last Sunday in August, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana and dealt a catastrophic blow to Entergy’s power lines, towers and poles, many of which were built decades ago to withstand much weaker hurricanes. The company had not upgraded or replaced a lot of that equipment with more modern gear designed to survive the 150 mile-an-hour wind gusts that Ida brought to bear on the state.

A hurricane like Ida would have been a challenge to any power system built over many decades that contains a mix of dated and new equipment. But some energy experts said Entergy was clearly unprepared for the Category 4 storm despite what executives have said about efforts to strengthen its network.

a Category 2 storm, according to an analysis of regulatory filing and other company records by McCullough Research, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore., that advises power companies and government agencies.

Entergy said that analysis was inaccurate but wouldn’t say how many of its transmission structures were built to withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds. The company has said that its towers met the safety standards in place at the time of installation but older standards often assumed wind speeds well below 150 m.p.h.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a professional group whose guidelines are widely followed by utilities and other industries, recommends that power companies that operate in areas vulnerable to hurricanes install equipment that can withstand major storms and return service quickly when systems fail. In coastal areas of Louisiana, for example, it says large transmission equipment should be designed to withstand winds of 150 m.p.h.

growing ferocity of hurricanes. The company says it had acted with alacrity. Its critics contend that it dragged its feet.

to restart a $210 million natural gas-fired plant the company opened in New Orleans last year that it said would provide power during periods of high demand, including after storms. But energy experts say it is a lot more concerning that so many of the company’s lines went down — and did so for the second year in a row.

Last year, Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, destroyed and damaged hundreds of Entergy’s towers and poles in Southwestern Louisiana. In April, Entergy told the Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates its operations outside New Orleans, that the company had strengthened its equipment, including the installation of stronger distribution poles in coastal areas particularly vulnerable to high winds.

Michelle P. Bourg, who is responsible for transmission at Entergy’s Louisiana operations, told regulators that because it was too expensive to make the entire network resilient, Entergy pursued “targeted programs that cost effectively reduce the risks to reliability.”

In a statement, Entergy said its spending on transmission was working, noting that Ida destroyed or damaged 508 transmission structures, compared with 1,909 during Laura and 1,003 in Katrina. The company added that its annual investment in transmission in Louisiana and New Orleans has increased over the last eight years and totaled $926 million in 2020, when it spent extensively on repairs after Laura. The company spent $471 million on transmission in 2019.

“The facts of this storm support that we have made substantial progress in terms of resiliency since the storms that hit our system in the early 2000s — both generally and with respect to transmission in particular,” said Jerry Nappi, an Entergy spokesman.

The company declined to provide the age of damaged or destroyed transmission structures and an age range for the damaged distribution poles and equipment. Mr. Nappi acknowledged that distribution poles suffered widespread destruction and were not built to withstand winds of 130 to 150 m.p.h.

“Substantial additional investment will be required to mitigate hardship and avoid lengthy outages as increasingly powerful storms hit with increasing frequency,” he said in an email. “We are pursuing much-needed federal support for the additional hardening needed without compromising the affordability of electricity on which our customers and communities depend.”

The company’s plea for more help comes as President Biden is pushing to upgrade and expand the nation’s electricity system to address climate change as well as to harden equipment against disasters. Part of his plan includes spending tens of billions of dollars on transmission lines. Mr. Biden also wants to provide incentives for clean energy sources like solar and wind power and batteries — the kinds of improvements that community leaders in New Orleans had sought for years and that Entergy has often pushed back on.

Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council, said she opposed the construction of the new natural gas plant, which was located in a low-lying area near neighborhoods made up mostly of African Americans and Vietnamese Americans. Instead, she pushed for upgrades to the transmission and distribution system and more investment in solar power and batteries. The council ultimately approved Entergy’s plans for the plant over her objections.

“One of the things we argued about was that they should be upgrading transmission lines rather than building a peaking plant,” Ms. Guidry said.

In addition, she said, she called for the company to replace the wooden poles in neighborhoods with those built with stronger materials.

Robert McCullough, principal of McCullough Research, said it was hard to understand why Entergy had not upgraded towers and poles more quickly.

“Wood poles no longer have the expected lifetime in the face of climate change,” he said. “Given the repeated failures, it is going to be cost-effective to replace them with more durable options that can survive repeated Category 4 storms — including going to metal poles in many circumstances.”

Had Entergy invested more in its transmission and distribution lines and solar panels and battery systems, some green energy activists argued, the city and state would not have suffered as widespread and as long a power outage as it did after Ida.

“Entergy Louisiana needs to be held accountable for this,” said one of those activists, Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Clean Energy.

Entergy has argued that the natural gas plant was a much more affordable and reliable option for providing electricity during periods of high demand than solar panels and batteries.

Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Biden’s energy secretary, said that Ida highlighted the need for a big investment in electric grids. That might include putting more power lines serving homes and businesses under ground. Burying wires would protect them from winds, though it could make it harder to access the lines during floods.

“Clearly, as New Orleans builds back, it really does have to build back better in some areas,” Ms. Granholm said in an interview this month.

Mr. Nappi, the Entergy spokesman, said that distribution lines in some parts of New Orleans and elsewhere are already underground but that burying more of them would be expensive. “Distribution assets can be made to withstand extreme winds, through engineering or under grounding, but at significant cost and disruption to customers and to the community,” he said.

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Climate Change Calls for Backup Power, and One Company Cashes In

Living on the South Carolina coast means living under the threat of dangerous weather during storm season. But the added peril of the pandemic made Ann Freeman nervous.

What do I do if there’s an evacuation or there’s a storm and you have all this coronavirus and problems with hotels?” Ms. Freeman said. “So I said, ‘Maybe now is the time.’”

That’s why Ms. Freeman spent $12,400 last year to install a Generac backup generator at her home on Johns Island, a sea island near the Charleston peninsula. The wait — about three months — seemed long.

But she was lucky: The wait is twice as long now.

Demand for backup generators has soared over the last year, as housebound Americans focused on preparing their homes for the worst, just as a surge of extreme weather ensured many experienced it.

10 deaths in New Orleans are believed to have been tied to the heat. Over the summer, officials in California warned that wildfires might once again force rolling blackouts amid record heat and the threat of wildfire. In February, a deep freeze turned deadly after widespread outages in Texas. Even lower-profile outages — last month, storms in Michigan left almost a million homes and businesses in the dark for up to several days — have many American homeowners buying mini power plants of their own.

The vast majority are made by a single company: Generac, a 62-year-old Waukesha, Wis., manufacturer that accounts for roughly 75 percent of standby home generator sales in the United States. Its dominance of the market and the growing threat posed by increasingly erratic weather have turned it into a Wall Street darling.

climate crises is shifting the priorities of American consumers.

“Instead of a nice-to-have, backup power is increasingly a need-to-have, when you’re working at home,” said Mark Strouse, a J.P. Morgan analyst who covers Generac and other alternative energy stocks.

and Etsy — have shone as a result of Covid-era shocks and economic disruptions. And the vaccine-maker Moderna is the best-performing stock in the S&P 500. But Generac and a few other alternative energy companies have ballooned in value at the same time.

struck in June during a heat wave, and a prediction in the Farmers’ Almanac of another round of storms early next year made the decision easy: It was time to buy a generator.

The 15,000-watt Generac generator was hooked up last week, big enough to keep the house snug if the power goes out this winter. “I’m not going through that again,” Ms. Collins said.

Generac’s sales are up roughly 70 percent over the past year and orders are vastly outpacing production. The new factory in South Carolina — the two others that produce residential generators are in Wisconsin — is up and running and the company plans to employ about 800 people there by the end of the year. Company officials have floated the prospect of adding further manufacturing operations closer to fast-growing markets like California and Texas, J.P. Morgan analysts reported in a recent client note.

Generac seems to need them. Average delivery times for its generators have lengthened during the pandemic.

Despite dominating the home market, Generac could be vulnerable if competitors are able to serve customers faster. Major manufacturers such as the engine-maker Cummins and the heavy equipment company Caterpillar have a relatively small share of the home generator market, but have the expertise to lift production if they see an opportunity. Generac, aware of the potential competition from other players as well as home solar panels and other solutions, has made a series of acquisitions in the battery and energy storage industry, which is emerging as a small but fast-growing source of revenue for the company.

But there’s no doubt about the demand for its core product right now.

After her generator was installed last week, Ms. Collins took a run around the neighborhood and noticed a neighbor unboxing one in the driveway.

“We’re not the only ones,” she said.

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Hurricane Ida Exposes Grid Weaknesses as New Orleans Goes Dark

Most of New Orleans went dark on Sunday after Hurricane Ida took out transmission lines and forced power plants offline. It was an all too familiar scene in a city that has often lost power during big storms.

But this was an outage that was never supposed to happen. The utility company Entergy opened a new natural gas power plant in the city last year, pledging that it would help keep the lights on — even during hot summer days and big storms. It was one of two natural gas plants commissioned in recent years in the New Orleans area, the other one hailed by Gov. John Bel Edwards last year as a “source of clean energy that gives our state a competitive advantage and helps our communities grow.”

The storm raises fresh questions about how well the energy industry has prepared for natural disasters, which many scientists believe are becoming more common because of climate change. This year, much of Texas was shrouded in darkness after a winter storm, and last summer officials in California ordered rolling blackouts during a heat wave.

More than a million residential and commercial customers in Louisiana were without power on Monday afternoon, and Entergy and other utilities serving the state said it would take days to assess the damage to their equipment and weeks to fully restore service across the state. One customer can be a family or a large business, so the number of people without power is most likely many times higher. In neighboring Mississippi, just under 100,000 customers were without power.

some of California’s largest and deadliest wildfires.

impossible for Texas to import power by keeping the state grid largely isolated from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight.

add more transmission lines to carry more solar and wind power from one region of the country to another. But some energy experts said the increasing frequency of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters argues against a big investment in power lines and for greater investment in smaller-scale systems like rooftop solar panels and batteries. Because small systems are placed at many homes, businesses, schools and other buildings, some continue to function even when others are damaged, providing much-needed energy during and after disasters.

Susan Guidry, a former member of the New Orleans City Council who voted against the Entergy plant, said she had worried that a storm like Ida could wreak havoc on her city and its energy system. She had wanted the city and utility to consider other options. But she said her fellow Council members and the utility had ignored those warnings.

“They said that they had dealt with that problem,” Ms. Guidry said. “The bottom line is they should have instead been upgrading their transmission and investing in renewable energy.”

Numerous community groups and city leaders opposed the gas-fired power plant, which is just south of Interstate 10 and Lake Pontchartrain, bordering predominantly African American and Vietnamese American neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the City Council approved the plant, which began commercial operations in May 2020. It generates power mainly at times of peak demand.

About a year earlier, Entergy opened a larger gas power plant in nearby St. Charles Parish. Leo P. Denault, Entergy’s chairman and chief executive, last year called that plant “a significant milestone along the clean energy journey we began more than 20 years ago.”

Some utilities have turned to burying transmission lines to protect them from strong winds and storms, but Mr. Gasteiger said that was expensive and could cause its own problems.

“Generally speaking, it’s not that the utilities are not willing to do it,” he said. “It’s that people aren’t willing to pay for it. Usually it’s a cost issue. And undergrounding can make it more difficult to locate and fix” problems.

Big changes to electric grids and power plants are likely to take years, but activists and residents of New Orleans say officials should explore solutions that can be rolled out more quickly, especially as tens of thousands of people face days or weeks without electricity. Some activists want officials to put a priority on investments in rooftop solar, batteries and microgrids, which can power homes and commercial buildings even when the larger grid goes down.

“We keep walking by the solutions to keep people safe in their homes,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer group based in New Orleans. “When these events happen, then we’re in crisis mode because instead we’re spending billions of dollars every year now to rebuild the same system that leaves people in the dark, in a dire situation.”

Some residents have already invested in small-scale energy systems for themselves. Julie Graybill and her husband, Bob Smith, installed solar panels and batteries at their New Orleans home after Hurricane Isaac blew through Louisiana in 2012. They lost power for five days after Isaac, at times going to their car for air-conditioning with their two older dogs, said Ms. Graybill, 67, who retired from the Tulane University School of Medicine.

“We would sit in the car about every hour,” she said. “My husband said, ‘We are never doing this again.’” Mr. Smith, 73, who is also retired, worked as an engineer at Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company.

The couple have set up a little power station on their porch so neighbors can charge their phones and other items. Only a few other homes on their street have solar panels, but no one else nearby has batteries, which can store the power that panels generate and dispense it when the grid goes down.

“We’re told we’re not going to have power for three weeks,” Ms. Graybill said. “The only people who have power are people with generators or solar panels. We lived through Katrina. This is not Katrina, so we’re lucky.”

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Sardinian Village Tries to Save an Ancient Tree Scorched by Fire

To the people of Cuglieri, a small hilltop village on the Italian island of Sardinia, the tree was simply “the Patriarch.”

Over the course of its long life — estimates of its age range from 1,800 to 2,000 years old — the olive tree became a behemoth, with a trunk 11 feet, or 3.4 meters, wide, and an integral part of an ancient landscape in western Sardinia. But after a large area of vegetation and numerous farms and villages in the region were devastated by one of the biggest wildfires in decades, time finally caught up with the Patriarch.

The ancient olive tree was engulfed in flames, and its giant trunk burned for almost two days.

In a fire that reached Cuglieri in late July, the agricultural community of about 2,600 residents lost 90 percent of its olive trees, the main source of income for most. More than 1,000 people were evacuated from the town, which is tucked between a mountain covered in cork and oak trees and the Mediterranean Sea.

Now local residents and the authorities are pinning their hopes for the survival of their ancient olive tree on Gianluigi Bacchetta, a professor at the University of Cagliari and the director of its botanical gardens, who is trying to bring the Patriarch back to life.

“The Patriarch is our identity,” said Maria Franca Curcu, who is responsible for cultural and social policies for the municipality of Cuglieri, her voice breaking. “If we can save him, we can give a message of hope to all the people who have lost everything in the fire.”

When Professor Bacchetta first visited the ancient olive tree in July, soil temperatures had reached 176 degrees Fahrenheit, or 80 degrees Celsius, because of the fire.

“We needed to create an intensive care unit for the tree,” he said in a telephone interview. “It really is a living being that underwent serious trauma,” Professor Bacchetta said. “We are going to do our best and hope that it wakes up from its coma.”

The professor and his team first watered the soil to cool it down and then protected the trunk with jute tarps and the soil with straw. A nearby village gave a water tank for the tree, and a local plumber built an irrigation system that allows the soil to retain crucial humidity.

A local construction company donated equipment and worked for free to build a structure to shade the trunk from the scorching sun, replicating the role of leaves — now gone. Every 10 days, the tree is irrigated with organic fertilizers in the hope of encouraging the tree’s peripheral roots to grow.

“If the peripheral roots restart and manage to transfer materials to the stump,” Professor Bacchetta said, “we can hope for shoots to come out in September or October.”

The professor did not stop with the Patriarch. He visited all of the centuries-old olive groves in the area, advising farmers on how to save fire-damaged plants. His team and local authorities are planning a crowdfunding effort to buy equipment to restore the olive groves and their fields.

Giorgio Zampa, the owner of an olive farm that once belonged to his great-grandfather, lost all of his 500 oldest olive trees, planted over 350 years ago.

“Mr. Bacchetta unfortunately can’t do much for me,” Mr. Zampa said, “but I believe that the work on the Patriarch will psychologically help the entire community.”

Ten of his 14 Sardinian donkeys and almost all of his cattle from an ancient, endangered breed also died in the wildfire as they sought shelter in a nearby forest, which began burning shortly after. Mr. Zampa said he would focus his business on the remaining younger olive trees and start planting new ones.

“The village’s economy got burned to a cinder like the olive groves,” he said. “The fire damaged the landscape, the economy and our incomes in an incalculable way, like nothing we had seen before.”

Wildfires are not new to the Cuglieri area. They are a relatively common summer phenomenon on the arid island of Sardinia, but generally are not as apocalyptic as this season’s. The extraordinarily high flames, propelled by strong winds from the south, reached the village’s homes and burned to ashes everything standing in between, including the cemetery’s ossuary.

In the last big fire, in 1994, the Patriarch was spared, though the flames burned some century-old trees nearby.

“In Cuglieri, we have always felt that there is something sacred about it, and that protected it from the fire,” said Piera Perria, a retired local anthropologist who first contacted Professor Bacchetta to assess the Patriarch. “None of us could imagine that it could not make it this time.”

Giuseppe Mariano Delogu, a retired high-ranking official with Sardinia’s forestry corps, said that in the past 40 years, wildfires followed the same roads on the hill and the mountain near Cuglieri, but the flames never reached the olive groves.

Although civil protection and the response to fires in the area have improved over the years, bureaucratic hurdles aimed at protecting Mediterranean scrubland mean that inflammable vegetation is often not cleared, creating fire hazards, experts say. High temperatures this summer, partly because of hot winds blowing in from Africa, have intensified the risks of wildfires breaking out.

“The only way to extinguish such fires is to prevent them,” Mr. Delogu said. “Technology simply fails when the fire is so strong and so vast, regardless of how many firefighters you have, they will always struggle.”

Mr. Delogu was still hopeful for the Patriarch, though.

“They are incredible trees,” he said. “I am optimistic.”

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Greek Island Is New Epicenter of Europe’s Summer of Calamity

EVIA, Greece — Amid twisted cages and scorched trees, Harilaos Tertipis stepped out of his ruined stables dragging the charred corpses of his sheep — burned, like so much else, in the wildfires that have raged across Greece.

As the survivors of his flock huddled together on a roadside hill below, the bells on their necks clanging and their legs singed, he said that if he had stayed with his animals instead of rushing home to protect his family and house, “I wouldn’t be here now.”

scientists have now concluded is irreversible.

before we reach irreversible tipping points.”

But a string of disasters this summer has left many to wonder whether that tipping point is already here, driving home the realization that climate change is no longer a distant threat for future generations, but an immediate scourge affecting rich and poor nations alike.

Turkey and Algeria, virtually no corner of Europe has been untouched by a bewildering array of calamities, whether fire, flood or heat.

Sweltering temperatures have set off wildfires in Sweden, Finland and Norway. Formerly once-in-a-millennium flooding in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands killed at least 196 people. Places in Italy hit more than 118 degrees this week, while parts of the country were variously scorched by fire, battered by hailstorms or inundated by floods.

“It’s not just Greece,” said Vasilis Vathrakoyiannis, a spokesman for the Greek fire service. “It’s the whole European ecosystem.”

But the shifting epicenter of natural disaster has now fallen on Evia, a densely wooded island northeast of Athens, once best known for its beekeepers and resin producers, its olive groves and seaside resorts, and now a capital of the consequences of a warming planet.

This week, as firefighters scrambled to put out rekindling fires and helicopters dropped seawater to sate licking flames, acres of burned hillsides and fields lay under white ash, as if dusted with snow.

I drove through winding roads riddled with fallen trees and electric wires. Smoke hung low, like a thick fog. The trunks of mangled trees still smoldered and the hive boxes of beekeepers looked like burned end tables abandoned in empty fields. Miles away from the fires, the smoke still left an acrid taste in my mouth. Ash drifted around cafes where waitresses constantly watered down tables and the sun imbued the dense haze with a sickly orange hue.

“We lived in paradise,” said Babis Apostolou, 59, tears in his eyes as he looked over the charred land surrounding his village, Vasilika, on the northern tip of Evia. “Now it’s hell.”

This week, the fires covered new ground. In the southern Peloponnese, where wildfires killed more than 60 people in 2007, a long stretch of fire tore through forest and houses, prompting the evacuation of more than 20 more villages. But many Greeks have refused to leave their homes.

When the police told Argyro Kypraiou, 59, in the Evia village of Kyrinthos to evacuate on Saturday, she stayed. As the trees across the street blazed, she fought the airborne barrage of burning pine cones and flames with a garden hose. When the water ran out she beat back the fire with branches.

“If we had left, the houses would have burned,” she said across from the still smoldering ravine. A truck rolled by and the driver leaned out the window, shouting to her that there was another fire in the field behind her house. “We keep putting out fires,” she shouted back. “We don’t have any other job.”

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister of Greece, has called the recent days “among the hardest for our country in decades” and promised to compensate the afflicted and reforest the land. Residents across the seared north of Evia complained that the government had failed to fly water-dropping aircraft out to them fast enough or that it had waited too long to ask the European Union for help.

Greece’s top prosecutor has ordered up an investigation into whether criminal activity could possibly have sparked the fires, perhaps to clear land for development. Many here blamed mysterious arsonists for starting the fire.

“This is arson,” said Mr. Apostolou. “I had heard they want to put in wind turbines.”

Mr. Tertipis said, “I hope the person who set these fires will suffer as much as my animals.”

But it was also possible that the finger-pointing at arsonists stemmed from a feeling of powerlessness and the need to blame someone — anyone — for a crisis that at least some acknowledged was everyone’s fault.

“We all have to make changes,” said Irini Anastasiou, 28, who expected the fires to keep happening around the world as the planet warmed. She looked out from the front desk of her now empty hotel in Pefki, one of the hardest-hit towns, and saw an opaque wall of haze over the sea.

“Usually, you see clear across to the mountains,” she said. “Now you can see nothing.”

The residents of Evia did what they could. In the town of Prokopi, volunteer firefighters set up base in the Forest Museum (“focused on man and his relationship to the forest”).

Hundreds of boxes packed with supplies for the displaced cluttered the log cabin. They brimmed with crackers and cereals and granola bars. Soft stacks of children-and-adult diapers reached up to the windows. Boxes held medicines and burn creams, aloe vera, Flamigel, hydrogel and Flogo Instant Calm Spray, under a sign promoting TWIG, the Transnational Woodland Industries Group.

An international group of emergency workers operated out of the cabin. Some of the 108 firefighters sent by Romania coordinated with Greek Army officials and local authorities to put out the flames. Some volunteers went out with chain saws to cut down trees while those returning leaned against a wall of bottled water and ruminated on what had gone wrong.

Ioannis Kanellopoulos, 62, blamed heavy snowfall during the winter for breaking so many branches and creating so much kindling on the forest floor. But the intense heat did not help.

“When the fire broke out it was 113 degrees in the shade,” he said.

He said the previous benchmark for destruction in the area was a 1977 blaze. This fire had far eclipsed it, he said, and guaranteed that it would not be surpassed for years.

“There’s nothing left to burn,” he said.

“It’s not California,” added his friend Spiros Michail, 52.

That there was nothing left to burn was the island’s common refrain. The punchline to the terrible joke nature had played on them.

But it wasn’t true. There was plenty more to burn.

At night the fires came back, appearing on the dark hillsides in the distance like Chinese lanterns. The fires burned on the sides of the roads like ghostly campsites.

Stylianos Totos, a forest ranger, stood rod straight as he looked through binoculars at a hillside near Ellinika.

“How do we get access to that one,” he called to his colleague in a truck carrying more than a ton of water. He worried that the wind would change direction from east to west and feed the fire with fresh pines. Just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, one of the small flames flared up, lighting all the barren land and twisted branches around it. “Andrea,” he shouted. “Call it in.”

But any help, and any change in global behavior, had come too late for Mr. Tertipis and his flock.

Mr. Tertipis, 60, who lost his mother and suffered permanent scarring on his left arm in 1977’s fire, rushed back from home to his stables before dawn on Sunday. The fire had consumed half his flock, but left a plush green pine tree and verdant field untouched only a few dozen yards away.

“That’s how it is, in five minutes, you live or die,” he said, adding, “the fire just changes all the time.”

For two days he could not answer the phone or do much of anything other than weep. Then he started cleaning up, wading through the remains in galoshes, dragging load after load away, using a sled he fashioned from a hook and a broken refrigerator door.

He had been raising animals all his life, and he said he had no choice but to keep going, no matter how inhospitable the weather around him had become.

“Things may have changed,” he said with a shrug. “What are you going to do? Just give up?”

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting from Evia.

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