August 21, 2013

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Yosemite Fire Threatens 2,500 Homes

Hundreds evacuated from camps

A wildfire raging on the western edges of Yosemite National Park has grown to roughly 15 square miles (10,000 acres) and is threating nearly 2,500 homes. The Rim Fire started on Saturday and has so far destroyed two houses and five outbuildings.

Hundreds of people at three Sierra camps were evacuated on Tuesday as the fire raged out of control. Two-hundred senior citizens staying at San Francisco’s Camp Mather were also bused out of the area as a precaution, though officials say that the camp is not under immediate threat.

A four-mile section of Highway 120, one of the three main roads into Yosemite, has also been closed.

The fire is one of 11 major blazes burning across the state of California. “We didn’t have as much snow as usual this year,” says Veronica Garcia of the Stanislaus National Forest public affairs office. “It’s not as moist.”

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.

 

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    Photo: NASA News & Events

Astronaut Recounts Near-Drowning in Space

Life-support system malfunctioned

The Italian astronaut who nearly drowned in his space suit when his life-support backpack malfunctioned during a spacewalk last month shared new details about the near-miss on his blog Tuesday.

"But worse than that, the water covers my nose — a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head," Luca Parmitan wrote. "By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can't even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid."

As the water filled his helmet, Parmitano became disoriented and tried to contact his spacewalking partner. With time running short, he used his safety cable to pull him back to the station's hatch. His plan was to open the safety valve on his helmet if the water reached his mouth

Once Parmitano made it to the hatch, the astronauts inside began repressurizing the airlock. "Finally, with an unexpected wave of relief," the door opened and the crew removed his helmet.

NASA has traced the problem to the astronauts backpack, but the precise cause remains unknown.

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    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Radioactive Water Leaking At Fukushima

Level three nuclear event

Japan’s nuclear agency announced today that it will raise the severity level of the new radioactive water leak at Fukushima, saying the toxic puddles surrounding the site may be more dangerous than initially reported.

The highly radioactive water, found leaking into the ground from a storage tank Monday, was first classified as a level one incident on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, but will now be upgraded to a level three occurrence.

The Fukushima plant was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. When the quake knocked out the cooling systems, several of the plant’s reactors melted down. Water is still being pumped into the dormant facility to cool the reactors, leading to a large quantity of contaminated water that has to be stored on site.

Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, said in a news conference that Tepco, the plant’s operator, failed to spot the leak for days, or even weeks. “We should assume that what has happened once could happen again, and prepare for more,” he said. “We are in a situation where there is no time to waste.” The latest reports from the plant suggest that some of the contaminated water may have already reached the Pacific.

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