September 17, 2014

Nearly 2,500 structures in Eldorado National Forest are at risk in the King fire.     Photo: LisaStrachan/Thinkstock

California Wildfire Threatens More Than 1,600 Homes

One of 11 blazes in the state

The King Fire in Eldorado National Forest, about 60 miles east of Sacramento, has rapidly grown in size to become the most dangerous fire currently burning in California, reports the Los Angeles Times. It now threatens more than 1,600 homes.

The fire, which the Sacramento Bee had reported as holding steady at less than 4,000 acres on Monday afternoon, has since exploded to more than 18,000 acres and is at only 5 percent containment. 

U.S. Forest Service officials told the Los Angeles Times that high winds and dried-out vegetation were to blame for the sudden expansion. Smoke plumes are preventing firefighters from tracking the fire's path.

The King fire isn't the only one affecting the drought-stricken state: 11 major fires are currently burning. On Monday, the Boles fire overtook the town of Weed, destroying more than 100 buildings and forcing more than 1,600 people to evacuate. And the largest fire, the Happy Camp Complex fire, has burned more than 100,000 acres in the Klamath National Forest since lightning started it in mid-August.

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Residents of Panama reported higher levels of well-being than anywhere else in the world, taking into account factors like community and physical well-being.     Photo: LisaStrachan/Thinkstock

Panama Is the Happiest Country in the World

Syria, Afghanistan score lowest

According to the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index for 2013, Panama ranks as the happiest country in the world. The United States came in at 14, while conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan were the least happy out of the 135 countries polled.

The survey took into account five factors: having a sense of purpose, physical health, financial security, strong social relationships, and satisfaction with one's community. Gallup officials said in the report that the categories are interdependent and well-being is more than the sum of the elements.

Gallup graded each of the 133,000 people surveyed on a scale of thriving, struggling, or suffering. Thriving means the person's well-being is strong, struggling means their well-being is inconsistent, and suffering means their well-being is low. 

Panamanians scored highest in four of the five categories: purpose, social, community, and physical health. "Panama's strong and growing economy, an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in 2013, and national development may be the most significant factors contributing to its high thriving levels," Gallup said in the report. Sweden took the top spot in financial well-being, with 72 percent of respondents saying that they're thriving. 

As a region, people living in the Americas are most likely to be thriving in three or more of the criteria. Thirty-three percent of respondents reported that they were thriving, while in sub-Saharan Africa, only 9 percent of people said they were thriving in at least three categories.

Afghanistan was dead last in the purpose, social, and financial categories. Overall, only 17 percent of respondents worldwide said they were thriving in three or more categories.

Gallup chose to use subjective categories because objective measurements like GDP, life expectancy, and employment rate, while useful, do not correlate with a person's sense of well-being. "Residents in poor countries may report that they have high well-being in certain well-being elements while those in wealthy countries may report that they have low well-being in particular elements," the organization said in the report. "War-torn populations such as those in Syria may have extremely low well-being, but low levels are also found in countries that are relatively stable, such as Croatia and Italy."

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California drivers now have to share more of the road by law.     Photo: chris-mueller/ThinkStock

California Cyclists Get Legal Protection

State law requires 3-foot buffer from cars

California became the 24th state to mandate a three-foot cyclist buffer zone rule on Tuesday at midnight, improving upon the state's ambiguous "safe distance" passing rule.

The new rule requires drivers to slow down and leave at least three feet between cars and cyclists when passing or risk $35 fines, the Los Angeles Times reports. If a collision occurs within the buffer zone and results in a cyclist's injury, fines increase to $220.

The rule, signed in September 2013 by Governor Jerry Brown, is part of a state effort to reduce cyclist injuries and fatalities, 40 percent of which occur during rear-end collisions. According to the most recent California Highway Patrol (CHP) data, 153 cyclists died on state roads in 2012 because of car collisions and 13,861 were injured.

When driving on roads that are too narrow to allow a three-foot buffer zone, motorists will have to reduce their speed and wait to pass until the road widens. A CHP press release notes that cyclists are legally allowed to use full lanes on narrow roads to discourage cars from passing.

Patrol officers plan to enforce the rule by watching vehicles and gauging passing distances and speeds by sight, which they are trained to do at the CHP Academy.

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The plane, containing only the pilot, went down south of Mount Whitney on Monday. The pilot's wife notified authorities that he had not arrived as expected, and a search followed.     Photo: Samson1976/Thinkstock

Pilot Survives Sierra Plane Crash

Investigation underway in Sequoia National Park

The pilot of a private plane has been rescued after surviving a crash in Sequoia National Park on Monday. According to the Fresno Bee, the 67-year-old pilot, who was the plane’s only passenger, spent more than 24 hours in a remote area of the park before the Civil Air Patrol located him with the wreckage. 

The pilot was airlifted to a regional hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, including broken ribs and facial injuries. He has not been identified, but the Fresno Bee reports that the airplane was registered to Timothy Cassell of Saratoga. Park ranger Jana McCabe told the Fresno Bee that the plane, a 1996 Piper PA28 Cherokee, had damaged landing gear and wings. The pilot had apparently been heading from Reid-Hillview Airport to the Panamint Springs Resort airstrip in Death Valley. 

The Federation Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash, after which the park service will remove the plane wreckage.

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