Investigators looking into causes of California wildfires as death toll rises to 17

A carelessly discarded cigarette, a downed power line, a car's backfire or a chainsaw's pull. Just about anything could have started any one of the wildfires now tearing through Northern California, authorities said.

"Every spark is going to ignite a fire," said Ken Pimlott, the state's top firefighter. He said the risk remains "extreme for new starts."

Pimlott said Tuesday that investigators are looking into the causes, but no determination has been made at any of the 17 sites of major wildfires blazing in Northern California.

The death toll from devastating wildfires in California has risen to at least 23. Source: 1 NEWS

Pimlott, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection director, said "98 per cent" of all wildfires are started by people and it's unlikely lightning is to blame for any of the fires that exploded overnight Sunday, killing at least 17 people so far.

California's most dangerous wildfire season comes in autumn, when summer heat and insects have left brush dead and dried out, and winds are especially hot, dry and strong.
"This is traditionally California's worst time for fires," Pimlott said.

Pimlott said firefighters typically respond to 300 blazes a week during this season, but nearly all are extinguished quickly and with minimal damage. It's unusual to have many major fires burning at once, he said.

However, conditions were ripe for wildfires in California wine country after record rains last winter created an abundance of dry vegetation, which combined with low humidity and unusually high winds gusting to 79 mph (127kmh) to create fast-moving infernos.

None of the major fires has been contained. They are spread over a 200-mile (321km) region north of San Francisco from Napa in the south to Redding in the north, taxing firefighting resources.

"Our primary effort is going to put containment lines in as quickly as possible," Pimlott said Tuesday (Wednesday NZT).

Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann said fires had been moving too fast and unpredictably for firefighters to attack directly.

"The winds were extremely erratic during those conditions of high winds and a lot of things happened," Biermann said Tuesday (Wednesday NZT). He and others said resources are stretched thin as firefighters battle so many major blazes simultaneously.

California Office of Emergency Services director Mark Ghilarducci said more than 4,000 firefighters, law enforcement officials and others are responding.

Airplanes are dropping fire retardant and fresh firefighters from Southern California and Nevada are streaming in to help. Lines are being dug on the south side of many blazes in preparation for northerly winds picking up.

The US Department of Defence is sending a large drone to help map the fires and assess damage. The California National Guard is also providing gasoline to firefighters and other first responders because many service stations in the area are without power and unable to pump fuel.

The biggest and most devastating fire is burning in Santa Rosa, a city of 175,000 people 45 miles (72km) north of San Francisco.

A fire there swept through several neighbourhoods and business districts, destroying at least 550 homes and 21 commercial buildings.

Many residents had only minutes to flee. Eleven of the 17 fatalities found so far have occurred in and near Santa Rosa.

Many roads are closed throughout Northern California, though US Route 101 was reopened in two spots Tuesday. California Highway Patrol officers are helping with security at evacuation centres and providing escorts to rescue vehicles travelling in dangerous areas, commissioner Warren Stanley said.

He also had a request for motorists in the area: "Anybody who is driving around - if you're smoking in your car - please do not throw your cigarettes out the window."


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Sydney hospital contributed to death of 13-year-old girl who fatally choked in their care

When Bruce and Tin Standen took their young daughter to a Sydney private hospital, they trusted she'd be safe while they took a much-needed break with their other children.

But Melissa "Maisy Mouse" Standen, whose severe disability left her completely reliant on others, died a horrific and preventable death at Allowah Presbyterian Children's Hospital in 2015.

The small 13-year-old, who couldn't co-ordinate her movements, stand upright, talk, eat or drink on her own, accidentally choked to death when she came out of her bed in the night.

Melissa was hung on her t-shirt, which caught around her throat when she fell from the bed on January 13, a Glebe Coroners Court inquest has heard.

State coroner Les Mabbutt today found the hospital contributed to her death by failing to introduce proper risk assessments and admission procedures, using a bed unsuited to Melissa's needs, and inadequately training staff.

Melissa wriggled in bed and was small enough at 14.9-kilograms to fall through a gap at the head of the bed.

For the Standens, the distressing nature of the death - and the fact it happened in a professional care setting - has been impossible to comprehend.

A tearful Tin Standen said the death of her daughter, who communicated through facial expression, laughter and crying, had left a massive hole in her life.

"How could she just fall out of bed and then she got hung?" she told AAP last week before the findings were released.

"You never think that something - if you fall off the bed, you fall straight out of bed onto the floor, you know?"

Mrs Standen said they resisted putting Melissa in respite care for many years.

But by 2009 they desperately needed a break and time with their other children, so started taking Melissa to Allowah during holidays following a nurse's recommendation.

The Standens have spent more than three years searching for answers about Melissa's death.

They've appealed to police for documents, gone to the Health Care Complaints Commission and the Therapeutic Goods Administration for information on Melissa's bed model and possible recalls, spoken to staff at another hospital about staffing ratios and procedures, and consulted a biomedical engineer about bed railings.

The coroner said Allowah had made real efforts to identify and introduce procedures to address system failures, lack of staff training and culture since Melissa's death.

He said no recommendations against the hospital were necessary.

But Mr Mabbutt did recommend to the health minister that experts consider a standard, guideline or other publication around improving the safety of beds used by children with disabilities.

The Standens hope the inquest will prompt meaningful changes "because kids with disabilities basically have no voice".

"I think, just because she's disabled, people just wipe her out," Mrs Standen said, her voice shaking though tears.

"If nobody fights for them they just get swept under the carpet, but it's not right."

Nurse hospital generic
Nurse, hospital (file picture). Source: istock.com

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Man had no idea he had knife stuck in his head after fight

A man in South Africa survived being stabbed in the face with a knife that was stuck in his head for over three days.

The amazing case was documented in a study published by the British Medical Journal yesterday by doctors Dairui Dai, Silke Meyer, Lars Christian Kaltheuner and Frank Plani.

In it the 25-year-old patient said at first he didn't even know he had been stabbed with the nearly 11cm long knife.

The stabbing happened when he tried to help a friend who was being attacked.

"After the fight I went home trying to clean up so I can take a nap," he said.

"My friends showed up [and] took me to the hospital.

"We had little argument because… I didn’t feel that I was [stabbed]."

When he finally walked into a clinic in Soweto the next day, the man complained only of a headache and bit of pain when moving his left eye.

After an X-ray revealed the blade of a knife lodged in his head the seriousness of his injuries then became apparent.

He was then taken to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital emergency department where it was another 24 hours before a plan of action was decided upon by doctors.

It was 84 hours after the attack before the knife was carefully removed from his head in surgery.

"Don’t play hero when someone is carrying a knife or a gun," the victim warned others after the successful surgery. 

British Medical Journal x-rays. Source: British Medical Journal


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New Zealand man jailed over deadly poisoning of 406 Australian eagles in Victoria

A New Zealand man has been fined and jailed for poisoning 406 wedge-tailed eagles in Victoria, Australia. 

Murray James Silvester, a 59-year-old farm worker was sentenced to 14 days in jail and fined $2,500 after pleading guilty to killing the protected birds.

The eagles were found dead on three separate farms spanning across 20 square kilometres at Tubbut between October 2016 and April 2018.

Other protected animals including a kookaburra, ravens and raptor was also found dead in the area from poison.

"His actions were conscious, voluntary and deliberate, he Googled them, he knew they were protected species," said Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning prosecutor Chrisanthi Paganis to ABC.

However, Silvester's defence lawyer Keith Borthwick told the court his employer played a role in the eagle deaths, saying: "It was under the instruction of his employer."

Mr Borthwick then explained this was due to the pressure Silvester received to increase lamb survival rates.

The court was told the maximum penalty for killing so many eagles was a fine of over $350,000 or six months in jail.

One of the most powerful Australian birds of prey the Wedge Tailed Eagle is a magnificent creature. This particular eagle was located around Alice Springs where they fly freely along the thermals generated by the West Macdonnel Ranges
The Australian wedge-tailed eagle. Source: iStock


Instagram co-founders resign from social media company

The co-founders of Instagram are resigning their positions with the social media company without explanation.

Chief Executive Kevin Systrom said in a statement today that he and Mike Krieger, Instagram's chief technical officer, plan to leave the company in the next few weeks and take time off "to explore our curiosity and creativity again."

"Mike and I are grateful for the last eight years at Instagram and six years with the Facebook team," Systrom said.

"We've grown from 13 people to over a thousand with offices around the world, all while building products used and loved by a community of over one billion. We're now ready for our next chapter."

"Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that's what we plan to do," Systrom said.

"We remain excited for the future of Instagram and Facebook in the coming years as we transition from leaders to two users in a billion."

No explanation was given for their sudden departure from the photo-sharing network they founded in 2010.

Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, just before going public, at a price that seemed inconceivable at the time — $1 billion — especially for a little-known startup with no profit.

At the time Instagram was ad-free, with a loyal following of 31 million users who were all on mobile devices — still a somewhat elusive bunch for the web-born Facebook back then. Since then, the service has grown to more than 1 billion users and has of course added plenty of advertisements.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Systrom and Krieger "extraordinary product leaders" and said he was looking forward "to seeing what they build next."

The departures are a challenge for Facebook.

Instagram has been a bright spot for company not just because it's seen as a more uplifting place than Facebook itself, but because it is popular with teens and young people — a group Facebook has had trouble keeping around.

Instagram has largely escaped Facebook's high-profile problems over user privacy, foreign elections interference and fake news, even though it is not immune to any of these things (Facebook recently disclosed it has deleted hundreds of pages on its namesake site as well as Instagram that were linked to global misinformation campaigns intended to disrupt elections).

Though Systrom, in the early days of Instagram ads, famously checked each one personally to ensure it aligned with the app's aesthetics, he was not as loudly anti-ads as the founder of another popular Facebook-acquired mobile app, WhatsApp.

WhatsApp's CEO Jan Koum resigned in April.

Koum had signaled years earlier that he would take a stand against Facebook if the company's push to increase profits demanded radical changes in the way WhatsApp operates.

In a blog post written when Facebook announced the biggest acquisition in its history, Koum wrote that the deal wouldn't have happened if WhatsApp "had to compromise on the core principles that will always define our company, our vision and our product."

Berlin, Germany - 05 21 2016:  Apple iPhone 6s screen with social media applications Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Youtube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest, WhatsApp etc.
Instagram (file picture). Source: istock.com