Wildfire alert systems to be assessed in California as death toll grows to 23

Communities in wildfire-prone Northern California have an array of emergency systems designed to alert residents of danger: text messages, phone calls, emails and tweets.

But after days of raging blazes left at least 23 dead, authorities said those methods will be assessed after some residents complained those warnings never got through.

The fast-moving fires, strengthened by fierce winds and nearly absent humidity, began to burn through the state's fabled wine country Sunday (Monday NZT) night.

Counties used a variety of ways to send out warnings, but the alert systems rely on mobile phones, landlines or the internet to rouse residents.

"People were in bed, asleep at midnight, and these fires came down on these communities with no warning within minutes," said state fire agency Chief Ken Pimlott.

"There was little time to notify anybody by any means," he added.

Sonoma County used various systems in an attempt to alert residents of the approaching flames but also decided against using what's known as a Wireless Emergency Alert, a widespread message sent to cell phones in the region, sometimes compared to an Amber Alert issued for missing children.

Because of its broad reach, officials concluded the message could panic people not in danger, triggering unnecessary evacuations that would snarl traffic and delay emergency vehicles, said county spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque.

"They would have reached many people not affected by the fire," she said. "It would have delayed our response."

In emergencies where a few minutes or even seconds can save lives, the notification systems have inherent blind spots. Not everyone will get the message.

Sonoma County uses a service that sends out text messages or emails when an evacuation is ordered, but residents have to sign up to receive them.

The county also uses a mobile phone app that can receive messages, but again it requires a resident to opt-in to participate.

The county can also trigger automated emergency calls to landlines in an area threatened by fire, but that would only reach homes with those phones.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department said the county's emergency alert service texted thousands of warnings to residents to flee Sunday night (Monday NZT).

However, nearly 80 cellphone towers were knocked out or badly damaged, officials said.

Some evacuees escaped only when they realized the fire was nearly at their doors.

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


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Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

A semi-official news agency in Iran believed to be close to the country's hard-line Revolutionary Guard has published a video threatening the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with missile attacks.

The Fars news agency tweeted and then later deleted the video today, just days after the weekend attack on an Iranian military parade that killed at least 25 people and wounded over 60.

The video shows file footage of previous ballistic missile attacks by the Guard, then shows a graphic of a sniper rifle scope homing in on UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi, and also on Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The video also threatens Israel.

Iranian officials have blamed regional Sunni Arab countries for backing the Arab separatists they say carried out Saturday's attack in Ahvaz.

TEHRAN, IRAN, may 13, 2018: Iranian missiles outside the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense Museum, Tehran
Iranian missiles outside the Islamic Revolution and Holy Defense Museum, Tehran. Source: istock.com

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Trusty chilly bin saves Aussie fishermen after capsize

A blue chilly bin bobbing in the sea delivered salvation for two fishing buddies after a harrowing night clinging on to their upturned tinny.

The two men had been fishing in the Stanage Bay area, north of Rockhampton, last night when their boat began taking on water.

One of the men rang a friend who raised the alarm.

The RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service was sent to the area but failed to locate the men or the boat.

About 5.30am this morning (local time) the crew were planning to head back to land to refuel when they spotted the blue chilly bin in water off Quail Island.

Deciding to investigate, the rescuers located the upturned boat and then the frantically waving men stranded on a steep pile of rocks at the base of a cliff on the island.

It's understood the men had spent the night clinging to the boat before deciding to swim for the rocks.

Helicopter aircrew officer Shaun Pearce said the men were hypothermic and had multiple cuts and abrasions after scrambling up the oyster-lined rocks.

"If we'd turned away they were definitely in some serious trouble," Mr Pearce told reporters.

The two men were winched from the rocks and taken to the Rockhampton Base Hospital in stable condition.

An Esky isolated on white.
Chilly bin. Source: istock.com


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Man yelled 'Allahu Akbar' before driving into Melbourne pedestrians, court hears

A man drove into more than a dozen pedestrians at one of Melbourne CBD's busiest intersections before saying "Allahu Akbar" as he was arrested by an off-duty policeman, a court has been told.

Saeed Noori allegedly drove his mother's Suzuki SUV into pedestrians outside Flinders Street Station, including one elderly man who later died.

Prosecutors also allege Noori's computer was found to have images of car terror attacks from around the world.

The 33-year-old has faced the first day of a Melbourne Magistrates Court committal hearing charged with one count of murder and 15 of attempted murder.

Noori allegedly hit 16 pedestrians at the busy crossing at Flinders and Elizabeth streets, while other people were struck by flying bodies in chaotic scenes.

Off-duty police Sergeant Francis Adams was nearby and rushed to the car, which stopped when it hit a bollard and had Middle Eastern-style music playing.

"Sergeant Adams said to the accused he was under arrest and the accused said Allahu Akbar two or three times," prosecutor Mark Gibson SC said.

After the incident, Noori's home computer was found to have images of recent car attacks in London in the UK, Barcelona in Spain and Charlottesville in the US, Mr Gibson said.

A reconstruction of the scene determined the SUV was travelling between 47 km/h and 53 km/h when Noori allegedly drove through a red light and into pedestrians about 4.30pm that Thursday.

Northcote man Antonios "Anton" Crocaris, 83, died eight days later from head injuries.

Before the incident, Noori visited two hire car outlets and inquired about SUVs but could not rent one because of bank card issues, prosecutors say.

He then visited his mother's Oak Park home, leaving in her car and driving to the CBD where he carried out the alleged attack.

Also that day, Noori went to a bank to withdraw $7000, later depositing $3000 into his mother's bank account.

Noori came to Australian from Afghanistan as a refugee in 2004 and is now an Australian citizen.

He has had mental health and drug problems, and defence lawyers say mental impairment may be a defence.

The hearing continues before magistrate Suzanne Cameron.

A man with a history of mental illness left more than a dozen injured in the central city yesterday. Source: 1 NEWS


Grizzly bear hunts blocked in US as protections restored

A US judge ordered federal protections restored for grizzly bears in the Northern Rocky Mountains yesterday, a move that blocks the first grizzly hunts planned in the Lower 48 states in almost three decades.

Wyoming and Idaho had been on the cusp of allowing hunters to kill up to 23 bears this fall. US District Judge Dana Christensen had twice delayed the hunts, and the latest order blocking them was due to expire later this week.

The hunts would have been the first in the US outside Alaska since 1991.

Christensen wrote in his ruling that the case was "not about the ethics of hunting."

Rather, he said, it was about whether federal officials adequately considered threats to the species' long-term recovery when they lifted protections for more than 700 bears living around Yellowstone National Park.

In the judge's view, the answer was no.

He noted that an estimated 50,000 bears once roamed the contiguous US and said it would be "simplistic at best and disingenuous at worst" not to consider the status of grizzlies outside the Yellowstone region, one of the few areas where they have bounced back.

State and federal officials reacted with disappointment. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said the ruling provided further evidence of flaws in the Endangered Species Act and the need for Congress to make changes.

"Grizzly bear recovery should be viewed as a conservation success story," Mead said in a statement.

A bid to remove protections for the region's gray wolves ran into similar legal problems last decade. In that case, Congress intervened in 2011 to strip safeguards from the animals through legislation, opening the way to public wolf hunts.

Pressure to lift protections on bears and allow hunting has increased in recent years as the number of conflicts between bears and people increased.

Most of those conflicts involve attacks on livestock but occasionally bears attack people, such as a Wyoming hunting guide killed earlier this month by a pair of grizzly bears.

The ruling marks a victory for wildlife advocates and Native American tribes that sued when the Interior Department last year revoked federal protections.

They argued that the animals face continued threats from climate change and loss of habitat.

FILE - In this July 6, 2011, file photo, a , Wyo. On Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, a federal judge restored federal protections to grizzly bears in the Northern Rocky Mountains and blocked the first hunts planned for the animals in the Lower 48 states in almost three decades. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen's order Monday came after he had twice delayed hunts in Wyoming and Idaho just as they were set to begin. Wildlife advocates argue the bears face continued threats from climate change and loss of habitat. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart, File)
A grizzly bear roams near Beaver Lake in Yellowstone National Park Source: Associated Press