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EDM Wednesday Briefing: Colorado Firefighters Injured in Truck Accident

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Emergency and disaster management briefing for December 23, 2020: Thousands of residents across Southern California could face Christmas without power; a major disaster declaration was approved by President Trump for 13 counties in Oklahoma; the EPA has announced new lead and copper rules to help protect children and the elderly; Blizzard and Winter Storm Warnings are in effect for portions of South Dakota and Minnesota as of Wednesday morning; Ventura County faces an extended wildfire season as it moves up to a moderate drought designation; a severe winter storm produced winds in excess of 100 mph from Anchorage to Whittier in Alaska; four firefighters were injured in Colorado after their truck rolled down a steep embankment; and Oregon saw nine deaths, nearly one million acres burned, and at least 4,500 structures destroyed in its worst fire season in state history.

1) Residents across Southern California could face Christmas Eve and morning without power. San Diego Gas and Electric, along with Southern California Edison, warned at least 161,000 of their customers about potential Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) that may occur Wednesday afternoon  through Friday morning — Christmas Day — due to a Red Flag Warning. The National Weather Service (NWS) stated that the warning will begin at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, and go at least until noon on Thursday, due to strong Santa Ana winds that are forecast throughout San Diego County.  

2) A major disaster declaration was approved by President Donald J. Trump for thirteen counties in Oklahoma following a severe winter storm that hit the region in late October. Damages to facilities will be covered under a cost-sharing basis for emergency work to repair or replace the structures, and the assistance is available to all state, tribal, and eligible local governments in those counties that were impacted by the storm. More counties may be added to the Presidential declaration as damage assessments are still being conducted.  

3) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that its new lead and copper rule for water will help protect children and the elderly. The new rule closes loopholes, requires more stringent testing, accelerates notifications to consumers by utilities and speeds pipe replacement, along with ensuring the entire replacement of lead service lines. One of the most significant updates to the regulation may be the required notification time. Utilities must notify customers within 24 hours; prior rules permitted notification to occur within 30 days.

4) A severe winter storm system is set to push across the Plains, with portions of east central South Dakota and southwest Minnesota — including the Twin Cities — under Blizzard and Winter Storm Warnings that began Wednesday morning. The storm is also set to impact the Great Lakes region, with Gale Warnings being posted for Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior — with the potential for waves up to 19 feet — through Thursday morning. The National Weather Service is cautioning residents across the region about the potential for black ice as temperatures plummet to single digit windchill’s overnight Wednesday.  

5) A lack of rain in Ventura County, California, so far this season, has bumped the county up into the drought stage of moderate, with at least 95% of the state being in the moderate, severe, or extreme stages of drought. Water levels are below normal in the county. With no rain to temper the strong winds, vegetation moisture levels remain below 59%, which causes them to ignite quickly. The perpetual dryness, coupled with continued strong wind events, means the county, and much of California, remain at an increased risk of wildfires for the foreseeable future.  

6) A strong storm brought rain and snow to south-central Alaska, and winds in excess of 100 mph were reported from Anchorage to Whittier on Tuesday. At least 1,800 people were without power by 11 a.m. and according to meteorologists, garage doors were damaged by the intense winds. The severe weather and winds also damaged homes on the Anchorage Hillside, and weather officials warned area residents to have a winter survival kit with them if they were planning on traveling as road conditions were likely dangerous.  

7) Four firefighters were injured in Routt County, Colorado, on Saturday, when their fire truck went off the road and rolled 200 feet down a steep embankment. According to reports, firefighters from the West Routt Fire Protection District had been called to a fire on Peak View Court, which they extinguished. They were departing the area when the incident occurred. Allegedly, the truck broke loose from the gravel road that was covered in snow and ice, which sent it over the steep embankment. Reports indicate that speed was not a factor, and the firefighters should all make a full recovery.  

8) Oregon had one of its most devastating fire seasons in state history this year, with nine deaths and nearly one million acres burned. A total of about 4,500 structures were also destroyed in wildfires across the state, and hundreds of thousands were evacuated as wildfires raged and smoke levels exceeded measurable air quality levels. The fires cost $130 million to fight, and recovery is now underway, but according to local officials, it  is likely to take years, as significant swaths of land were destroyed, along with bridges, culverts, and power lines.

Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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