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Weather: Katrina 10 Years Ago and Erika

I was working a Sunday night Aug. 28, 2005, in Erie, Pa., at WJET-TV. I remember watching the satellite and just seeing this monster storm slowly moving toward the Gulf Coast and to New Orleans. The image of that storm on satellite is still etched into my memory. Back in those days, I had a weather blog and I was very active in blogging about the tropics. As I was finding information about Katrina, I read the local forecast discussion from the National Weather Service out of New Orleans the day before Katrina made landfall.

Here is just a small part of it:

“Hurricane Katrina is a most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength. . . Rivaling the intensity of hurricane Camille of 1969. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks. . . perhaps longer. At least one half of well constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fail. . . leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed. The majority of industrial buildings will become non functional. Partial to complete wall and roof failure is expected. All wood framed low rising apartment buildings will be destroyed.

“Livestock exposed to the winds will face certain death if struck. Power outages will last for weeks. . . as most power poles will be down and transformers destroyed. Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards. The vast majority of native trees will be snapped or uprooted. Only the heartiest will remain standing...”

That discussion still resonates with me and in my 14 years, I have yet to read such a discussion from the National Weather Service. Katrina reached category 5 status before it weakened to a category 3 hurricane when it made landfall. I can still remember the images of those levees breaking and New Orleans being flooded. Also, the Mississippi coast, which a lot of people don’t remember, felt most of the powerful surge that came with Katrina, more than what New Orleans experienced.

Now all eyes are on Erika as it works through the Caribbean. Unfortunately at this point, it’s still hard to determine what path and how strong Erika will get as it moves west and to the west-northwest. It has a long way to go and a lot of obstacles in its path. The current National Hurricane Center forecast has it this storm anywhere from the eastern shore of Florida all the way to the Panhandle of Florida. The highest strength of this storm by the National Hurricane Center is just of a tropical storm by Sunday and Monday. As you can see, there’s a lot of unknowns at this point.

911 Calls from Fatal Fire: ‘Send Somebody Fast’

Homeowners frantically asked for help as a swiftly moving wildfire headed toward their houses, 911 audio calls show, and dispatchers tried to clear up confusion over injured firefighters from a blaze in Washington state that ultimately killed three firefighters.

The Aug. 19 fire near Twisp, Washington, also injured four firefighters — one critically.

The dispatch recordings were released to The Associated Press on Friday by the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office in response to a records request.

“Send somebody fast please,” one of the first callers to report the fire told dispatchers. “I just looked out my window, and the fire is coming up the hill right towards my house.”

A short time later, one of the first-responders warned dispatchers of the risk the fire was posing to “resources,” an industry term for firefighters and equipment.

“We’ve got houses up here, but we can’t get resources up here and get them out safely,” the firefighter from a local fire district said after describing his location in the rural, forested neighborhood. “And there’s nothing, there’s no safe zones up here.”

Several major fires were already burning in the region when the 911 calls for the Twisp River blaze began pouring in during the noon hour on Aug. 19. When it was first reported, the wildfire was only about two acres — slightly smaller than an average city block. But it quickly grew, fed by winds and the trees that covered the hilly terrain, which were left tinder-dry after months of severe drought.

Within a few hours of the first 911 call, an emergency responder asked dispatchers to send an ambulance for a burn victim. Around the same time, a woman with the Washington Department of Natural Resources called to report that firefighters were trapped and needed an air ambulance.

Dispatchers sent a ground ambulance and an aircraft ambulance, and then focused on trying to figure out whether the separate reports were referring to injuries occurring at the same site or two separate incidents.

The location provided for each was nearby but not identical. Meanwhile, the fire crews at the scene weren’t responding to the dispatcher’s calls for clarification.

The dispatcher ultimately called another agency’s dispatch center to try to find the answer.

“Yeah, we don’t have any confirmation on number of patients yet,” the second dispatcher replied. “I’m looking through the log and everybody here, we haven’t heard confirmation of numbers yet other than the one, but definitely I did hear ‘multiple.’ “

The confusion was eventually resolved when medics arrived at the scene. Not long after, a law enforcement officer called the dispatch center with tragic news.

“Listen, have you been in contact about any dead firefighters yet? Got any information on that?” he asked the dispatcher. “Listen up, here’s what I need then. We got three dead Forest Service firefighters, so you need to notify the coroner. Try not to do it over the air, do it over the phone.”

“Oh god ... that’s terrible,” the coroner said, when the dispatch center gave him the news.

Twenty-year-old Tom Zbyszewski, 26-year-old Andrew Zajac and 31-year-old Richard Wheeler were killed after their engine crashed down an embankment and was caught by the quickly moving fire.

Their cause of death was smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, the Okanagan coroner told The Associated Press on Friday.

Daniel Lyon, 25, was critically injured with burns over 60 percent of his body when he got caught by the flames nearby. He remained in critical but stable condition on Friday after undergoing two successful burn surgeries, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Three other firefighters who were with Lyon also sustained burns.


Boone reported from Boise, Idaho, and Bellisle reported from Seattle, Washington.

Stork Report: Births at Jerome, Twin Falls Hospitals

St. Luke’s Jerome

Oaklee JoAnn Cary, daughter of Stephanie Nickelle Claar and Brandon Dwayne Cary of Jerome, was born Aug. 20, 2015.

Harper Marie Prescott, daughter of Sandy and Cody Prescott of Jerome, was born Aug. 21, 2015.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley

Carly Jo Young and Megan Marie Young, twin daughters of Cory Ann and Kevin Neal Young of Twin Falls, were born Aug. 19, 2015.

James Lloyd Kyes, son of Leah Ann Kyes and Michael Lloyd Hyde of Shoshone, was born Aug. 19, 2015.

Cherry Amarillo Rose Whiteley and Jedi MaHayla Fay Whiteley, twin daughters of Cheyanne Grace Whiteley and William Isaac Perry Whiteley III of Buhl, were born Aug. 19, 2015.

Layla May Zilar, daughter of Janie Marie Todd and Kixon Chase Zilar of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 19, 2015.

Barsa Magar, daughter of Jyoti and Bidhen Magar of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 19, 2015.

Nadaley Nikole Brown, daughter of Cindy Marie and Jeremy John Brown of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 19, 2015.

Harold William Siddoway, son of Sarah Marie and Jud M Siddoway of Bliss, was born Aug. 20, 2015.

Emeline Ruth Peters, daughter of Alea Shalae and John Dennis Peters of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 20, 2015.

Tony Ray Perry, son of Sara Ann and Kevin Ryan Perry of Jerome, was born Aug. 21, 2015.

Devin Cannon Thornton, son of Talia Leavitt Thornton and Devin Bradley Thornton of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 21, 2015.

Hudson Avery Blaylock, son of Katie Nicole and Kacey Dustin Blaylock of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 21, 2015.

Thaddeus James Woolf, son of Megan Reann Greenfield and Anthony James Woolf of Jerome, was born Aug. 21, 2015.

Nina Arron Weeks, daughter of Christine and David Arron Weeks of Hansen, was born Aug. 21, 2015.

Elias Zayden Hernandez, son of Helen Dominguez and Eric Hernandez of Buhl, was born Aug. 22, 2015.

Avery Louise Goodrich, daughter of Sandra Louise and Matthew Edward Goodrich of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 22, 2015.

Dylan Evan Carter and Brooklynn Faye Carter, twins, son and daughter of Angeleena Irene and Taylor Evan Carter of Kimberly, was born Aug. 22, 2015.

Adelynn Clarie Kloer, daughter of Brooke Ann and Jed Paul Kloer of Kimberly, was born Aug. 23, 2015.

Zachariah Devon White, son of Tracy JoAnne and Devon Alan White of Lacey, Wash., was born Aug. 23, 2015.

De'vion Jadein Toreph, son of Debra Debbie Willander and Vincent James Toreph of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 23, 2015.

Augustus Gregory Callen Jr., son of Sydney Lynne and Augustus Gregory Callen of Jerome, was born Aug. 23, 2015.

Alyson Jean Cowden, daughter of Jennifer Louise and Cody James Cowden of Buhl, was born Aug. 24, 2015.

Elijah Davis Watson, son of Brianne Kae and Michael Edward Watson of Wendell, was born Aug. 24, 2015.

Allen Lemus-Arana, son of Marlene Arana-Galvan and Oswaldo Lemus-Salgado of Rupert, was born Aug. 24, 2015.

McKinnon Allen Nelson, son of Summer Renee Brackett and Nathan Allen Nelson of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 24, 2015.

Abigayle Maree Wilson, daughter of Mandi Jo and Nicholas Grady Wilson of Jerome, was born Aug. 24, 2015.

Matthew Craig Thomas, son of Kausha Lee and Jeremy Layne Thomas of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 25, 2015.

Azure Malaya Carreon Mitton, daughter of Aissa Lea Carreon Mitton and Maverick Andrew Mitton of Twin Falls, was born Aug. 26, 2015.

September Fish Stocking Schedule for Magic Valley Waters

JEROME | Hoping for some successful fishing? The Idaho Department of Fish and Game released this September schedule for its fish stocking in the Magic Valley region.

The department stocks 10- to 12-inch rainbow trout. Stocking is dependent on river, lake or pond conditions — for angler safety concerns — and dates may change due to weather or staffing.

Body of water; week to be stocked; and number of trout to be stocked:

• Gaver's Lagoon; Aug. 24-28; 400.

• Frank Oster #1; Aug. 24-28; 450.

• Featherville Dredge Pond; Aug. 24-28; 1,200.

• South Fork Boise River; Aug. 24-28; 1,900.

• Frank Oster #1; Aug. 24-28; 450.

• Big Trinity Lake; Aug. 24-28; 950.

• Little Trinity Lake; Aug. 24-28; 475.

• Filer/LQ Drain Ponds; Aug. 24-28; 350.

• Gaver's Lagoon; Aug. 31-Sept. 4; 250.

• Frank Oster #1; Aug. 31-Sept. 4; 570.

• Snake River at Niagara Springs; Aug. 31-Sept. 4; 380.

• Crystal Lake; Aug. 31-Sept. 4; 380.

• Gaver's Lagoon; Sept. 7-11; 250.

• Frank Oster #1; Sept. 7-11; 570.

• Filer/LQ Drain Ponds; Sept. 7-11; 350.

• Gaver's Lagoon; Sept. 14-18; 250.

• Dierkes Lake; Sept. 14-18; 3,800.

• Rupert Gravel Pond; Sept. 14-18; 950.

• Frank Oster #1; Sept. 14-18; 570.

• Frank Oster #2; Sept. 14-18; 285.

• Frank Oster #3; Sept. 14-18; 475.

• Frank Oster #4; Sept. 14-18; 475.

• Snake River at Niagara Springs; Sept. 14-18; 380.

• Crystal Lake; Sept. 14-18; 380.

• Gaver's Lagoon; Sept. 21-25; 250.

• Frank Oster #1; Sept. 21-25; 570.

• Filer/LQ Drain Ponds; Sept. 21-25; 345.

• Gaver's Lagoon; Sept. 28-Oct. 2; 250.

• Frank Oster #1; Sept. 28-Oct. 2; 570.

Police Say Arson Caused Downtown Idaho City Fire

BOISE (AP) | Police are saying the fire that burned down five businesses in downtown Idaho City was set intentionally.

The Idaho Statesman reports ( the blaze began in the early morning hours of June 5 and caused an estimated $311,000 in damage to a significant portion of the small city's downtown area and boardwalk.

Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker says investigators believe the fire was a result of arson. She said information is being turned over to the prosecutor's office for review.

Idaho State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl says the investigation confirmed initial suspicions that the fire started in Calamity Jayne's restaurant and spread to the other businesses nearby.

2 Men Survive South Fork Plane Crash

IDAHO FALLS (AP) | Law enforcement officials in eastern Idaho say two men survived a plane crash on the South Fork of the Snake River.

According to Bonneville County Sheriff's office, a two-person Husky Aviator plane struck a wire strung across the river around 5 p.m. on Thursday. The plane flipped upside down and then landed in the water.

However, officials say the two adult men in the plane were able to escape and get out of the river unharmed. The two were able to call for help after walking a little more than a mile.

The sheriff's office did not immediately have the names of the two men in the plane.

As of Thursday evening, the plane was still in the river.

Firefighters Holding Their Own against Giant Wildfire

CHELAN, Wash. (AP) | Firefighters were holding their own against the largest wildfire on record in Washington state, even as rising temperatures and increased winds stoked the flames.

The National Weather Service had issued a red-flag warning earlier in the day for the fires near Okanogan, saying weather conditions had the potential to spread the flames.

"All the lines are holding," Bernie Pineda, spokesman for the 450-square-mile fire, said Thursday afternoon.

He said winds were actually pushing portions of the giant fire back on itself.

The blazes killed three firefighters last week and have burned at least 40 homes and 40 outbuildings.

Heavy smoke that had grounded aircraft lifted a bit and helicopters were able to drop water on the flames, fire spokesman Rick Isaacson said.

More than 1,150 square miles of Washington have burned, nearly the size of Rhode Island, the state Department of Natural Resources said.

Gov. Jay Inslee visited firefighters on the lines.

"They know they're in danger and this danger is persistent," Inslee said.

Inslee said the fires were more spread out across the state than last year.

"This is not just a local fire, it's a statewide slow-motion disaster," he said.

The governor met with about 20 members of the National Guard fighting a fire near Lake Chelan. They worked to protect about a half-dozen homes.

"Trying to predict what the fire is going to do is one of the hardest things," guardsmen Casey Stockwell said.

Homeowner Jake Kneisley, 41, leaned against a car down a hill from his two-story home. Kneisley said he was up all night watching the fire near his home.

"I feel incredibly lucky these people are here for us," Kneisley said as firefighters worked nearby.

Elsewhere in the West, people in west-central Idaho near Riggins have been told to evacuate due to a wildfire that expanded to 40 square miles. Nearly 600 firefighters were working to protect structures along U.S. Highway 95 and the Salmon River.

In Oregon, a large wildfire near John Day had increased in size, and firefighters were worried about explosive growth. The fire has burned 134 square miles.

On Alaska's Kodiak Island, a wildfire destroyed a library and several homes after erupting Thursday. Kodiak Police Chief Rhonda Wallace said early Friday that people were being urged to evacuate and just under 100 had checked in with the department.


Geranios reported from Spokane, Washington. Associated Press photographer Ted Warren contributed from Omak, Washington.

Officers Find Ball Python in Nampa Neighborhood

NAMPA (AP) | Nampa police officers are looking for the owners of a ball python after the reptile was found slithering across the street of a residential neighborhood.

KTVB-TV reports that after officers found the snake Wednesday, they knocked on doors around the neighborhood looking for the owner but no one claimed it as their pet. Officers snagged the snake and took it back to the station for photos with members of the department.

Sgt. Joe Ramirez says the python is very friendly. It was taken to the West Valley Humane Society Animal Shelter on Thursday. Snake owners missing their pet should call the shelter.

This is not the first snake officers have met. Police told Nampa residents in September to keep an eye out for a 9-foot-long boa constrictor that escaped its cage.

Ancient Northern Idaho Cedar Grove Survives Nearby Wildfires

EAGLE (AP) | An ancient cedar grove appears to have survived a wildfire that burned through northern Idaho, leaving officials optimistic about the chances a similar stand in Montana will survive.

The Spokesman-Review reports that firefighters set up a sprinkler system at the Settler's Grove near Eagle, but crews were forced to leave before setup was complete.

An Idaho Panhandle National Forests spokeswoman says on Wednesday it looked like the low-burning fire spared the trees, which are centuries old.

In northwest Montana, fire officials say the Ross Creek Cedar Grove should also withstand the fire burning within a half-mile of the trees. Trees at the Ross Creek stand are as large as 8 feet in diameter.

Despite Opposition, Refugee Services Unlikely to End in Twin Falls

TWIN FALLS • A refugee center in Twin Falls isn’t likely to go away even if the College of Southern Idaho stops sponsoring its program, officials say.

A local group — the Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center — wants a measure to shutter the center on ballots by May, says the group’s leader, Rick Martin, a widely known right-wing activist. They also want to recruit candidates to run for the college’s board of trustees in November 2016 with the goal of phasing out the center.

The group submitted its measure this week to the Twin Falls County Attorney, a preliminary step before the group can begin gathering signatures to get it on the ballot.

Still, college and national refugee officials say it’s unlikely resettlement services will end in Twin Falls, regardless of what happens with the ballot measure.

“Nobody even thinks that CSI would leave it,” said Zeze Rwasama, director of the Refugee Center.

College trustees and President Jeff Fox have publicly expressed their support, and another agency would take over the program in the unlikely event CSI steps aside, Rwasama said.

Jessica Lilley, a program officer with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, addressed the topic Tuesday during a meeting with the Magic Valley Refugee Advocates, a group formed this summer to support the local program.

“You already have a community of refugees here” with family members still oversees, she said, and the U.S. Department of State will want an agency in Twin Falls to fill the gap as the relatives of refugees resettle in the United States.

USCRI has field offices around the country and could open one in Twin Falls, Rwasama told the Times-News. Regardless of who operates the program, “refugees will be here anyway,” he said.

The Twin Falls program has operated for 30 years with little controversy, relocating people from many religions and political backgrounds to the Magic Valley from all over the world. But the opposition group formed earlier this year after an announcement by CSI that some of the next wave of refugees may be from Syria, where civil war has displaced millions as terrorists have flooded into the country.

Some community members worry radical Muslims could be among the refugees slated to come to Twin Falls. The Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center also cites concerns such as community security, health, finances and the impact to American jobs.

None of the nearly 5,000 refugees resettled here through the Refugee Center since the 1980s have come from Syria, although there is a small Syrian population already living in Twin Falls County, according to state and Refugee Center records.

However unlikely the chances of Twin Falls losing a refugee program, it has happened in other communities.

When it does, Lilley said, it can lead to refugees coming to cities as “secondary migrants.” It means refugees are resettled in one city but move to join their family members in a city that no longer provides refugee services.

“It makes it much harder for the individual to be integrated into the community,” she said.

Federal money is spent to help refugees to adjust to a particular city, such as paying their first month’s rent. But if they leave shortly after, it’s a waste of resources, Lilley said.

While opponents of the Refugee Center work to end the program, supporters are also mobilizing.

Magic Valley Refugee Advocates hope to create a local chapter of Neighbors United, a refugee collaborative that operates in Boise and other places nationwide. In Boise, the group’s partners include major businesses, non-profits and local government.

The Magic Valley Refugee Advocates are led by Deborah Silver, a Twin Falls accountant who ran an unsuccessful bid for state treasurer as a Democrat in 2014.

Silver plans to expand local refugee advocacy: “It’s a way to bring in all of the support in this town.”