Posts Tagged ‘fire’


Jessie Mercer created a phoenix sculpture made out of thousands of keys to places that were lost in Paradise, California’s Camp Fire.

By Alaa Elassar

A woman from Paradise, California has created a phoenix sculpture from thousands of donated keys to places destroyed in California’s deadliest wildfire last November.

Jessie Mercer, a 34-year-old art therapist and trauma counselor, designed the 800-pound depiction of the mythological bird that rises from ashes. The sculpture holds more than 18,000 keys to homes, churches, schools, businesses and cars, including some that belonged to people who died in the Camp Fire.

The blaze killed 85 people and burned more than 153,000 acres.

When Mercer’s father fled the fire to her apartment in Chico, just 10 minutes outside of Paradise, she saw him pull out the keys to his house.

“In that moment, I kind of realized that he wasn’t alone and thousands of my neighbors were doing that same exact thing,” Mercer told CNN. “Everyone was like, “Wow, I have keys to my shop, my house, my car. And it’s all gone.’ ”

The artist, who was born in Wyoming and moved to Paradise at 15, thought to collect the keys two days after the fire turned Paradise into a pile of ashes.

“I needed to make something to put us back together, and the keys were the only thing we still had in common since we lost everything else.”

Putting the pieces back together

After recovering from severe neurological issues that left her bedridden and suffering from seizures when she was 31, Mercer discovered her love for art. She and her father, a goldsmith, began sharing an art studio, which also burned in the fire.

With her father’s encouragement, Mercer put out a Facebook post asking people to mail her their keys, drop them off at a location, or meet up and give them to her in person.

“I just told people, you don’t have to carry around this totem of sorrow that makes you sad every time you look at it,” Mercer said. “Let me transform it into something comforting.”

And just three days after the fire, she received her first key.

Mercer decided to get on YouTube and teach herself how to weld. After collecting enough metal and keys — and without drawing a sketch or making a plan — Mercer simply “followed her heart” and designed the phoenix.


Jessie Mercer created a phoenix sculpture made out of thousands of keys to places that were lost in Paradise, California’s Camp Fire.

For a year, Mercer spent hours in a small room in her apartment, building the mythical fire bird to help her community heal.

After driving back and forth for 19,000 miles, picking up metals, meeting other victims of the Camp Fire, and collecting keys dropped off at 13 locations across five towns including Paradise, Mercer’s project was finally complete.

Unveiling the art

Exactly one year after the fire devoured the town in a matter of hours, Mercer unveiled her Phoenix Key Project on Friday during a commemoration ceremony at Paradise’s Butte Resiliency Center to a crowd of thousands.

The resiliency and resource center will be transformed into a place designated for the healing and growth of Paradise and its community. There, residents can “get their home plans checked, their surveys done, and rebuild questions answered,” Mercer said.

The sculpture will be displayed at the center. And in honor of her gift to the city, Mercer was presented a key to the town of Paradise.


Jessie Mercer and her father, Tommie Mercer, pose next to Jessie’s phoenix sculpture after the unveiling ceremony.

“It’s the first ever time they’ve ever given the key to anyone,” Mercer told CNN. “It’s so cool. I don’t care about anything else. I have the key to Paradise.”

While Mercer’s idea was to unite the community through her art, she ended up bringing people together back in Paradise.

“It was powerful to know that I bought people back home, even for a day. I was so proud of them for coming. The streets were full, the parking lots. It was thousands of people and the crowds were roaring.”

A year of ‘indescribable emotions’

Mercer said that taking a year to meet other victims of the fire and build the phoenix helped her process her emotions and sense of loss.

“I lost my town, too,” she said. “It was being a part of something, but also being a vessel that created it. We did this, not just me.”

While channeling her pain through art in hopes of finding a way to “balance the pain and anger” that her community was feeling after the tragic annihilation of their town, Mercer said it wasn’t easy.

She called it the hardest year of her life. A year she will never forget.

“Meeting people meant hearing every story,” Mercer told CNN.

“Getting letters in the mail meant reading their stories. All of them were testaments: ‘Here’s the key to my life. Here’s the key to where I had Thanksgiving for 32 years.’ There’s a gravity to knowing that everything you’re holding is so full of memories and legacies and heartbreak.”


A few of the letters Mercer received from people mailing in their keys.

Mercer became close to many of the donors. She recalls pastors crying while they handed over keys to their churches. One teacher gave her the key to the classroom where she taught for 40 years.

A young girl sent her a key to her diary and told Mercer “to keep her secrets safe.”

“When I got all these keys, when I put them on, I didn’t care about who was who,” Mercer said. “There was no color, there was no age, there was no creed. It was just so transcending to bring people together and take them out of all their stereotypes.”

https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/11/us/camp-fire-phoenix-keys-paradise-trnd/index.html?utm_source=The+Good+Stuff&utm_campaign=2aa589d67e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_14_08_33&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_4cbecb3309-2aa589d67e-103653961


Artist’s depiction of Neanderthals around a fire.
Illustration: James Ives

by George Dvorsky

Neanderthals were regular users of fire, but archaeologists aren’t certain if these extinct hominins were capable of starting their own fires or if they sourced their flames from natural sources. New geochemical evidence suggests Neanderthals did in fact possess the cultural capacity to spark their own Paleolithic barbecues.

At some point, our ancestors harnessed the power of the flame to keep warm, cook food, produce new materials, shoo away predators, and illuminate dark caves. And of course, it provided a classic social setting, namely the campfire circle.

Archaeological evidence suggests hominins of various types were using fire as far back as 1.5 million years ago, but no one really knows how they acquired that fire. This paradigm-shifting ability—to both intentionally start and control fire—is known as pyrotechnology, and it’s traditionally thought to be the exclusive domain of our species, Homo sapiens.

But as new evidence presented this week in Scientific Reports suggests, Neanderthals did possess the capacity to start their own fires. Using hydrocarbon and isotopic evidence, researchers from the University of Connecticut showed that certain fire-using Neanderthals had poor access to wildfires, so the only possible way for them to acquire it was by starting it themselves.

“Fire was presumed to be the domain of Homo sapiens but now we know that other ancient humans like Neanderthals could create it,” said Daniel Adler, a co-author of the new study and an associate professor in anthropology at the University of Connecticut, in a press release. “So perhaps we are not so special after all.”

We know Neanderthals and other hominins used fire based on archaeological evidence like the remnants of fire pits and charred animal bones. But evidence also exists to show that Neanderthals had the requisite materials for sparking fires, namely blocks of manganese dioxide (scrapings from this material can assist with fire production, as it can be set alight at lower temperatures compared to other materials). That said, competing evidence from France has linked Neanderthal fire use to warmer periods, when forests are dense with flammable material and when the odds of lightning strikes are higher—important factors for determining the likelihood of wildfires. This and other evidence has been used to claim that Neanderthals weren’t pyrotechnologically capable, as it was easy for them to grab flames from burning bushes.

For the new study, Adler and his colleagues sought to test this hypothesis, that is, to determine if fire use among Neanderthals could indeed be correlated with the occurrence of natural wildfires.

A critical component of this research is a molecule called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are released when organic materials are burned, and they can provide a record of fire over geological timescales. They also come in two varieties: light and heavy. The light kind, lPAHs, can travel vast distances, while the heavy kind, hPAHs, remain localized. For the study, the researchers analyzed lPHAs found inside Lusakert Cave 1 in Armenia—a known Neanderthal cave—as evidence of fire use, and hPHAs found outside the cave as evidence of wildfires. The scientists also looked at isotopic data taken from fossilized plants, specifically from the wax found on leaves, to determine what the climatic conditions were like at the time.

A total of 18 sedimentary layers from Lusakert Cave 1 were analyzed, a time period spanning 60,000 to 40,000 years ago. The hHPAs in these layers, along with other archaeological data, pointed to extensive use of fires by Neanderthals in this cave. During the same time period, however, wildfires outside of the cave were rare. What’s more, the isotopic data didn’t point to anything particularly unusual in terms of fire-friendly environmental conditions, such as excessive aridity. This led the authors to “reject the hypothesis” that fire use among Neanderthals was “predicated on its natural occurrence in the regional environment,” according to the paper. If anything, the new evidence points to the “habitual use” of fire by Neanderthals “during periods of low wildfire frequency,” wrote the authors in the study.

Chemist and co-author Alex Brittingham described it this way in the press release: “It seems they were able to control fire outside of the natural availability of wildfires.”

A challenge facing the researchers was to take all this data and keep it within the same time frame.

“In an archaeological context like we find at Lusakert Cave, we are forced to answer all questions on longer timescales,” said Brittingham in an email to Gizmodo. “So all of the data that we present in this publication, whether it is the climate from the leaf waxes, fire data from PAHs, or data on human occupation from lithics, are time averaged. So, when we compare these independent datasets we compare them between different identified stratigraphic layers.”

Needless to say, this study presents indirect evidence in support of Neanderthal pyrotechnology, as opposed to direct evidence such as manganese dioxide blocks or other clues. More evidence will be needed to make a stronger case, but this latest effort is a good step in that direction.

Another potential limitation of this research is the possibility that the sedimentary materials moved around over the years, or became degraded or diluted through the processes of erosion.

“However, given the good preservation of other hydrocarbons at the site, we do not believe this is an issue,” Brittingham told Gizmodo.

That Neanderthals had the capacity to start fires isn’t a huge shocker. These hominins demonstrated the capacity for abstract thinking, as evidenced by their cave paintings. They also forged tools and manufactured their own glue, so they were quite creative and industrious. What’s more, they managed to eke out an existence across much of Eurasia for an impressive 360,000 years. Notions that they survived for so long without the ability to start fires or that their extinction was somehow tied to their lack of pyrotechnic ability seem to be the more far-fetched conclusions.

https://gizmodo.com/new-evidence-suggests-neanderthals-were-capable-of-star-1839363643

By Saskya Vandoorne and Gianluca Mezzofiore

The bees that live on the roof of Notre Dame are alive and buzzing, having survived the devastating fire that ripped through the cathedral on Monday, the beekeeper Nicolas Geant confirmed to CNN.

“I got a call from Andre Finot, the spokesman for Notre Dame, who said there were bees flying in and out of the hives which means they are still alive!” Geant said. “Right after the fire I looked at the drone pictures and saw the hives weren’t burnt but there was no way of knowing if the bees had survived. Now I know there’s activity it’s a huge relief!”

Notre Dame has housed three beehives on the first floor on a roof over the sacristy, just beneath the rose window, since 2013. Each hive has about 60,000 bees.

Geant said the hives were not touched by the blaze because they are located about 30 meters below the main roof where the fire spread.

“They weren’t in the middle of the fire, had they been they wouldn’t have survived,” Geant said. “The hives are made of wood so they would have gone up in flames.”
“Wax melts at 63 degrees, if the hive had reached that temperature the wax would have melted and glued the bees together, they would have all perished.”

While it is likely that the hives were filled with smoke, that doesn’t impact them like it would with humans, Geant explained.
“Bees don’t have lungs like us,” he said. “And secondly, for centuries to work with the bees we have used bee smokers.”

A bee smoker is a box with bellows which creates a white, thick cold smoke in the hives, prompting the bees to calmly gorge on the honey while beekeepers do their work, Geant said.

Geant said he wouldn’t be able tell whether all of the bees are alive until he was able to inspect the site, but he’s confident because the hives didn’t burn, and because bees have been spotted flying in and out.

“I was incredibly sad about Notre Dame because it’s such a beautiful building, and as a catholic it means a lot to me. But to hear there is life when it comes to the bees, that’s just wonderful. I was overjoyed,” he added.

“Thank goodness the flames didn’t touch them. It’s a miracle!”

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/19/europe/notre-dame-bees-fire-intl-scli/index.html

by PETER DOCKRILL

It’s pretty hot in Australia right now. A brutal heatwave that’s incinerated temperature records threatens devastating bushfires – and to make matters worse, authorities have to contend with an ancient breed of flying arsonists that may as well be miniature dragons.

A new study incorporating traditional Indigenous Australian ecological knowledge describes the largely unknown behaviour of so-called ‘firehawk raptors’ – birds that intentionally spread fire by wielding burning sticks in their talons and beaks.

These flying firestarters are spread across at least three known species – the Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), and Brown Falcon (Falco berigora) – but while their hell-raising may be observed in Indigenous knowledge, that’s not so elsewhere.

“Though Aboriginal rangers and others who deal with bushfires take into account the risks posed by raptors that cause controlled burns to jump across firebreaks, official skepticism about the reality of avian fire-spreading hampers effective planning for landscape management and restoration,” the international team explains in their paper.

While news of aerial arsonists fire-bombing the landscape may seem surprising or even shocking, the researchers are eager to emphasise that this destructive phenomenon has actually been witnessed for untold millennia.

“We’re not discovering anything,” one of the team, geographer Mark Bonta from Penn State Altoona, told National Geographic.

“Most of the data that we’ve worked with is collaborative with Aboriginal peoples… They’ve known this for probably 40,000 years or more.”

According to the team, firehawk raptors congregate in hundreds along burning fire fronts, where they will fly into active fires to pick up smouldering sticks, transporting them up to a kilometre (0.6 miles) away to regions the flames have not yet scorched.

“The imputed intent of raptors is to spread fire to unburned locations – for example, the far side of a watercourse, road, or artificial break created by firefighters – to flush out prey via flames or smoke,” the researchers write.

This behaviour, documented in interviews with the team and observed first-hand by some of the researchers, sees prey driven toward the raptors by a wall of flame, enabling them to engage in a feeding frenzy upon fleeing or scorched land animals.

The inspiration for the study came from a passage in the 1964 autobiography of Indigenous doctor and activist, Phillip Waipuldanya Roberts.

“I have seen a hawk pick up a smouldering stick in its claws and drop it in a fresh patch of dry grass half a mile away,” he said, “then wait with its mates for the mad exodus of scorched and frightened rodents and reptiles.”

Of course, as any law student knows, crimes not only entail a physical component, but a mental one.

In this case, do the birds really know what they’re doing, or are they only accidentally clutching at (burning) straws?

The researchers think the former is the case, saying accounts of multiple witnesses suggest this behaviour is not a fluke – and even more scary, it looks to be coordinated like a pack hunt.

“It’s not gratuitous,” one of the team, Australian ethnobiologist and ornithologist Bob Gosford, told The Washington Post in 2016.

“There’s a purpose. There’s an intent to say, okay, there are several hundred of us there, we can all get a meal.”

If the hypothesis is correct, it means we finally have confirmation of a new force in nature that can spread devastating wildfires – and local Indigenous people knew it all along.

“The birds aren’t starting fires from scratch, but it’s the next best thing,” Bonta told The Washington Post.

“Fire is supposedly so uniquely human.”

The findings are reported in the Journal of Ethnobiology.

https://www.sciencealert.com/birds-intentionally-set-prey-ablaze-rewriting-history-fire-use-firehawk-raptors

Thanks to Mike Lutter for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.