Heroes

Watch California's wildfires spread in this wild time-lapse video.

California is burning, and these photos and video explain why.

Watch California's wildfires spread in this wild time-lapse video.

California is burning.

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images.


The wildfires that scorched over 300,000 acres of land last year have finally been contained, but The Golden State still finds itself in the midst of a five-year drought affecting over 34 million of its residents as of March 2016, according to the U.S Drought Monitor.

Filmmaker Jeff Frost recently uploaded a time-lapse video depicting the power of last year's wildfires as they spread across the state.

GIF via Jeff Frost/Vimeo.

Terrifying, isn't it?

With summer on the horizon and the El Nino storms offering some but relatively little reprieve for many parts of California, the drought is causing "perfectly terrible" conditions for forest fires to once again rear their ugly heads.

Here are 11 examples of what it might look like if they do and a few facts to keep you prepared.

1. Wildfires are devastating.

Image via Jeff Frost, used with permission.

On average, we lose more than 4 million acres of land to wildfires each year. This photo depicts just a few of the 76,067 acres that last September's Valley Fire scorched through in a matter of days.

2. They spread at an insane pace.

GIF via Jeff Frost/Vimeo.

If the wind is right, a wildfire can travel at speeds of up to 14 mph, engulfing an area as massive as this San Diego hillside in a matter of minutes.

3. They can turn nature against itself.

Image via John Newman/U.S. Forest Service/Wikimedia Commons.

Extreme droughts like the one California is currently facing can often turn lush, green vegetation into little more than dried-out kindling capable of not only starting a fire, but determining the direction and manner in which it spreads.

In some parts of California, citizens are actually detesting what little water El Niño's storm system has given them, claiming that the rain will actually worsen the effects of fire season by helping grass grow taller across highways and vacant properties.

4. Wildfires are also INCREDIBLY expensive to fight.

Image via Andrea Booher/FEMA/Wikimedia Commons.

The average annual amount it has cost the United States to fight wildfires since 2000? About $1.4 billion. That's enough money to buy everyone in the country *three* bottles of Fiji water. Three!

5. They can cause lasting health problems.

Image via Jeff Head/Flickr.

Beyond the immediate damage they can cause, wildfires also pump the atmosphere full of carbon-monoxide-ridden smoke, which in great enough quantities can cause bronchitis and premature death for those with heart, respiratory, and lung conditions.

At this time last year, the entirety of California was basically the smoking section of a 1990s-era Pizza Hut. Who knows what the long-term effects will come of this year's fires.

6. They destroy thousands of homes each year.

GIF via Jeff Frost/Vimeo.

Since 1990, more than 17,000 homes and structures have been lost to wildfires in California alone. That Valley Fire I mentioned? It tore through 1,300 homes in just a couple days, forcing thousands to flee to state-run encampments in the chaos. One such journey through the flames was documented by an Anderson Springs resident, and it is horrifying.

7. They can change the weather.

Image via iStock.

As wildfires grow, they often create their own wind in order to fuel the massive chemical reactions taking place inside them. These "in-draft" winds can reach speeds of over 60 mph, overpowering the large-scale, global wind patterns surrounding them and allowing wildfires to move in unpredictable directions and intensify seemingly at random.

8. Oh, and did I mention the FIRENADO?!

Image via iStock.

Yes, a firenado — which is a nightmarish combination of a fire and a tornado, in case you're curious — occurs when a fire's winds are powerful enough to create a vortex within itself. Why the Syfy channel has spent years trying to scare us with Sharknado when this very real, arguably scarier threat exists remains a mystery.

9. Wildfires are only getting worse.

Image via iStock.

Three of the most destructive years in American history wildfire-wise have come in the past decade — 2006, 2007, and 2012 — with an average of 9.5 million acres being lost to wildfires those years. And in 2015? We hit a record-breaking 10,125,149 acres. Considering the average for the entire 1980s was just about 3 million acres, the uptick since is looking like a trend.

10. The biggest reason? You guessed it, climate change.

Photo by Lucas Dawson/Getty Images.

It may seem obvious, but the effects that the increasing temperatures of our planet are having on wildfires simply cannot be overlooked. A higher global temperature means drier conditions, longer fire seasons, and a whole litany of issues for the ecosystem. If the average summer temperature increases at the current rate, scientists predict the overall area burned across 11 western states will double by late this century.

It's this terrifying fact that led filmmaker Frost to make a point about the toll wildfires will have on our environment in the near future (and already are):

"As each year gets hotter and fire season in the state continues to expand, I have become increasingly concerned about our continued existence on this planet," said Frost in an interview with National Geographic about his film.

"I wanted to show what we are up against right now, let alone down the road when global warming intensifies heat and drought which will further exacerbate wildfires."

11. And the warming goes both ways.

Photo by Jesus Vecino/AFP/Getty Images.

Forests capture millions of carbon particles from the air, and when set aflame, they release those carbons back into the air and, in turn, speed up climate change. According to a study published by the National Park Service and UC Berkeley in 2015, 5% to 7% of carbon emissions from 2001 to 2010 came from wildfires. Talk about a vicious cycle.

The truth is, California's drought is a national crisis, not a local one.

As the fifth-largest supplier of food in the world, California's current drought is already having enormous effects on the global economy. It cost the farming sector nearly 20,000 jobs and close to $2.2 billion in 2014 alone.

Even worse is the fact that drier lands are forcing farmers to dig deeper into the soil in search of groundwater, which is both expensive and environmentally damaging.

But lo, there is hope.

Image via iStock.

There's the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which accounts for one-third of California's water supply.

At this time last year, the snowpack was at just 5% of its normal level. Thanks to the effects of El Niño winter storms, the snowpack water content in early 2016 was 87% of normal, which should lend a hand to the state's water conservation efforts this summer, helping to reduce fires.

Additionally, El Niño's showers had helped California’s second-largest reservoir — Oroville in Butte County — reach 69% full and had restored Shasta Lake to 100% full by late March.

Wildfires are and have always been a necessary part of nature.

They're agents of change that shape entire ecological systems by helping to determine what kinds of plants and animals can flourish in a given area. They can essentially press the reset button on a habitat at risk of being overpopulated or otherwise destroyed from within. Destruction is a necessary part of creation after all.

Still, California has a long way to go before it recovers, and we should all chip in however we can.

You can watch Jeff Frost's stunning time-lapse video here:

It's one thing to see a little kid skateboarding. It's another to see a stereotype-defying little girl skateboarding. And it's entirely another to see Paige Tobin.

Paige is a 6-year-old skateboarding wonder from Australia. A recent video of her dropping into a 12-foot bowl on her has gone viral, both for the feat itself and for the style with which she does it. Decked out in a pink party dress, a leopard-print helmet, and rainbow socks, she looks nothing like you'd expect a skater dropping into a 12-foot bowl to look. And yet, here she is, blowing people's minds all over the place.

For those who may not fully appreciate the impressiveness of this feat, here's some perspective. My adrenaline junkie brother, who has been skateboarding since childhood and who races down rugged mountain faces on a bike for fun, shared this video and commented, "If I dropped in to a bowl twice as deep as my age it would be my first and last time doing so...this fearless kid has a bright future!"

It's scarier than it looks, and it looks pretty darn scary.

Paige doesn't always dress like a princess when she skates, not that it matters. Her talent and skill with the board are what gets people's attention. (The rainbow socks are kind of her signature, however.)

Her Instagram feed is filled with photos and videos of her skateboarding and surfing, and the body coordination she's gained at such a young age is truly something.

Here she was at three years old:

And here she is at age four:


So, if she dropped into a 6-foot bowl at age three and a 12-foot bowl at age six—is there such a thing as an 18-foot bowl for her to tackle when she's nine?

Paige clearly enjoys skating and has high ambitions in the skating world. "I want to go to the Olympics, and I want to be a pro skater," she told Power of Positivity when she was five. She already seems to be well on her way toward that goal.

How did she get so good? Well, Paige's mom gave her a skateboard when she wasn't even preschool age yet, and she loved it. Her mom got her lessons, and she's spent the past three years skating almost daily. She practices at local skate parks and competes in local competitions.

She also naturally has her fair share of spills, some of which you can see on her Instagram channel. Falling is part of the sport—you can't learn if you don't fall. Conquering the fear of falling is the key, and the thing that's hardest for most people to get over.

Perhaps Paige started too young to let fear override her desire to skate. Perhaps she's been taught to manage her fears, or maybe she's just naturally less afraid than other people. Or maybe there's something magical about the rainbow socks. Whatever it is, it's clear that this girl doesn't let fear get in the way of her doing what she wants to do. An admirable quality in anyone, but particularly striking to see in someone so young.

Way to go, Paige. Your perseverance and courage are inspiring, as is your unique fashion sense. Can't wait to see what you do next.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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