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Search for bodies underway as California wildfires continue to burn

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Experts in identifying human remains joined California police and firefighters on Monday in the grim task of sifting through the charred debris of homes destroyed in the most devastating wildfire in state history, searching for hundreds of missing people.

University anthropologists, trained in spotting bone fragments and other blackened body parts, systematically mined the ash and detritus of buildings destroyed when a wildfire swept through Paradise, a town with a population of 27,000 about 300 kilometres north of San Francisco. 

Flames reduced the town to a smoking ruin late last week and continued to scorch surrounding communities.

The number of people killed in that fire alone — at least 29 — matches the deadliest single fire on record in California, a 1933 blaze in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, though a series of wildfires in Northern California wine country last fall killed 44 people and destroyed more than 5,000 homes. 

At least  228 people remain unaccounted for in and around Paradise, but officials are holding out out hope that many are safe but have no cellphones or other way to contact loved ones.

Statewide, 150,000 remained displaced as more than 8,000 fire crews battled wildfires that have scorched nearly 1,040 square kilometres of land, with out-of-state crews continuing to arrive.

‘Explosive fire behaviour’

Authorities were also bringing in a DNA lab and encouraged people with missing relatives to submit samples to aid in identifying the dead after the Paradise fire — called the Camp Fire — destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, nearly all of them homes.

Yuba and Butte county sheriff deputies carry a body bag containing a deceased victim in Paradise on Saturday. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Glenn Forrest’s family lost two homes and a business in the fire. He told CBC News that he didn’t think his family would make it out of the fire zone alive. “This is the first time in my life, I think, that I ever felt like I could have died at any moment.”

He credits his mother for staying calm as she drove through flames and hot ash. “There were cars swerving everywhere, cars turning around. We were afraid we would either get hit by another car … or a tree would fall. Our car could have caught fire or exploded.”

City evacuation plan criticized

Some residents have complained the evacuation of Paradise was poorly executed and that city officials weren’t prepared. Paradise Mayor Jody Jones says no community could be prepared for a fire like the Camp Fire.

“We had a very robust evacuation plan that we had practised and used to in the past,” she told host Carol Off in an interview today on As It Happens. “It’s a zone-based. But when you have your entire town evacuated at the same time — not one zone or two zones, but the entire town — there isn’t any way that your transportation infrastructure can handle that.” 

Firefighters did gain modest ground overnight against the Camp Fire, which grew slightly to 440 square kilometres from the day before but was 25 per cent contained, according to state fire agency, Cal Fire.

California residents react to deadly fires that swept in and destroyed homes. 1:01

But Cal Fire spokesperson Bill Murphy warned that gusty winds predicted into Monday morning could spark “explosive fire behaviour.”

Two people were also found dead in a wildfire in Southern California, where flames tore through Malibu mansions and working-class Los Angeles suburbs alike. The severely burned bodies were discovered in a long residential driveway in celebrity-studded Malibu, where those forced out of homes included Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West, Guillermo del Toro and Martin Sheen.

Actor Gerard Butler said on Instagram Sunday that his Malibu home is “half-gone,” and shared a photo of himself standing in front of a burned-out section of the house and a badly burned vehicle.

Meanwhile, veteran actor James Woods, who often uses his Twitter following to espouse conservative views, has been using his account to help reunite families with loved ones, including pets. He started the hashtags #SoCalFiresJamesWoods and #CampFireJames to consolidate information so it’s easier for people to find loved ones in the chaos.

Flames also besieged Thousand Oaks, the Southern California city still mourning the 12 people killed in a shooting rampage at a country music bar Wednesday night.

Dana Baker, a Canadian who lives and works in Thousand Oaks, told CBC News the community is having trouble coping with the fires so soon after the shooting.

“I am tired. Between not sleeping well, trying to check on everybody, you know, to make sure they’re OK after two tragedies. No one is OK,” she said. “I can hear sirens right now. We’re all just on edge.”

Winds hamper firefighting efforts

Fire officials said Monday that the Woolsey Fire, the larger of the region’s two fires and the one burning in and around Malibu, grew to 395 square kilometres and was 20 per cent contained.

But the strong, dry Santa Ana winds that blow from the interior toward the coast returned after a one-day lull, fanning the flames.

The number of structures destroyed by both Southern California fires climbed to at least 370, authorities said, while emphasizing that more than 50,000 had been saved. Looting was also reported in areas affected by the southern fires and arrests were made, police reported.

Both Northern and Southern California continue to deal with deadly wildfires that have killed at least 31 people as of Sunday. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

All told, 300,000 people were under evacuation orders up and down the state.

Gov. Jerry Brown said he is requesting a major-disaster declaration from U.S. President Donald Trump that would make victims eligible for crisis counselling, housing and unemployment help, and legal aid.

Drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and the building of homes deeper into forests have led to longer and more destructive wildfire seasons in California.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

Asked about the tweet, L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said he found it very hurtful to first responders. “I can tell you that we are in extreme climate change right now. We don’t control the climate. We’re doing all we can to prevent incidents and mitigate incidents and save lives,” he told reporters at a news briefing. “I personally find that statement unsatisfactory and it’s very hurtful for all first responders putting their lives on the line to protect lives and property.” 

Tearful residents react after deadly fires rip through their neighbourhoods:

On Sunday, Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen warned the California was “entering a new normal” and that fires in the state grew far more quickly in 2018 than they did even 10 years ago.

“The rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be,” Lorenzen said.

While California officially emerged from a five-year drought last year, much of the northern two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry.

The Camp Fire burns along the top of a ridge near Big Bend, Calif., on Saturday. Crews working to contain the blaze overnight faced deteriorating weather conditions as winds picked up and humidity dropped. (Noah Berger/Associated Press)

In Paradise, a town founded in the 1800s, residents who stayed behind to try to save their properties or who managed to return despite an evacuation order found incinerated cars and homes.

Wearing masks because the air was still heavy with smoke, people sidestepped metal that had melted off of cars or Jet-Skis as they surveyed their ravaged neighbourhoods. Some cried when they saw nothing was left.

Jan McGregor, 81, got back to his small two-bedroom home in Paradise with the help of his firefighter grandson. He found his home levelled — a large metal safe and pipes from his septic system the only recognizable traces. The safe was punctured with bullet holes from guns inside that went off in the scorching heat.

“We knew Paradise was a prime target for forest fire over the years,” he said. “We’ve had ’em come right up to the city limits — oh, yeah — but nothing like this.”

McGregor said he probably won’t rebuild: “I have nothing here to go back to.”

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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