Deadly California wildfire continues to grow

Flames from a backfiring operation rise behind a home in Santa Barbara. The so-called Thomas Fire, the fourth-largest in California history, continued to surge west, endangering thousands of homes, as forecasts called for a renewal of gusty winds. (AP)
Updated 16 December 2017
0

Deadly California wildfire continues to grow

LOS ANGELES: A California wildfire was close on Saturday to becoming the state’s third largest blaze on record, with more devastation possible from a resurgence of the harsh winds that have fueled the deadly fire’s growth.
The so-called Thomas Fire has destroyed more than 1,000 structures, including about 750 homes, in coastal communities in Southern California since erupting on December 4, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.
It has cost $97 million to fight the 256,000-acre blaze, with thousands of firefighters contending with it around the clock and helicopters and airplanes being used to drop retardant on the flames.
The vast landscape charred by the blaze, which is centered less than 100 miles (161 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, is approaching the 257,314 acres (104,131 hectares) destroyed by California’s Rim Fire in 2013. The Rim Fire is the third-largest blaze on record in the state.
The Thomas Fire is only 35 percent contained and it threatens 18,000 structures, officials said, including some in the wealthy enclave of Montecito just outside the city of Santa Barbara. The blaze is chewing up tall grass and brush as it expands along the scenic Pacific Coast.
The hot Santa Ana winds that have helped the fire grow, at times sending embers far ahead of its main flank, were forecast to remain strong through Saturday evening in the Santa Barbara County mountains, the National Weather Service warned. Gusts of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) were expected.
From Saturday night through Sunday evening, the winds could lash neighboring Ventura County, the Weather Service said. That is where the Thomas Fire first began due to unknown causes, and where it was still burning.
Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson, 32, died on Thursday while battling the flames near the Ventura County community of Fillmore. Fire officials said Iverson, the blaze’s first fatality, left behind a pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter.
The Thomas Fire was one of several major blazes that broke out in Southern California this month, although the others have been contained.
The blazes forced many schools to close for days, shut roads and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. The fires were also responsible for poor air quality throughout Southern California.


India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

Updated 53 sec ago
0

India scraps tax on sanitary pads in boost for girls’ education

  • Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in India where 80% of women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
  • Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.

NEW DELHI: India scrapped a controversial tax on sanitary pads on Saturday, a move hailed by campaigners who say it will help more girls to go to school during their periods and boost their job prospects.
Activists say removing the tax on pads tackles one of the biggest barriers to education for girls, who are often forced to stay at home due to a lack of access to clean hygiene products, while also facing stigma and a lack of toilets in schools.
Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in a country where four out of five women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
“I am sure all mothers and sisters will be very happy to hear that sanitary pads are now 100 percent exempt from tax,” India’s interim finance minister, Piyush Goyal, told reporters at a news conference in New Delhi.
Sanitary pads were taxed at 12 percent under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) that was launched in July 2017.
The decision triggered protests, petitions and court cases that questioned why the government taxed pads as a luxury rather than an essential item, such as condoms, which are tax-free.
Last year, lawmaker Sushmita Dev launched a petition to demand a reduction or total removal of taxes on pads, citing that about 70 percent of women in India could not afford them.
The online petition gained more than 400,000 signatures.
“This was a most-awaited and necessary step to help girls and women to stay in school, their jobs, to practice proper menstrual hygiene,” said Surbhi Singh, founder of Sachhi Saheli, a charity that raises awareness on menstrual health.
“This will help them to grow, to show their true potential,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Indian girls and women face many challenges when they have their periods, especially in rural areas where a lack of awareness and the cost of pads mean many instead use unsanitary cloth or rags, increasing the risk of infections and disease.
Bollywood’s first film on menstrual hygiene “Padman,” starring Akshay Kumar — one of Hindi cinema’s most popular action heroes — triggered debate over the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene in India after its release earlier this year.
Kumar is at the forefront of a campaign by Niine Movement, an initiative promoting menstrual hygiene, to help increase the number of women using pads.
Amar Tulsiyan, founder of Niine Movement, called Saturday’s decision “a big win for everyone” in India, where, he said, 82 percent women and girls have no access to sanitary pads.
“The tax exemption is a massive boost,” he said.
More than a third of girls in South Asia miss school during their periods, as they lack access to toilets or pads, and many receive no education about menstruation before reaching puberty, according to a recent report by charity WaterAid and UNICEF.