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A woman finds her wedding ring in the debris of her burned home. Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP

As the last flames from the deadly California wildfires are extinguished, the state faces another hurdle in the form of ash — possibly toxic — left behind, WIRED's Adam Rogers reports.

Why it matters: The environmental impacts of large volumes of ash range from contaminated soil to algal blooms. "We're anywhere from five years to 100 years in terms of the longevity of effects," Oregon State University researcher Kevin Bladon told WIRED. "That really depends on the severity of the fire and our ability to get some vegetation re-established on site."

Ash created in low temperature fires, under 840 degrees Fahrenheit, is grey or black and mostly organic carbon whereas ash created in hotter fires is white because most of the carbon has burned away, leaving calcium and magnesium. Depending on the chemical composition of the ash, it will be hydrophobic or hydrophilic. Rainfall will mix with more hydrophilic ash and could enter streams. If the ash is hydrophobic, it will repel the water and may then run off quickly, washing soil away in the process.

  • If the ash runs off into streams, it could eventually reach the San Francisco Bay and stimulate algal blooms. With the volume of ash created in the recent fires, these potentially large blooms could "eat all the dissolved oxygen out of a waterway, making it unlivable for everything else," per WIRED.
  • If it stays on land, a mixture of calcium oxide in certain types of ash and rain could create a layer of cement-like limestone on forest floors. "Basically, the ash can pave a forest," Rogers writes.

The big question: Scientists have experience with ash from burned vegetation but the recent California fires burned both forests and cities. So the resulting ash will "be full of heavy metals and toxins — no one knows exactly how much, and it depends on what burned and at what temperature."

The bottom line from Rogers: "All of which means the real trick in Northern California will be debris cleanup."

Go deeper

Updated 11 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump, per AZCentral.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of Trump loyalist Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Education: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong puts tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge — Pfizer to supply 40 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries — Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca vaccine.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

DOJ: Capitol rioter threatened to "assassinate" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Supporters of former President Trump storm the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Texas man who has been charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

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