More than 60 wildfires were burning across at least 10 states in the American west on Tuesday, with the largest, in Oregon, consuming an area nearly two times the size of Portland.
The fires have burned down homes and forced thousands to evacuate from Alaska to Wyoming, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Arizona, Idaho and Montana accounted for more than half of the large active fires. The fires erupted as the west was in the grip of the second bout of dangerously high temperatures in just a few weeks. A major drought, exacerbated by the climate crisis, is contributing to conditions that make fires even more dangerous, scientists say.
The National Weather Service says the heatwave appeared to have peaked in many areas, and excessive-heat warnings were largely expected to expire by Tuesday. However, they continued into Tuesday night in some California deserts, and many areas were still expected to see highs in the 80s and 90s. There were reports of burned homes, but damage was still being tallied.
The blaze had consumed 140 sq miles (362 sq km) of land, including in Plumas national forest. A fire that began on Sunday in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite national park exploded over 14 sq miles (36 sq km) and was just 10% contained. The largest fire in the US lay across the California border in south-western Oregon. The Bootleg fire – which doubled and doubled again over the weekend – threatened some 2,000 homes, state fire officials said. It had burned at least seven homes and more than 40 other buildings.
Tim McCarley told KPTV-TV that he and his family were ordered to flee their home on Friday with flames just minutes behind them. “They told us to get the hell out ’cause if not, you’re dead,” he said. He described the blaze as “like a firenado” with flames leaping dozens of feet into the air and jumping around, catching trees “and then just explosions, boom, boom, boom, boom”.
The July heatwave follows an unusual June siege of broiling temperatures in the west and comes amid worsening drought conditions throughout the region. Scientists say human-caused climate breakdown and decades of fire suppression that increases fuel loads have aggravated fire conditions across the region.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: NBC CHICAGO
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