Wildfires in the West explode at scale amid heat and drought

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Wildfires in the West increased significantly from Monday to Tuesday, with 83 large fires now burning in the United States and about 300 north in British Columbia.

Why is this important: The wildfire season in the west kicked into high gear about two months earlier, as drought and heat waves linked to climate change dried out vegetation to levels not typically seen before. the end of summer. About 20,000 firefighters are already deployed on the flames.

Driving the news: Forest fires in California and Canada erupted Monday afternoon and into the night thanks to extreme heat and drought. Evacuations have spread around the Bootleg fire in southern Oregon, the Dixie fire in California and numerous fires in Canada.

The plot: In a case filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E said blown fuses on its electrical equipment could have started the Dixie fire. It would be the latest in a series of large California fires started by the company’s equipment.

  • That blaze increased dramatically on Monday, forcing fire crews to withdraw as a massive fire-related storm cloud, known as pyrocumulonimbus, rose above the blaze.
  • This cloud, often referred to as pyroCb, looked like a large explosion and dropped smoke and ash up to 45,000 feet into the atmosphere. It produced its own rains and lightning, as well as irregular winds.
  • At Bootleg Fire, the country’s largest with more than 388,000 acres, erratic winds and towering clouds forced firefighters to temporarily withdraw from the blaze for the ninth consecutive day, according to the Associated Press.

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Details: Monday’s wildfires came on a day characterized by triple-digit temperatures in several western states, with records falling in Montana in particular.

  • In Canada, the extreme heat helped set the stage for an explosive growth in fires that forced firefighters to back down from the flames due to the dangerous conditions there.
  • Some of the fires have resulted in evacuations, but those evacuated are struggling to find accommodation.
  • Heat warnings are still in place in northeast Montana, although the heat wave likely peaked there on Monday, when Glasgow hit a daily high temperature record of 110 ℉.
  • In Billings, the temperature peaked at 107, setting a daily record and just 1 less than matching the all-time record.

In Oregon, officials have called for firefighting support from outside the Pacific Northwest – to tackle the Bootleg Fire.

  • Thunderstorms delivering little rain Monday are now likely in the Pacific Northwest and the Intermountain on Tuesday. Lightning from these storms sparked new fires in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the potential for more “dry lightning” has raised fears among Oregon officials that more wildfires could ignite .
  • So they turned to the authorities in Arkansas, Nevada and Alaska for equipment, including fire trucks, according to a statement from officials of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on Monday.

The context: In California, twice as many acres have burned so far this year than last year at this point – and 2020 was the worst wildfire year on record in California.

  • Smoke from wildfires in the west blanketed the mid-Atlantic skies on Tuesday, with air quality alerts in place for the Philadelphia area. The sky over the nation’s capital took on a milky haze at sunrise.

Between the lines: Man-made global warming is a major factor in the severity, longevity and frequency of heat waves in the American West and other parts of the world.

  • In addition, studies show that the West experiences more frequent and larger forest fires as climate change alters precipitation patterns, temperatures, and the timing of wet and dry seasons.
  • Climate change is also leading to more days like Mondays with extreme fire weather conditions characterized by unusually high temperatures, strong winds and extremely low humidity values.

And after: More wildfires are expected to start Tuesday due to the threat of dry lightning, with more than half a dozen states under red flag warnings for dangerous fire weather conditions. This includes the entire state of Idaho.

  • Many of the large fires currently burning in the West are expected to continue to do so until regular and significant precipitation reaches the area this fall or early winter.
  • In other words, it will be an extremely long and exhausting fire season, for firefighters and residents of affected areas.

Go further: FEMA chief heads west as large forest fires rage and heat wave peaks

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Rebecca Falconer contributed reporting.


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