Close to 100 active wildfires were burning across the American west on Wednesday, with major blazes out of control in the worst-hit state of California, where record acreage of land has been destroyed in recent weeks amid incendiary weather conditions.
Officials in California fear that a prevailing combination of high, dry winds and triple-digit temperatures could dramatically worsen an already dire situation this week.
And at least 85 significant wildfires are burning across the west, with blazes raging all night in Oregon, and other fires in Washington state, Nevada, Utah, Montana and elsewhere.
Most of California and parts of the west from Seattle down to Phoenix remain under alert.
Red flag” warnings, high alert for wildfires are particularly prevalent in northern California and parts of the Bay Area around San Francisco.
Officials fear that the situation will deteriorate further over time; four months remain in California’s wildfire season, which scientists say has been significantly exacerbated by global warming.
“Compared to last year, California has seen over 2,650 more fires and a nearly 2000% increase in the acres burned year-to-date...across all jurisdictions,” the Cal Fire authorities said on Twitter Tuesday night.
As of Wednesday morning, the Bobcat fire in Angeles national forest, which erupted shortly after noon Sunday, has already torn through more than 10,000 acres. Authorities estimate that it’s burning at a rate of 1,000 acres every half hour and doubled in size on Tuesday into Wednesday.
The El Dorado fire, in San Bernardino national forest, has spread across nearly 10,600 acres and is only 16% contained.
The Creek fire, in Sierra national forest, remained out of control, growing to nearly 153,000 acres, spurring the evacuation of more than 30,000 people in Madera and Fresno counties, USA Today said.
“The word ‘historic’ is a term we use often in the state of California, but these numbers bear fruit,” Gavin Newsom, the state’s governor, said Tuesday, calling the challenge ahead “extraordinary”.
The Willow fire, which erupted Wednesday morning, has grown to 300 acres and prompted the evacuation of 3,000 people in Yuba county, Cal Fire said.
Firefighters in California continued their rescue records overnight to rescue “dozens” of people stranded in the fire-stricken Sierra national forest.
Scientists have said that the climate crisis has caused larger fires and lengthened the US west’s fire season, by prompting extreme temperatures and drying out already fire-prone vegetation. Los Angeles county recorded its highest ever recorded temperature Sunday, 49.4C (121F). This record came several weeks after California’s Death Valley saw what may be the hottest ambient temperature reported on Earth, 54.4C (129F).
“California has always been the canary in the coal mine for climate change, and this weekend’s events only underscore that reality,” Newsom remarked.
“I have no patience for climate change deniers,” Newsom also said. “That view is completely inconsistent with the reality on the ground, and the facts of our experiences. You may not believe it, but our own experiences tell a different story here in the state of California.
“The frequency of extreme wild fire weather has doubled in California over the past four decades, with the main driver being the effect of rising temperature on dry fuels, meaning that the fuel loads are now frequently at record or near-record levels when ignition occurs and when strong winds blow,” Noah Diffenbaugh, Stanford University climate scientist, reportedly said in an email.
Newsom previously declared a state of emergency, as well as evacuations, for several remote communities in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Forests were closed to the public because of a “monumental fire threat” which have stretched firefighters “to the limit”, the US Forest Service stated.
At least 14 firefighters and bulldozer operators have been hurt while combating the Dolan fire in Monterey county, suffering burns and smoke inhalation. One was in critical condition.
The combination of scorching temperatures and fire risk has recently spurred an electricity crisis across California. PG&E, California’s largest utility, has turned off the electric supply to some northern parts of the state to prevent igniting more fires. The sweeping uptick in energy consumption has led to blackouts in parts of California as well, with some Los Angeles residents told to cut their electricity use.
Meanwhile, the Pacific north-west saw worsening wildfires. Washington state saw acres burned in a single day than authorities typically see in an entire year. And “thousands of acres” of south-eastern Oregon were engulfed by flames, the Washington Post reported.
In the eastern Washington town of Malden, which has 200 residents, 80% of homes and buildings were destroyed after a fire tore through the community earlier this week.
Nearly all of Medford, Oregon, which has a population of 82,000, was under an evacuation order, according to Raj Mathai, news anchor for San Francisco’s NBC affiliate.
Strong winds have also fanned blazes in Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, New Mexico and Texas, USA Today said.