California’s wildfires are outpacing last year’s record-breaking season

    15 Jul 2021

    The number of wildfires in California to date this year is greater than the amount recorded in the same period in 2020 — a year which saw more burned acreage than any recorded year in history, according to data from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also (CAL FIRE).

    Between January 1 to July 11 of this year, approximately 4,163 fires have burned in California, CBS News reports according to CAL FIRE. During the same time period in 2020, 3,645 fires were reported by the department.

    “It’s now more critical than ever that all Californians are prepared for wildfires,” CAL FIRE stated.

    Last season’s fires were some of the biggest that the state has ever seen, provoking thousands of evacuations, a statewide emergency order, fatalities, and dangerous air quality conditions.

    Hot and dry conditions – which contribute to wildfires – in states like California have already neared world records this year. Last week, Death Valley reached 130 degrees Fahrenheit – just four degrees shy of the hottest recorded temperature on the planet. Cities like Las Vegas broke local records with scorching temperatures as well.

    Multiple areas throughout California are under excessive heat warnings issued by the National Weather Service, and according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, approximately 85.4% of the state is experiencing extreme drought.

    California Governor Gavin Newsom has issued a regional state of emergency because of drought conditions. He also issued an executive order asking residents to voluntarily cut down on water usage by 15%.

    “The realities of climate change are nowhere more apparent than in the increasingly frequent and severe drought challenges we face in the West and their devastating impacts on our communities, businesses and ecosystems,” Newsom said in a statement.

    Current fires include the Beckwourth Complex Fire with more than 92,988 acres burned, the Lava Fire with at least 26,203 acres burned and the Salt Fire, which has thus far burned 12,650 acres. The Bootleg fire, which is  currently the largest in the county, has burned more than 201,000 acres in Oregon and has also affected Northern California, threatening the state’s entire energy grid.

    Under excessive heat warnings, the National Weather Service advises people to stay hydrated, stay out of the sun, wear lightweight and loose fitting clothing and to know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Amid the wildfires, the California Independent System Operator has issued “flex alerts” to residents, urging residents in the state to conserve as much electricity as possible during peak hours. CAL FIRE advises residents to create wildfire action plans to be prepared for potential evacuations.

    Firefighters struggled to contain an exploding Northern California wildfire under blazing temperatures as another heat wave blanketed the West, prompting an excessive heat warning for inland and desert areas, AP reports.

    Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 53° C on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek. The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the previous day, when the location reached 54° C.

    If confirmed as accurate, the 130-degree reading would be the hottest high recorded there since July 1913, when Furnace Creek desert hit 57° C, considered the highest measured temperature on Earth.

    About 483 kilometers northwest of the sizzling desert, the largest wildfire of the year in California was raging along the border with Nevada. The Beckwourth Complex Fire – a combination of two lightning-caused fires burning 72 kilometers north of Lake Tahoe – showed no sign of slowing its rush northeast from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday.

    Late Saturday, flames jumped Interstate 395 and was threatening properties in Nevada’s Washoe County. “Take immediate steps to protect large animals and livestock,” the The Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District tweeted.

    The blaze, which was only 8% contained, increased dramatically to 222 square kilometers as firefighters sweltered in 100-degree temperatures (F).

    It was one of several threatening homes across Western states that were expected to see triple-digit heat through the weekend as a high-pressure zone blankets the region.

    Pushed by strong winds, a wildfire in southern Oregon doubled in size to 311 square kilometers Saturday as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the Klamath County town of Sprague River.

    The National Weather Service warned the dangerous conditions could cause heat-related illnesses, while California’s power grid operator issued a statewide Flex Alert from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday to avoid disruptions and rolling blackouts.

    The California Independent System Operator warned of potential power shortage, not only because of mounting heat, but because a wildfire in southern Oregon was threatening transmission lines that carry imported power to California.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation on Friday suspending rules to allow for more power capacity, and the ISO requested emergency assistance from other states. On Saturday, Newsom issued another proclamation allowing the emergency use of auxiliary ship engines to relieve pressure on the electric grid.

    Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high temperature of 49° C Saturday. It was the fourth time temperatures have reached 120 degrees so far this year, the Desert Sun reported.

    In California’s agricultural Central Valley, 100-degree temperatures blanketed the region, with Fresno reaching 44° C, just one degree short of the all-time high for the date,

    Las Vegas late Saturday afternoon tied the all-time record high of 47° C, the National Weather Service said. The city has recorded that record-high temperature four other times, most recently in June 2017.

    NV Energy, Nevada’s largest power provider, also urged customers to conserve electricity Saturday and Sunday evenings because of the heat wave and wildfires affecting transmission lines throughout the region.

    In Southern California, a brush fire sparked by a burning big rig in eastern San Diego County forced evacuations of two Native American reservations Saturday.

    In north-central Arizona, Yavapai County on Saturday lifted an evacuation warning for Black Canyon City, an unincorporated town 66 kilometers north of Phoenix, after a fire in nearby mountains no longer posed a threat. In Mohave County, Arizona, two firefighters died Saturday after a aircraft they were in to respond to a small wildfire crashed, local media reported.

    A wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 155 square kilometers as it blackened grass and timber while it moved into the Umatilla National Forest.

    In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

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