Extreme heat and drought persist as more than 100 fires burn in the United States, mostly in the west.
California’s second largest forest fire in recorded history continues to grow after nearly 550 homes were destroyed while Montana authorities order evacuations as a wind-powered fire roars towards several remote communities.
The dangerous fires were among the 100 or so large flames that burned Wednesday in 15 states, mostly in the west, where historic drought conditions left the country parched and ripe to ignite.
The eastern end of Northern California’s giant Dixie Fire flared Tuesday as the afternoon wind picked up, firefighters said.
The fire burns through bone-dry trees, bushes and grass and has destroyed at least 1,027 buildings, more than half of which are in the northern Sierra Nevada. Newly released satellite imagery showed the extent of the devastation in the small community of Greenville that was burned in an explosive flame last week.
This satellite image shows an overview of Greenville, California from the left before the October 31, 2018 wildfires and an overview of Greenville during the Dixie wildfires on August 9, 2021 [Satellite image: Maxar Technologies via AP]
The Dixie Fire, named for the street it began on July 14, covered an area of 1,984 square kilometers (766 square miles) by Tuesday evening and was 27 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At least 14,000 remote homes were still threatened.
The Dixie Fire is the largest currently burning in the United States. It’s about half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused fires in 2020 in seven counties that were fought collectively and which state officials consider the largest forest fire in California overall.
In southeast Montana, communities in and around the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation were ordered to evacuate when the Richard Spring Fire increased amid erratic winds.
The order was extended Tuesday evening to Lame Deer, a town of around 2,000 residents, where people who fled the fire earlier in the day were seeking refuge. About 600 people in the small community of Ashland and the surrounding communities were also asked to leave the country.
The flames came within about 0.4 km (0.25 miles) of a subdivision outside Ashland along the Tongue River. Powerful gusts of wind caused the fire to explode across more than 518 square kilometers (200 square miles) on Tuesday as the fire skipped roads, streams, and lines of fire that had been laid to prevent growth.
Meanwhile, temperatures rose in the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday as residents of Portland, Oregon and Washington prepared for a third hardening heat wave of the summer.
The National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for Portland and Medford, Oregon, much of the Columbia River Gorge and Willamette Valley, and the Vancouver, Washington area.
“Extreme heat will significantly increase the potential for heat-related illnesses, especially for those who work or participate in outdoor activities,” the weather service said in a statement.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the sweltering heat and the city opened cooling centers for residents without air conditioning.
Power grids could be tested, especially on the hottest days, expected to come Thursday and Friday, as a high pressure dome builds up over the Pacific Northwest.
Heat waves and historic droughts related to climate change have made fighting wildfires difficult in the American West. Scientists have said that climate change has made the region much warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and make forest fires more frequent and more destructive. The fires in the west arise because parts of Europe also suffer large flames, which are fueled by scale-dry conditions.