Blistering heat and dangerous fire weather is threatening much of the West and into the Plains — particularly in California and Montana, where firefighters are battling several massive wildfires.
Threat level: The long duration of record-setting temperatures is affecting a broad region mired in drought. This, plus weather systems that are encouraging the air to rise to set off thunderstorms, is leading to perilous wildfire risk situation across multiple states.
The big picture: The heat is challenging firefighters, who face the risk of heat illness while protecting homes and holding flames back from people rushing to evacuate at risk areas.
- They’re now fighting 66 large fires across eight states, mostly in the West, according to the latest information from the National Interagency Fire Center.
- “Red flag warnings are in effect for hot, dry, windy and unstable conditions and isolated to scattered dry lightning across Oregon, Washington, northern California, Idaho, and Montana” on Wednesday, the NIFC notes.
- A fuels and fire behavior advisory has been issued for northern California due to dry fuels and the potential for extreme fire behavior with the hot, dry and windy weather pattern, as the historic heat wave strains the state’s energy grid.
What’s happening: California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week secured a federal Fire Management Assistance Grant to assist in the response to the Fairview Fire that’s killed two people has razed nearly 10,000 acres near Hemet — which was at 5% containment on Wednesday evening.
- The Mosquito Fire near Foresthill, some 52 miles northeast of Sacramento, saw mandatory evacuation orders issued for Placer and El Dorado Counties as it burned uncontained across more than 4,200 acres on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, in Montana Sanders County declared an emergency due to three wildfires near communities in the state’s northwest, per Montana Public Radio.
By the numbers: Firefighters have reported fighting 26 large fires in Idaho, Montana has 11 and nine are burning in Oregon.
- California and Washington each have eight large fires, while Texas has two and Utah and Wyoming each have reported one big blaze.
Driving the news: Climate change is making this heat wave hotter, more expansive, and longer lasting than it otherwise would have been. It is drying the environment out even more, making it more likely to burn.
- Any fires are more likely to exhibit extreme fire behavior, including forming towering pyrocumulus clouds that are a telltale sign of dangerous conditions on the ground.
What to expect: The current conditions of gusty winds combined with low relative humidity and very warm temperatures was likely to “support the potential for new wildfires to start and existing fires to spread uncontrollably” throughout the northern Great Basin and northern High Plains, per the National Weather Service.
- There’s “Extremely Critical (level 3/3) fire weather” over north-central Montana, where winds could gust up to 50 mph, according to the NWS.
- Additional dry thunderstorm activity could worsen the fire weather, with a slight risk of elevated thunderstorms producing severe wind gusts across the Interior Northwest and Northern Rockies.
- Critical fire weather conditions were forecast to sweep ahead of an expected cold front on Friday and enter the central Plains on Thursday, “while remaining over parts of the Intermountain West through at least Friday,” the NWS said.
Editor’s note: This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.