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Dozens of major forest fires raged virtually unchecked in the West on Tuesday as a relentless heat wave and historic drought turned large parts of the country into tinder.
The 59 fires had consumed 1,350 square miles of mostly wood and brush, but an unknown number of houses burned down and thousands were threatened. More than 12,200 wildland firefighters and support staff were fighting the fires.
“Above normal temperatures are forecast for Intermountain West with very hot and record high temperatures continuing,” the National Interagency Fire Center warned.
More forest fires have burned so far this year than any year in the past decade: more than 33,000 fires burned 1.9 million acres as of July 12, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Large fires are burning in the western United States. Here’s how they stack up in history.
The largest fire was burning in southwestern Oregon, near the California border. The Bootleg fire disrupted service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to California. The California power grid operator has repeatedly called for voluntary energy conservation during the evening hours.
Eleven fires raged in California. Fires were also burning in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota and Alaska amid a week of heat warnings, record temperatures. and regional drought.
The Bootleg fire burned down at least seven homes and more than 40 other buildings. The blaze traveled 240 square miles and 2,000 homes remained at risk, state fire officials said.
A record “heating dome” could keep the west sizzling all week as wildfires burn
“The conditions were so extreme that the firefighters had to disengage and move to predetermined safety zones,” the US Forest Service said in an incident report. “The firefighters assessed the conditions and looked for opportunities to re-engage the firefighters safely. “
Tim McCarley told KPTV-TV his family were ordered to flee their home with flames minutes behind them.
“They told us to get the hell out of it because otherwise you are dead,” he said.
He described the blaze as “like a blaze”: flames soaring tens of meters into the air and leaping around, grabbing trees “then just explosions, boom, boom, boom, boom”.
The Klamath County Sheriff’s Office has started issuing citations and urged residents of mandatory evacuation areas to leave immediately, saying officers will “make arrests if necessary” to prevent people from entering.
“People have been asked to evacuate over the past few days, some did not listen and continue to travel within the restricted area,” the incident report said. “This violates closure restrictions and interferes with firefighting and rescue efforts.”
In Washington, more than 1,250 square miles burned in 2020 and experts say this year could be worse. The Batterman Road fire and the Asotin Complex fire have now consumed more than 100 square miles.
“It doesn’t take a lot for us to have a major catastrophic event,” Natural Resources Department analyst Vaugn Cork told KREM-TV. “It could be catastrophic.”
In Idaho, Governor Brad Little mobilized the National Guard to help fight the two lightning-triggered fires that together charred nearly 24 square miles of drywood in the remote and drought-stricken region.
Contribution: Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Where are the Wildfires in California, Western States? The flames are still raging