Homes burn, thousands more threatened as wildfires roar through West

Scores of major wildfires were raging virtually unchecked across the West on Tuesday as an unrelenting heat wave and historic drought turned a wide swath of the nation into tinder.

The 59 blazes had consumed 1,350 square miles of mostly timber and brush, but an undetermined number of homes have burned and thousands were threatened. More than 12,200 wildland firefighters and support personnel were battling the fires.

“Above normal temperatures are forecast for the Intermountain West with very hot, record breaking temperatures continuing,” the National Interagency Fire Center warned.

More wildfires have burned so far this year than any year in the last decade: Over 33,000 fires scorched1.9 million acres by July 12, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Large fires are burning across the western US. Here’s how they stack in history.

The largest fire was burning in southwestern Oregon near the California border. The Bootleg Fire was disrupting service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to California. California’s power grid operator has repeatedly asked for voluntary power conservation during evening hours.

Eleven fires raged in California. Blazes were also burning in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota and Alaska amid a week of heat warnings, record-smashing temperatures and regional drought.

The Bootleg Fire had burned at least seven homes and more than 40 other buildings. The blaze has raced through 240 square miles, and 2,000 homes remained threatened, state fire officials said.

Record-setting ‘heat dome’ could keep West sizzling all week as wildfires burn

“Conditions were so extreme that firefighters needed to disengage and move to predetermined safety zones,” the U.S. Forest Service said in an incident report. “Fire managers evaluated conditions and looked for opportunities to reengage firefighters safely.”

Tim McCarley told KPTV-TV that his family was ordered to flee their home with flames just minutes behind them.

“They told us to get the hell out ’cause if not, you’re dead,” he said.

He described the blaze as “like a firenado”: Flames leaping dozens of feet into the air and jumping around, catching trees “and then just explosions, boom, boom, boom, boom.”

The Klamath County Sheriff’s Office began to issue citations and urged residents in mandatory evacuation areas to leave immediately, saying officers would “make arrests if necessary” to keep people out.

“People have been advised to evacuate over the last several days, some have not listened and continue to travel within the restricted area,” the incident report said. “This violates the closure restrictions and interferes with firefighting and lifesaving 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 Asotin Complex Fire burning now have consumed more than 100 square miles.

“It doesn’t take much for us to have a major catastrophic event,” Department of Natural Resources Fuels Analyst Vaugn Cork told KREM-TV. “This could be catastrophic.”

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little mobilized the National Guard to help fight twin lightning-sparked fires that have together charred nearly 24 square miles of dry timber in the remote, drought-stricken region.

Contributing: Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Where are wildfires in California, western states? Blazes still rage

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