Thursday, September 23

Wildfire Fighters Advance Against America’s Largest Fire Amid Dire Warnings | Climate crisis in the American West

Firefighters have made headway in fighting some of the largest fires in the entire West, but the dangers of outbreaks and new ignitions remain amid hot, dry conditions that will bake the parched landscape.

Nine major fires have collectively burned more than 1.8 million acres in 12 states, the National Interagency Fire Center reported Monday morning, including 23 in Montana, some of which have displayed extreme fire behavior.

On Sunday, the agency issued its monthly outlook, forecast “significant wildfire potential” with more than 95% of the western United States in drought and more than half of the region in the two highest categories of drought conditions, and warmer-than-normal weather is expected to continue into the fall.

But Oregon officials had good news to share Monday about the Bootleg Fire, which has already burned approximately 413,762 acres (167,407 hectares), an area larger than New York City, with containment reaching 84%.

“That reflects several good days of field work where crews have been able to reinforce and build additional containment lines,” said fire spokesman Al Nash.

The fire has been burning in the Fremont-Winema National Forest since it was started by lightning on July 6. Firefighters initially believed they would not be able to control it until more heavy rains came in the fall.

Some evacuation orders were also lifted near the California Dixie Fire, which had burned 248,820 acres over the past 19 days, with 35% containment, but authorities warned local residents to remain on alert.

Authorities warned that with unpredictable winds and extremely dry fuels, the risk of outbreaks remained high. Sixty-seven houses and other structures have already been destroyed by the fire, and another nine damaged. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is believed to have been caused by equipment belonging to the Pacific Gas & Electric utility company.

Hazardous conditions are also expected in Southern California through the beginning of the week, with high temperatures, low humidity and forecasts of winds on land.

In recent days, lightning sparked two wildfires that threatened remote homes in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Evacuation warnings remained in effect Sunday for communities along the Trinity River.

In Montana, a wind-driven wildfire destroyed more than a dozen homes, outbuildings and other structures, authorities said Sunday. Evacuations were ordered after flames jumped over a highway and drifted into communities near Flathead Lake in the northwestern part of the state. The teams also battled large fires in northeast Washington and northern Idaho.

Dry conditions and high winds created dangerous fire conditions in Hawaii. A wind advisory was issued Sunday for parts of Lanai, Maui and the Big Island.

A fast-moving wildfire on the Big Island of Hawaii grew to 40,000 acres, prompting mandatory evacuation orders. Those orders, which forced thousands of residents to flee their homes, were lifted Sunday night. However, authorities told residents to remain vigilant.

“County officials are asking all residents of affected areas to return home only if absolutely necessary,” Hawaii County spokesman Cyrus Johnasen said in a statement. “Smoke and other conditions can make returns unsafe for people with previous and underlying respiratory conditions.”

Local media reported that at least two houses had been destroyed. Two community shelters were open for residents who were unable to return home, the Hawaii Red Cross said.

On Friday, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris held a virtual meeting with governors to discuss the fires.

“We have large and complex wildfires burning in multiple areas,” Biden said during the meeting, noting that more help was needed, especially given the challenges still arising from supply chain problems caused by Covid. “We cannot ignore how the overlapping and interlocking factors of extreme heat, prolonged drought and supercharged wildfire conditions are affecting the country,” he added.

A historic drought and recent heat waves linked to the climate crisis have made wildfires more difficult to fight in the western United States. Scientists say climate collapse has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

The US Drought Monitor reported last week that while a heavy monsoon has brought drought-alleviating rains in the Southwest, critically dry conditions persist in Northern California and the Northwest, where there has been expansion. of the “exceptional drought”, the worst category. .

Forest fires are also affecting more remote regions. Numerous areas of the western and midwest US were under air quality alerts Sunday as smoke from wildfires lingered across much of the country.

Alerts were present across much of the Rocky Mountains of the northern US, including parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Washington state, and Idaho. Further east, smoke from the fires burning in Canada triggered pollution alerts in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.

Wildfires emit huge volumes of microscopic smoke particles that researchers say can be harmful if inhaled and cause both immediate and long-term health impacts. Children, the elderly, and people with underlying health problems are at special risk.

Recent studies have shown that smoke is even more toxic than previously believed and can take a heavy toll away from flames.

“No one is protected,” Stanford University health researcher Dr. Mary Prunicki told The Guardian in July. His research has shown sharp increases in hospitalizations associated with blackened air, including for strokes, heart attacks, and respiratory infections. “We don’t really know what we’re exposed to,” he added, “and we should look at it further.”

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