- Temperatures of 100 degrees were expected in parts of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California that have been under heat warnings.
- The heat wave and the potential for lightning strikes could worsen forest fire conditions.
- In the west, there are 81 major fires in 12 states that burn 2,500 square miles, says the National Interagency Fire Center.
SALEM, Oregon – A heat wave and the potential for lightning strikes threatened the Pacific Northwest and Northern California on Thursday as firefighters battling multiple forest fires prepare for the chance new flames will ignite.
Parts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California were under heat warnings or excessive heat warnings on Thursday as temperatures were expected to rise above 100 degrees in the next few days.
“It’s not getting as hot as it was a month ago, but it’s still getting pretty hot,” said National Weather Service meteorologist John Bumgardner.
The late June heat wave claimed hundreds of deaths in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, Canada.
There was a red flag warning in much of southern Oregon and parts of northern California that lightning strikes “are likely to lead to new outbreaks of fire,” the weather service said.
More about the heat wave in June:Record-breaking Pacific Northwest heatwave kills 107 Oregon deaths
Gusty thunderstorms are to be expected, which can cause the fires to spread. Although some rain is expected, forecasters were unsure whether this would be enough to prevent new fires.
“The system is expected to drop rain,” said Bumgardner. “The question will be whether it will fall wherever there are strikes and whether it will move slowly enough to prevent the fires that might start.”
Half a dozen fires burning in Oregon have burned more than 780 square miles. Across the west, there are 82 major fires in 13 states that burn 2,500 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
More than 21,500 firefighters and helpers are fighting the fires.
The Oregon Bootleg Fire, the third largest in the state’s history, has burned approximately 645 square miles since it ignited in early July. 53% of the nearly 2,000 firefighters working on the fire have contained it.
While rain this week helped stop the flames, the U.S. Forest Service said much of the dry vegetation that is the fuel of the fire was bouncing back quickly. “In the afternoon, high concentrations of fuels became active, which highlighted the extreme resistance to fire fighting,” said the forest service.
However, while the storms may have helped with a fire, dry lightning in the Umpqua National Forest earlier this week saw 40 strikes that started 21 new fires.
On the border between California and Nevada, the governors on Wednesday. Gavin Newsom and Steve Sisolak called for more federal fire fighting assistance as they surveyed the damage from the Tamarack fire south of Lake Tahoe.
“We need help on the part of the federal government. We need more people to come in. We need more resources. We need more air support. We need more boots on the ground, ”said Sisolak.
Forest fires in the west:Local residents are demanding energy savings as conditions deteriorate
Newsom acknowledged that climate change has helped make forest fires more common and more intense. “The world is changing radically with climate change. You may not believe in science, you understood it with your own damn eyes, ”he said, gesturing towards the blackened landscape.
The Pinnacle Fire in Monterey County ignited Thursday and already burned 100 acres near Pinnacles National Park, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire). The fire resulted in the closure of the west entrance and hiking trails in the park, and its cause is still being investigated.
Fire activity also increased on Thursday at the Dixie Fire, the largest currently burning fire in the Golden State. Cal Fire said higher temperatures and lower humidity caused the increased fire in the eastern portion of the fire that burns in northern California between Lassen National Forest and the town of Paradise.
Crews made progress in fighting the flames by air Thursday, Cal Fire said, but they expected conditions to deteriorate as the weather warms, the Forest Service said.
The fire burned over 340 square miles and is 23% contained, according to Cal Fire.
Elsewhere, wildfire exploded in size in southeast Montana, threatening numerous homes as it burned through grasslands and sage thickets around the Crow Indian reservation near the Wyoming border, officials said Thursday. The fire that broke out in the Poverty Flats area outside the reservation on Tuesday has grown to at least 86 square miles (222 square kilometers), according to an official estimate released Thursday.
In other fire news, Australia has sent a jet airtanker to the United States to help fight forest fires, the National Interagency Fire Center said on Wednesday. The jet is made available through an agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Australia.
“We really appreciate that this New South Wales Rural Fire Service airtanker is helping us,” said Kim Christensen, deputy assistant director for forest service operations. “We are proud of our longstanding cooperation with Australia and other countries.”
Urness reports from Salem, Oregon.