LOS ANGELES (AP) — Wildfires that torched homes and forced thousands to evacuate burned across 10 parched Western states on Tuesday, and the largest, in Oregon, threatened California’s power supply.
Nearly 60 wildfires tore through bone-dry timber and brush from Alaska to Wyoming, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Arizona, Idaho and Montana accounted for more than half of the large active fires.
The fires erupted as the West was in the grip of the second bout of dangerously high temperatures in just a few weeks. A climate change-fueled megadrought also is contributing to conditions that make fires even more dangerous, scientists say.
The National Weather Service says the heat wave appeared to have peaked in many areas, and excessive-heat warnings were largely expected to expire by Tuesday. However, they continued into Tuesday night in some California deserts, and many areas were still expected to see high in the 80s and 90s.
In Northern California, a combined pair of lightning-ignited blazes dubbed the Beckwourth Complex was less than 25% surrounded after days of battling flames fueled by winds, hot weather and low humidity that sapped the moisture from vegetation. Evacuation orders were in place for more than 3,000 residents of remote northern areas and neighboring Nevada.
The largest fire in the United States lay across the California border in southwestern Oregon. The Bootleg Fire — which doubled and doubled again over the weekend — threatened some 2,000 homes, state fire officials said. It had burned at least seven homes and more than 40 other buildings.
The July heat wave follows an unusual June siege of broiling temperatures in the West, and comes amid worsening drought conditions throughout the region.
Scientists say human-caused climate change and decades of fire suppression that increases fuel loads have aggravated fire conditions across the region.