US west and Canada brace for another heatwave amid almost 70 wildfires
The fourth searing heatwave in five weeks is set to strike the west of the United States and Canada this weekend, aggravating wildfires that are already ravaging an area larger than Rhode Island as drought and record-breaking temperatures tied to the climate crisis pummel the region.
As the west braces for another brutal heatwave, almost 70 active wildfires are already being fought in 12 mostly western states. The combined area of blaze is about 1,562 sq miles (4,047 sq kilometers), according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The largest blaze by far continues to be the Bootleg fire in south-central Oregon, which has been burning for nine days and has already devastated an area larger than New York City with no sign of it letting up.
Writing in the Washington Post, meteorologist Matthew Cappucci said that the next punishing heatwave is expected to start on Saturday and reach a critical peak by Monday. It will be centered on a swathe of the Rocky Mountains in the US and up into Canada, bringing temperatures up to 30F (16.67C) above the average for the time of year.
“In addition to the hot temperatures, the sultry air mass will spur additional wildfire growth and ignition across the west, where dozens of fires are already raging,” Cappucci predicted.
Satellite images posted on Twitter by the National Weather Service showed four giant clouds forming over the Bootleg fire with the southern-most starting to mass into the most extreme fire clouds of its sort, known as a pyrocumulonimbus. Such clouds, which occur when heat rises from a fire, can cause hail, lightning and tornadoes that can in themselves be extremely dangerous on the ground.
The weather service said the cloud pattern was “terrifying in its own right”, and asked the public to “send positive thoughts and well wishes to the firefighters right now. It’s a tough time for them.”
The raging wildfires are stoked by a wave of exceptional temperatures across the western region combined with a prolonged drought that has desiccated vegetation. The west has grown warmer and drier in recent decades as a result of the climate crisis, accelerating the fires and making the job of controlling them more difficult.
About 60% of the US west is suffering exceptional or extreme drought – the highest rating since authorities began monitoring the phenomenon 20 years ago. Temperatures have also reached historic levels, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marking 585 all-time records in the past 30 days.
Almost 2,000 houses are currently threatened by the Bootleg fire. Tim McCarley described to Associated Press having to flee his home in a rural area north of Bly. “The sheriff’s department had been there and they said, If you don’t get out of here now, then you are going to die,” he said. “We were running around like a chicken with its head cut off, throwing stuff into the car. Then we say, Okay, that’s it we got to go.”
They evacuated from the flames which came within five feet (1.5 metres) of his house. Their trailer resembled a “melted beer can”, McCarley told the news agency, after the fire had passed.