Firefighters struggled to contain an exploding northern California fire under blazing temperatures as another heat wave hits the US west this weekend, prompting an excessive heat warning for inland and desert areas.
- A record high temperature of 54 degrees Celsius was detected in Death Valley National Park
- More than a dozen homes in California have been destroyed by blazes
- Dry air has frustrated firefighting efforts, with some water dropped by aircraft evaporating before reaching the ground
On Friday (local time), Death Valley National Park in California recorded a staggering high of 54 degrees Celsius and could reach the same high on Saturday.
If verified, the reading would be the hottest high recorded there since July 1913, when the same Furnace Creek desert area hit 57 C, considered the highest reliably measured temperature on Earth.
The Beckwourth Complex — a merging of two lightning-caused fires — showed no sign of slowing its rush northeast from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size only a few days earlier.
California’s northern mountain areas already have seen several large fires that have destroyed more than a dozen homes.
Although there are no confirmed reports of building damage, the fire prompted evacuation orders or warnings for roughly 2,800 people in California along with the closure of around 500 square kilometres of Plumas National Forest.
Winds up to 30 kph combined with ferocious heat as the fire raged through dry pine and fir trees.
As the fire’s northeastern flank raged near the California-Nevada state border, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office asked people to evacuate some areas in the rural communities of Ranch Haven and Flanagan Flats, north of Reno.
“Evacuate now,” a sheriff’s office tweet said.
Water dropped by aircraft evaporates before hitting the ground
Hot rising air formed a gigantic, smoky pyrocumulus cloud that reached thousands of feet high and created its own lightning, fire information officer Lisa Cox said.
Spot fires caused by embers leapt up to 1.6 km ahead of the northeastern flank — too far for firefighters to safely battle, and winds funneled the fire up draws and canyons full of dry fuel, where “it can actually pick up speed,” Ms Cox said.
Firefighters usually take advantage of cooler, more humid nights to advance on a fire, Ms Cox said, but the daytime conditions persisted.
More than 1,200 firefighters were aided by aircraft but the blaze was expected to continue forging ahead because of the heat and low humidity that dried out vegetation.
The air was so dry that some of the water dropped by aircraft evaporated before reaching the ground, she added.
The blaze, which was only 9 per cent contained, increased dramatically to 223 square km after fire officials made better observations.
It was one of several threatening homes across western states that are expected to see high temperatures through the weekend as a high-pressure zone blankets the region.
The US National Weather Service warned the dangerous conditions could cause heat-related illnesses.
Other US states hit by blazes
Meanwhile, other fires were burning in the states of Oregon, Arizona and Idaho.
In Oregon, pushed by strong winds, a wildfire in Klamath County grew from nearly 67 square km to nearly 158 square km in 24 hours over the Fremont-Winema National Forest and on private land.
Fires were threatening transmission lines that send electricity to California, which along with expected heat-related demand prompted California Governor Gavin Newsom to issue an emergency proclamation suspending some rules to allow for more power capacity.
In Idaho, Governor Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency and mobilised the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.
Fire crews in north-central Idaho were facing extreme conditions and gusts as they fought two wildfires covering a combined 50.5 square km.