Firefighters working in scorching heat struggled to contain California’s biggest wildfire this year, while the state’s power operators urged people to save energy after a massive wildfire in neighboring Oregon disrupted the flow of electricity from three major transmission lines.
Much of the West baked over the weekend in triple-digit temperatures that were expected to continue into the start of the work week. California’s independent system operator that runs the state’s power grid issued a five-hour “flexible alert” starting at 4 p.m. Monday and asked consumers to “conserve as much electricity as possible” to avoid any failure.
California and other parts of the West are sinking deeper into drought, which has raised fire danger in many areas. In Arizona, a small plane crashed Saturday while investigating a wildfire in rural Mohave County, killing both crew members.
Climate change causes large destructive wildfires more likely due to warmer temperatures and drier vegetation. Other factors include development expansion and a fuel glut due to past fire suppression. The higher average temperatures are increase the length of fire seasons and the number of places where fires may occur. From NPR’s recent climate coverage:
The Beech C-90 aircraft was helping conduct reconnaissance over the Cedar Basin Fire caused by lightning, near the small community of Wikieup northwest of Phoenix.
On Sunday, officials identified the victims as Air Battle Group Supervisor Jeff Piechura, 62, a retired Tucson-area fire chief who worked for the Coronado National Forest, and Matthew Miller, 48, a Falcon Executive Aviation pilot under contract with the US Forest Service. . The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.
In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire exploded 224 square miles (580 square kilometers) as it moved through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the town of Sprague River in Klamath County. The fire interrupted service on three transmission lines supplying up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to neighboring California.
California’s biggest wildfire of the year was raging near the Nevada border. The Beckwourth Complex Fire — a combination of two lightning-caused blazes north of Lake Tahoe — grew by a third Sunday to 134 square miles (348 kilometers). However, firefighters working in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) were able to gain ground, doubling the containment to 20%.
Late Saturday, flames jumped across US 395, which was closed near the small town of Doyle in Lassen County, California. Lanes reopened on Sunday and authorities urged motorists to exercise caution and continue traveling along the key north-south route where flames were still active.
“Don’t stop to take pictures,” said fire operations section chief Jake Cagle. “You’re going to hamper our operations if you stop and watch what’s going on.”
Cagle said structures had burned down in Doyle, but he didn’t have an exact number. Bob Prary, who runs the Buck-Inn Bar in the town of about 600 people, said he saw at least six homes destroyed after Saturday’s eruption. The fire was smoldering in and around Doyle on Sunday, but he feared some remote ranch properties were still in danger.
“It looks like the worst is over in town, but back on the mountainside, the fire is still going strong,” Prary said.
A wildfire in southeastern Washington has grown to nearly 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) as it blackens grass and wood as it moves through Umatilla National Forest.
In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency on Friday and mobilized the state National Guard to help fight blazes sparked after thunderstorms swept through the drought-stricken region.