Firefighters struggle to contain an exploding northern California wildfire under blazing temperatures as another heatwave blankets the western U.S., prompting an excessive heat warning for inland and desert areas.
Death Valley in southeastern California's Mojave Desert reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53 Celsius) on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service's (NWS) reading at Furnace Creek.
The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the previous day when the location reached 130 F. If confirmed as accurate, the 130-degree reading would be the highest temperature recorded there since July 1913, when Furnace Creek desert hit 134 F, considered the highest measured temperature on Earth. About 300 miles (483 kilometers) northwest of the sizzling desert, the largest wildfire of the year in California is raging along the border with Nevada.
The Beckwourth Complex Fire – a combination of two lightning-caused fires burning 45 miles north of Lake Tahoe – showed no sign of slowing its rush northeast from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday.
According to The Mercury News, a local newspaper, around 1,300 personnel were deployed in the area on Saturday to contain flames from reaching populated territories, while evacuations were underway.
NWS Weather Prediction Center said on Twitter on Friday morning that “record-breaking heat” was expected to affect “much of the West and Southwest” during the weekend.
“Over 31 million people are currently under an Excessive Heat Warning or Heat Advisory. Highs well into the triple digits could threaten Las Vegas’ all-time high temperature record of 117F,” the center said.
Record-breaking heat is set to impact much of the West and Southwest this weekend. Over 31 million people are currently under an Excessive Heat Warning or Heat Advisory. Highs well into the triple digits could threaten Las Vegas' all-time high temperature record of 117F. pic.twitter.com/vP4NXEeKGh— NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) July 9, 2021
Late Saturday, flames jumped Interstate 395 and were threatening properties in Nevada's Washoe County. "Take immediate steps to protect large animals and livestock,” the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District tweeted.
The blaze, which was only 8% contained, increased dramatically to 86 square miles (222 square kilometers) as firefighters sweltered in 100-degree temperatures. It was one of several threatening homes across Western states that were expected to see triple-digit heat through the weekend as a high-pressure zone blankets the region.
Pushed by strong winds, a wildfire in southern Oregon doubled in size to 120 square miles Saturday as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the Klamath County town of Sprague River.
NWS warned the dangerous conditions could cause heat-related illnesses, while California’s power grid operator issued a statewide Flex Alert from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday to avoid disruptions and rolling blackouts.
The California Independent System Operator (ISO) warned of potential power shortages, not only because of mounting heat but because a wildfire in southern Oregon was threatening transmission lines that carry imported power to California. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation on Friday suspending rules to allow for more power capacity, and the ISO requested emergency assistance from other states. On Saturday, Newsom issued another proclamation allowing the emergency use of auxiliary ship engines to relieve pressure on the electric grid.
Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high temperature of 120 F Saturday. It was the fourth time temperatures have reached 120 degrees so far this year, the Desert Sun reported. In California's agricultural Central Valley, 100-degree temperatures blanketed the region, with Fresno reaching 111 F, just one degree short of the all-time high for the date. Las Vegas late Saturday afternoon tied the all-time record high of 117 F, the National Weather Service said. The city has recorded that record-high temperature four other times, most recently in June 2017.
NV Energy, Nevada’s largest power provider, also urged customers to conserve electricity Saturday and Sunday evenings because of the heatwave and wildfires affecting transmission lines throughout the region. In southern California, a brush fire sparked by a burning big rig in eastern San Diego County forced evacuations of two Native American reservations Saturday.
In north-central Arizona, Yavapai County on Saturday lifted an evacuation warning for Black Canyon City, an unincorporated town 43 miles north of Phoenix, after a fire in nearby mountains no longer posed a threat.
In Mohave County, Arizona, two firefighters died Saturday after the aircraft they were in to respond to a small wildfire crashed, local media reported. A wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles as it blackened grass and timber on its path into the Umatilla National Forest.
In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.
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