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‘We need to be prepared for anything’: Hot, dry weather making Western wildfires harder to fight

  • July 30, 2021

Extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest and California will bring the potential for new wildfires into the weekend as President Joe Biden on Friday will meet with governors across the West to discuss ongoing firefighting and wildfire prevention efforts.

In central and southern Oregon, temperatures could reach 106 degrees in some areas, while much of Washington could see record highs Friday and Saturday.

The heat, mixed with dry conditions and the potential for thunderstorms, prompted red flag warnings across Oregon and parts of northern California, where multiple large wildfires are already burning.

“Numerous fire starts are likely” as the vegetation in the area remains dry and gusty winds could carry embers sparked by lightning strikes, according to the National Weather Service. While there’s the potential for rain, it may not help much if not enough moisture soaks the vegetation.

Heat wave, lightning could spark new wildfires in Pacific Northwest, California

Most of the destruction in Oregon has come from the Bootleg Fire burning in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. While the fire is more than halfway contained, conditions could still bring the high potential for fire spread as vegetation remains dry, the U.S. Forest Service said.

Firefighters recently expressed concern as the typical weather conditions that normally help their attack on the blazes seem to be doing little.

“As we move out of normal climatological range, previous experience is less relevant,” said Fire Behavior Specialist Chris Moore. “The rain that we got will not put the fire out. Spotting will become more of an issue as fuels dry out again.” 

Fire activity has picked up in the vast 413,545 acres where Bootleg is burning. The northwest area of the fire remains the most active, but the northeast recently saw a few spot fires, officials said.

How climate change is worsening wildfires, other natural disasters

In California, a prosecutor announced the utility Pacific Gas Electric will face criminal charges after its equipment sparked a wildfire last year, killing four people and destroying hundreds of homes.

Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett called PGE “criminally liable” in a post on Facebook.

It’s unclear what charges the company will face, but Bridgett said charges will be brought before the September anniversary of the Zogg Fire.

The company said in a statement it did not agree with the announcement of charges and has worked with the county and victims’ families to resolve civil claims.

The company’s equipment was also blamed for the deadly Camp Fire in 2018, which killed 85 people and destroyed 10,000 homes. The fire leveled the town of Paradise in northern California.

PGE filed for bankruptcy in 2019 in the wake of the fire, and it pleaded guilty to more than 80 counts of involuntary manslaughter over the blaze, which was linked to a badly maintained and aging transmission tower.

Earlier this month, the utility said its equipment may be linked to the Dixie Fire, a more than 226,000 acre wildfire burning in Butte and Plumas counties – just northeast of Paradise.

Hot and dry conditions has also caused fire activity, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The fire has destroyed 64 structures, but more than 10,000 were threatened. Nearly 6,000 firefighters were working the blaze.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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