Wildfires have been raging unchecked across parts of the western United States. California has already set a record with nearly 2.3 million acres burned this year—passing a record set just two years ago. And the worst part of the wildfire season is only beginning.
The last few weeks have seen the U.S. West’s seasonal blazes grow explosively. In Washington, more acres burned in a single day than firefighters usually see all year. Fires also forced people to flee in Oregon and Idaho. A temperature plunge helped contain wildfires in Colorado and Montana.
Unless God intervenes, no such relief seems in the near future for California.
More than 14,000 firefighters are currently battling fires. Two of the three largest blazes in state history still smolder and flare in the San Francisco Bay Area, though they’re largely contained after burning for three weeks.
On Tuesday, 14 California firefighters deployed personal emergency shelters as flames overtook them. The blaze destroyed a fire station in the Los Padres National Forest. The firefighters suffered from burns and smoke inhalation. (Read more about fighting fires during COVID-19 in “Fires, Fuels, and Viruses: Oh My!”)
Meanwhile, helicopter crews rescued hundreds of people stranded in the burning Sierra National Forest, where the Creek Fire has destroyed 365 buildings, including at least 45 homes. Another 5,000 structures are in danger.
In Southern California, fires burned in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. The forecast called for the arrival of the region’s notorious Santa Anas—extremely hot, dry winds whipping through at up to 50 mph.
“The combination of gusty winds, very dry air, and dry vegetation will create critical fire danger,” warns the National Weather Service.
The threat of wind damage—tearing down power lines or hurling debris into them and sparking a wildfire—prompted the state’s largest power company to shut off electricity to 172,000 customers over the weekend.
In the Sierra National Forest, dozens of campers and hikers found themselves stranded at the Vermilion Valley Resort after the only road in—a narrow route along a steep cliff—closed because of the Creek Fire.
Military helicopters helped rescue nearly 400 civilians from remote camping areas.
“This [shows] how fast that fire was moving, plus the physical geography of that environment with one road in and one road out,” says Char Miller, a professor who studies wildfires. “Unless you wanted an absolute human disaster, you had to move fast.”
(Flames lick at vehicles on Highway 162 as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, California, on Wednesday, September 9, 2020. AP Photo/Noah Berger)