Western US firefighters faced “another critical day” as thunderstorms brought flames closer to two towns not far from where the Dixie, California fire destroyed much of a historic community last week.
The thunderstorms, which started on Friday, didn’t produce much rain but did create wind and lightning, forcing teams to focus on using bulldozers to build lines and prevent the blaze from reaching Westwood.
The town of around 1,700 residents was placed under an evacuation order on August 5.
Wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 km / h) also brought the blaze closer to another town called Janesville, which is home to around 1,500 residents, said Jake Cagle, chief of operations in the eastern area of ââthe fire.
“A very difficult day yesterday afternoon and the night (the crew) picked up the pieces and tried to secure the advantage as best they could with the resources they had,” he said. he said at a briefing on Saturday.
With a similar forecast for thunderstorms on Saturday, firefighters faced “another critical day, another difficult day,” Cagle said.
The blaze was one of more than 100 large wildfires in more than a dozen states in the western United States, marked by drought and hot, dry weather that transformed forests, brush, meadows and pastures in tinder.
Last week, the blaze decimated the historic Gold Rush town of Greenwood, as residents were forced to flee the flames that destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses and ravaged downtown the community.
The US Forest Service said on Friday it was operating in crisis mode, fully deploying firefighters and maximizing its support system.
The approximately 21,000 federal firefighters working on the ground are more than double the number of firefighters sent to contain wildfires at the same time a year ago, said Anthony Scardina, assistant forester for the Southwest Pacific region. of the agency.
More than 6,000 firefighters were single-handedly battling the Dixie Blaze, which devastated nearly 2,100 kmÂ² (845 square miles) – an area the size of Tokyo – and was 31 percent contained.
“The size is unimaginable, its duration and its impact on these people, all of us, including me, is incredible,” Johnnie Brookwood, a Greenville resident who was forced to flee the blaze, told The Associated Press. forest from its third evacuation center.
The cause of the fire has not been determined. Pacific Gas and Electric said the fire may have started when a tree fell on its power line.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there was also a risk of new fires breaking out due to unstable weather conditions, including extreme heat in the northern western half and a risk of thunderstorms that could bring lightning to the northern California, Oregon and Nevada.
A rapid fire broke out on Saturday afternoon east of Salt Lake City, Utah, causing the closure of Interstate 80 and the evacuation of Summit Park, a mountain community of 6,600 people . Firefighters said the blaze burned approximately 8 kmÂ² (3 square miles) and threatened thousands of homes and power lines.
In southeast Montana, firefighters were gaining ground on a pair of fires that ravaged vast pastures and at one point threatened the Cheyenne Indian Reservation of the North.
The fires were caused by heat from the coal seams, the coal deposits found in the soil in the area, said Peggy Miller, spokesperson for the blazes. Mandatory evacuation from the tribal headquarters city of Lame Deer remained in place due to poor air quality, she added.
The smoke has also driven air pollution levels to unhealthy or very unhealthy levels in parts of Northern California, Oregon and Idaho, according to the U.S. Air Quality Index. air.
Hot, dry weather with strong afternoon winds also propelled several fires in Washington state, and similar weather is expected to continue for two days, fire officials said.
Climate change has made the western United States hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, scientists have warned.
Dozens of fires are also burning in western Canada and Europe, including Greece, where a massive forest fire has decimated forests and burned down homes.