Publication Date August 17, 2021 | The Washington Post

Wildfires explode again in the West, fanned by turbulent winds

United States
A home burns on Jeters Road as the Dixie Fire jumps Highway 395 south of Janesville, Calif., on Monday. Critical fire weather throughout the region threatens to spread the multiple wildfires burning in Northern California. (Ethan Swope/AP)

Climate Signals summary: Red flag warnings extend from the Dakotas to California as strong winds and extremely dry conditions are fueling explosive wildfire growth in mid-August. Climate change makes it more likely that fires turn into catastrophic blazes through warmer temperatures, increasing the amount of fuel (dried vegetation) available, and reducing water availability through earlier snowmelt and higher evaporation.


Article excerpt: 

The Western wildfire season took a perilous turn late Monday and Tuesday as shifting winds drove another round of explosive fire growth, threatening communities and stretching firefighting resources thin. Fires are spreading rapidly through forests that are tinder-dry — a result of drought and relentless summer heat amplified by climate change.

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The situation escalated Tuesday as more potent winds, from a different direction, arrived in Northern California, which is under a red-flag warning through Wednesday afternoon. This warning includes parts of the San Francisco Bay area.

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A steady stream of new evacuation orders and warnings followed as conditions deteriorated Monday afternoon and evening. The Dixie Fire continued its march through the Sierra on Monday night, destroying structures in the town of Janesville while spreading across Highway 395, which is more than 50 miles from where it first ignited. The blaze, California’s second-biggest on record, has burned 604,511 acres and destroyed 1,100 structures.

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The winds come on the heels of another intense heat wave in the West, which has further primed drought-stressed forests to burn. Last week, daily record highs were tied or broken in Oregon, Washington and parts of Canada. Redding, Calif., climbed to a record 116 degrees on Sunday, despite being shrouded by a thick layer of smoke. Much of the interior West saw its warmest June-July period since 1895 because of repeated, extreme heat waves.

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...according to the latest outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center, the Pacific Northwest and California are expected to remain mostly dry for the foreseeable future, with the most intense and windiest months of the fire season approaching.