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High heat, drought conditions fuel dozens of wildfires in western U.S.

The BackBone Fire burns on Monday near Tucson, Ariz. The blaze is one of almost two dozen wildfires burning in the state of Arizona. Photo courtesy Tucson Fire Dept./Twitter
The BackBone Fire burns on Monday near Tucson, Ariz. The blaze is one of almost two dozen wildfires burning in the state of Arizona. Photo courtesy Tucson Fire Dept./Twitter

June 22 (UPI) -- Hot temperatures and drought conditions have made for a difficult start to the wildfire season in the West, as several fires are burning across multiple states, most notably Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon.

Temperatures have surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in many locations. Death Valley has already reached 128 degrees and Denver saw three days of triple-digit temps. Tucson, Ariz., meanwhile, recently recorded eight consecutive days of more than 110 degrees.

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The soaring temperatures have significantly added to the fire danger.

In Arizona, Coconino County officials told several communities surrounding Flagstaff to be ready to evacuate due to the 20,000-acre Rafael Fire. They said residents living south of Interstate 40 and west of Interstate 17 should be ready to leave at a moment's notice.

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Authorities also said strong gusty winds in dry, drought-stressed vegetation areas caused a significant increase in fire activity and overall fire growth.

The Rafael Fire, believed to have been started by lightning, is one of nearly two dozen wildfires burning across Arizona.

In Southern California, the Overland Fire in San Diego County started last weekend and has so far burned more than 500 acres and is only 25% contained, according to Cal Fire. In Northern California, the Cow Fire in Shasta County is closing in on 1,000 acres and is 50% contained.

In Colorado, the Oil Springs Fire has burned more than 5,000 acres so far largely on federal land in Rio Blanco County.

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Authorities say that blaze was started by lightning and firefighters have been focused on protecting structures.

The Oil Springs Fire was aided by tropical storm-strength gusts of up to 40 mph on Monday.

In southern Oregon, the National Weather Service issued red-flag warnings Monday due to hot and dry conditions matched with lightning-packed thunderstorms.

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Firefighters worked to contain the Cutoff Fire in northern Klamath County, which has so far blackened almost 1,200 acres and is threatening more than 100 structures.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Spilde told Oregon Public Radio that lightning strikes in dry areas, coupled with gusty winds, could allow fires in the state to spread more rapidly.

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