Wildfires blaze across western states as heatwave shatters records

Firefighters are working in extreme heat to contain a number of wildfires raging across the US west, with the largest burning in California and Oregon, as another heatwave bakes the region and puts strain on power grids.

The Beckwourth Complex, which is the largest wildfire of the year in California, was raging along the Nevada state line and has burned about 140 sq miles (362 sq km) as of Monday. State regulators have asked consumers to voluntarily “conserve as much electricity as possible” to avoid any outages starting in the afternoon.

In Oregon, the Bootleg fire exploded to 240 sq miles as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema national forest, near the Klamath county town of Sprague River. The fire has put pressure on the power grid of neighbouring California, disrupting service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to the state. Hundreds of residents in the Klamath Falls area are under mandatory evacuation orders.

“The Bootleg fire will see the potential for extreme growth today,” said the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon.

And in south-east Washington state, a wildfire has grown to almost 60 sq miles while in Idaho, Governor Brad Little has mobilized the national guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

The blazes are spreading as extreme temperatures continue to blast the American west, with excessive heat warnings remaining in many places on Monday. Over the weekend, Death Valley hit a scorching 130F, marking what could be the highest reliably recorded ambient temperature on Earth. Palm Springs in southern California hit a record high temperature of 120F on Saturday, while Las Vegas tied the all-time record high of 117F.

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In Arizona, a small plane crashed on Saturday during a survey of a wildfire in rural Mohave county, killing both crew members on board. The Beech C-90 aircraft was helping perform reconnaissance over the lightning-caused Cedar Basin fire, which was sparked by lightening near the tiny community of Wikieup, north-west of Phoenix, when it went down around noon.

Officials identified the victims as Jeff Piechura, 62, a retired Tucson-area fire chief who was working for the Coronado national forest, and Matthew Miller, 48, a pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation contracted by the US Forest Service. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

“Our hearts go out to the families of our brave wildland firefighters,” an Arizona Bureau of Land Management spokesperson said.

The Beckwourth Complex fire – a combination of two lightning-caused blazes burning 45 miles north of Lake Tahoe – is burning near the California-Nevada border after exploding in size over the weekend.

Plumas national forest officials said firefighters had successfully contained almost a quarter of the blaze but still expected some extreme fire activity.

Evacuation orders were in effect for more than 3,000 residents of remote areas of California’s Lassen and Plumas counties and Nevada’s Washoe county. Some structures were destroyed over the weekend in Doyle, California, a town of about 600 residents.

“A damage assessment team has arrived to validate and assess reports of structures damaged or destroyed,” a forest statement said. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A new fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite national park and by evening had exploded over more than six sq miles (15.5 sq km), triggering evacuations in areas of two counties. The fire’s size, however, remained unchanged early on Monday and was 5% contained. A highway that leads to Yosemite’s southern entrance remained open.

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Bob Prary, who manages the Buck-Inn Bar in Doyle, said he saw at least six houses destroyed.

“It seems like the worst is over in town, but back on the mountainside the fire’s still going strong. Not sure what’s going to happen if the wind changes direction,” Prary said.

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