‘Going to be pretty hot’: Heatwave, lightning could spark new wildfires in Pacific northwest, California

  • Temperatures were expected to reach 100 degrees in parts of Washington, Oregon and northern California, which were under heat advisories.
  • The heat wave and potential for lightning could worsen wildfire conditions.
  • Across the West, there are 81 large fires burning 2,500 square miles in 12 states, the National Interagency Fire Center says.

SALEM, Ore. — A heatwave and the potential for lightning are coming to the Pacific Northwest and northern California on Thursday as firefighters already battling multiple wildfires prepare for the chance of new blazes igniting.

Parts of Washington, Oregon and northern California are under heat advisories or excessive heat warnings Thursday, with temperatures expected to crack 100 degrees over the next few days.

“It won’t be as hot as what we saw a month ago, but it’s still going to be pretty hot,” National Weather Service meteorologist John Bumgardner said. 

The heat wave at the end of June caused hundreds of deaths in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, Canada.

In much of southern Oregon and parts of northern California, a red flag warning was in place as lightning strikes “will likely result in new fire starts,” the Weather Service said.

More on the June heatwave:Record-breaking Pacific Northwest heat wave blamed for 107 deaths in Oregon

Gusty thunderstorms are expected and could cause fires to spread. Even though some rain is expected, forecasters were unsure whether it would be enough to prevent new blazes.

“The system is expected to drop rain,” Bumgardner said. “The question will be whether it falls everywhere there are strikes and if it moves slow enough to prevent the fires that might be ignited.” 

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Half a dozen fires burning in Oregon have scorched more than 780 square miles. Across the West, there are 81 large fires burning 2,500 square miles in 12 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The Bootleg Fire in Oregon, the third-largest in state history, has burned around 645 square miles since it was ignited by lightning in early July. The almost 2,000 firefighters working on the fire have it 53% contained.

While rains this week helped stall the flames, the U.S. Forest Service said much of the dry vegetation that is the fire’s fuel rebounded quickly. “Heavy concentrations of fuels became active in the afternoon highlighting the extreme resistance to extinguishment,” the Forest Service said.

However, while the storms may have helped with one blaze, dry lightning in Umpqua National Forest saw 40 strikes earlier this week that ignited 21 new fires.

Meanwhile, at the California-Nevada border on Thursday, Govs. Gavin Newsom and Steve Sisolak called for more federal firefighting assistance as they toured the damage from the Tamarack Fire south of Lake Tahoe.

“We need help on the federal side. We need more people coming in. We need more resources. We need more air support. We need more boots on the ground,” Sisolak said.

Western wildfires:Residents urged to conserve energy as conditions worsen

Newsom acknowledged the role climate change has played in making wildfires more frequent and intense. “The world is radically changing as the climate changes. You may not believe in science, you got it with your own damn eyes,” he said, gesturing toward the blackened landscape.

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The Pinnacle Fire in Monterey County ignited Thursday, already burning 100 acres near Pinnacles National Park, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire prompted closures to the western entrance and hiking trails in the park, and its cause remains under investigation.

Fire activity also picked up Thursday in the Dixie Fire, the largest currently burning in the Golden State. Cal Fire said higher temperatures and lower humidity caused the increased blaze in the eastern part of the fire, which is burning in northern California between Lassen National Forest and the town of Paradise.

Crews made progress fighting the flames by air Thursday, Cal Fire said, but they were expecting conditions to worsen as the weather grows warmer, according to the Forest Service.

The fire has burned over 340 square miles and is 23% contained, according to Cal Fire.

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