California fire causes evacuations; Oregon’s Flaming Balloons
A rapidly growing wildfire south of Lake Tahoe blasted onto a highway, prompting more evacuation orders and the cancellation of an extreme bike ride through the Sierra Nevada on Saturday as weather conditions of Extremely dangerous forest fires were looming over the next few days.
The Tamarack fire, which was triggered by lightning on July 4, exploded overnight and spanned more than 32 square miles (82 square kilometers) on Saturday night, according to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The fire threatened Markleeville, a small town near the California-Nevada border. It destroyed at least three structures, authorities said, and was on fire near the Alpine County airport after blowing a freeway.
A notice posted on the 103-mile (165-kilometer) Death Ride website said several communities in the area had been evacuated and ordered all riders to clear the area. The blaze left thousands of bikers and spectators stranded in the small town and scrambled out.
Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near town on Friday so her husband could go on his ninth hike when told to leave. They had watched the smoke build up during the day, but were caught off guard by the rapid spread of the fire.
“It happened so fast,” Pennington said. “We left our tents, our hammock and some food, but we got most of our stuff, pushed our two kids into the car and drove off.”
Saturday’s race was meant to mark the 40th Death Ride, which annually draws thousands of cyclists to the area to cross three mountain passes in the so-called California Alps. It was canceled last year during the coronavirus outbreak.
Paul Burgess, who drove from Los Angeles to participate in the ride, said most of the cyclists he met were thankful for avoiding the fire danger.
“They just said that’s the way it is,” said Burgess. “It’s part of climate change to some extent, it’s part of a lot of fuels that don’t get burned, humidity is low, fuel humidity levels are low, and… around the state, many parts are a lot like a powder keg.
Afternoon winds blowing at a speed of 20 to 30 mph (32 to 48 km / h) fanned the flames as they chewed through dry wood and brush. Meteorologists predicted extremely dangerous fire conditions until at least Monday in California and southern Oregon, where the largest wildfire in the United States continued to pass through dry forests.
The Bootleg fire escalated significantly overnight Saturday as dry and windy conditions set in the area, but containment from hell more than tripled as firefighters began to gain more control along from its western flank. The fire still burned rapidly and dangerously along its southern and eastern flanks, and authorities extended evacuations into a largely rural area of lakes and wildlife refuges.
The blaze is now 439 square miles (1,137 square kilometers), more than 100 square miles larger than New York City.
“This fire is large and is moving so fast that it is progressing 4 to 5 miles each day,” said Incident Commander Joe Hassel. “One of the many challenges our firefighters face every day is working in a new country which can present new dangers at any time. ”
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change swept through the region, making forest fires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and forest fires more frequent and destructive.
In southern Oregon, fire crews had to contend with dangerous and extreme fire conditions, including huge “clouds of fire” rising up to 10 kilometers above of the fire. The Bootleg Fire destroyed at least 67 homes and 117 outbuildings.
The blaze has forced 2,000 people to evacuate and threatens 5,000 buildings, including homes and smaller structures in a rural area just north of the California border.
The Tamarack fire sent thick smoke over Lake Tahoe and into Nevada.
The National Weather Service warned Sunday of possible thunderstorms stretching from the California coast to northern Montana and that “new lightning flashes” are likely due to extremely dry fuels in the west.
Firefighters said in July they were facing conditions more typical of late summer or fall.
The fires were just two of many fires that ravaged the drought-stricken western United States as new fires emerged or rapidly developed in Oregon and California.
There have been 70 large active fires and multiple complex fires that have burned nearly 1,659 square miles (4,297 square kilometers) in the United States, the National Interagency Fire Center said. The US Forest Service said at least 16 major fires were burning in the Pacific Northwest alone.
A fire in the mountains of northeastern Oregon was also growing rapidly, measuring 17 square miles (44 square kilometers) on Saturday. The Elbow Creek fire started Thursday and caused evacuations in several small rural communities around the Grande Ronde River about 50 kilometers southeast of Walla Walla, Wash.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act to mobilize more firefighters and equipment to help fight the blaze.
The Dixie Fire, near the 2018 site of the deadliest U.S. blaze in recent memory, was 5% contained and covered 39 square miles on Saturday. The blaze occurred in the Feather River Canyon, northeast of the city of Paradise, California, and survivors of the horrific blaze that killed 85 people watched with suspicion as the new blaze burned down.
Authorities ordered the evacuation of a wilderness recreation area and kept a warning in place for residents of the tiny communities of Pulga and eastern Concow to be ready to leave.
“We are ready,” said Mike Garappo, a retired military veteran. “We have always faced fires that live in the mountains. We know there’s a chance it won’t hit here, but we’re ready to go just in case. “