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Calif.’s largest blaze is only 23% contained
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Firefighters battling California’s largest wildfire hoped cooler temperatures and other conditions would work in their favor Tuesday before stronger winds and higher temperatures later this week possibly strengthen the blaze.
The Dixie Fire, which combined with the Fly Fire in the eastern portion of the 325-square-mile inferno, has burned three dozen structures in Indian Falls but is threatening more than 10,000 others in Butte and Plumas counties, according to Cal Fire. The fire was only 23% contained as of Tuesday.
Thick smoke on Monday helped shade the area, where more than 5,000 firefighters are fighting the flames. But if the smoke clears out Tuesday, the fire could grow, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Conditions are expected to worsen this week. There is a chance of thunderstorms into Wednesday followed by increased winds and higher temperatures, the Forest Service said.
“It has been burning in extremely steep canyons, some places where it is almost impossible for human beings to set foot on the ground,” said Rick Carhart, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “It’s going to be a long haul.”
The Dixie Fire is one of 79 large fires burning 1.5 million acres, or about 2,343 square miles, across 12 states in the West, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Temperatures in parts of the northern Great Basin and Northern Rockies were forecast to reach record highs Tuesday, and the risk of lightning in California, Nevada and Idaho also raised concerns. Much of eastern Montana remained under an excessive heat warning Tuesday, where temperatures over 100 degrees were likely, though most of the blazes were in the western part of the state.
The effects of the fires could be felt across the country, and some East Coast cities saw hazy, smoky skies Tuesday. That prompted air quality alerts in parts of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, about a week after similar conditions were felt across the regions.
Growing scientific research points to potential long-term health damage from breathing in microscopic particles of smoke.
In parts of Montana, Washington and Idaho on Monday, multiple fires also produced pyrocumulus clouds, or “fire clouds,” the National Interagency Fire Center said.
On Monday, four firefighters in Montana were released from the hospital and one remained in a burn treatment center. The firefighters were building a defensive line at the Devil’s Creek Fire in Garfield County when winds shifted and blew flames back at them. Nineteen fires are burning in Montana.
Southern Oregon’s Bootleg Fire remained the nation’s largest, burning more than 641 square miles in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.
Firefighters were hopeful for light rain, higher humidity and lower temperatures.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the impact of climate change was being felt “in real time” as the fires burn. Scientists agree that warming temperatures and more intense weather have led to the conditions that worsen wildfire seasons in the western U.S.