Scorching temperatures have sparked fires across the western US, as fire crews attempt to control dozens of blazes.
As of Thursday, 71 large fires were burning, covering nearly 500,000 acres total — about two and a half times the size of New York City.
And the weather remained extremely hot, with high temperatures forecast to reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) in much of California, leaving firefighters in scorching conditions as they worked to keep the flames at bay.
The National Interagency Fire Centre (NIFC) has warned of “critical windy conditions” for most of the western US, with added fire danger from extreme heat and dangerously dry conditions spurred by the ongoing drought.
NIFC reports that more than 15,000 firefighters and support crews are battling blazes across the country.
In southern California, the Fairview Fire has burned more than 18,000 acres and remains just 5 per cent contained. The blaze left two people dead near the town of Hemet after erupting on Monday.
Areas south of Hemet remained under mandatory evacuation orders, as the city is forecast to reach 101F (38C) on Thursday. Seven structures have been destroyed.
In northern California, the Mill Fire has burned almost 4,000 acres near the town of Weed, destroyed 118 structures and killed two people.
The Mosquito Fire, which started on Tuesday near Lake Tahoe has forced mandatory evacuations as fire spread to nearly 7,000 acres. The blaze is entirely uncontained, and officials warn that hot and dry conditions will help the fire spread.
The fire is threatening “critical infrastructure”, including power lines, dams and cell towers, according to The Sacramento Bee.
In Oregon, the Double Creek fire has grown to more than 100,000 acres in a remote corner of the state near the border with Idaho — making that fire alone larger than Detroit. Idaho itself is battling 28 large fires, including the Moose Fire in the northern end of the state, which has burned more than 122,000 acres since igniting in July.
There may be more fires yet to come. Red flag warnings, indicating favourable conditions for wildfire ignition and growth, have been issued for large swaths of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas. In addition, extreme heat is still suffocating California, which could spark more flames.
In Oregon, a power utility company has warned residents of six counties that they may face outages if electricity needs to be turned off to help prevent wildfires. Electrical lines can sometimes lead to fires, especially in hot and dry weather.
The US has had an extremely active fire season this year. Since January, almost 50,000 fires have burned more than 6.3 million acres across the country — five times the size of Grand Canyon National Park.
That’s much more than the 5.7 million-acre average for this time of year, spurred in part by massive fires in California, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona. New Mexico saw the state’s largest fire in history this year, a blaze nearly the size of Houston that just narrowly missed the city of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Wildfires are liable to get much worse in the coming decades as the climate crisis grows. A hotter planet can spur more drought and heatwaves, creating hot and dry conditions perfect for sparking and spreading massive blazes.
Eight of the 10 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in just the past five years. According to a recent report, 800,000 properties in the western US have at least a 26 per cent chance of burning in the next three decades.