Firefighters continue to battle massive wildfires on the West Coast of the United States, as authorities in California closed part of a highway and ordered evacuations near a surging blaze that remains completely uncontained.
In a statement on Sunday, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest said the Tamarack Fire near Markleeville, about 257km (160 miles) west of Sacramento near the California-Nevada state line, had grown to 18,299 acres (7,405 hectares).
“There are thunderstorms predicted today in the afternoon that may cause erratic winds in the fire area,” the statement said.
It added that firefighters would continue to battle the flames when they could do so safely and said 517 personnel have been assigned to the fire.
#TamarackFire update for Sunday, July 18: Fire estimated at 18,299 acres; 0% contained; 517 personnel assigned. Red Flag Warning from 11 a.m. today to 11 a.m. tomorrow. T-storms predicted this afternoon may cause erratic winds in the fire area. pic.twitter.com/VoRGC9Ou5P
— Humboldt Toiyabe NF (@HumboldtToiyabe) July 18, 2021
Raging heat and drought conditions in the western US have prompted several massive wildfires over the past few weeks, with experts pointing to climate change as an important factor worsening extreme weather events.
Kelli Pennington and her family were camping near Markleeville on Friday so her husband could participate in an extreme bike ride in the area when they were told to leave. They had been watching smoke develop over the course of the day, but were caught off guard by the fire’s quick spread.
“It happened so fast,” Pennington told The Associated Press. “We left our tents, hammock and some foods, but we got most of our things, shoved our two kids in the car and left.”
Afternoon winds blowing at 32 to 48 kilometres per hour (20 to 30mph) fanned the flames as they chewed through bone-dry timber and brush.
Meteorologists predicted critically dangerous fire weather through at least Monday in both California and southern Oregon, where the largest wildfire in the US continued to race through bone-dry forests.
The Bootleg Fire, the largest of dozens of blazes active across the US, had expanded to be larger than the size of New York City, officials said on Saturday, adding that dry and windy weather conditions were expected to further fuel the flames.
The flames spread overnight from 274,000 acres (110,884 hectares) to 290,000 acres (117,359 hectares) – three times the size of the metropolis of Detroit, officials said. Some 2,000 people have had to evacuate, with more following on Sunday.
“This fire is large and moving so fast, every day it progresses four to five miles,” said Incident Commander Joe Hassel. “One of the many challenges that our firefighters face every day is working in new country that can present new hazards all the time.”
The National Weather Service warned of possible thunderstorms stretching from the California coast to northern Montana on Sunday and that “new lightning ignitions” are likely because of extremely dry fuels across the western US.
Dry, hot weather has also spurred scores of wildfires in Canada in recent weeks, as a bout of extreme heat is believed to have contributed to hundreds of deaths in the province of British Columbia last month.
On Sunday, dozens of blazes were burning in northern Ontario, according to a provincial wildfire tracker. Some Indigenous communities in the area have been forced to evacuate over the past week due to the fires.