US Forest Service in crisis mode as wildfires ravage the American West

The US Forest Service said Friday that it is operating in crisis mode, fully deploying firefighters and maximizing its support system as wildfires continue to erupt in the western US, threatening to thousands of homes and entire towns.

The roughly 21,000 federal firefighters working on the field are more than double the number of firefighters dispatched to contain wildfires at this time a year ago, and the agency faces “critical resource constraints,” said Anthony Scardina, a forest assistant. from the agency. Southwest Pacific region.

Only an estimated 6,170 firefighters are fighting the Dixie fire in northern California, the largest of the 100 major fires in 14 states, and dozens more in western Canada.

The fire started a month ago and has destroyed more than 1,000 homes, businesses and other structures, much of it in the small town of Greenville in the northern Sierra Nevada.

The fire had devastated more than 800 square miles (more than 2,000 square kilometers), an area larger than the City of London, and continued to threaten more than a dozen rural and forest communities.

The containment lines for the fire remained overnight, but were only 31% surrounded. Gusty and erratic winds threatened to spread fire to Westwood, a logging town of 1,700 people. The lightning could start new fires even as crews try to surround a series of other wildfires caused by lightning last month.

“Mother Nature keeps throwing obstacles in our way,” said Edwin Zuniga, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which works with the Forest Service to put out the fire.

Meanwhile, firefighters and residents struggled to save hundreds of homes as flames advanced through the North Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana.

The fire was still burning near the town of Lame Deer tribe headquarters, where a mandatory evacuation was maintained and a second fire was threatening from the opposite direction.

Smoke from the flames grew so dense Friday morning that the health clinic in Lame Deer was closed after its air filters failed to keep up with the pollution, Northern Cheyenne tribe spokesman Angel said. Becker.

The smoke brought air pollution levels to unhealthy or very unhealthy levels in parts of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and northern California, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality monitoring.

An air quality alert covering seven Montana counties warned of extremely high levels of tiny pollutants found in smoke, which can cause lung problems and other health problems if inhaled.

Hot, dry weather is expected through the weekend

The fires near Lame Deer combined have burned 275 square miles (710 square kilometers) this week, so far not affecting homes but causing extensive damage to the grazing lands that ranchers depend on to feed their cows and horses.

The gusts and low humidity were creating extremely dangerous conditions as the flames devoured brush, short grass and wood, firefighters said.

Hot, dry weather with strong afternoon winds also fueled several fires in Washington state, with similar weather expected over the weekend, fire officials said.

In southeastern Oregon, two new wildfires started by lightning Thursday near the California border were spreading through junipers, sagebrush and evergreens.

Gov. Kate Brown declared an emergency over one of the fires to mobilize crews and other resources to the ranches, rural subdivisions and trailer parks about 14 miles (23 kilometers) from the small town of Lakeview.

The blaze grew from lightning to 11 square miles (28 square kilometers) in less than 24 hours, said Tamara Schmidt, a spokeswoman for the US Forest Service.

Authorities Thursday night ordered the evacuation of a trailer park that was in the path of the Patton Meadow fire in Oregon.

The fires are near the area that ignited the Oregon Bootleg Fire, which began July 6 and burned an area more than half the size of Rhode Island before crews got the upper hand. The fire is not yet fully contained and was the largest in the nation until it was dwarfed by the Dixie Fire.

Triple-digit temperatures and completely dry conditions in Oregon, enduring a third day of extreme heat, could increase fire hazards over the weekend.

Climate change has made the western US warmer and drier over the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.

So far this year, more than 6,000 square miles (almost 16,000 square kilometers) have been burned in the United States. That’s well above the amount burned at this point last year, but below the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Parts of Europe are burning too, including in Greece, where a massive forest fire has decimated forests and burning houses, and is still smoldering 10 days after it started.

(AP)

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