Firefighters battling dozens of blazes across the West braced for more hot, dry weather as dangerous conditions threatened to spark new wildfires in multiple states.
The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for parts of California, Nevada and Oregon until Thursday evening, expecting gusty winds and low humidity that could cause the dry vegetation to burn rapidly.
Gusts could top 40 mph in areas where humidity is in the single digits, which can cause fires “to rapidly grow in size and intensity before first responders can contain them,” the weather service in Reno, Nevada, said.
There are 27 active large wildfires in those three states, and across 14 states, 96 large wildfires have burned more than 2,900 square miles, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Northern California, the Dixie Fire remains the largest blaze in the state as conditionsstoke the flames. Firefighters saw activity on the east and west sides of the 395-square-mile blaze Wednesday.
Additional evacuation orders came in Tuesday, affecting about 15,000 people as the fire jumped perimeter lines.
“I think we definitely have a few hard days ahead of us,” said Shannon Prather with the U.S. Forest Service.
Mike Wink, a state fire operations section chief, said the fire created a pyrocumulus cloud, or “fire cloud,” on Tuesday.
The fire has been burning since July 13, destroying 67 structures and damaging nine others, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Nearly 5,000 firefighters are working on the blaze, which was 35% contained as of Wednesday.
The McFarland Fire, about 150 miles west, has doubled in size every day since a lightning strike ignited the blaze less than a week ago. The fire is only 5% contained and has burned almost 25 square miles.
Scientists said climate change caused conditions that led to warmer, drier weather across the West, making wildfires burn larger areas, more intensely and more frequently.
In Oregon, the state’s third-largest fire in history, the Bootleg Fire, has burned more than 640 square miles. Although conditions remain dry, firefighters made progress to improve fire lines, the Forest Service said, and the blaze was 84% contained. The Bootleg Fire remained the nation’s largest fire as of Wednesday.
In Hawaii, the Big Island’s largest-ever wildfire was under better control after slower winds and some rain Tuesday.
“We have the fire surrounded,” Troy Gibson, the fire’s incident commander, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
The fire had burned more 62 square miles.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press