Fifty-two large fires are currently burning 748,987 acres in the western United States, with many showing very little sign of containment.
The number of fires that have burned nationally by this time of year is the largest in a decade, with over 33,000 fires scorching upwards of 1.9 million acres by July 12, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The fires have forced evacuations in numerous areas amid a deadly heat wave and an intense drought. Some burned homes and other structures have been observed but total losses were still being tallied.
“We’re off to a daunting start,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire expert with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Santa Barbara. “We’re starting off much drier and we’re seeing more fires much earlier than usual.”
Here’s a roundup of the biggest fires now, and how they stack up in history:
California wildfires outpacing 2020’s historic season
More than a dozen fires are burning in parts of the state, ranging from a couple of acres to nearly 90,000.
The largest this year in the state, the Beckwourth Complex covered 89,748 acres on Northern California’s border with Nevada. Plumas National Forest officials said firefighters successfully contained almost a quarter of the blaze but still expected some extreme fire activity. Evacuation orders were in effect for more than 3,000 residents.
The number of wildfires in the Golden State is so far is outpacing averages and even last year’s historic fire season. Between Jan. 1 and July 4, there were 4,599 fires that scorched 114.8 square miles in California. During the same timeframe last year, there were 3,847 fires that blackened 48.6 square miles.
California’s wildfires off to ‘a daunting start’:currently outpacing historic 2020 season
Oregon and their mega fires
Oregon’s first mega fire of the 2021 fire season is now mapped at 153,535 acres. The Bootleg Fire, burning on the state’s border with California, is threatening approximately 1,200 structures and is 0% contained.
12 other fires are burning throughout the state, including the Grandview Fire at 4,000 acres and the Jack Fire at 10,937. All of these fires pale in comparison to the largest fire in state history, the Silverton Fire of 1865 at over 900,000 acres.
But Oregon is no stranger to so-called mega fires — fires which burn more than 100,000 acres. The average acreage burned in Oregon fires since 2012 is about 650,000, and five mega fires sparked in the state last year.
In Washington, expert warns of possible ‘catastrophic’ events
In Washington, the Batterman Road Fire has consumed more than 14,000 acres and 55,000 acres have been burned by the Asotin Complex Fire.
Washington is also no stranger to wildfires, with more than 800,000 acres burned in 2020. Experts say this year may be significantly worse.
“It doesn’t take much for us to have a major catastrophic event,” Department of Natural Resources Fuels Analyst Vaugn Cork told KREM-TV. “This could be catastrophic.”
To date in 2021, there have been 630 wildfires, nearly double the ten-year average in the state, according to DNR statistics.
High temperatures and wildfires in Montana
At least 10 major wildland fires continued to burn across Montana Monday, following weeks of daytime highs in the 90s and little to no rain.
Despite the extreme number, 2017 is still to date the No. 1 in terms of acres burned, and probably the largest in more than 100 years. That’s the most since 1910, when the Great Fire burned an estimated 3 million acres in northeast Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana.
But the current wildfire preparedness level in state is the highest on record this early in the season, according to CBS-6.
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More wildfires expected in Idaho
In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.
Two major wildfires are burning across the area where Idaho, Oregon and Washington meet, including the Dry Gulch Fire at 55,000 acres and the Snake River Complex at 54,000.
Jared Jablonski, a Bureau of Land Management spokesperson for the Boise district, told KREM-TV that he wouldn’t be surprised to see more fires in 2021, up from the 944 fires last year.
What’s behind Arizona’s wildfires?
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and other fire officials warned in mid-March about the likelihood of severe 2021 wildfires, saying that this season was expected to be similar to last year’s — one of Arizona’s worst wildfire seasons in a decade due to an ongoing drought, lack of rain and vegetation overgrowth.
Wildfires in British Columbia, too
Across the Canadian province, firefighters are battling a historic 300,000 blazes, sparked in large part by the excessive heat there that has claimed the lives of over 700 people, according to CBC.
Contributing: Christal Hayes, USA TODAY; David Murray and Karl Puckett, Great Falls Tribune; Rachel S. Hunt, Arizona Republic; The Associated Press