Heatwave blankets western US as fires rage in several states

Credit: AP

Firefighters struggled to contain an exploding Northern California wildfire under blazing temperatures as another heat wave blanketed the west of the US, prompting an excessive heat warning for inland and desert areas.

Death Valley in south-eastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 53C (128F) on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek. The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the previous day, when the location reached 54C (130F).

If confirmed as accurate, the reading would be the highest recorded there since July 1913, when Furnace Creek desert hit 57C (134F), considered the highest measured temperature on Earth.

About 300 miles north-west of the sizzling desert, the largest wildfire of the year in California was raging along the border with Nevada.

Smoke envelops trees as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, burns in Doyle, California Credit: Noah Berger/AP

The Beckwourth Complex Fire — a combination of two lightning-caused fires burning 45 miles north of Lake Tahoe — showed no sign of slowing its rush north-east from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday.

On Saturday evening, flames were threatening properties in Nevada’s Washoe County. “Take immediate steps to protect large animals and livestock,” the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District tweeted.

The blaze, which was only 8% contained, increased dramatically to 86 square miles as firefighters sweltered.

It was one of several threatening homes across western states that were expected to swelter through the weekend as a high-pressure zone blankets the region.

Pushed by strong winds, a wildfire in southern Oregon doubled in size to 120 square miles on Saturday as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the Klamath County town of Sprague River.

US Forest Service firefighters Chris Voelker, left, and Kyle Jacobson monitor the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire Credit: Noah Berger/AP

The California Independent System Operator warned of potential power shortage, not only because of mounting heat, but because a wildfire in southern Oregon was threatening transmission lines that carry imported power to California.

Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high temperature of 49C (120F) Saturday. It was the fourth time temperatures have reached 49C so far this year, the Desert Sun reported.

Late Saturday afternoon Las Vegas tied the all-time record high of 47C (117F), the National Weather Service said. The city has recorded that record-high temperature four other times, most recently in June 2017.

On Saturday, a brush fire sparked by a burning big rig in eastern San Diego County, Southern California, forced evacuations of two Native American reservations, while local media in Mohave County, Arizona, reported two firefighters had died after a aircraft they were in to respond to a small wildfire crashed.