US wildfires: Firefighters battle raging blazes across western states amid heatwave

Emma Murphy reports on one of the worst wildfire seasons in US history

Firefighters working in searing heat struggled to contain the largest wildfire in California this year, amid an intense heatwave straining power grids and risking electricity outages. 

The Beckwourth Complex Fire raged on Sunday near the California border with Nevada, growing by a third to cover 134 square miles. 

Firefighters working in temperatures exceeding 38C (100F) were able to gain some ground of the blaze, which was a combination of two lightning-caused fires burning north of Lake Tahoe.

Fire burns along a power line as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, tears through central Doyle, California Credit: AP

On Saturday, a small plane crashed in Arizona during a survey of a wildfire in rural Mohave county, killing both crew members on board. 

The victims have been identified as Jeff Piechura, 62, a retired Tucson-area fire chief who was working for the Coronado national forest, and Matthew Miller, 48, a pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

It came on a weekend during which huge swathes of the US west baked in temperatures of more than 38C (100F) that are expected to continue into the start of this week.

The Beckwourth Complex Fire hits a residential area in Doyle, California Credit: AP

In response, state power operators have urged people to conserve energy after a huge wildfire in Oregon disrupted the flow of electricity from three major transmission lines.

The Bootleg Fire spread to 224 square miles as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, near the Klamath County town of Sprague River.

The blaze disrupted service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to neighbouring California.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, issued a five-hour “flex alert” starting at 4pm on Monday and asked consumers to “conserve as much electricity as possible” to avoid any outages.

The fires were driven by heavy winds Credit: AP

Meanwhile, a wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles as it blackened grass and timber while it moved into the Umatilla National Forest.

In Idaho, governor Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency on Friday and mobilised the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.