Summer is wildfire season in the American West and it is off to a blazing start.
As of Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, fifty-nine large wildfires – defined as greater than 100 acres – are currently burning in nearly a dozen states. These include Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
One of the newest conflagrations, the Ferguson Fire, is raging just outside of Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. At the height of tourist season, the fire has closed down Highway 140, one of the main entrances to the Park. It has forced the evacuation of several communities along Yosemite’s western edge as well as some hotels inside the Park. Ignited on Friday, the fire has burned more than 9,000 acres and is only 2% contained. Sadly, it has also claimed the life of one firefighter who was battling the flames.
Another hard hit state is Colorado, where seven large fires are burning. The largest is the Spring Creek Fire, which stared at the end of June and has burned more than 108,000 acres in Costilla and Huerfano counties.
These huge fires are being fueled by extremely hot and dry conditions that have left the region’s vegetation susceptible to any type of spark. Just a few days ago, excessive heat advisories were in effect for a large swath of the west as temperatures soared well above average.
Year to date, 3.3 million acres in the US have been charred, which is above average for this point in the season. The country’s worst wildfire year on record was 2015 when more than ten million acres burned.
Ferguson Fire in the Sierra National Forest, outside of Yosemite National Park in California. Credit: InciWeb/BlakeScott