Western US Wildfires Continue to Intensify Impacting Air Quality in the East
WEDNESDAY, JULY 21, 2021 AS OF 2:30 PM EDT
Wildfires across the Western United States (US) and Canada have grown so intense their impact has reached the Eastern part of the country, as wildfire smoke spreads across the continent, triggered by relentless heat waves and a prevalent drought. As officials gear up for an unprecedented, prolonged peak fire season, FEMA Administrator, Deanne Criswell, made her first trip to the Western US visiting Idaho, California, and Oregon — all states currently being impacted by fire activity.
The New York Times reported wildfire smoke has reached the East coast, triggering health alerts across the country. AirNow issued smoke advisories for Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington. Additionally. Reuters cautioned that smoke drifting from these fires has created a harmful air quality index (AQI) in cities that include New York City, Boston, and Hartford, Connecticut – with residents advised to wear face masks outside to minimize exposure. The cross-country air pollution is a result of hundreds of wildfires that have burned 1.35 million acres over 13 states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
NWS Boise: Twitter
The Bootleg Fire in Fremont-Winema National Forest in Oregon is now the largest active fire in the US. According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG), the fire has grown to encompass 394,407 acres and is only 32-percent contained. The Bootleg Fire is affecting winds and its intensity has created clouds of fire tornadoes and pyrocumulus clouds that can reach up to 30,000 feet. It additionally impacted weather conditions so severely it led to the creation of a bigger cloud (called a pyrocumulonimbus, similar to a thunderhead) expected to reach an altitude of approximately 45,000 feet. The blaze has grown so large it is generating its own weather. Marcus Kauffman, a spokesman for the state forestry department, said the fire has grown so vast and produced so much energy that it is fundamentally changing the weather. “Normally the weather predicts what the fire will do,” Kauffman said. “In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”
— NWS Boise (@NWSBoise) July 21, 2021
NWS Boise: Twitter
The entire continent of North America is also facing the impact of severe wildfires. On Tuesday, the British Columbia government in Canada issued a provincial state of emergency; to go into effect on Wednesday and remain in effect for 14 days after wildfires throughout the region resulted in dozens of evacuation orders. At present, there are 299 wildfires burning across the province, in addition to the wildfires plaguing the Western US.
As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate.gov reports that experts have begun to analyze the recent severe heat wave in May and June, extreme temperatures in several parts of the Western US continue to create dangerous conditions, according to The Washington Post. The impacts of the extreme heat have been deadly. KUOW, Seattle’s National Public Radio affiliate, reported on July 19 that Washington state’s health officials revised its death toll count to 112, nearly matching the 116 health-related deaths in Oregon. In British Columbia, officials estimate 580 “excess deaths” during the recent stretch of extreme heat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report that blamed 3,504 emergency department visits in areas of the Pacific Northwest during May and June on heat-related illness.
On July 13, new regulations by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) took effect which updated the state’s existing outdoor heat exposure rules by providing additional protections for employees exposed to extreme heat. According to KUOW, Washington is now the third state to issue similar emergency rules requiring employers to take proactive measures to prevent outdoor workers from suffering heat-related illness.
With areas currently experiencing and more expecting triple digit temperatures in the coming days, the National Weather Services (NWS) has issued an Excessive Heat Warning for portions of northeast, southeast, central, and south central Montana, and for portions of north central Wyoming, that remain in effect until 9:00 pm MDT Thursday. In addition, an Excessive Heat Watch for several counties in Kansas and Missouri is expected to go into effect from 1:00pm CDT Friday until 7:00 pm CDT Wednesday.
California Air Resources Board (CARB): Twitter
As the threat of new or worsened wildfires remains and heat waves persist, it is important to follow state and local warnings, and those in fire-prone areas should consider signing up for community alerts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends building an emergency supply kit or “GoKit” using this ready.gov suggested Emergency Supply List ahead of a potential fire. Additionally, with regard to COVID-19, consider including hand sanitizer and face masks in your GoKit.
- Remember, Ready.gov provides information on how to prepare for Wildfire and how to keep you and your family safe, including evacuation planning, preparing a go-bag, and staying up-to-date on warnings and notices.
- FEMA America’s PrepareAthon: How to Prepare for a Wildfire.
- The Los Angeles Times regularly updated tracking of California Wildfires: California Wildfires Map.
- The National Fire Protection Association provides wildfire preparedness tips: link.
- Marin County provides a wildfire evacuation checklist: link.
- FEMA provides an information video about how to be prepared for Wildfires: link.
Keep track of Hagerty’s incident coverage here: