Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Wildfires Continue Spread Across the Western Part of the US as Extreme Weather Impacts the Entire Country


As temperatures continue to soar throughout the Western United States (US), extreme weather is currently impacting large populations across the country. At present, 81 large fires are active across 12 states, burning more than 1.6 million acres, and there seems to be no end in sight. As of this morning, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) is now reporting the possibility for record high temperatures in central and eastern Montana, Wyoming, and the northern Plains throughout the remainder of the week.

InciWeb: Richard Parrish

The Bootleg Fire, the largest fire burning in the US, currently spans 413,400 acres and is only 53-percent contained as it spreads across the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Its trajectory across the State of Oregon is facilitated by the excessive heat spanning the western part of the US, with the National Weather Services (NWS) issuing an excessive heat watch for portions of Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon until Saturday, July 31. Meanwhile, in California, the Dixie Fire is currently the largest in the state; burning through 200,000 acres (approximately half the acreage of the Bootleg Fire), making it one of the states 15 largest wildfire to ever occur. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) Spokesman Rick Carhart spoke with The New York Times on the fire’s growth in a region already scarred by the 2018 Camp Fire. He noted how state utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said blown fuses from one of its utility poles might have unintentionally started the Dixie Fire, a similar situation to the company’s role in starting the Camp Fire nearly three years ago. 

Zoltan Tasi: Unsplash

The California Independent System Operator (ISO) issued a statewide Flex Alert from 4 pm to 9 pm on Wednesday, July 28 to minimize power disruptions and rolling blackouts across the state’s electric grid. Data suggests wildfire smoke can increase the risk of respiratory problems, heart attacks, and strokes, especially among vulnerable populations. 

In addition to the ongoing fire activity, flash floods and dust storms are affecting and threatening Arizona, with monsoonal moisture possibly resulting in over five inches of rainfall across Arizona and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Monsoon thunderstorms can create massive wind gusts, called outflow boundaries, that can approach more than 60 miles per hour (mph), blowing dust and significantly impairing visibility. According to NWS Tucson Meteorologist, Rob Howlett, “[W]e’ve had a lot of rainfall so far throughout July and the soils are fairly saturated, and to have another big rainfall event would certainly increase our concern for flooding across the area.”

Power Outages Safety Steps: American Red Cross

As the US experiences extreme heat, drought, and the consistent threat of wildfires, there is an increased risk of short- or long-term power outages impacting homes and businesses. It is important for individuals to be prepared for such disruptions should they need to conserve energy or lose power unexpectedly. Ready.gov offers guidance for protection during a power outage, including: having backup plans for powered medical devices, refrigerated medicines, and food storage; and alternative power sources for other important technology, like cellphones. Additionally, CAL FIRE provides useful preparedness tips like figuring out how to manually open automatic garage doors, keeping gas tanks at least half full in vehicles, and ensuring backup power generators are properly installed and operational. Residents should also continue to pay close attention to Flex Alerts or other notifications from local and state officials that urge consumers to conserve energy in order to help avoid power disruptions. Additionally, to get a breakdown of public advisories by state and county, NOAA’s NWS provides a list of red flag warnings and air quality alerts in decreasing order of severity.


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