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“Unprecedented” Wildfire Season Underway in the West, Facilitated by “Extreme Confluence” of Factors

“Unprecedented” Wildfire Season Underway in the West, Facilitated by “Extreme Confluence” of Factors

Created: Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 12:38
Emergency Response & Recovery, Natural Disasters

Nearly 100 large fires are burning nearly 3.5 million acres in the West, according to yesterday’s update from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), which is calling the current situation “unprecedented.” It also noted that fires in California, Oregon, and Washington burned tens of thousands of acres the day before, causing evacuation orders for many residents. At least seven people have perished as a result of the fires in those states, where about half the blazes are located. At a briefing Tuesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state has seen more than 7,600 wildfires so far in 2020. By this time last year, there had been 4,927 wildfires that burned 184 square miles. Oregon Governor Kate Brown called the fires "a once-in-a-generation event,” adding they could result in “the greatest loss of human life and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said that more than 500 square miles of land burned in his state in a single day, more than the total consumed during 12 of the last 18 fire seasons. Read more at The Weather Channel and The Washington Post.

"It took an extreme confluence of weather factors to lead to the magnitude of this latest wildfire siege," wrote senior meteorologist Jon Erdman of The Weather Channel. Those factors include worsening drought and the hottest August since 1895 in some western states, including California. Then came the extreme heat over Labor Day weekend, followed by high winds that created red-flag fire conditions and fueled the flames of both new and existing fires. In its latest weather prediction, the NIFC stated that gusty offshore winds amid a dry airmass will continue across the West Coast with critical fire weather conditions expected. The National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts that these winds will weaken by the weekend. However, low humidity and warmer temperatures are predicted to be enough for elevated fire concerns to remain. The NWS adds that with the wind direction returning to a more westerly component, smoke from the wildfires may waft and settle inland.

As reported in the Tuesday Security and Resilience Update, several electric utilities in California and Oregon initiated or were considering Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPSs) to reduce the risk of igniting a wildfire from sparking electrical equipment. The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) began reenergizing parts of its system after a PSPS it enacted, restoring service to more than 66,000 customers. However, equipment failures and hazardous conditions are preventing some restorations. Additionally, in Southern California the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project is currently off-line as workers were forced to evacuate earlier this week.