Resilience Natural Disasters

80 large wildfires burn through Western US, with risk of more looming

west wildfires interagency fire department 19,000 firefighters one million acres deployed 13 states california oregon washington bootleg fire oregon acres burned drought montana idaho
Ash from the Bootleg Fire drifts by burned out trees in Beatty, Oregon on July 16, 2021. – The extreme drought-hit western United States braced for more wildfire destruction July 16, 2021 as efforts to contain a vast blaze scorching southern Oregon failed to progress, and dangerous dry lightning storms were forecast in California. The… PAYTON BRUNI/AFP via Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Drought and severe heat waves have sparked dozens of wildfires across the Western U.S. states.
  • Thunderstorms passing through the area pose problems with strong winds and potential lightning strikes.
  • The National Preparedness Level remains at Level 5 — the highest level.

A total of 80 large wildfires are tearing through portions of the American West amid the fallout of the major drought and heat episodes plaguing the region.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) said that these fires are raging across 13 states and have collectively burned 1,174,486 acres.

Some of the impacted states and regions with fire advisories include south-central Idaho, Northern California, the northern Rockies and south-central Oregon. These warnings are broadly related to large dry fuel loads, or dense and dry vegetation that can lead to wildfires under the right atmospheric conditions. 

Simultaneously, the National Weather Service (NWS) has issued red flag warnings, excessive heat warnings and fire weather watches for parts of Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Montana.

The last state listed, Montana, currently has the most active fires, recording 18 as of Monday morning. Idaho lists 17, while California, Oregon and Washington have nine, eight and seven respectively. 

Oregon is currently battling the largest flames, however, with one fire having burned more than 293,000 acres 15 miles northwest of the town of Beatty.

These warnings are due to the existing fires and for the thunderstorms expected to move over western and northern Nevada, south-central and eastern Oregon, east Washington, Idaho and western Montana.

“Isolated to scattered showers with possible embedded thunderstorms are likely to track over the northern Great Basin into the Northern Rockies early to mid-day,” the NIFC confirmed.

This brings new problems, including flash flooding and monsoon potential. Dry fuels also mean that lightning strikes in the area could catalyze a new wildfire.

“Lightning and gusty outflow winds will be the primary threats though some storms could produce brief periods of heavy rain,” the Boise, Idaho, station of the NWS wrote. 

More than 19,600 wildland firefighters and supporting staff have been deployed or otherwise assigned to the fires. The National Preparedness Level remains at 5, the highest level of severity for wildfires.