Story at a glance

  • Climate experts worry the western United States has become trapped in a cycle of extreme heat, droughts and fires.
  • California is already experiencing its largest wildfire this year.
  • Experts had previously warned that the Western U.S. was on the verge of a permanent drought.

Fires and devastating heat waves are raging across the Western United States, leading climate experts to worry it has become trapped in a cycle of extreme heat, droughts and fires.

“For our most vulnerable, disadvantaged communities, this also creates compounding health effects,” Jose Pablo Ortiz Partida, a climate scientist for the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Guardian. “First there’s the heat. Then for many families their water supplies are affected. And then it’s also the same heat and drought that are exacerbating wildfires and leading to smoky, unhealthy air quality.”

These combined extreme conditions have already had a detrimental, and even deadly, effect, leading to an influx of heat-related illnesses, as well as deaths.

Experts had previously warned that the western U.S. was on the verge of a permanent drought, characterized by an unchanging dry climate, sparse vegetation and increased risk of wildfires.


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California is already experiencing its largest wildfire this year as fire season has just begun. A fire in northern California fire is the product of two fires ignited by lightning on July 2 and 3 that then combined. Since ignition, the fire has spread to 92,988 acres, with the state’s high temperatures, dry conditions and gusts of wind reaching 20 mph further strengthening the fire and its reach.

There have already been more wildfires and acres burned this year compared to 2020, which itself was a record-breaking fire season. 

“We have always had fires in the west. The landscape is in many ways forged in fire,” said Faith Kearns, a scientist at the California Institute for Water Resources. “But the intensity of the fires we’re seeing now, that some of these fires are happening so early in the summer, those things are definitely concerning.”


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Published on Jul 13, 2021