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Heat wave, drought elevate wildfire threat in the West - L.A. Focus Newspaper

Drought, strong winds, dry vegetation and above average temperatures are expected across the fire-weary West.

Elevated to critical fire weather conditions persist this weekend across much of the region, including the Sacramento Valley, portions of the northern Plains and the Four Corners region.

"A ridiculously long-lasting upper ridge of high pressure will likely deliver 1-2 weeks of warm to hot and dry weather to the drought- and wildfire-stricken forecast area Sunday through the foreseeable future," the Medford, Oregon, National Weather Service says.

Nine months into the year, more than 44,000 fires across the United States have burned more than 7.1 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. That's already 1 million more burned acres than the yearly average over the last 10 years. An average of 46,409 fires are reported each year.

In California, five of their top 10 largest fires in recorded history, in terms of acreage, have occurred in 2020 and are still burning.

A prolonged, heat wave is forecast for much of the western US next week, with temperatures expected to climb to 10-20 degrees above normal. The hottest days are forecast to be Tuesday through Thursday.

'Extreme drought' impacting Western US

There has also been a lack of rain across much of the Southwest in recent months.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona, picked up less than 1 inch of rain since August 1. Los Angeles and San Diego haven't reported any since May and June, respectively. None of these cities have rain in the forecast for at least the next seven days.

Even cities such as Seattle and Portland, which were lucky enough to get rain this past week, will not see the same luck for the upcoming week.

This has led to over 70% of the West being considered under drought conditions. The ground and surrounding vegetation has become the perfect fuel to help spread current fires and to ignite new fires.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming have at least a portion of their state under extreme drought (level 3 out of 4) conditions.

Colorado, Utah, and Arizona have at least 50% of their state under those level 3 conditions.

Extreme heat makes fighting fires more difficult

Triple digit temperatures not only fuel wildfires, they make it very difficult on the firefighters. Fighting fires in full gear and in the intense heat increases the risk of heat stress.

In 2019, 63 people across the US died from heat-related illnesses. Among weather-related fatalities, only rip currents and floods were deadlier, according to the National Weather Service.

In the last 30 years, extreme heat has been the leading cause of weather-related fatalities in the US.

Drought in New England

New England has also been suffering from drought conditions, with New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine have all entering Moderate Drought levels or higher.

In Rhode Island, 94% of the state is under Extreme Drought conditions (level 3 out of 4). Vermont, Massachusetts and

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