August 1, 2021

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‘Serious situation’: Western heat wave, wildfires threaten California power grid – NBC News

3 min read

LOS ANGELES — A raging fire in southern Oregon has destabilized California’s already overburdened power grid as an oppressive heat wave and ongoing drought threaten much of the region.

The Bootleg Fire, which doubled in size Saturday to nearly 77,000 acres in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, interrupted three electrical lines that transmit power from Oregon to California, energy officials said. As a result, California has lost thousands of megawatts of imported power and will likely struggle to maintain operating reserves as temperatures soar into triple digits in parts of the state.

David Garfield clears a fire break around his home as the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, burns on Saturday.Noah Berger / AP

The heat wave has also triggered fires throughout California and much of the West. California’s largest fire, the Beckwourth Complex Fire 45 miles north of Lake Tahoe, has shown no signs of slowing down after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday.

The fire prompted evacuations, a closure of part of a national forest and presented serious danger for area campgrounds, National Forest Service officials said. It is one of several brush fires burning in California.

“Climate change is considered a key driver” of the state’s recent wildfire woes, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said earlier this year.

Temperatures in parts of California have reached near-record highs with Death Valley hitting 130 degrees Friday, just four degrees shy of a world record set in 1913.

Officials called on Californians to conserve power Saturday despite the soaring temperatures.

“The intense heat waves we’ve been experiencing in California and throughout the West would strain just about any electrical grid,” said Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the electrical grid for much of the state. “We’re facing a serious situation here on the grid.”

Residents were also asked this week to cut back water consumption by 15 percent as a worsening drought continues to deplete water reserves throughout the state. As of Thursday, 50 of California’s 58 counties are in a drought state of emergency.

California’s northern mountain areas have experienced several large fires that have destroyed more than a dozen homes. Although there are no confirmed reports of building damage, the Beckwourth Complex Fire prompted evacuation orders or warnings for roughly 2,800 people along and the closure of nearly 200 square miles of Plumas National Forest.

On Friday, hot rising air formed a gigantic, smoky pyrocumulus cloud that reached thousands of feet high and created its own lightning, fire information officer Lisa Cox said.

Spot fires caused by embers leapt up to a mile ahead of the northeastern flank — too far for firefighters to safely battle — and winds funneled the fire up draws and canyons full of dry fuel, where “it can actually pick up speed,” Cox said.

The flames rose up to 100 feet in places, forcing firefighters to focus on building bulldozer lines to protect homes.

Firefighters usually take advantage of cooler, more humid nights to advance on a fire, Cox said, but the heat and low humidity never let up. The more than 1,200 firefighters were aided by aircraft, but the blaze was expected to continue forging ahead.

Wildfires are also raging in western Idaho and southeast Washington, prompting Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency, prohibiting most outdoor and agricultural burning through Sept. 30.

“Washington is facing a historic drought and we have already experienced record-breaking heat. We must be vigilant in our efforts to prevent wildfires, and the loss of life and destruction of land and property that comes with them,” Inslee said in a statement. “We don’t want a repeat of recent years with dangerous wildfires across the state that have destroyed towns, killed livestock and resulted in weeks of unhealthy air quality.”

The Associated Press contributed.

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