September 26, 2021

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Soaring heat, dry conditions in West lead to fire warnings; California faces potential power outages – USA TODAY

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The Dixie Fire, the largest wildfire burning in California, is expected to see increased fire behavior Saturday due to drying conditions. Meanwhile, the state is preparing for potential power outages.

The Dixie Fire has covered 376 square miles of Northern California, with 42 structures destroyed and more than 10,000 considered threatened. It flared up on Friday, but officials said the flames were within the lines set up by firefighting crews. The fire is expected to continue to spread toward control lines, burning interior areas, according to a Saturday status update.

“There’s nothing close to our line right now. It’s all interior fuels burning,” said Incident Commander Mike Wink.

Excessive heat — combined with extreme drought in Western states — is a challenge for battling wildfires. In Oregon, red flag warnings are in place as thunderstorms are expected to create new fire starts from lightning strikes over “critically dry fuels,” the National Weather Service said Saturday. Nine new fires were reported in the last day, the National Interagency Fire Center said. 

Oregon is the home of the nation’s largest fire, the Bootleg Fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, which is now more than 56% contained and has burned more than 645 square miles of land.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a proclamation Friday to incentivize big companies to conserve energy as the state prepares for potential rolling power outages due to high heat conditions. Drought has minimized hydroelectric output, and combined with heat, the state could face shortages of 3,500 megawatts on high-heat days.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which services about 16 million customers in central and Northern California, is facing criminal charges after its equipment sparked a wildfire last year that resulted in four deaths and hundreds of homes destroyed, though it is unclear what charges the company will face. The company’s equipment was also blamed for the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed the town of of Paradise, California.

PG&E made the decision earlier this summer to bury 10,000 miles of power lines in an effort to prevent sparking wildfires. A 70-foot pine tree also toppled on one of the company’s power lines, sparking the Dixie Fire on July 13.

At least 87 fires are burning across the country, with weather conditions over the weekend conducive to new fire starts in some areas of the West, including Oregon, according to the National Weather Service. More than 2,700 square miles have been consumed by fire so far.

A new fire, the Boulder 2700 Fire, started Saturday morning in the Mission Mountains east of Flathead Lake in Montana, prompting evacuations along Highway 35, according to local outlets.

Montana has been battling the largest number of wildfires in the country, with at least 21 active fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Conditions prompted President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to meet with governors from California, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming on Friday, the second such meeting to discuss fire prevention and firefighting efforts.

“Our resources are already being stretched to keep up,” Biden said in the meeting. “We need more help.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

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