Multiple wildfires prompted evacuations in California and Arizona over the weekend after quickly charring more than 1,500 acres of land.
Hundreds of thousands of acres have burned in the region as a drought continues to grip the area amid rising temperatures.
A strengthening heat wave is expected to worsen in the coming days with nearly 55 million people across the West – including in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Phoenix – under heat alerts.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 833,479 acres have burned across the US in 26,833 fires from January 1 until June 11, compared to the same time period last year, when 658,069 acres were scorched in 20,731 fires.
California has already faced nearly twice the acreage burned this year compared to last year by last week, with 2,733 fires burning 12,540 from January 1, 2021 through June 6, 2021, compared to January 1, 2020 through June 6, 2020, when 6,353 acres were burned in 2,025 fires.
By Sunday, Cal Fire’s website showed that number had grown to 17,273 acres scorched in 3,151 incidents.
With temperatures across the west forecast to reach record highs, experts are warning that extreme fire danger will increase through the week.
A wildfire south of Flagstaff that quickly grew to 1,000 acres prompted evacuations in one subdivision, a tweet from Arizona State Forestry said Sunday.
The fire destroyed one building and threatened nearly a dozen others, according to Inciweb.
It sparked in Cornville, which is 57 miles south of Flagstaff and 100 miles north of Phoenix. The cause is still under investigation.
One outbuilding was destroyed in the blaze and several other structures were threatened, according to the tweet.
The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office ordered the evacuations for the Mingus Panorama subdivision when the fire had scorched about 400 acres by the afternoon. It is unclear how many people or homes were ordered to evacuate.
Aviation and ground resources were ordered to respond to the scene, according to the tweet.
The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management warned of very high fire danger for the weekend as hot temperatures and dry thunderstorms were expected in the region
The department said in a news release Saturday that critical fire weather included the potential for “rapid fuel ignition and fire spread with very erratic and extreme fire behavior.”
The release said the state has already seen 208,190 acres burned in 848 wildfires this year compared to 138,443 acres burned in 902 wildfires over the same time period last year.
“We cannot stress enough to the public the critical situation we are faced with. Firefighters are already challenged and any ignition starting within this drought-stricken fuel bed combined with our incoming critical fire weather could produce large, fast-moving and very active wildfires,” DFFM Fire Management Officer John Truett said in the release. “Take personal responsibility, follow fire restrictions, and do your part with prevention efforts.”
Arizona has already seen two massive fires – the Telegraph and Mescal Fires – burn more than 160,000 acres, according to Inciweb.
Three new fires sparked in California on Sunday, according to Cal Fire – including the Flats Fire in San Bernardino County that grew to 400 acres in a few hours.
Two homes were destroyed, three homes and three outbuildings suffered damage, and one firefighter was injured, a fire update on Inciweb said.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered for the Pinyon Crest neighborhood near the Santa Rosa Mountains, which is about 130 miles southeast of Los Angeles.
The fire jumped highway 74 and moved northeast, according to a tweet from San Bernardino National Forest.
At least 400 personnel responded to the fire, which started around 11:15 a.m. local time. The fire is 10% contained and the cause is still unknown.
In another fire incident, evacuation orders were lifted for the the Goose fire in Amador County, east of Sacramento after the blaze charred about 60 acres, Cal Fire’s website shows. Firefighters reached 30% containment on the fire after it started Sunday afternoon
About 85 miles northwest, another fire popped up in Yuba City, according to Cal Fire.
The Beale Fire has burned 150 acres and is 20% contained, the agency website shows. No cause has been determined.
Heat wave could bring record highs
The cities of Phoenix and Las Vegas could break their all time June warm temperature records, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
Las Vegas and other cities could break their all time heat records Guy explained, adding that “this could be the week Las Vegas is the warmest ever recorded.”
“The grip of the heat wave settled in last week also and this week it is getting even hotter across the west and southwest.”
Guy says Arizona could all see its all time records broken this week, with Phoenix forecast to have the next 7 days 11 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit above normal each day this week, hitting an estimated 117 to 118 degrees.
From Tuesday through Saturday, some locations could see temperature hit as high as 120 degrees. The hottest temperature ever recorded for Phoenix in June is 122 in 1990, according to Guy.
As the heat hits its peak on Thursday for most of the region, more than 250 heat records could be tied through Friday across the West, he said.
Such high heat, coupled with drought will only elevate the risk of wildfires by the end of the week.
According to US Drought Monitor, the drought got worse in the west through the period of June 8th, increasing from 87% to 89%.