America’s two largest active wildfires have burned land nearly the size of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined— as drought and extreme heat continue to make matters worse for those fighting the massive fires in the West.
“There’s no human intervention that can save these forests if we don’t stop climate change,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told CNN on Friday. “All of us want more aerial assets, more bulldozers, more trained personnel, but it’s kind of like if there’s an arsonist at loose, and we have to corral the arsonist. We have to go on the offense.”
The Dixie Fire in California has scorched 240,795 acres and was 24% contained Friday, according to Cal Fire. It threatens more than 10,000 structures in the region with more than 60 already destroyed. More than 7,800 residents across Butte and Plumas counties were ordered to evacuate as of Monday morning.
The Bootleg Fire – the nation’s largest wildfire – is still raging in southern Oregon, burning 413,562 acres since igniting this month, according to InciWeb, the clearinghouse for fire information in the US. The fire has torn through more than 400 structures and at least 342 vehicles. It was 53% contained Friday.
And the warmer weather is only making the fight harder as the region faces triple-digit heat.
“When fuels, weather, and topography align, there is high potential for aggressive fire spread. Previous spot fires are contained and inactive, but concerns remain for potential out-flow winds associated with thunderstorms and impacts to open fire line,” fire officials said in a statement posted on InciWeb.
Drought conditions in the West got even worse this week, with areas in California and the Pacific Northwest seeing an expansion of drier conditions.
Nearly half of California is suffering exceptional drought – the worst category designated by the US Drought Monitor, which is produced through a partnership between US government agencies and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nearly 14.5 million people are enduring those conditions in California.
With 83 wildfires currently burning in the US, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday met with a group of Democratic and Republican governors whose states are struggling to fight the raging flames.
“We can’t ignore how the overlapping and intertwined factors— extreme heat, prolonged drought and supercharged wildfire conditions— are affecting the country. And so this is a challenge that demands our urgent, urgent action,” Biden said during the virtual meeting.
Inslee said he was impressed with Biden’s outlook on human-induced climate change that’s been fueling the wildfires.
“The thing that I was most impressed with was the President’s recognition of the major issue— and that is whether or not we’re going to go on the offensive against climate change,” Inslee said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz expressed concern over the extreme drought his state has been suffering and poor air quality from fires burning in the West.
“Out here in Minnesota, the grey hairs are talking about the last time we’ve seen drought like this was ’88 and it’s probably more like 1961,” Walz told Biden at the meeting. “Large portions of my state that are in unprecedented drought, two years ago were in unprecedented flooding situations,” Walz said. “Unfortunately, I’m afraid this is our new norm.”
Minnesota set two record highs on Thursday for worst air quality, according to Nick Witcraft, a research scientist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Extreme weather is well on its way to being the new normal as the climate crisis makes wildfires and heatwaves a regular occurrence.
“Our resources are already being stretched to keep up. We need more help, particularly when we also factor in additional nationwide challenges, the pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions and our ongoing efforts to fight Covid,” Biden said.
California residents are reliving the trauma of wildfires
The Dixie Fire, was ignited 4 miles from the location of the Camp Fire, California’s deadliest wildfire, killing 85 people and destroying the town of Paradise in 2018.
it has revived grim memories for those who lost homes in the Camp Fire.
“Once you’re a fire victim of such magnitude, which I was and others have been, we watch these fires very closely,” said Jessica Roberts, who was forced to relocate to another part of the state after the fire. “It’s not something that we can get away from because of the post-traumatic stress of it all.”
In the last few days, the smoke, orange skies and firefighting helicopters flying over the remote town of Paradise reminded residents of the deadly disaster that scarred the region — physically and emotionally — not so long ago.
Roberts lived in Magalia, just north of Paradise, when the Camp Fire engulfed the region. Her then-husband was out of town, so she evacuated with her 1-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter and their three dogs.
“I remember my daughter asking if we were going to die,” Roberts told CNN in tears. “And we weren’t even anywhere like some folks that were trapped in the flames. But the fact that my daughter asked if we were going to die that day still resonates.”
Wildfires rage in Lebanon and Turkey
As wildfires continue to destroy US lands, other countries are also on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
In the Middle East, there is an “environmental disaster” as large-scale wildfires spread in Lebanon, the Lebanon Reforestation Initiative warned Thursday. The country’s northern Akkar region is particularly suffering.
The Lebanese Red Cross confirmed Thursday evening that eight people have been hospitalized because of the fires, while 25 people received treatment by on-site medical teams.
Meanwhile in Turkey, 14 forest fires are still ongoing at 1,100 different points along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised statement Friday.
So far, the forest fires have left at least four people dead.
CNN’s Rachel Ramirez, Ella Nilsen, Kareem El Damanhoury, Kate Sullivan, and Nada Bashir contributed to this report.