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Regional Interests

Wildfires Rage as Heat Wave and Drought Continue

Firefighters were working in extreme temperatures across the West Coast and struggling to contain wildfires, the largest burning in California and Oregon, as another heat wave baked the region, straining power grids.

The largest wildfire of the year in California — the Beckwourth Complex — was raging along the Nevada state line and has burned 89,748 acres as of Monday morning. The California Independent System Operator, which oversees the transmission of bulk electricity in the state issued a statewide Flex Alert for Monday from 4-9 p.m.

In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire exploded to 240 square miles as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, near the Klamath County town of Sprague River. The fire disrupted service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to neighboring California.

A wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles while in Idaho, Gov. Brad Little has mobilized the National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

The blazes come as the West is in the midst of a second extreme heat wave within just a few weeks and as the entire region is suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent history. Extreme heat warnings in California are finally expected to expire Monday night.

On Sunday, firefighters working in temperatures that topped 100 degrees were able to gain some ground on the Beckwourth Complex, increasing containment to 23%.

Late Saturday, flames jumped U.S. 395, which was closed near the small town of Doyle in California’s Lassen County. The lanes reopened Sunday, and officials urged motorists to use caution and keep moving along the key north-south route where flames were still active.

“Do not stop and take pictures,” said the fire’s Operations Section Chief Jake Cagle. “You are going to impede our operations if you stop and look at what’s going on.”

Cagle said structures had burned in Doyle, but he didn’t have an exact number. Bob Prary, who manages the Buck-Inn Bar in the town of about 600 people, said he saw at least six houses destroyed after Saturday’s flareup. The fire was smoldering Sunday in and around Doyle, but he feared some remote ranch properties were still in danger.

“It seems like the worst is over in town, but back on the mountainside the fire’s still going strong,” Prary said.

The River Fire broke out Sunday afternoon south of Yosemite National Park. Thus far, it has burned 4,000 acres and triggered evacuations in two counties. Containment was just 5% but the highway leading to the southern entrance of the park remained open early Monday.

Copyright 2021 KQED