SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – Firefighters struggled to contain an exploding wildfire in northern California in sweltering temperatures as another heat wave blanketed the west, prompting a warning of temperatures rising inland and desert regions.
Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53 degrees Celsius) Saturday, according to a National Weather Service reading in Furness Creek. The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the day before, when the site reached 130 F (54 C).
If confirmed, the reading of 130 degrees would be the highest recorded high there since July 1913, when the Furnace Creek Desert reached 1.34 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius), which is considered the highest temperature ever measured on Earth.
About 300 miles (483 kilometers) northwest of the roaring desert, California’s largest wildfire of the year was along the border with Nevada. The Beckwourth Complex fire — a combination of two fires that caused lightning burning 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Lake Tahoe — showed no sign of slowing its rush northeast of the Sierra Nevada forest after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday.
Late Saturday, flames jumped onto Interstate 395 and were threatening property in Washoe County, Nevada. “Take immediate steps to protect large animals and livestock,” tweeted the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District.
The fire, which was only 8% contained, increased dramatically to 86 square miles (222 square kilometers) as firefighters blazed in temperatures as high as 100 degrees.
It was one of several threatened homes across the western states that were expected to see triple-digit heat over the weekend as high pressure covers the area.
Wildfires in southern Oregon were doubled in size by strong winds to 120 square miles (311 square kilometers) Saturday as they raced through heavy woods in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the Sprague River town of Klamath County.
The National Weather Service warned that hazardous conditions could cause heat-related illnesses, while the California power grid operator issued a statewide Flex Alert from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday to avoid disruptions and blackouts.
The California Autonomous System operator has warned of a potential power shortage, not only because of the rising heat, but because wildfires in southern Oregon have been threatening transmission lines that bring imported power to California.
Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation Friday suspending rules to allow for more power capacity, and ISO has requested emergency assistance from other states. On Saturday, Newsom made another announcement allowing emergency use of ship auxiliary engines to relieve stress on the electrical grid.
Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high of 120 F (49 C) on Saturday. This is the fourth time that temperatures have reached 120 degrees so far this year. The Desert Sun reported.
In California’s agricultural Central Valley, temperatures have capped 100 degrees in the region, with Fresno reaching 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius), just one degree lower than an all-time high in history,
The National Weather Service said Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon equaled an all-time high of 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius). The city has recorded the record temperature four more times, most recently in June 2017.
NV Energy, Nevada’s largest energy provider, is also urging customers to save electricity on Saturday and Sunday evenings due to the heat wave and wildfires affecting transmission lines across the region.
In Southern California, a forest fire ignited by a large burning crater in eastern San Diego County forced the evacuation of two Native American reservations on Saturday.
In north central Arizona, Yavapai County on Saturday raised an evacuation warning for Black Canyon, an unincorporated town 43 miles (66 kilometers) north of Phoenix, after a fire in the nearby mountains no longer posed a threat. Two firefighters died Saturday after the plane they were on board to respond to a small bushfire crashed, local media reported in Mojave County, Arizona.
A wildfire in southeastern Washington has grown to nearly 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) as it rotted grass and wood as it moved into the Umatilla National Forest.
In Idaho, Governor Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight the fires that broke out after thunderstorms swept through the drought-stricken area.
Associated Press writers Bob Gablon in Los Angeles, Martha Pelissell in Seattle, and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this story.