Americas

US wildfires: Firefighters grapple with raging blazes as temperatures soar to 54C in California’s baking Death Valley

Firefighters are grappling with searing heat as they struggle to contain a huge wildfire in California as western states remain in the grip of a fierce heatwave.

It comes after a large part of the US west baked over the weekend in triple-digit temperatures which are expected to continue into the start of this week.

On Saturday, Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 53C (128F) according to National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek.

The temperature was only slightly lower than the one recorded a day earlier when the location reached 54C (130F) – the highest there since 1913 when Furnace Creek desert hit 57C (134F), considered the highest temperature on Earth.

The growing wildfire along the state’s border with Nevada forced major highways to close, while state power operators urged people to conserve energy after a huge wildfire in neighbouring Oregon disrupted the flow of electricity from three major transmission lines.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, asked consumers to “conserve as much electricity as possible” to avoid any outages.

Western US states including California are fast sinking deeper into drought, sending the risk of fire sky-high in many areas.

A small plane crashed on Saturday in Arizona during a survey of wildfire in rural Mohave County, killing both crew members.

The victims were identified as Air Tactical Group Supervisor Jeff Piechura, 62, a retired Tucson-area fire chief who was working for the Coronado National Forest, and Matthew Miller, 48, a pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation contracted by the US Forest Service.

Meanwhile, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon spread to 224 square miles as it raged through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, disrupting service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to neighbouring California.

The wildfire in California is the largest wildfire the state has seen this year.

Named the Beckwourth Complex Fire – a combination of two lightning-caused blazes burning north of Lake Tahoe – it grew by a third on Sunday to cover 134 square miles.

But firefighters working in temperatures that topped 38C (100F) were able to gain some ground and doubled containment to 20%.

People were warned to not stop and take pictures of the wildfires near the small town of Doyle in California’s Lassen County.

“You are going to impede our operations if you stop and look at what’s going on,” said the fire’s operations section chief Jake Cagle.

Elsewhere, a wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles as it blackened grass and timber as it raced into the Umatilla National Forest.

And on Friday, Idaho’s governor Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency, mobilising the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

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