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Right now, there are 43 large wildfires scorching the Southwest and the West Coast. And it’s only going to get worse.
Last week was one of the hottest on record in many places in the U.S., with temperatures soaring past 100 degrees from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. The onslaught of heat, and a seemingly perpetual drought in the West, both side effects of the climate crisis, have put 7 million people under a red flag fire warning, and in increased danger of wildfires, NBC reported. In fact, wildfires are so bad in the American West that around 8,700 wildland firefighters are already risking their lives to put them out.
A map from the Incident Information System, an interagency collaboration, shows 47 large fires burning throughout the country right now and many smaller ones burning nearby. Arizona and California are particularly hard-hit.
Year-to-date, seven large wildland fires have burned at least 519,761 acres across the U.S. between Florida and California, as well as Alaska, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. But it’s the West and Southwest that are getting the worst of it. The agency has lifted their preparedness level, a gauge of how intense and dangerous the fire season will be, to PL4—a level only seen three times in the last 20 years. There were 47 active fires as of Monday since the start of fire season, and only six fires have been contained.
Big Sur California, a major nature destination less than 140 miles from San Francisco, is battling a wildfire that’s already blazed through nearly 3,000 acres of land, according to the Guardian. More than 500 firefighters have been deployed and a nearby Buddhist monastery has already been evacuated. The fire erupted on Sunday and is currently zero percent contained, according to Mercury News. Officials estimate the fire won’t be contained until July 11.
“We have to take our time accessing these areas because we can’t get the equipment in there,” Amanda Munsey, a public information officer with California Interagency Incident Management Team 11, told the Guardian. “[I]t has been very hot for a number of days—and very dry.”
The fire crews in Big Sur have been using air tankers to drop fire retardant onto the flames, according to Mercury News. They’re also burning surrounding fuel like shrubs outside of the active fire to slow its path.
Similar strategies are underway further up the coast.
Residents of Oregon’s Warm Springs Reservation near the Cascade Mountains, who are being hit by a wildfire, are being encouraged to reduce the amount they drive and idle their cars to prevent furthering the smoke-deteriorated air quality in the area, according to KOIN 6 news. The fire, called “S-503,” has grown to 6,200 acres as of Monday and is only 10 percent contained.
In the Southwest, Arizona is suffering through the Backbone Fire, which started on Friday about 100 miles north of Phoenix, has burned more than 32,700 acres, and is zero percent contained, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.
The fire started from a lightning strike and burned 10,000 acres in 24 hours. Extreme temperatures will continue to stoke the flames, and cause more communities to evacuate, on top of the two towns, Strawberry and Pine, that already have been issued evacuation orders, according to officials.
Officials in Arizona have said a main goal is to protect Camp Verde, a town near the burn area with a population of 11,000. Residents are currently being told to avoid certain roads and prepare in case an evacuation is ordered.