Lava Fire erupts in Northern California amid stifling heat wave

© Daniel Yurchak/Via Reuters Smoke from the Lava Fire billows over Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County, Calif. on Monday. (Courtesy Daniel Yurchak on social media via Reuters)

As historic heat roasts the Pacific Northwest, a large fire has erupted in Northern California and continues to grow.

The lightning-caused Lava Fire, burning west of Mount Shasta in interior Northern California, has spread over 13,300 acres of extremely dry vegetation amid gusty winds and record-breaking temperatures. It was just 20 percent contained as of Tuesday morning and had increased dramatically in size.

A nearby weather station, Mount Shasta City, reached a record temperature of 101 on Monday, said Mike Petrucelli, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford, Ore.

The area had been under a Red Flag Warning for high wind and low humidity as the Weather Service warned of the potential for “extreme fire behavior.” That is what occurred as the Lava Fire pushed rapidly to the northwest Monday afternoon, threatening subdivisions near Weed, Calif., and forcing the evacuation of at least 8,000 residents, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The blaze jumped Highway 97, which runs from Weed northeast to the Oregon border, burning the area just to the east of Lake Shastina, according to the ABC affiliate in Redding.

The blaze was the site of a fatal shooting Monday night when four officers shot and killed a man after he fired a gun at them. According to the Sacramento Bee, the police were trying to keep the man out of a complex of cannabis farms that were under evacuation.

No fire weather warnings are in effect for the affected area Tuesday, but “[h]ot temperatures, low humidities and gusty winds will create near Red Flag conditions over the Shasta Valley in Northern California,” the Weather Service wrote.

Interior sections of the Pacific Northwest remain under excessive heat warnings, and Medford, which tied its record high temperature of 115 on Monday, will see triple-digit temperatures through the week.

“It’s still going to be pretty darn hot, but compared to 115, we’ll be about 11 degrees cooler today,” Petrucelli said in an interview. The normal high temperature for late June is 86.

Smoke from the Lava Fire and cloud cover from monsoonal thunderstorms could help to dampen the heat this week.

“Effectively, the price for slightly cooler temperatures late next week could come at the cost of deteriorated air quality, or the increased chances for lightning and all the fire concerns that come along with it,” the Medford office wrote Monday in a forecast discussion.

The Lava Fire is one of 48 active large fires in the United States burning in 12 states on Tuesday. So far, 30,414 fires have erupted in 2021, the most since 2011, burning more than 1.4 million acres.

Before the Lava Fire’s ignition, the Predictive Services from the National Interagency Fire Center had warned about the volatile mix of dry lightning, heat and the parched landscape.

“A heat wave followed by a few days of lightning and then followed by another heat wave on top of critically dry fuels is a recipe for multiple ignitions and heightened potential for large fire,” Predictive Services wrote last Thursday.

Here’s what’s causing record temperatures in the Pacific Northwest

Because of the historic drought in the West and exceptionally dry vegetation, officials are very concerned about how severe the wildfire season may play out in California.

“Overall, it’s shaping up to be a busy fire season and a very active fire season,” Tom Rolinski, a fire scientist with the utility Southern California Edison, said in an interview this month. “The fact that our fuels are drier than normal, and we are in exceptional drought, is very concerning to us.”

The potential for heightened fire activity follows California’s most devastating fire season on record in 2020. More than 4.2 million acres burned amid five of the six largest fires in modern state history.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post – Diana Leonard, Jason Samenow