Wildfires hit the West: ‘We’re stretched to our limits’

Fires this year have covered 1 million more acres than the 10-year average from January to July.

  • An air tanker flies over a vineyard in the path of the Mendocino Complex Fire in Lakeport, California, where 12,000 structures are threatened and 32,000 acres were burning on August 1.

    Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
  • Firefighters watch as an air tanker drops retardant on the Ferguson Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest, near Yosemite National Park, California, July 21. The fire claimed the life of one firefighter and injured two others.

    Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images
  • A man can do nothing to save his barn as it is fully enveloped with fire after a fast-moving wildfire spread through dry grasslands in early March in Kiowa, Colorado.

    Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
  • Taxidermied animal heads still hang on the walls of a home destroyed by the Carr Fire in Redding, California.

    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • A firefighter monitors a backfire while battling the larger Carr Fire.

    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • A Colorado Parks and Wildlife official holds the burned paws of a female bear cub that was rescued in June from the 416 Fire near Durango. It was being treated at a state facility in Del Norte and is expected to recover and be returned to the wild.

    Joe Lewandowski/ Colorado Parks and Wildlife via AP
  • Inmate firefighters battle the Ferguson Fire in Jerseydale, California, where a firefighter and a bulldozer operator died in July.

    Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images
  • Flames from the Carr Fire burn through trees along Highway 299 near Whiskeytown, California.

    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • A firefighter takes ice to his crew as he makes his way through fire camp before heading back out on the fire line of the 416 Fire near Durango, Colorado.

    Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
  • The Taylor Creek Fire is seen from Robertson Bridge Road in southwest Oregon in late July. It had grown to 30,000 acres by August 1.

    Oregon Department of Forestry
  • Cows graze in a pasture as a DC-10 drops fire retardant on the Cranston Fire burning along Highway 74 near Hemet Lake, California. A man suspected of starting the blaze has been arrested.

    Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • Mark Peterson, whose home was one of the more than 1,000 destroyed in the early days of the Carr Fire, gives water to two of his goats that survived the blaze in Redding.

    AP Photo/Noah Berger
  • A rancher gets a higher vantage point on the Grassy Ridge Fire, believed to have been started by lighting, north of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Ranchers rounded up more than 2,500 cows and transported them to safety.

  • A burnt out structure is visible through the smoke as the Dollar Ridge Fire continues to burn east of Strawberry Reservoir in Wasatch County, Utah, in early July.

    Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP
  • Forest burns in the Carr Fire west of Redding, which had covered more than 115,000 acres by the first of August and forced thousands to evacuate.

    Terray Sylvester/Getty Images


Vehicle malfunctions, lightning and alleged arson ignited some of the most violent wildfires of the 2018 season in the West, but prolonged drought, record temperatures and ready fuel have fed them.

While fewer fires have sparked this summer than the 10-year average, they’ve burned wider — 1 million more acres than the January to July average, totaling 4.8 million. They’ve also wreaked havoc on communities, especially in California.

At least eight people have died in the wake of two separate California blazes. The Carr Fire has torn through 160 square miles of Shasta and Trinity counties, killing two firefighters and at least four others near Redding. As of publication, it was 30 percent contained. The Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park also claimed two lives, and winds stoked newer fires on the edge of the Mendocino National Forest and near Yuba City, California this week.

Further north, flames crowd Oregon’s southwestern corner. The Taylor Creek fires and others closed parts of the Rogue River and prompted evacuations. In Idaho and the Utah-Nevada border, fires have ballooned to over 100,000 acres.

After a dry June, fire intensity in the Southwest has plateaued, in part due to moisture from late-summer monsoons. A wetter fall due to El Niño, an atmospheric phenomenon that warms the Pacific, could help.

Historically, August is the peak of Western fire season, but the National Interagency Fire Center worrisome coastal fire conditions through the fall. Ed Delgado, the center’s program manager for predictive services, said California and the Northwest will be hotter and drier than average into September. The risks could creep into the Great Basin and Northern Rockies.

In , the Forest Service attributed longer fire seasons to a warming climate. In his 25 years of experience, Delgado said he’s seen big blazes like the Carr erupt earlier in the year. “Some threaten resources, and others threaten communities,” Delgado said of the near-100 current large fires. “We’re stretched to our limits.” 

Elena Saavedra Buckley is an editorial intern at NewTowncarShare News.