PORTLAND, Pray. – Wildfires in the western United States, including one in Oregon that is currently the largest in the US, are creating hazy skies as far away as New York as massive hells spew smoke and ash into the air in columns up to six miles high.
The skies over New York City were cloudy Tuesday as strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states. The Oregon Bootleg Fire grew to 606 square miles, half the size of Rhode Island.
Fires also grew on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada. In Alpine County, the so-called California Alps, the Tamarack fire triggered evacuations from several communities and grew to 61 square miles (158 square kilometers) without containment. The Dixie Fire, near the site of the deadly 2018 Paradise Fire, was more than 90 square miles (163 square kilometers) and threatened small communities in the Feather River Valley region.
Smoke off the east coast of the U.S. was reminiscent of last fall when multiple large fires burning in Oregon in the state’s worst fire season in recent memory drowned local skies with pea soup smoke, but also affected air quality several thousand miles away.
“We are seeing a lot of fires that produce a huge amount of smoke, and … by the time the smoke reaches the eastern part of the country, where it usually dissolves, there is so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it is still quite thick.” said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “In the last two years we have seen this phenomenon.”
Tony Gálvez fled the Tamarack Fire in California on Tuesday with his daughter at the last minute and later learned that their home was missing.
“I lost my whole life, everything I had had. The children are what is going to matter, ”he said while taking calls from family members. “I have three teenagers. They are going home to a lunar landscape. “
The Oregon fire has devastated the southern part of the state, expanding up to 4 miles (6 kilometers) a day, driven by gusts of wind and a critically dry climate that has turned trees and brush into a tinderbox.
Fire crews have had to retreat from the flames for 10 consecutive days as fireballs leap from canopy to canopy, trees explode, embers fly past the fire to start new flames and, in some cases, the heat of the fire. Hell creates its own climate of changing winds. and dry lightning. Monstrous clouds of smoke and ash have risen up to 6 miles into the sky and are visible for more than 100 air miles.
The fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest merged with a smaller nearby fire on Tuesday, and has repeatedly breached a perimeter of fire retardant and treeless land intended to halt its advance.
A red flag weather advisory indicating dangerous fire conditions was in effect through Tuesday and possibly longer. Fire is 30% contained.
“We’re in this for as long as it takes to safely confine this monster,” Incident Commander Rob Allen said.
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 have been threatened. At least 70 houses and more than 100 outbuildings have burned down. Thick smoke chokes the area where residents and wildlife have already been dealing with months of drought and extreme heat. No one has died.
Extremely dry conditions and heat waves linked to climate change have made wildfires more difficult to fight. Climate change has made the West much hotter and drier in the last 30 years and will continue to make the climate more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
On Tuesday, officials temporarily closed all public and recreational access to state-administered lands in eastern Washington due to fire danger, beginning Friday. The closure will affect about 2,260 square miles (5,853 square kilometers) of land.
The area on the northeast flank of the Bootleg Fire is in the ancestral homeland of the Klamath tribes, who have used intentional and controlled fire to keep the fuel load low and prevent such explosive fires. The tribe lost its hunting, fishing and gathering rights in a court case nearly 30 years ago, but the lake and marsh area remains central to its culture and heritage.
The tribe, which regained its federal recognition from the US government in 1986 after losing it in the 1950s, has worked alongside the nonprofit The Nature Conservancy to use planned fires in the landscape to reduce forests. on Sycan Marsh. The high-altitude wetland and forest area is part of the tribe’s traditional homeland and burned in flames this week.
“It is so devastating. The fire swept through many areas where I hunted with my father, brother and other people who have since perished, ”said Klamath Tribes President Don Gentry. “It is all of our Aboriginal territory and it will certainly have an impact on cultural and big game sites and resources.”
Associated Press video journalists Haven Daley in Alpine County, California and David Martin in New York City contributed to this report.
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