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Wildfires Rage Across the Western United States

Christina Talamo
Updated: September 16, 2020 10:36 AM
Created: September 09, 2020 02:26 PM

The Bear Fire burning in Oroville, California on September 9th, 2020. | KTLA/Associated Press/Noah Berger The Bear Fire burning in Oroville, California on September 9th, 2020. | KTLA/Associated Press/Noah Berger

Currently there are nearly 100 wildfires rapidly spreading and raging throughout the western United States, blazing through areas in California, Washington, Oregon, and other nearby states. So far this year, over 2 million acres have burned due to wildfires. Fire season in the western United States reaches its peak season activity in the month of September, and as drought conditions continue, it will continue to get worse before ceasing when winter conditions bring rain and snow in December. As these large fires burn, there have been major mass evacuations, many homes and buildings have been destroyed, and many others are without power. Red Flag warnings have been issued for many areas warning of extreme fire behavior possible within the next 24 hours.

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So what exactly causes these deadly wildfires to start? In order for a wildfire to start to burn, it needs three things. These three things are commonly referred to as the fire triangle, and when attempting to put out a fire, firefighters try to remove one of the three. These three things include a source of heat, oxygen to fuel the fire, and fuel, or a flammable material available to continue the burn. Because it has been so warm and dry over the past month in the western U.S., especially with a recent record heat wave in California, the environment has been in a near perfect set up for wildfires to occur, and the western landscape and strong winds only add to the threat.

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Strong winds can help spark wildfires because as these hot and dry winds move through an area, they dry out the vegetation with the low humidity and can ignite a spark in woodland areas. Lightning can also spark wildfires. Strong winds can increase the strength and threat of wildfires that are already burning as well, causing them to spread smoke and burn even more rapidly. In California, the peak of the fire season occurs in the Fall when strong offshore winds arrive, specifically winds known as the Diablo winds in northern California, and the Santa Ana winds in southern California. As the fire threat continues and the western states move into the peak 2020 fire season, be sure to stay safe and reach out to anyone in these areas to follow the National Weather Service’s fire safety guidelines.

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