Record-Breaking Heatwave Shatters Records and Fuels Wildfires Across the US West

Heatwave Shatters Records and Fuels Wildfires

A fierce heatwave has shattered temperature records across the US west and has been tied to at least four deaths in Oregon, with more heat on the way as dangerous weather fueled the outbreak of new wildfires.

Oregon faced triple-digit temperatures and saw several records toppled over the weekend, including in Salem, where on Sunday it hit 103°F (39.4°C), surpassing the 99°F (37.2°C) mark set in 1960. Authorities in Multnomah County – home to Portland, where temperatures broke daily records over the weekend – said they were investigating four suspected deaths tied to the heatwave.

More than 146 million Americans were under extreme heat alerts on Monday, as both sides of the country endured scorching temperatures. Excessive heat warnings, the National Weather Service’s (NWS) highest alert, stretched across the west, covering parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Areas on the east coast, including Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, were also under heat advisories.

Dozens of locations in the west and Pacific Northwest tied or broke previous heat records in recent days. On Sunday, Las Vegas set an all-time record high of 120°F (48.8°C), while across the desert in Death Valley National Park, temperatures reached 128°F (53.3°C), breaking a daily heat record and coming just shy of its all-time high. The dangerous temperatures caused the death of a motorcyclist in the park.

Meanwhile, firefighters are battling a flurry of new blazes that sparked in the brutal temperatures over the weekend, with the sweltering conditions posing challenges for fire crews. There were 73 large active fires burning across the country on Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, collectively covering close to half a million acres. Fire conditions are expected to continue through the week.

California, which was left covered in quick-to-burn grasses after a wet winter, saw an explosive week, with firefighters battling 18 active blazes. In Santa Barbara County, the Lake Fire burned through dry grass, brush, and timber over the weekend, prompting evacuations of some rural homes, including the Neverland Ranch. The fire has grown to 20,320 acres and was at 8% containment Monday morning.

Further north, the Shelly Fire, which erupted in California’s Marble Mountain Wilderness last Wednesday, continues to pose threats to “communities, private timberlands, cultural resources, and wilderness areas,” Cal Fire posted in an update Monday.

As the heatwave shifts north into Oregon and Washington, and moves east covering parts of the Great Basin and Arizona, more records will likely be broken.