AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

EDM Monday Briefing: Western Wildfires Rage amid Extreme Conditions

Emergency and disaster management briefing for July 12, 2021: Death Valley hits 130 degrees Fahrenheit for a third day as another heat wave grips the West; the Bootleg Fire explodes in growth, and firefighters were forced to disengage amid extreme conditions; the Bootleg Fire tripped electrical transmissions lines, reducing available power to California; two firefighters were killed Saturday when their air attack plane crashed in Arizona; the CPC issued a La Niña Watch for the coming winter months; the Beckwourth Complex fire exploded and destroyed 20 homes on Sunday; more wet weather is on tap for the Northeast as it deals with its recent flooding aftermath; and Canadian officials ordered a 48-hour halt of trains in British Columbia and were issued an order to step up fire prevention methods as wildfires rage across the province.

1. Another heat wave gripped at least seven Western states, prompting Excessive Heat Warnings. Death Valley in California hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, for the third day in a row, as many inland cities also hit triple-digit temperatures. Nighttime temperatures are also remaining excessively high, in the low to mid-nineties, which strains critical infrastructure and resources as it increases the chances for heat-related illnesses.

2. As temperatures soar in the western U.S., the wildfire risk increases due to low humidity levels and tinder-dry vegetation. The Bootleg Fire is burning in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Oregon and spread rapidly over the weekend, scorching 150,812 acres. About 1,100 personnel are assigned to the fire, with Level 2 and 3 evacuations in place, and about 1,200 homes are threatened. Wildfire conditions were so extreme on Saturday that 926 firefighters were forced to disengage and move to predetermined safety zones.

3. Electrical transmission lines were tripped by Oregon’s massive Bootleg Fire, reducing electrical supplies going into California from the Pacific Northwest by as much as 3,500 megawatts. A Flex Alert is now in place for Monday, which asks residents to reduce energy consumption between the hours of 4-9 p.m. to help stabilize the electrical grid. Officials said residents can take steps to help reduce the instability of the electrical grid and prevent rolling blackouts by setting thermostats at 78 degrees, avoiding the use of major appliances, turning off excess lights, and unplugging items that are not in use.

4. An air attack airplane crashed on Saturday in Arizona, killing both occupants engaged in firefighting activities. One pilot and an Air Tactical Group Supervisor were conducting visual reconnaissance and aviation command and control over the Cedar Basin Fire, when the aircraft allegedly lost a wing, then plummeted to the ground. Reportedly, this is the fifth firefighting aircraft crash in about 46 days with a total of seven fatalities so far.

5. The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) at the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a La Niña Watch for a potential winter emergence. Forecasters believe there is at least a 66% chance that La Niña will emerge during the winter months, which will impact Pacific trade winds. This pattern often results in colder air permeating the West and Midwest, while wetter weather is on tap for the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes regions, which could bring mixed-relief to some major drought conditions in the West.

6. The Beckwourth Complex Fire, the largest wildfire burning in California, grew by 20,000 acres and destroyed 20 homes on Sunday. The wildfire has scorched a total of 86,076 acres so far and jumped into Washoe County, Nevada, where it forced evacuations. The mandatory evacuation zone in Lassen County, California, was also expanded on Sunday, and Highway 395 was closed.

7. Stormy, wet weather is on tap for much of the northeastern United States this week. Heavy rainfall is again forecast for eastern Pennsylvania through New York City and up into New England, which has increased the flood risk for many of these areas. Heavy flooding hit New York City late last week, submerging subway stations and roads, and required at least a dozen people to be rescued from a highway in the Bronx.

8. Canadian officials ordered trains to halt for 48 hours in some locations of British Columbia (BC) due to wildfires and wildfire start risks. The order was effective on Friday and impacted both Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway, both of which had rail tracks damaged during recent wildfires. Official data indicates that there are currently 210 wildfires burning in BC. On Sunday, the Federal Transport Minister ordered the railroads to step up fire prevention efforts amid the ongoing wildfires.

Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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