Updated Aug 1, 2022 - Energy & Environment

53 large wildfires burn across the U.S. amid heat wave threat

A firefighter helmet hangs at the entrance to a property in the community of Klamath River, which burned in the McKinney Fire, in Klamath National Forest, northwest of Yreka, California, on July 31.
A firefighter helmet hangs at the entrance to a property in the community of Klamath River, which burned in the McKinney Fire, in Klamath National Forest, northwest of Yreka, California, on Sunday. Photo: David Mcnew/AFP via Getty Images

Large wildfires ignited in California, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas on Sunday, bringing the total number burning across the U.S. to 53, according to firefighting agency data.

The big picture: A report from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) Sunday indicates the worst may be yet to come, with the "potential for lightning followed by a heat wave across the northern half of the West." This "could increase the potential for significant fire activity," per the NIFC.

  • "Hot and dry conditions with very little rain will continue across the Plains, Texas, Southeast and Midwest," the agency notes.

Threat level: Red flag warnings were in effect Monday for parts of Montana and California — which have both been hit by four large fires, per the NIFC.

  • There were also red flag warnings for portions of Idaho, where three large fires were burning, and Oregon, which has reported one massive blaze.
  • Hawaii was also under a red flag warning as officials announced that a wildfire on the island of Maui that's razed over 370 acres and forced road closures was fully contained late Sunday, Hawaii News Now reports.

Zoom in: In California, the McKinney Fire, near the border with Oregon is the state's largest wildfire so far this year. Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in response and evacuation orders remain in place in Siskiyou County.

  • Among the blazes in Montana is the Elmo Fire fire in Lake County, which has razed nearly 11,000 and was 0% contained Sunday, according to Inciweb.
  • In Idaho, the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest that ignited July 17 has destroyed nearly 49,000 acres and was 21% contained, per Inciweb.

By the numbers: Elsewhere in the U.S., NIFC data shows are were four large fires in Arizona and another three in Nevada.

  • Oklahoma and New Mexico, which has experienced a series of destructive wildfires since early in the season, have each reported two large fires.
  • Firefighters in Utah, Texas and Wyoming are each battling one large fire.

Meanwhile, Alaska is facing a devastating wildfire season with 27 large fires burning across more than a million acres, according to the NIFC.

What to watch: The deadly Pacific Northwest heat wave is forecast to expand east this week and envelop much of the Plains and Lower 48 states.

Context: Scientific research shows human-caused climate change is a key factor in wildfire risk.

Go deeper: Wildfire risk will jump 30% by 2050, UN says

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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