Aug 17, 2023 - Science

20 wildfires in Northern California prompt evacuations in searing heat

The Head Fire burns in forest near a community in Siskiyou County, California.

The Head fire burns in a forest near a community in Siskiyou County, California. Photo: Yreka maintenance superintendent Roger Matthews/Caltrans District 2/X

Wildfires in Northern California near the border with Oregon have triggered evacuation orders and road closures in rural communities, as a record heat wave envelopes the Pacific Northwest.

The big picture: Red flag warnings and heat alerts were in effect as firefighters battled 20 wildfires that lightning from thunderstorms ignited Monday in the Klamath National Forest, as Redding, Northern, Calif., hit a daily record high of 112°F Wednesday.

  • The "most significant activity" in the cluster of blazes, known as the 2023 Klamath National Forest August Lightning Fires, was in Siskiyou County, where the Head fire was burning near the scar of the McKinney fire that killed four people in 2022.

Of note: While the other blazes were quite small, the Head fire had razed up to 4,000 acres on Wednesday, per Inciweb — which noted firefighters were facing "an extremely dynamic situation across the forest."

  • Evacuation orders and warnings were in effect for multiple communities near the Head fire on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, per the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office.
A screenshot of a Caltrans District 2 photo tweet of closed roads near a fire in Northern California with the comment: "🚧🔥 HEAD FIRE ROADWAY INFORMATION 🔥🚧  🔴 State Route 96 remains CLOSED from the junction with State Route 263 to Seiad due to the #HeadFire burning in #SiskiyouCounty. 🔴"
Photo: Bridge/Signs Crew Supervisor, Billy Shakespeare/Caltrans District 2/X

Meanwhile, five large fires were burning in Oregon, where air quality advisories were issued for multiple counties in the center of the state.

By the numbers: The Klamath National Forest blaze was one of three large fires burning across California Wednesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

  • Nine large fires were each burning in New Mexico and Montana, five were burning in Arizona and three were each burning in Colorado and Washington, per the NIFC.

Context: Studies show that climate change is leading to larger, more frequent and intense wildfires in much of the West and across the world.

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