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For multiple days in a row, 30,000+ foot pyrocumulus clouds have formed during extreme fire behavior over eastern portion of the BootlegFire in southern Oregon. If these clouds 'collapse' they can cause dangerous outflow winds and ember falls for firefighters working in the area. Photo: Oregon Dept. of Forestry/141st Air Refueling Wing of Washington Air National Guard

Another heat wave is striking the U.S. — this time engulfing the northern Rockies and High Plains, where temperatures were set to soar into the triple digits this weekend. The heat won't relent for a week in some areas.

Why it matters: Extreme heat contributes to the potential for new wildfires to form, as well as extreme wildfire behavior.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.
  • The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon has shown this repeatedly. It's the largest burning wildfire in the U.S. so far, growing to 281,208 acres. It was 22% contained Saturday afternoon, per InciWeb.

The big picture: States across the northern Rockies and parts of the Pacific Northwest are set to see a searing heat wave from Saturday through at least Wednesday, with temperatures hitting 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above average. This could significantly exacerbate the wildfires that are already ravaging the territory.

  • These same areas that will see the extreme heat starting this weekend — including Montana, Idaho and Wyoming — are affected by wildfire smoke wafting in from fires in California, Oregon and Washington.
  • A heat warning is in effect for northeastern Montana through Thursday evening, foreshadowing "heat related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities."
  • Highs could reach as high as 106 degrees in northeastern Montana, and lows that are normally in the mid-50s at this time of year, could reach 77°F, the National Weather Service warns.
Temperature departures from average forecast for Monday, showing the intense heat from Washington through Montana and into the northern Plains. Credit: Weatherbell.co

Driving the news: In addition to the heat wave in the Rockies and High Plains, there's also the threat of a dry lightning outbreak in northern California between Sunday and Monday as a low pressure system injects moisture into a state where vegetation is at record levels of dryness for this time of year.

  • Evacuations have been issued for the Tamarack Fire in Alpine County, California, where the blaze has consumed 6,600 acres and is 0% contained, per InciWeb.
    • A fire weather watch was issued for much of northern California for Sunday and Monday, with thunderstorms threatening to ignite new fires.
    • Last year, a "lightning siege" sparked some of the largest and most destructive fires the state saw during its worst-ever fire season.

Context: The extreme drought and heat waves, which researchers say have been aggravated by human-caused climate change, are the main reason why this year's wildfire season ramped up so early.

Of note: In an example of the extreme wildfire behavior stemming from the dry and hot conditions, the Bootleg Fire has repeatedly formed dangerous, towering clouds of ash and water vapor, known as pyro-cumulonimbus clouds.

  • These clouds have sparked their own lightning bolts, which in turn can cause additional wildfires.
Satellite photo of towering clouds forming from the Bootleg Fire in Oregon. Photo: Planet Labs

Go deeper:

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the HRRR smoke forecast.

Go deeper

Southwest drought is worst on record, NOAA finds

In a stark new report, a team of NOAA and independent researchers found the 2020-2021 drought across the Southwest is the worst in the instrumental record, which dates to 1895.

Why it matters: They also concluded that global warming is making it far more severe, primarily by increasing average temperatures, which boosts evaporation.

PG&E charged with manslaughter stemming from 2020 California wildfire

Flames and smokes are seen during the Zogg fire near the town of Igo in Shasta County, California, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. Photo: Go Nakamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pacific Gas & Electric has been charged with manslaughter and other crimes in connection with a Northern California wildfire last year killed four people and burned hundreds of homes, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: The utility company has faced hundreds of lawsuits and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019, after it was discovered its equipment was responsible for several devastating fires, per AP.

Updated Sep 22, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on bold climate commitments

On Wednesday, September 22nd, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and energy reporter Ben Geman hosted a virtual conversation on the innovative approaches climate leaders are undertaking to reshape standards for sustainability initiatives in 2022 and beyond, featuring White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp.

Gina McCarthy explained the Biden administration’s recent environmental priorities, the importance of mobilizing different communities to fight climate change, and how the White House is incentivizing private industries to reduce their emissions.   

  • On addressing extreme heat problems: "I think everybody’s beginning to understand as the President tours the sites of wildfires and flooding and other really big challenges like drought, there’s this silent killer for climate change that’s called excess heat, that really doesn’t get enough attention."
  • On cross-agency collaboration on climate change at a federal level: “It’s an exciting moment where people across the federal government are working together in ways they have never done before, not just to tackle wildfires and droughts and flooding and heat stress, but also to tackle the challenge of how we motivate our business sector and send them all the signals you would want us to send that shows that President Biden is committed to achieving net zero in 2050, and knows that this decade is a decisive decade.”

Fred Krupp highlighted how companies must be held accountable to pledges to reduce their emissions, how some corporations are breaking with lobby associations to become more vocal about climate change (and others are not), and how he believes debates surrounding the infrastructure bill will play out in the near future. 

  • On how corporate lobbying has fallen short: “Right now, we don’t see enough corporations lobbying on behalf of the climate sections of the reconciliation bill. This bill that’s pending in Congress is our once in a decade opportunity to get something done on climate.” 
  • On public support for the infrastructure bill: “I see an enormous amount of support in the American public for moving ahead with a sort of clean energy economy that are going to create tremendous numbers of jobs, clean the air, make people healthier.” 

Axios VP of Communications Yolanda Brignoni hosted a View from the Top segment with GE’s Chief Sustainability Officer Roger Martella, who discussed how GE is following through on their ESG goals by investing in sustainable energy technologies. 

  • “We create some of the most technically complex and critical technologies the world needs, and we’re focused today on innovating these technologies on a path to decarbonization.” 

Thank you GE for sponsoring this event.