SAN FRANCISCO – Western states besieged by numerous forest fires could face a new threat this week as thunderstorms loom and the possibility of flash floods increases.
The National Weather Service said the storms are expected to hit the interior of the western states, particularly the area from the Great Basin to the Rocky Mountains.
“Heavy rainfall from monsoon activity will continue the potential for flash floods, especially in complex terrain, burn scars and urban areas,” the NWS said in these regions.
Areas made sterile by forest fires across the west are particularly vulnerable to flash floods when hit by heavy rainfall. Parts of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Washington and Montana are under flood protection.
Double-edged sword:Southwest monsoons bring relief from drought – but also dangerous floods
This was the most active monsoon season since 2015, in contrast to the uneventful season last year. The large influx of rainfall was a boon to parched states like New Mexico and Arizona – Tucson recorded its wettest July in history with 8.06 inches of rain, nearly four times the norm – but it also had tragic consequences. At least five people died from floods, and several more are missing.
AccuWeather chief meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said that unlike last year when the monsoon high pressure area was built in the west and blocked the flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, this year it was farther east over the Rocky Mountains and plains.
“The clockwise circulation around the high draws moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of California to the southwest,” said Sosnowski.
That, in turn, feeds the downpours, but they haven’t reached Oregon or California, where two of the country’s biggest wildfires are burning, if not as wild as the days before.
Firefighters in Oregon reported progress in the fight against the bootleg fire, the largest in the country at more than 640 square miles in the remote southern part of the state. Containment increased from 56% on Saturday to 74% on Sunday.
“This reflects several good days of work on site, during which the crews were able to strengthen and build additional security lines,” said spokesman Al Nash.
Authorities in Northern California’s Butte and Plumas counties have canceled evacuation orders near another major fire, the Dixie Fire, that charred more than 380 square miles in Bergen, where 42 homes and other buildings were destroyed. The fire was 32% contained on Sunday, but authorities warned that unpredictable winds and extremely dry fuels keep the risk of flare-ups high.
The outbreak of fires in much of the American West has contaminated the air in much of the country, reaching the east coast and causing air quality warnings on Sunday in parts of the West and Midwest, which include the northern Rockies. Canadian forest fires raised pollution warnings in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.
Forest fires emit huge amounts of microscopic smoke particles that researchers say can be harmful if inhaled and have both immediate and long-term health effects. Children, the elderly and people with previous illnesses are particularly at risk.
On Friday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with governors from California, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming, the second of its kind, to discuss fire safety and fire fighting measures.
“Our resources are already exhausted to keep up,” said Biden. “We need more help”
On the same day, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a proclamation to incentivize large companies to conserve energy while the state prepares for potential power outages due to the high heat conditions. Drought has minimized hydropower output and the state could face a shortage of 3,500 megawatts on hot days.
Featuring: Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; The Associated Press