Wildfires in the West: California braces for record heat wave; an expensive season for Colorado; new fires erupt in Washington, Wyoming

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on wildfire news in the West. Here is the latest for the week starting Aug. 31, 2020. Photo courtesy of The Billings Gazette.

Wildland firefighters across the region are racing to control a litany of blazes, as a heat wave threatens to exacerbate already arid conditions.

California continues to face the brunt of the destruction, with approximately 900 wildfires across the state burning more than 1.5 million acres as of Sept. 2, according to Cal Fire. These fires – the result of more than 14,000 lightning strikes – have led to eight fatalities so far, including one firefighter.

With temperatures in parts of the Golden State expected to reach up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit over the long weekend (Sept. 5-7), firefighters are working overtime to achieve containment before conditions worsen, The Guardian reports. As of Sept. 3, the nearly 400,000-acre SCU Lightning Complex is now 76% contained, the 375,000-acre LNU Lightning Complex is 78% contained, and the 85,000-acre CZU Complex is nearing 50% containment.

In Colorado, rain and cooler temperatures this week have aided firefighters in battling a handful of incidents, including the 81% contained Pine Gulch Fire, which on Sept. 2 became the largest wildfire in state history at 139,007 acres, according to ABC7 Denver. The Grizzly Creek fire, which closed a stretch of I-70 (now reopened) for two weeks in late August, is now at 32,464 acres and 75% containment.

Other incidents throughout the state include the 23,037-acre Cameron Peak Fire, at 6% containment, and the 12,097-acre Williams Fork Fire, at 10% containment. Like California, Colorado is also expected to experience hot, dry conditions this weekend, which create a heightened risk for new or worsening wildfires.

To date, Colorado’s wildfires this season have cost the state $77 million to fight, which includes personnel, supplies and equipment, The Colorado Sun reports.

On Aug. 31, the Evans Canyon Fire ignited in Washington, burning 52,000 acres and destroying five homes as of Sept. 3, according to The Yakima Herald. The blaze, which is yet to be contained, has prompted evacuation orders for hundreds of households and led to the closure of State Route 821 through the Yakima River Canyon.

Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, the White River Fire near Oregon’s Mount Hood has reached 16,356 acres, with 10% containment as of Sept. 1. It has prompted evacuation orders for nearby residents. Meanwhile, the Beachie Creek Fire in the state’s Opal Creek Wilderness tripled in size on Sept. 2 to approximately 155 acres after previously showing little growth, The Statesman Journal reports.

In Arizona, eight active wildfires are burning east of the Phoenix metro area, according to KTAR News, consuming a total of approximately 140,000 acres as of Aug. 31. Most prominently, the lightning-caused Griffin Fire, which ignited Aug. 17, has burned 61,377 acres and is 77% contained.

A fast-spreading, 5,000-acre fire broke out in northern Wyoming on Sept. 2, although officials have yet to issue any warnings or evacuation orders, The Gillette News Record reports. The same day, an approximately 1,000-acre fire threatened Jordan, Montana, forcing an evacuation of the town’s some 400 residents. The area was determined safe to return to later that evening and no damage was reported.

Click here for the latest wildfire updates in your state.

Learn more about WGA’s policy work to prevent and combat wildfire in the West.

ICYMI: COVID-19 in the West: A state-by-state breakdown of the Governors’ work (updated weekly)

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