Friday, 20 May 2022

‘Everything was orange’: US wildfires burning at furious pace early this year

‘Everything was orange’: US wildfires burning at furious pace early this year

‘Everything was orange’: US wildfires burning at furious pace early this year

Extreme conditions have fueled an explosive start to what's expected to be yet another intense season of big blazes, with months to go before wildfire threats typically peak across the west.

Wildfires have charred close to 1.3m acres nationwide this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), outpacing the 10-year average for this time of year by more than 71%. Predictions for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the west, with the drought and warmer weather brought on by the climate crisis worsening wildfire danger.

"We all know it's really early for our fire season and we're all in awe of what we've already experienced," said Dave Bales, commander on a New Mexico fire that is the largest burning in the US.

From a California hilltop where mansions with multimillion-dollar Pacific Ocean views were torched to remote New Mexico mountains burned by a month-old monster blaze, similar conditions set the stage for the fires, which fire crews are still fighting to contain. Exacerbated by the climate crisis, rising temperatures spurred dryness, turning parched vegetation into fuel. Gusty winds have complicated firefights, carrying embers and fanning the flames through the drought-stricken region.

As the unstoppable northern New Mexico wildfire chewed through more dense forest on Thursday, firefighters in the coastal community of Laguna Niguel doused charred and smoldering remains of 20 large homes that quickly went up in flames and forced a frantic evacuation.

"The sky, everything was orange. It looked like an inferno, so we just jumped in the car," Sassan Darian said, as he recounted fleeing with his daughter and father while embers swirled around them. "My daughter said, 'We're on fire.' There were sparks on her and we were patting ourselves down."

Fire officials said there was not much they could do in recent days to stop the fast-moving flames burning in tinder-dry forests in the Sangre de Christo range. Fueled by overgrown mountainsides covered with ponderosa pine and other trees sucked dry of moisture over decades, the fire had burned across more than 270,440 acres - an area bigger than the city of Dallas, Texas - by Friday morning and was 30% contained.

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