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Wildfire risk rises as Western states dry out amid ongoing heat wave baking most of the US

LOS ANGELES — Authorities in western states warned of the increasing risk of wildfires as warm conditions and low humidity parched the landscape, amid a prolonged heat wave expected to re-wreck large parts of the U.S. on Thursday.

California’s top fire official said Wednesday that the state has responded to more than 3,500 wildfires so far this year, scorching nearly 330 square miles (842 square kilometers) of vegetation. That’s five times the average number of fires through July 10 in each of the past five years.

“We’re not just in a fire season, we’re in a fire year,” Joe Tyler, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said at a news conference. “Our winds and the recent heat wave have exacerbated the problem and destroyed thousands of acres. So we have to be extra careful.”

California crews working in scorching temperatures and single-digit humidity battled at least 19 major wildfires Wednesday, including a stubborn 45-square-mile (117 square kilometers) blaze that prompted evacuations for about 200 homes in the mountains of Santa Barbara County northwest of Los Angeles. Flames turned to fuel from bone-dry brush and grass.

Several wildfires were also burning in Oregon, including one about 110 miles (178 kilometers) east of Portland that grew to an area of ​​11 square miles (28 square kilometers) on Wednesday because of high temperatures, high winds and low humidity, the state’s fire marshal said.

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek has issued an emergency declaration allowing additional resources to be deployed to combat fire outbreaks as the state has seen record numbers of fires burning daily. high temperatures. Portland reached 103 F (39.4 C) and Salem and Eugene reached 105 F (40.5 C) on Tuesday. The number of potentially heat-related deaths in Oregon rose to 10, according to the coroner’s office.

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More than 142 million A heat warning was in effect across the U.S. on Wednesday, particularly in the western states. Dozens of locations tied or broke heat records over the weekend and were expected to continue to do so throughout the week.

Las Vegas recorded its fifth straight day of temperatures sizzling at 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 degrees Celsius) or higher on Wednesday. The temperature rose to 115 degrees at Harry Reid International Airport shortly after 1 p.m., breaking the previous record of four consecutive days set in July 2005. And the record could be extended or even doubled this weekend.

Nevada’s largest city has already broken 16 heat records since June 1, “and we’re not even halfway through July,” National Weather Service meteorologist Morgan Stessman said Wednesday. That includes a record high of 120 F (48.8 C) on Sunday, which broke the previous record of 117 F (47.2 C).

In Henderson, Nevada, more than a dozen Office of Public Response officers drove around Wednesday offering homeless people and others in need cold water, bus passes and transportation to cooling stations.

On the other side of the country, the weather service warned of a high to extreme heat risk over parts of the East Coast. An extreme heat warning remained in effect Wednesday for the Philadelphia area, northern Delaware and most of New Jersey. Temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius) for most of the region, and meteorologists warned that the heat index could reach 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42.2 degrees Celsius).

In the West the heat was accused of the death of a motorcyclist over the weekend in California’s Death Valley National Park. At the Grand Canyon, the National Park Service investigated the death of a third hiker in recent weeks. Temperatures on parts of some trails could reach 120 F (48.8 C) in the shade.

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Authorities in Arizona were investigating the death of a 2-year-old who was left alone in a hot vehicle Tuesday afternoon in Marana, near Tucson, police said. A 4-month-old baby died Friday near Lake Havasu from heat-related complications, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department said.

The heat wave in the US came as global temperatures hit a record high in June for the 13th month in a row and marked the 12th consecutive month that the world was 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than in pre-industrial times, according to Europe’s climate service Copernicus. Most of this heat, trapped by human-caused climate change, comes from long-term warming from greenhouse gases released from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, scientists say.

“Climate change is real,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference Wednesday. “These extremes are happening every day here in the great state of California. If you don’t believe in science, you have to believe your own eyes, the life experience that we all have here in the western United States, and for that matter, all over the world.”

Newsom said the state was prepared to fight the fires and praised federal support for providing the state with new firefighting aircraft. Cal Fire also has used cameras and artificial intelligence to detect fires and alert emergency responders, officials said.

Heavy rainfall caused severe weather in southern New Mexico flash floods on top of forest fire burns on Wednesday for the second day in a row, forcing an estimated 1,000 residents to flee their homes in Ruidoso, city spokeswoman Kerry Gladden said.

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She said emergency workers had conducted more than 30 water rescues, but there were no immediate reports of deaths or serious injuries. She said most bridges over rivers and streams were closed, as was U.S. Highway 70 — one of the city’s main arteries — while crews cleared debris.

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Associated Press journalists Ken Ritter, Rio Yamat and Ty O’Neil in Las Vegas; Tran Nguyen in Sacramento, California; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada; John Antczak in Los Angeles; Martha Bellisle in Seattle; and Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

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