A wave of ‘extreme heat’ is hitting tens of millions of Americans this weekend, with many record high temperatures expected in the central and northeast. In California, a wildfire is spreading alarmingly.
The ‘Oak Fire’ – described as ‘explosive’ by authorities – broke out Friday in Mariposa County, near Yosemite National Park and its giant sequoias. It has already moved over some 4,800 acres, destroying ten properties and damaging five others, according to a bulletin Saturday from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Several roads were cut and several areas were ordered to evacuate, while the fire, of “extreme activity” and fought by more than 500 firefighters, was not under control on Saturday, according to the same source. More than 6,000 people were evacuated, according to a spokesperson for this organization, adding that employees from various departments were flocking from all over California to lend a hand.
Officials quoted by the Los Angeles Times newspaper estimated that it will probably take a week to circumscribe it. According to a climatologist from the University of California at Los Angeles, Daniel Swain, the fire “spread significantly in almost all directions”, “in the context of high fuel load and extreme drought”.
“The series of relatively small, non-destructive wildfires that have plagued California so far this season appear to be over,” he tweeted. The American West has already experienced wildfires of exceptional magnitude and intensity in recent years, with a very marked lengthening of the fire season, a phenomenon that scientists attribute to climate change.
Witnesses posted images on social media of a huge, impressive whirlwind of thick smoke rising from the forest, like a tornado, a dangerous pyrocumulus phenomenon that can fuel the fire.
This fire is one of the most dramatic consequences of the heat wave affecting the United States this weekend, in a localized area between California and Oregon to the west but much more extensively in the center and northeast.
Temperatures in these two regions are expected to peak on Sunday at the earliest. “From the southern plains to the east, the temperature will be extremely oppressive,” the National Weather Service (NWS) announced on Saturday evening, also warning of violent thunderstorms.
Stifling heat was particularly felt in the capital Washington, where the temperature flirted with the symbolic bar of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). New York was not spared, with temperatures close to 35 degrees. The temperature could also reach 43 degrees in parts of Utah (west), Arizona (south) and the northeast, according to NWS.
The heat wave has already led to an increase in the number of calls to the emergency services for discomfort related to high temperatures. ‘Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States. It far exceeds any other nature-related cause of death,” Joseph Kralicek, director of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area emergency management agency, told CNN.
In Boston, where Mayor Michelle Wu has declared a “state of heat-related emergency”, providing for the opening of municipal places to cool off and swimming pools open longer, it could be 37 degrees on Sunday.
This week, US President Joe Biden again underlined the ‘clear and immediate danger’ posed by climate change, ‘an existential threat to our nation and the world’. But its room for maneuver is limited in Congress and by the Supreme Court.
The planet has already recorded several heat waves this year, such as in July in Western Europe or in India in March-April. Their multiplication is an unmistakable sign of climate change, according to scientists. In June 2021, an extremely rare ‘heat dome’ wreaked havoc across the west coast of the United States and Canada, killing more than 500 people and causing major fires, with temperatures approaching 50 degrees.