Firefighters were aghast as the monster rose before them and broke through their fire line.
They had been battling the Holloway Fire along the Nevada-Oregon border since Aug. 5, enduring blistering daytime temperatures that gave little relief at night.
After nightfall Sunday, Aug. 12, 25 mile-per-hour winds generated a “dust devil” that picked up burning embers. The swirling column of fire broke through the firefighters’ efforts to hold a fire line and swept into the Kings River Valley, spreading the blaze that already had charred more than 336,000 acres in northern Nevada and southern Oregon.
“We saw huge fire whorls all night,” said Fred Kaninski, fire behavior analyst for the Holloway Fire. “It was burning like daytime.”
The West is on fire.
Not even our Virgin Mountains have been spared, as summer lightning triggered the Eastern Mine Fire about 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11.
The fire is about four miles south of Mesquite and the billowing smoke was clearly visible Monday. By late Tuesday afternoon as it consumed about 377 acres of mountainous terrain and was 40 percent contained. About 75 firefighters, including three hand crews, made use of a single engine and a UTV (utility towing vehicle) with the support of one single-engine air tanker. Fortunately no structures are threatened and no injuries reported. The firefighters anticipated full containment by 6 p.m. yesterday
During the past week in Nevada, lightning has produced 186 fires and burned about 252,000 acres, according to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (NDCNR).
As of Saturday, Aug. 11, Nevada has 15 large uncontained fires, says Kay Scherer, NDCNR Deputy Director.
That Holloway fire is the largest
“Evacuations are in place in Mountain City, Paradise Valley and McDermitt, Nevada, as fires have threatened those communities in the last two days,” she said Monday. “In addition to the communities that have been threatened, Nevada is losing large amounts of wildlife habitat and some of our remaining sagebrush ecosystems.”
There are so many uncontained fires, the NDCNR is concerned they are reducing the capability to respond to new fire starts.
Gov. Brian Sandoval put politics aside to address the fire danger. “First of all I want to thank all of the courageous professionals battling to protect Nevadans and Nevada resources throughout the state. I am closely monitoring developments on all of the fires and working closely with our lead agencies to make certain all of our available resources have been deployed. Further, I would ask for the help of all residents and tourists alike. The drought and weather conditions in the state are very challenging, and everyone must remain as vigilant as possible to ensure they do not inadvertently contribute to the problem through activities that could ignite a fire.”
Beyond just expressing his concern Sandoval visited the Elko Interagency Dispatch Center on Sunday, Aug. 12, as part of an aerial tour of northeast Nevada fire activity hosted by the Nevada Division of Forestry.
Fires also are burning in many other parts of the West. In Central Washington near the town of Cle Elum 60 homes were destroyed and hundreds of people forced to flee. The Associated Press says at least 24,000 acres (about 38 square miles) have been scorched since the fire started Monday afternoon just east of the small town.
A dozen fires are raging in Idaho, where the AP says a 20-year-old firefighter died when a burning tree fell on her.
In Utah’s western desert, a 34-square-mile blaze shut down access to the historic Pony Express Road and AP says a herd of wild horses was threatened
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has allowed the residents of 500 homes in Lake County to return home late Monday after firefighters got the upper hand on a 9-square-mile blaze that had destroyed three buildings there.
Nor has the Arizona Strip escaped the streak of fires.
The fires there are fueled by cheatgrass, mixed brush and pinyon/juniper trees.
According to Rachel Tueller, the BLM’s Arizona Strip District Public Affairs Officer, none of the several fires caused road closures or evacuations. And all were started by lightning strikes over the weekend.
Close to Mesquite in Arizona, five fires were reported in the Mile Mark 19 Complex, called that because of the complex’s proximity to Interstate 15 at mile marker 19. The fires were burning on the south side of I-15 near the Virgin River Gorge. They burned through Monday night and into Tuesday morning and blacked 5-10 acres. (See photo on Page 1-A)
Tueller reported eight fires burning in the Arizona Strip over about 2,000 acres.
The rash of fires has added fuel to the debate about human-caused climate change. Is the hotter-than-usual and dry summer weather a fluke or is it an indication that the climate is warming.
There’s certainly no argument that July was hot in the United States.
According to AccuWeather.com, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report on Aug. 8 that marked July 2012 as the hottest month ever recorded in the lower 48.
The average temperature was 77.6 degrees F in the contiguous states. That’s 3.3 degrees F. warmer that the 20th century average.
The previous warmest July was in 1936 when the average U.S. temperature was 77.4 degrees F.
AccuWeather.com noted that the hottest areas of the country were in the Midwest and Central Plains, areas plagued by intense drought.
"Droughts tend to feed and sustain heat waves," AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Brett Anderson said. He added the month’s high temperature have been intensified by the dry conditions.
AccuWeather.com has been reporting the effects the devastating drought has had on the U.S. corn crop and the potential for a significant soybean loss, as well.
"A lack of water in the ground has allowed the sun to heat the surface much more efficiently than it normally would, due to less water being evaporated," Anderson added.
AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Brett Anderson said.
AccuWeather.com added that July's record warmth makes the temperature for the first seven months of 2012 much higher than average and “the warmest 12-month period the U.S. has experienced since record keeping began in 1895.”
"We've had a lot of extremes globally and in the U.S. We can't say definitely that climate change is causing it, but it's definitely a suspect," Anderson said. "But the planet is warming; that's unmistakable. The frequency of extreme heat and drought events is likely to increase."
Certainly the comparison for the past 12 months to be the hottest 12 months ever recorded isn’t to be discounted. But as for July’s record heat breaking the old 1936 record by 0.2 degrees F, it makes one wonder, “Why was July so hot 76 years ago?”
I’m not as impressed by temperature records being broken that are 50, 60 or 70 years old or older. It just makes me curious what was going on when the earlier record was set; why was it so hot back then?
But when decades-old records begin to fall and then those new records fall the next year or in the next couple of years, then I’ll be more convinced there’s a climatic trend and not just a variance of weather.
But the political temperature of 2012 certainly is going to break all-time records itself, as climate change gets used as a campaign tool in the presidential election. The Republicans have an uphill battle winning the votes of younger voters on that issue who have become convinced the earth is radically warming, that human activity has caused it and that relinquishing economic freedom to the government and international controls will reverse the process. Many believe the time has come to set fossil fuels aside and switch to wind and solar power, although, at the moment, those renewable resources can do little more than supplement fossil fuels.
Without government intervention and investment in “green” energy, coal is slowly being replaced by natural gas through free market forces. But while natural gas burns cleaner than coal, it still releases carbon dioxide (the greenhouse gas blamed for global warming) into the atmosphere. The same carbon dioxide being released by the ton into the atmosphere by the wildfires burning in the West.