Thousands Flee As Scores of Large Wildfires Blaze in Western U.S., Canada

Pam Wright and Ada Carr
Published: July 11, 2017

More than 200 large wildfires fueled by dry grass have forced thousands of residents to flee in the U.S. and Canada.

On Tuesday, many of the nearly 8,000 people told to evacuate in California over the past several days were allowed to return to their homes, particularly in northern California. Many others remained evacuated, according to the Associated Press. 

In Southern California, at least 3,500 people were evacuated as firefighters battled two fires at opposite ends of Santa Barbara County. One of them, the so-called Alamo fire, has burned more than 43 square miles, is 45 percent contained and threatens homes near a town in neighboring San Luis Obispo County.

The situation remains dangerous as heat returns to the West after a brief respite early this week, notes meteorologist Chris Dolce.

A view from space of smoke rising from wildfires burning in southern California.
"Temperatures have trended back closer to seasonal averages in the West this week," said Dolce. "But a ridge of high pressure will once again build across the region, causing hot temperatures to return to parts of the Northwest, Great Basin and Rockies late this week into the weekend. The Southwest should see temperatures stay mostly close to seasonal averages due to increased monsoonal moisture"

(MORE: California Heat Wave Kills Thousands of Cattle)

Further north, some 4,000 residents were told to evacuate their homes in the Sierra Nevada foothills north of Sacramento as fire swept through the grasslands, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told AP.

The so-called Wall fire has burned more than 9 square miles and is 45 percent contained, reports the Sacramento Bee. Four firefighters were injured in the blaze that has destroyed at least three dozen homes as of Tuesday, the AP reports. 

The area burning was just southeast of Oroville, where a broken spillway at the nation's tallest dam earlier this year prompted the temporary evacuation of 200,000 residents downstream.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

The fires are two of 15 large wildfires burning across California.

Elsewhere in the West

Authorities said Tuesday that they believe a wildfire that forced hundreds to evacuate near Breckenridge, Colorado, was human-caused, but they are not yet releasing details. Investigators say they are looking for two hikers that were seen near where the Peak Two fire started last week. The blaze has been contained, except for a portion that continues to burn in rugged, steep terrain. 

In rural Arizona, fire officials say three homes were among 10 buildings that were burned. The wildfire there has led to the evacuation of the entire town of Dudleyville, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Phoenix.

A wildfire burning in near Summer Lake in south-central Oregon has destroyed a hunting cabin and an outbuilding, reports the Associated Press.

British Columbia

For the first time in 15 years, Canada's British Columbia declared a province-wide state of emergency Saturday as more than 230 wildfires burned out of control, prompting the evacuation of more than 14,000 residents, reports the Globe and Mail

According to CBC News, evacuations were ordered for an entire town, at least one airport, two hospitals and hundreds of homes after 142 new fires broke out throughout the province on Friday. 

Sparked by lightning and fueled by gusty winds, the blazes are being reported "faster than can be written down."

"The problem is, we're getting a lot of lightning, and a lot of localized erratic strong winds, but not a lot of precipitation," CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said.

One of the largest fires is near Ashcroft in the southern part of the district. The blaze has torched more than 23 square miles, prompting the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to declare a state of local emergency.

The fire destroyed two airport hangars, around 30 homes in a trailer park in Boston Flats and three or four home on the Ashcroft Indian Band reserve. Long-term patients at the Ashcroft Hospital were moved as a precaution.

Fires surrounded three sides of Cache Creek, just north of Ashcroft, prompting Mayor John Ranta to sign an evacuation notice for all of the town's 1,000 or so residents. 

Further north, a series of lightning strikes sparked several wildfires in the Cariboo Regional District. One prompted the evacuation of the Williams Lake airport.

"I saw three of them and then I saw the fires they created as I drove by them," Mike MacKenzie, who was traveling through the area, told CBC News. "I've never seen as many fires all start pretty much in about a two-hour period."

    Nearly 4,000 people were forced to evacuate near 100 Mile House as a blaze threatened homes there.

    The Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre issued a warning, saying "fires are reported faster than they can be written down — all over the Cariboo."

    MORE: California Wildfires — June 2017

    The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

    Featured Blogs

    Meteorology of Saturday's Colombian Flood Disaster That Killed 254

    By Dr. Jeff Masters
    April 3, 2017

    At least 254 people were killed in the in the city of Mocoa (population 40,000) in southwest Colombia near the border of Ecuador early Saturday, when torrential rains triggered a debris flow on a nearby mountain that surged into the town as a huge wall of water carrying tons of mud and debris. The disaster is the fourth deadliest weather-related disaster in Colombia’s recorded history.

    Iconic American Destination Virtually Isolated for Rest of Year

    By Christopher C. Burt
    March 24, 2017

    Half of the village of Big Sur, on the coast of central California, has lost its only access to the north following the demolition of the flood-damaged Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge along State Route 1 (also Rt. 1 or SR 1) on March 19. Although Rt. 1 to the south of Big Sur has reopened to traffic (after mud and rock slides were cleared) it is a long 70-mile journey along the windy but spectacular highway to Cambria, the next town of any significance where supplies can be had. CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) estimates it will take 6-9 months to rebuild a new bridge over the canyon.

    An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

    By Stu Ostro
    October 5, 2015

    The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

    Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

    By Shaun Tanner
    September 16, 2015

    By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.