Firefighters struggled to contain an exploding high-temperature wildfire in Northern California as another heat wave blanketed the west, triggering an extreme heat warning for the interior and desert.
Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53 Celsius) on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek. The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the previous day, when the site reached 130 F (54 C).
If confirmed as accurate, the 130-degree reading would be the hottest high on record there since July 1913, when the Furnace Creek desert reached 1.34 F (57 C), considered the highest recorded temperature on Earth.
About 300 miles (483 kilometers) northwest of the blistering desert, California’s biggest wildfire of the year raged along the Nevada border. The Beckwourth Complex Fire — a combination of two lightning-caused fires that spread 45 miles north of Lake Tahoe — showed no signs of slowing down in the northeast Sierra Nevada forest area after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday.
Late Saturday, flames spread over Interstate 395, threatening properties in Nevada’s Washoe County. “Take immediate action to protect large animals and livestock,” The Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District tweeted.
The fire, which was only 8% under control, expanded dramatically to 222 square kilometers as firefighters suffocated in temperatures of 100 degrees.
It was one of several threatening homes in Western states expected to see triple-digit heat all weekend as a high-pressure area blankets the region.
Driven by strong winds, a southern Oregon wildfire doubled in size to 120 square miles (311 square kilometers) Saturday as it swept through heavy woods in the Fremont-Winema National Forest near the town of Sprague River in Klamath County.
The National Weather Service warned that the hazardous conditions could cause heat-related illness, while the California electrical utility operator issued a statewide Flex Alert Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to prevent disruptions and progressive blackouts.
The California Independent System Operator warned of a potential power shortage not only because of the increasing heat, but also because a wildfire in southern Oregon threatened transmission lines that carry imported power to California.
Governor Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation on Friday suspending rules to allow for more power capacity, and the ISO asked for emergency assistance from other states. On Saturday, Newsom issued a new proclamation permitting the use of ships’ auxiliary engines to relieve pressure on the power grid.
Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high temperature of 120 F (49 C) on Saturday. It was the fourth time the temperature reached 120 degrees so far this year, the Desert Sun reported.
In California’s agricultural Central Valley, temperatures of 100 degrees blanketed the region, with Fresno reaching 111 degrees F (44 C), just one degree less than the all-time high for the date,
Las Vegas late Saturday afternoon equaled the record of 117 F (47 C), the National Weather Service said. The city has recorded that record high temperature four more times, most recently in June 2017.
NV Energy, Nevada’s largest energy provider, also urged customers to conserve electricity on Saturday and Sunday nights due to the heat wave and wildfires affecting transmission lines across the region.
In Southern California, a wildfire caused by a burning large oil rig in eastern San Diego County led to the evacuation of two Native American reservations on Saturday.
In north-central Arizona, Yavapai County on Saturday lifted an evacuation warning for Black Canyon City, an unincorporated city 40 miles north of Phoenix, after a fire in nearby mountains no longer posed a threat. In Mohave County, Arizona, two firefighters died on Saturday after a plane they were traveling on to respond to a small wildfire crashed, local media reported.
A wildfire in southeastern Washington expanded to nearly 155 square miles as it blackened grass and wood as it moved into the Umatilla National Forest.
In Idaho, Governor Brad Little on Friday declared a wildfire emergency and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires started after thunderstorms swept across the drought-ravaged region.
Associated Press writers Bob Jablon in Los Angeles, Martha Bellisle in Seattle, and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this story.