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Wildfires, winds and extreme temperatures are battering several Western states.
Raging wildfires, windy conditions and a heat wave with temperatures reaching upward of 100 degrees converged in a dangerous combination over the weekend, as extreme weather continued to batter much of the Western United States on Tuesday.
In California, helicopters battled smoky skies overnight in an attempt to rescue dozens of people trapped in the fiery depths of the Sierra National Forest. But after at least one successful rescue, officials said there were “a lot” of people still waiting to be rescued Tuesday morning.
In Oregon, whipping winds and dry conditions have helped fuel fire outbreaks.
And in Washington State, officials said that 80 percent of homes and structures in Malden, Wash, a town of 200 in the eastern part of the state, had been destroyed by fire. Deputies began going door to door and announcing evacuations, but officials said many buildings, including the fire station, post office, city hall and the library, were completely burned to the ground.
“The scale of this disaster really can’t be expressed in words,” said Brett J. Myers, the sheriff of Whitney County, Wash. “I pray everyone got out in time.”
From California to Colorado, the dueling threats left millions of people in the West grappling with dangerous weather conditions on Tuesday, adding to the devastation of a year marked by illness and job loss during the coronavirus pandemic.
A gender-reveal celebration gone wrong ignited a wildfire that consumed thousands of acres east of Los Angeles, and utility companies were shutting off power for more than 170,000 customers in Northern California, where record amounts of land have burned this year.
In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert said that the State Capitol building would be closed on Tuesday because of “high winds and dangerous conditions.”
And in Colorado, fiery conditions and 101-degree weather are giving way to another extreme: a rapid cold front. Snow was falling in Denver on Tuesday morning.
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‘We lost our home’: A small California town was devastated by the Creek Fire.
It was an old company town tucked away in the Sierra Nevada, where life revolved around shifts at the Edison hydroelectric plant. Neighbors visited at the post office and had coffee at a general store that smoked its own meats. And every wildfire season, the threat of destruction loomed like the granite rock faces towering over their town.
On Monday, residents of Big Creek, Calif., population 200, began coming to grips with the reality that this time much of their tiny community in the Sierra National Forest northeast of Fresno had burned.
“We lost our home,” said Nettie Carroll, 40, who taught science and has lived in the area for 16 years. “It looks like everything is completely gone.”
As California endures one of its worst wildfire seasons ever, a new rash of fires stoked by extreme heat has destroyed homes, cloaked much of the state in smoke, forced thousands of people to evacuate and threatened another round of rolling blackouts.
Late Monday night, military Chinook helicopters were reported to be attempting to rescue more people stranded behind the fire lines but were being thwarted by heavy smoke.
The Fresno Fire Department said on Twitter that choppers were trying to rescue people around Edison Lake, a popular camping and recreation spot in the Sierra National Forest, but smoke was preventing a safe approach. The Fire Department said the pilots would try again during the night using night-vision equipment.
Battalion Chief Tony Escobedo of the Fresno Fire Department said that one death had been reported, but there were no additional details.
Big Creek residents who fled the galloping Creek Fire over the weekend said that more than a dozen homes had been incinerated. The Creek Fire had burned 135,000 acres by Tuesday and was zero percent contained, according to Cal Fire, the state fire agency.
From hotel rooms in Fresno and Modesto or family members’ spare bedrooms where they had fled, Big Creek’s evacuees spent Monday sending one another photographs of flames and char and comparing notes on what had survived and what had not.
The school, which has just 47 students, appeared to suffer some damage but was still standing, residents said. They said the community church, volunteer fire department and post office all apparently survived.
The fire also forced workers to evacuate the 1,000 megawatt Big Creek hydroelectric project, which can power 650,000 homes and was America’s first large-scale pumped hydro plant of its kind with the ability to produce power and store electricity. There was no immediate indication the plant had been damaged.
One fire in California was caused by a gender-reveal celebration.
An elaborate plan to reveal a baby’s gender went disastrously wrong when a “smoke-generating pyrotechnic device” ignited a wildfire that consumed thousands of acres east of Los Angeles over the holiday weekend, the authorities said.
The device ignited four-foot-tall grass at El Dorado Ranch Park on Saturday morning, and efforts to douse the flames with water bottles proved fruitless, Capt. Bennet Milloy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said Monday. The family called 911 to report the fire and shared photos with investigators.
No injuries or serious structural damage were immediately reported.
Criminal charges were being considered, but would not be filed before the fire is extinguished, Captain Milloy said. Cal Fire could also ask those responsible to reimburse the cost of fighting the fire, he added.
Gender-reveal celebrations became popular about a decade ago as a way for new parents to learn the sex of their child, often in the presence of family and friends. Simple versions of these celebrations often involve couples cutting open pink or blue cakes, or popping balloons filled with pink or blue confetti.
In April 2017 near Green Valley, Ariz., about 26 miles south of Tucson, an off-duty Border Patrol agent fired a rifle at a target filled with colored powder and Tannerite, a highly explosive substance, expecting to learn the gender of his child.
When placed with colorful packets of powder and shot at, Tannerite can fill the air with colorful residue for gender-reveal parties: blue for boys or pink for girls.
The resulting explosion sparked a fire that spread to the Coronado National Forest. It consumed more than 45,000 acres, resulted in $8 million in damages and required nearly 800 firefighters to battle it. The border agent immediately reported the fire and admitted that he started it, the United States Attorney in the District of Arizona said in September 2018.
Reporting was contributed by Jack Healy, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Sarah Mervosh, Christina Morales, Ivan Penn, Kate Taylor and Allyson Waller