Record-breaking heat raises risk of fires across western US as blazes grow in Montana


A pedestrian takes a bottle of water at a Salvation Army hydration station during a heatwave as temperatures hit 115-degrees, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — Dangerous, record-busting heat spread across the West Wednesday as a dome of high pressure hovered over a large swath of the region, pushing temperatures into the triple digits this week and intensifying the risk for wildfires amid a long-running drought.

Some of the highest temperatures were seen in bone-dry Arizona, where the National Weather Service forecast a record high of 117 degrees in Phoenix. The previous high for the date was 115 degrees, set in 1974.

The excessive heat stretched from southeast California across Arizona and Nevada and into New Mexico, where a high of 103 degrees Monday at Albuquerque’s airport set a record. It was expected to hit near that Tuesday.

Palmdale, in Southern California’s Mojave Desert, hit 107 degrees, breaking a record of 105 set in 1966.

“More records are at risk tomorrow [Wednesday],” the National Weather Service for Los Angeles tweeted.

In Montana, fires have exploded in size, triggering evacuations and destroying an unknown number of homes as furious winds stoked the blazes and caused a firefighting helicopter to crash-land, officials said Wednesday.

The sudden ramping up of what started as a relatively quiet fire season came as record-high, triple-digit temperatures early in the week baked much of Montana and portions of northern Wyoming. At least 14 new fires were reported in the two states since Tuesday.

Smoke from the Robertson Draw wildfire could seen from space Tuesday, footage released by the NOAA Satellite and Information Service shows.

The California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s power grid, said Tuesday that it could issue “Flex Alerts” Wednesday and Thursday because torrid conditions engulfing the West have tightened energy supplies.

Disruptions such as wildfires that burn transmission lines, mechanical failure at power plants or other unexpected problems could lead to the alerts. This would be the first Flex Alerts of the year, according to NewsNation affiliate KTLA.

The potential Flex Alerts would be in effect during the hours from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Utility customers would be asked to set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, avoid using major appliances and turn off unnecessary lights.

During a heat wave last August, California experienced rolling blackouts over two days, affecting hundreds of thousands of people for several hours. They were the first in 19 years, when blackouts in 2001 contributed to the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis.

Temperatures in the Las Vegas area also were rising toward possible records during what the weather service was calling the hottest spell in decades.

“It’s just going up from here,” said meteorologist Ashley Nickerson of the weather service’s Las Vegas office.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliates from around the country contributed to this report.

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