Strong winds threaten to whip up 'biggest ever' wildfire on Hawaii's Big Island; California blaze grows as temperatures rise

·3 min read

Strong winds could fan the flames of the largest wildfire ever recorded on Hawaii's Big Island, officials warned Tuesday. The fire forced thousands of people to flee and destroyed two homes over the weekend.

Though the evacuation orders were lifted, authorities said that they could be reinstated and that people should be ready to go again.

“It’s the biggest (fire) we’ve ever had on this island,” Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth said of the more than 62-square-mile blaze. “With the drought conditions that we’ve had, it is of concern. You see something like this where you’re putting thousands of homes in danger, it’s very concerning.”

One homeowner said he tried to protect his property but lost the battle as the wind picked up.

A U.S. Army aircraft from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade on Oahu prepares to drop water on a blaze in Hawaii on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.
A U.S. Army aircraft from the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade on Oahu prepares to drop water on a blaze in Hawaii on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.

“I had a dozer on my lawn, my land, and I tried to make a fire break,” Joshua Kihe of the community of Waimea told Hawaii News Now. He said the fire destroyed his home, but he plans to rebuild.

Progress in West, but air an issue: Western wildfires bring poor air quality across US as fire crews make strides

According to the National Weather Service, strong winds and dry conditions will continue throughout the Hawaiian islands on Tuesday, which will ease only slightly on Wednesday. As of Aug. 2, the fire was 50% contained, said Fire Chief Kazuo Todd.

Sustained winds were forecast at 18 mph to 20 mph, and gusts were up to 40 mph.

Fires also continued to burn in the Western U.S. on Tuesday. California's Dixie Fire – the state's largest at 397 square miles — was 35% contained as of Tuesday morning, Cal Fire said. About 45 homes and other buildings have been destroyed in the fire, and another 3,000 remained threatened.

Evacuations were ordered for the community of about 1,000 people as well as for the east shore of nearby Lake Almanor, a popular resort area. Crews contended with dry, hot and windy conditions "and the forecast calls for the return of active fire behavior,” Cal Fire said.

Similar weather was expected across Southern California, where heat advisories and warnings were issued for interior valleys, mountains and deserts for much of the week.

Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive

The Bootleg Fire, the nation’s largest at 647 square miles, was 84% contained as of late Monday, though it wasn't expected to be fully under control until Oct. 1.

Overall, across the nation Tuesday, 97 large fires were burning over 2,900 square miles in 12 states, the National Interagency Fire Center said. More than 22,000 wildland firefighters and support personnel were assigned to incidents across the country.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Record wildfire on Big Island, Hawaii, threatened by strong winds

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