Heavy snow and winter storms firing up wildfires in California and western United States

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 6:43am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 July, 2017, 6:43am

Tall grass from a deluge of winter rains is fueling wildfires throughout the western US, damaging more than a dozen homes in Nevada and threatening hundreds more structures in California, authorities said on Tuesday.

Residents living the mountain communities southwest of Yosemite National Park in California were either ordered or advised to leave home. Flames remain miles from the popular tourist destination of Yosemite, but some nearby roads have been closed.

The wildfire burning on steep hills covered by dense grass and forest land threatens roughly 300 structures that include homes and other buildings, officials said.

“There’s ample fuel and steep terrain,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman DeeDee Garcia said. “It makes firefighting difficult.”

In a remote northeastern corner of Nevada, roughly 14 homes were damaged or destroyed by a wildfire that started on Monday. Officials have lifted an evacuation advisory, allowing hundreds of people to return home and assess damage, authorities said.

Record rain and snowfall drenching California and Nevada this winter have caused grassland to thrive throughout the region, also creating more opportunity for the fire as temperatures this summer spike.

In Nevada, wind is driving the flames through invasive cheat grass growing twice the norm, US Bureau of Land Management spokesman Greg Deimel said.

“It is very thick, very dense,” he said. “You get the winds and the density of the grass, the fire just goes.”

This summer’s high temperatures follow a very wet winter that dumped more than 60 feet of snow at ski resorts in the Sierra west of Reno.

Hundreds of wildfires tear across western Canada and US, forcing thousands to flee

The California blaze near Lake McClureeast of Modesto, has charred than 24 square miles (62 square kilometers). Officials report having it 5 per cent contained.

It’s burning near Highway 49, a historical route winding its way up California foothills of the western Sierra Nevada dotted with communities and landmarks that sprouted up during the state’s Gold Rush.

To the south, crews have increased containment of a 29-square-mile (72-square-kilometre) blaze burning for a 10th day in the mountains of Santa Barbara County.

It is 62 per cent contained after destroying 16 homes.