California wildfires: Thompson Fire in Butte County prompts evacuation order for thousands as heat builds in the West


Thousands have been ordered to evacuate in Northern California due to a wildfire burning in Butte County, as an “exceptionally dangerous and lethal” heat wave in the West ramps up.

Soaring temperatures – which will continue into next week – have dried out already-parched vegetation, increasing the wildfire risk across the region.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for the area of the fire, clearing the path for additional resources, including the possibility of mobilizing the California National Guard to assist.

The governor’s proclamation cites “continued high temperatures throughout the day and night, dry conditions, and strong winds” that have increased the intensity and spread of the fire.

A local emergency was also declared, and evacuations were ordered on Tuesday evening for some residents in the city of Oroville, as the Thompson Fire continues to burn in Butte County, according to local officials.

Cal Fire said the blaze has grown to more than 3,500 acres and was zero percent contained in an update around noon local time on Wednesday.

Ethan Swope/AP

The Thompson Fire is zero percent contained as of Wednesday morning, according to CalFire.

Four firefighters battling the blaze have been injured, Cal Fire said. More than 1,400 firefighters are working to suppress the flames, along with eight helicopters and numerous air tankers, the agency said.

Oroville is about 65 miles north of Sacramento with a population of around 15,000. The town sits about 20 miles south of Paradise, where the catastrophic Camp Fire killed more than 70 people in 2018. Some of the residents impacted by that fire ended up relocating to Oroville.

About 13,000 residents in communities to the east of Lake Oroville were ordered to evacuate, according to Butte County Sheriff’s Office. 

The city of Oroville’s July 4 fireworks celebration was canceled by California State Parks on Wednesday as firefighters continue to battle the fire, the department said in a news release.

“Due to the large evacuations and damages caused by the Thompson Fire, State Parks and partner agencies … have a large number of resources responding to protect the community and get everyone back home as quickly as possible,” State Parks said. “These agencies also have employees with families displaced by these evacuations who are tirelessly assisting the community of Lake Oroville.”

Red flag warnings are in effect across the West, including in the fire zone, because of extreme heat, gusty winds and low humidity. Already high temperatures will only ramp up Wednesday as an exceptional, long-lasting heat wave begins.

Oroville will see record temperatures of 110 or more each of the next five days – Saturday may reach an all-time record high of 113 – making it that much harder for fire crews to fight the blaze.

Ethan Swope/AP

Several high temperature records have been broken in California, with more expected this week.

The Basin Fire in Fresno County has burned more than 13,000 acres and is currently only 26% contained.

“Outdoor burning and especially fireworks are not recommended,” the weather service in San Francisco warned ahead of the Independence Day holiday.

Nationwide, more than 150 million people across at least 22 states in parts of the Mid-South and West are under heat alerts.

The heat wave is “exceptionally dangerous and lethal,” the weather service in San Francisco said, warning “an event of this scale, magnitude, and longevity will likely rival anything we’ve seen in the last 18 years for inland areas.”

The heat began Tuesday across parts of the West, where numerous daily high temperature records were tied or broken:

  • Ukiah, California: 110 degrees (tied record set in 1924 and 2013)
  • Concord Airport, California: 107 degrees (old record 104 degrees, set in 2001)
  • Santa Rosa Airport, California: 106 degrees (old record 101 degrees, set in 2001)
  • Napa Airport, California: 102 degrees (old record 101, set in 2001)
  • San Jose, California: 102 degrees (tied record, set in 1970)

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The National Weather Service in San Francisco warned people not to use fireworks in the dangerous weather conditions.

Some cities could swelter through multiple days of temperatures well above 100 degrees with some, including Sacramento, potentially seeing a full week of highs over 105 degrees.

Most of California outside of the immediate coastline is under excessive heat warnings. High temperatures from the upper 90s to as high as 115 degrees are possible.

Las Vegas could see high temperatures all week over 110 degrees. The current record is 10 consecutive days set last year. Death Valley could see high temperatures at or above 120 degrees all week.

Heat is expected to spread to the Northwest and to parts of Arizona including Phoenix by the weekend, where triple-digit temperatures are expected, with parts of Arizona seeing highs above 110 degrees.

A 10-year-old died Tuesday in Arizona after experiencing a heat-related emergency while hiking with family in South Mountain Park and Preserve, authorities said. First responders performed an active mountain rescue and airlifted the child to the hospital, where he later died, the Phoenix Police Department said.

On Saturday, a 69-year-old hiker from Austin, Texas, died at the Grand Canyon, according to the National Park Service. Scott Sims became unconscious on the trail and attempts by bystanders and paramedics to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Park rangers warn that summertime temperatures on the trail can reach over 120 degrees in the shade and advise not hiking during the day, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Efforts to assist hikers can be delayed during the summer due to increased need and limited resources, the park service said.

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