Intense Heat, Winds, and Drought Fuel Smoky Infernos Across Western United States

September 7, 2020

Intense heat, winds, and drought have fueled smoky infernos in the western United States.

Though serious fires burned in California and other western states for much of August 2020, many new fires were ignited and others surged in intensity over Labor Day weekend. Cold air from Canada spilled into the Great Basin and helped trigger powerful wind storms in the Pacific Northwest.
With record-breaking heat and extreme drought conditions already gripping much of the region, the addition of high winds further energized the fires, prompting many to spread rapidly and loft vast columns of smoke high into the air.

September 7, 2020

When the Aqua and NOAA-20 satellites acquired these images on September 7, 2020, smoke filled the skies across several states. In a few instances, fires grew so hot that they created pyrocumulus “fire clouds” that lofted columns of smoke several miles into the atmosphere. Thick smoke triggered warnings of unhealthy air quality in the region.

The fires have created destroyed homes and triggered evacuations in many communities. In California, hundreds of hikers trapped at a wilderness resort near Fresno had to be rescued by helicopter. In Washington, the Babbs Road fire overran most of the town of Malden. In Oregon, flames destroyed large numbers of buildings in Blue River. In Colorado, people faced mandatory evacuations due to the Cameron Peak fire. They also endured weather whiplash: Just a day after record temperatures helped fuel fires, air temperatures plummeted nearly 60°F (33°C) and snow fell.

September 7, 2020

While the cold front could help suppress fires in some parts of the Rockies, forecasters expect dangerous fire conditions to persist along much of the Pacific Coast through September 9. Red flag warnings were in place for much of western Washington and Oregon and most of California and Nevada.

NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS and VIIRS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview.

Earth ObservatoryNASAWildfires