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Fires Blaze Across the Western U.S.

July 28, 2023
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As record-breaking heat continues to scorch parts of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, NOAA satellites are monitoring fires in the western U.S., which are sending plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. 

As of July 26, 2023, a total of 39 large fires have burned 201,637 acres in nine states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, California, Texas, Montana, and Washington. 

Since January, 29,118 wildfires have burned roughly 950,000 acres across the U.S., below the 10-year average of 33,520 wildfires and 3,534,123 acres burned. 

In Montana, the Colt Fire burning northwest of the town of Seeley Lake has grown, with evacuation orders and warnings in effect. The fire was sparked by lightning on Monday, July 17, 2023, and was detected the following morning. The fire has grown from about 3,000 acres on Monday to an estimated 4,937 acres as of Thursday morning (July 27). Additionally, the Bowles Creek Fire is now 1,633 acres, and crews are hoping to take advantage of cooler weather to build fire lines. 

In Idaho, firefighters are still trying to determine the cause of the Hayden Fire. The blaze started around 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 19 in the Lemhi Mountain Range, 18 miles west of Leadore. It has since grown significantly to 14,745 acres. No injuries have been reported in connection with this fire as firefighters work to contain it, and there aren’t any homes or buildings at risk. On Tuesday, a news release from the Interagency Incident Management Team said the fire is burning in “steep and difficult terrain with spruce/subalpine fir.” 

As of Monday, the Pika Fire in California’s Yosemite National Park is at 840 Acres with 30% Containment. Resulting smoke has been impacting Yosemite Valley. Also in California, firefighters continued to battle three large brush fires Wednesday that, combined, had scorched hundreds of acres near the Santa Monica Mountains, including the latest, dubbed the Owen fire, damaging power lines and shutting down roads amid triple-digit temperatures.

The Grapevine Fire burning east of Prescott Valley, Arizona, forced evacuations Tuesday, authorities said. The lightning-caused fire sparked Friday on the south side of Mingus Mountain, about 10 miles from Prescott Valley. The blaze had grown to 998 acres by Wednesday. Other wildfire-caused evacuations in Arizona such as the Racetrack Fire, a lightning-caused blaze burning not too far from the Grapevine Fire, has engulfed more than 400 acres. Further south, the Diamond Fire forced evacuations Sunday evening for the rural community of Sunflower, which is about 60 miles northeast of Phoenix. The fire has burned 1,960 acres. 

To counter the dangerous fire conditions, nearly half of Texas counties have issued burn bans, and the Texas A&M Forest Service is leading the charge to contain and combat the spreading blazes. Currently, the Texas A&M Forest Service is actively fighting two wildfires, and in the past week alone, they have successfully controlled over a dozen, including incidents in Leon and Grimes counties. Since last Friday, the agency has responded to 19 new requests for assistance on wildfires that have scorched more than 500 acres of land across the state.

Despite a wet winter across much of the Pacific Northwest, fire season is now well underway in Oregon and Washington after successive weeks of hot, dry weather heading into summer. Fire officials have predicted above-average potential for dangerously large fires for nearly all of Washington and a broad swath of Oregon this year, with the largest wildfires in the country currently burning in the region. Other fires in the area include: 

  • NEWELL ROAD FIRE, KLICKITAT COUNTY, WA - 61,833 acres, 50% contained
  • FLAT FIRE, CURRY COUNTY, OR - 23,678 acres, 4% contained
  • BEDROCK FIRE, LANE COUNTY, OR - 7,156 acres, 0% contained
  • GOLDEN FIRE, KLAMATH COUNTY, OR - 2,137 acres, 18% contained

Air Quality Alerts due to these fires have been in effect across parts of southern and central Oregon, while additional alerts remain in effect across the Midwest and Upper Great Lakes due to Canadian wildfire smoke. According to the National Weather Service, there has also been a Critical Fire Risk across the Northern and Central Great Basin.

NOAA’s geostationary satellites provide timely and potentially life-saving information in a dynamic fire environment. GOES East and GOES West frequently detect fires before they are spotted on the ground, which is particularly important in remote areas. The satellites also track fires in real time, identify and track smoke, and determine a fire’s size and temperature.

The Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA-20 and Suomi NPP satellites play an important role in detecting and tracking wildfires, especially in remote regions. Their high spatial resolution imager detects smaller and lower-temperature fires and also provides nighttime fire detection. The data from these satellites is also critical to smoke models used by fire crews, first responders, and air traffic controllers.