Wildfires in the American West, including one burning in Oregon that’s currently the largest in the US, are creating hazy skies as far away as New York.
he massive infernos are spewing smoke and ash into the air in columns up to 9.6km high.
Skies over New York City were hazy Tuesday as strong winds blew smoke east from California, Oregon, Montana and other states.
Oregon’s Bootleg Fire grew to 1,570 sq km – half the size of Rhode Island.
Fires also grew on both sides of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range.
In Alpine County, the so-called California Alps, the Tamarack Fire caused evacuations of several communities and grew to 158sq km with no containment.
The Dixie Fire, near the site of 2018’s deadly Paradise Fire, was more than 163sq km and threatened tiny communities.
The smoke on the US east coast was reminiscent of last autumn when multiple large fires burning in Oregon – in the state’s worst fire season in recent memory – choked the local skies with smoke and also impacted air quality several thousand miles away.
“We’re seeing lots of fires producing a tremendous amount of smoke, by the time that smoke gets to the eastern portion of the country where it’s usually thinned out, there’s just so much smoke in the atmosphere from all these fires that it’s still pretty thick,” said David Lawrence, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“Over the last two years we’ve seen this phenomenon.”
On Tuesday, Tony Galvez fled the Tamarack Fire in California with his daughter at the last minute. He found out later that his home was gone.
“I lost my whole life, everything I’ve ever had. The kids are what’s going to matter,” he said as he fielded calls from relatives. “I got three teenagers. They’re going to go home to a moonscape.”
The Oregon fire has ravaged the southern part of the state and has been expanding by up to 6km a day, pushed by gusting winds and critically dry weather that’s turned trees and undergrowth into a tinderbox.
Fire crews have had to retreat from the flames for 10 consecutive days as fireballs jump from treetop to treetop, trees explode and embers fly ahead of the fire to start new blazes.
In some cases, the inferno’s heat creates its own weather of shifting winds and dry lightning.
Clouds of smoke and ash have risen up to 9.6km into the sky.
The fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest merged with a smaller nearby blaze Tuesday, and has repeatedly breached a perimeter of treeless dirt and fire retardant meant to stop its advance.
A red flag weather warning signifying dangerous fire conditions was in effect through Tuesday and possibly longer. The fire is 30pc contained.
“We’re in this for as long as it takes to safely confine this monster,” Incident Commander Rob Allen said.
At least 2,000 homes have been evacuated at some point during the fire and another 5,000 threatened.
No lives have been lost.