New Heat Record, Persistent Drought Equals Monster Fire Season, Tragedy

Hot temperatures this summer have played havoc along the Pacific Coast, in the northern Rockies, and though wide swaths of Alaska. The heat has gone hand-in-hand with ongoing drought to produce a hellish fire season.

The blazes have “burned a big hole in our state’s heart,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said last Thursday, as three firefighters were killed while fighting a wildfire near the town of   Twisp in the north central region of the state. “These are three big heroes protecting small towns,” he said.

“All were seasonal firefighters working for the U.S. Forest Service when they perished Wednesday in a firestorm on a sun-baked hillside near Twisp, Okanogan County. Their names: Tom Zbyszewski, Andrew Zajac and Richard Wheeler,” the Seattle Times reported.

It was the deadliest wildfire incident in Washington since four firefighters were killed in the Thirtymile fire in 2001. Firefighters in California have also suffered fatalities in this particularly brutal season.

As a sign of that severity, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, announced Thursday that it had mobilized firefighters from Australia and New Zealand to assist with wildfires in the U.S. West, the first time that has happened since 2008.

The agency said its National Preparedness Level remains at 5, the highest level, which speaks to the extent of ongoing wildfire activity and the commitment already made of available resources. Weather and fuel conditions are predicted to continue to be
conducive to new wildfire starts for the next few weeks.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was among the  climate-attuned agencies to report last week that July was the warmest month on Earth since record keeping began in 1880.

The July average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.46 degrees above the 20th century average. And since July is the warmest month for the year in global climate terms, that gave July 2015 the all-time highest monthly temperature in the 1880–2015 record. The 61.86 degrees record sounds reasonably pleasant, but includes North and South poles and all nights.

The year-to-date temperature combined across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.53 degrees above the 20th century average, also the highest for January–July in the 1880–2015 record. In other words, 2015 is on pace to break the record for warmest year on record, surpassing that set in 2010, with a tie for 3rd place between 2013 and 2005, according to NOAA’s new dataset.


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