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Wildfires erupt after hottest week in history across parts of the West ignited the blazes

NBC News logo NBC News 6/21/2021 Kathryn Prociv
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Last week featured one of the worst June heat waves in decades across the West, shattering hundreds of daily records as well as several all-time hottest temperatures recorded for the month.

Death Valley soared to a blistering 128 degrees, and Denver saw a rare hat trick of three 100 degree days in a row.

Tucson saw eight straight days of temperatures 110 degrees or higher, breaking the record for number of consecutive days above that barrier and making it their hottest week. Up the road in Phoenix, they endured a record-setting six straight days of temperatures 115 or higher.

All of this heat contributed to a high fire danger which came to fruition over the weekend when multiple blazes broke out in several western states including California, Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.

The Willow Fire in Monterey County, which forced evacuations on Friday, continued to burn over the weekend sending smoke billowing into the air around the Bay Area.

The Cow Fire in Shasta County also prompted evacuation orders, and at one point on Sunday required a large air tanker to be diverted off the Willow Fire for increased fire fighting efforts.

On Monday, 7 million people were under Red Flag Warnings across six western states where the combination of hot temperatures, wing gusts to 40mph and bone dry humidity lead to a critical fire threat.

Las Vegas was included in the risk zone for the fire danger.

The most recent heat wave was focused over portions of the Four Corners, desert Southwest and southern and central California. Next week, however, the area of most exceptional heat could park over northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

This will lead to another week with a high risk of wildfires due to the already desiccated landscape void of much precipitation whether falling from the sky or locked in the mostly-melted snowpack.

With ground fuels already sitting at highly flammable and record-dry levels, all experts can do is warn folks of the impending danger and hope for the best in what has already proven to be an early and destructive start to the western wildfire season.

With climate change making heat waves three times more likely compared to 100 years ago and contributing to the current 22-year megadrought, wildfire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer into the year. As the gap closes, experts say there isn't so much a defined wildfire season in the West anymore, but instead it lasts year round.

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