Menacing red-orange flames and towering plumes of smoke smothered parts of California this weekend amid record-breaking heat and bone-dry gusts.
Firefighters and scientists filmed the latest rash of Western wildfires from helicopters, drones, and stationary cameras, offering smoldering views. Dozens of structures have been destroyed and thousands of people fled their homes, though no deaths have been reported.
About 5,000 firefighters are now battling 14 large wildfires throughout the Golden State.
In Southern California, wildfires burned amid record-setting heat. Downtown Los Angeles saw a high of 98 degrees on Saturday, beating out the 131-year record of 95 degrees set in 1886, according to the National Weather Service.
To make matters worse, about 140,000 city residents suffered through the heat wave without air-conditioning late Saturday after an electrical receiving station exploded and caught on fire in the Northridge neighborhood.
Meanwhile, north of the city in San Luis Obispo County, the Alamo Fire ballooned overnight to encompass more than 24,000 acres, making it the largest fire currently burning in California, fire officials said Sunday.
The nearby Whittier Fire, currently the third-largest wildfire, barreled over more than 5,000 acres and engulfed Los Padres National Forest.
Flames and smoke temporarily prevented some 80 people — mostly children — from being evacuated from their campsite on Saturday, authorities said.
The blaze “has real potential for growth” because the area hasn’t burned in around seven decades, Andrew Madsen, the national forest public affairs officer, told NBC News.
Wildfires are scorching California even as the state recovers from five years of severe drought.
Record rainfall and snowpack in parts of the state earlier this year delayed the state of the wildfire season in some places. But it also led to explosive growth of vegetation, which could fuel future fires, the Associated Press noted.
While blazes are often sparked by careless campers or arsonists, they’re also striking more frequently, and burning for longer periods of time, due in part to human-caused climate change.
As average temperatures rise, heat waves strike and rainfall disappears, the soil and plants are drying out faster, raising the long-term risk of wildfires, scientists say.