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Climate crisis intensified the West Coast fire season, officials say — and scientists say it could get worse

Climate crisis intensified wildfires

It's a devastating and historic fire season in the West — and scientists and local officials say the climate crisis is to blame.

In California, three of the five largest wildfires in state history are currently burning, officials say.

Oregon's governor said in a typical year, fires consume about 500,000 acres in the state — but "this week alone, we burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon," she said.

And last week in Washington, more acres were burned in the state on a single day than were charred in the past 12 fire seasons, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Here's a look at what we know about climate change and the unprecedented wildfires:

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Hurricane Sally threatens Gulf Coast with a slow drenching

Hurricane SallyHurricane Sally, one of five storms lined up as if on a conveyor belt across the Atlantic, churned toward the Louisiana-Mississippi coast Monday with rapidly strengthening winds of at least 90 mph (145 kph) and the potential for as much as 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain that could bring severe flooding.

Storm-weary Gulf Coast residents rushed to buy bottled water and other supplies ahead of the storm, which was expected to reach Louisiana’s southeastern tip around daybreak Tuesday and make its way sluggishly northward into Mississippi on a path that could menace the New Orleans metropolitan area and cause a long, slow drenching.

Forecasters said it could be a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph (169 kph) by the time it nears the coast. It could be Louisiana’s second pounding from a hurricane in less than three weeks.

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California’s wildfire smoke plumes are unlike anything previously seen

California wildfire smoke plumesMore than 3.1 million acres have burned in California this year, part of a record fire season that still has four months to go. A suffocating cloud of smoke has veiled the West Coast for days, extending more than a thousand miles above the Pacific. And the extreme fire behavior that’s been witnessed this year hasn’t just been wild — it’s virtually unprecedented in scope and scale.

Fire tornadoes have spun up by the handful in at least three big wildfires in the past three weeks, based on radar data. Giant clouds of ash and smoke have generated lightning. Multiple fires have gone from a few acres to more than 100,000 acres in size in a day, while advancing as many as 25 miles in a single night. And wildfire plumes have soared up to 10 miles high, above the cruising altitude of commercial jets.

Scientists have been scrambling to collect as much data on these wildfires as

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'We could hear the trees exploding': Deadly swath of wildfires the size of Connecticut rage in West

California firesHolly Brown, among the tens of thousands of Californians who have been displaced, found refuge outside the Clovis Hills Community Church along with her mother, brother and four dogs after being forced from the family farm in the Tollhouse area by the Creek Fire, about 70 miles northeast of Fresno.

“Our entire community is gone,'' Brown said. "Everyone is evacuated. We could hear the trees exploding as this red glow came up over the hillside."

Northern and Central California were under siege as Diablo winds fanned the flames of roaring, historic fires burning virtually uncontrolled. The Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest destroyed more than 350 structures and forced evacuation of over 30,000 people in Fresno and Madera counties, authorities said.

That includes scores of people evacuated by California National Guard and Navy pilots who completed eight trips to the wilderness, bringing dozens of people back each time, Fresno County Lt. Brandon Purcell said.

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Taxpayer, conservation groups pressure U.S. to halt drilling auctions

gorups press Trump to halt drilling auctionsU.S. taxpayer and conservation groups on Tuesday urged the Trump administration to halt plans to sell oil and gas leases on more than 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) of public lands this month after a sale in Nevada drew mostly minimum bids from a weakened drilling industry.

The small Nevada auction was the first of six sales the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will hold this month as it resumes its leasing program following a five-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the 11 parcels offered on Tuesday, seven sold for the minimum bid of $2 an acre. The sale of more than 15,000 acres raised about $63,000 in total bids, according to results posted on the online auction website EnergyNet.

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