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Record Heat Dries Out California, Fire Risk Increases

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

The U.S. Drought Monitor released July 2 shows no change in the percentage of dryness for California and Nevada. But the drought did expand in Oregon and Washington, as conditions deteriorate in the Western U.S. and fire risk continued to increase.

Nearly 99 percent of California remains in moderate drought, 71 percent in extreme drought and 46.7 percent in exceptional drought. Exceptional drought is now 10 percent more than it was a year ago in California, but the percentage of the state in severe and extreme drought has eased about 7 percent, year over year.

The U.S. Drought Monitor categories range from "abnormally dry" to "exceptional drought." Extreme and exceptional are the highest levels on the monitor’s intensity scale.

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Nevada's drought conditions show 95 percent of the state in moderate drought, 76 percent in severe and 47 percent in extreme drought.  Those figures are an improvement compared to a year ago when 86 percent of Nevada was in severe drought and nearly 55 percent was in extreme drought. 

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Elsewhere in the west, severe drought expanded in southwest Oregon and northeast into Idaho last week. In Washington state, severe drought "was pushed to the west and moderate drought was added in central Washington."

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"Record high temperatures were recorded over much of the Western U.S. last week," the report stated. "The heat, along with very dry conditions has elevated the fire risk over much of the west."

Wildfire Activity Increases In Western U.S.

As of July 1, the National Interagency Fire Center reported 45 large, active wildfires in the U.S.  The agency says there were 10 fires in Oregon, four in Washington state, three in Nevada and one in California.

"Wildfire activity has picked up in the Northwest," NIFC reported. "Oregon and Washington currently have 14 fires. Hot and dry weather conditions, along with thunderstorms, continue to increase fire activity throughout the West."

The NIFC statistics do not include smaller wildfires in the region, many of which are listed by the Incident Information System or by state agencies, including the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

May Rains No Help For California Drought

"Record heat and dryness over the region this week, as well as last month, has quickly deteriorated conditions after a wet May," according to the Drought Monitor.

Those rains were cited as one factor by the California State Water Resources Control Board when it announced July 1 that Californians cut water use 29 percent in May, compared to two years ago.

But those rains did nothing to improve drought conditions in California. And reservoir storage continues to decline. Most California reservoirs are at 50 percent or less of historical average. The exceptions are Shasta Reservoir, San Luis Reservoir and Folsom Lake.

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