Massive fire and intense drought in the American West

A gigantic fire, contained to only 20% a month after its outbreak, continued to ravage the American state of New Mexico on Friday May 6, plagued like all of the western United States by a chronic drought which has continued. worse this week.

Baptized “Hermits Peak Fireby the emergency services, this fire has already covered some 670 km2 of brush and forest and destroyed around 170 homes. Several thousand other buildings are potentially threatened in the coming days by this disaster: a preventive fire organized on April 6 but which had gotten out of control due to high winds and extreme drought conditions in the area, according to the authorities. .

While the fire season is just beginning in the American West, New Mexico has already seen some 1,200 km2 of vegetation go up in smoke, more than the average for an entire year. Seven fires in total, including one that killed two people last month, currently roam this state hit by a historic drought which facilitates any fire start in the moor. In response to the gravity of the situation, US President Joe Biden has declared a state of natural disaster in New Mexico, which will therefore be able to benefit from numerous federal aid, both logistical and financial.

“Dramatically low” water tanks

Fires are common in the western United States but have become increasingly intense due to global warming caused by human activities, including fossil fuels, which is worsening an already chronic drought. In particular, it threatens the water supply of part of the population and has caused the level of lakes and rivers to drop dramatically.

All the reservoirs are showing a level well below normal in the western states, with the exception of that of Washington, underlines the weekly bulletin devoted to the drought in the United States. “In California, the two most important reservoirs in the state are at a dramatically low level at the start of the dry season», respectively 40% for Lake Shasta and 55% for Lake Oroville. The situation was even more worrying in the Colorado Basin, which provides water supplies to tens of millions of people.

According to the drought bulletin, Lake Powell was at just 24% capacity this week and Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, at 31%. Attached to the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead has reached its lowest level since 1937, to the point that a metal drum containing the body of a person killed in the 1980s was discovered on the dry shore. According to a study published in 2020 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the flow of the Colorado has dropped by an average of 20% over the past century, and at least half of this drop can be attributed to rising temperatures in the region. area. In California, average temperatures during the summer are thus 1.6°C higher than their level at the end of the 19th century.

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