Brutal heatwave to descend on U.S. West, prompting fire warnings

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A heatwave already punishing parts of the U.S. Southwest on Monday was expected to move into California this week, prompting the forecasters to warn of health and fire dangers.

A high-pressure ridge that built over southwestern deserts over the past few days is responsible for the unusually blistering heat this early in the year, National Weather Service meteorologist Karleisa Rogacheski said.

“Today last day of seasonable weather in California,” Rogacheski said.

California saw balmy weather on Monday, with temperatures in the upper 80’s and low 90’s Fahrenheit (30-35°C), but forecasts called for warming on Tuesday, spiking into the triple digits by Thursday and lasting several days.

The weather service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of southwest Arizona, including Phoenix, on Monday, predicting “dangerously hot conditions” at least through Saturday.

“Very High Heat Risk. Increase in heat-related illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke can lead to death,” the NWS said in the advisory.

California’s dry winter left forests and brush parched, prompting worries that the heat wave could touch off wildfires.

Wildfires scorched more than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square km) of land in 2020, destroying hundreds of Californian homes during a particularly fierce fire season.

The baking weather could also strain California’s power grid as residents crank up air conditioning units across the state.

Experts say the heatwave forecast for this week, brought on by the early high pressure system, could not be blamed directly on climate change.

“It difficult to tie any one particular event to climate change,” said Eric Schoening, a meteorologist in the Salt Lake City office of the National Weather Service. “But studies show that as the climate changes and it gets warmer, we will see more of these anomalous events over time.”

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

‘Big risk’: California farmers hit by drought change planting plans

By Norma Galeana and Christopher Walljasper

FIREBAUGH, Calif. (Reuters) – Joe Del Bosque is leaving a third of his 2,000-acre farm near Firebaugh, California, unseeded this year due to extreme drought. Yet, he hopes to access enough water to produce a marketable melon crop.

Farmers across California say they expect to receive little water from state and federal agencies that regulate the state’s reservoirs and canals, leading many to leave fields barren, plant more drought-tolerant crops or seek new income sources all-together.

“We’re taking a big risk in planting crops and hoping the water gets here in time,” said Del Bosque, 72.

Agriculture is an important part of California’s economy and the state is a top producer of vegetables, berries, nuts and dairy products. The last major drought from 2012 to 2017 reduced irrigation supplies to farmers, forced strict household conservation measures and stoked deadly wildfires.

California farmers are allocated water from the state based on seniority and need, but farmers say water needs of cities and environmental restrictions reduce agricultural access.

Nearly 40% of California’s 24.6 million acres of farmland are irrigated, with crops like almonds and grapes in some regions needing more water to thrive.

“I’m going to be reducing some of our almond acreage. I may be increasing some of our row crops, like tomatoes,” said Stuart Woolf, who operates 30,000 acres, most of it in Western Fresno County. He may fallow 30% of his land.

Del Bosque, who grows melons, asparagus, sweet corn, almonds and cherries, said his operation could lose more than half a million dollars in income, and put many of his 700 workers out of work. He and other farmers say drought has been exacerbated by California’s lack of investment in water storage infrastructure over the last 40 years.

“Fundamentally, a storage project is paid for by the people who want the water,” said Jeanine Jones, drought manager for California’s Department of Water Resources. “All we can do is deliver what mother nature provides.”

New dams face environmental restrictions meant to protect endangered fish and other wildlife, and don’t solve near-term water needs, said Ernest Conant, regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation, California-Great Basin region, the federal agency that overseas dams, canals and water allocations in the Western United States.

“We simply don’t have enough water to supply our agricultural users,” said Conant. “We’re hopeful some water can be moved sooner than October, but there’s no guarantees.”

Water scarcity threatens Del Bosque’s watermelon crop, which is due to be harvested in August. But it also has dire consequences for those planting it.

“If there is no water, there is no work. And for us farm workers, how are we going to support the family?” said 57-year-old Pablo Barrera, who was planting watermelons for Del Bosque.

Woolf said as the state continues to restrict water access, he’s exploring ways to generate income off the land he can no longer irrigate, including installing solar arrays and planting Agave, normally grown in Mexico to make tequila.

“You’ve got to absorb all of your farming costs on the few acres that you’re farming,” he said. “How do we maximize the value of the land that we are not farming?”

(Reporting by Norma Galeana in Firebaugh, California and Christopher Walljasper; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Diane Craft)

U.S. proposes big increase in forest management to tackle wildfires

By Nichola Groom

(Reuters) – The United States must double or quadruple the rate at which it thins and removes dead wood from its forests to reduce the threat of wildfires that have become more frequent and severe due to climate change, the Biden administration said on Thursday.

The call for a more ambitious forest management program comes after a record wildfire season in 2020 that burned more than 10 million acres, nearly half of which were on lands owned by the U.S. Forest Service.

The yearly blazes have grown worse in recent years because global warming has brought warmer temperatures and periods of drought, and also because decades of lax forest treatment practices have led to a build-up of dead trees and brush.

“Forest Service and other research scientists have determined that this current level of treatment is not enough to keep pace with the scale and scope of the wildfire problem,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a document laying out the department’s climate change strategy.

The USDA, which manages the 193 million acres of Forest Service land, said forest treatment rates need to rise by between two- and four-fold. That would result in an additional 50 million acres of federal, tribal and private lands, primarily in Western U.S. states, being treated in the next 19 years, it said.

The Forest Service treated 2.65 million acres in 2020 to reduce the dead wood that fuels wildfire.

The agency also said it would increase reforestation efforts to help boost forests’ ability to sequester carbon dioxide. Forests now sequester the equivalent of 14% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, the report said, a level which the agency said could increase by 20%.

Strategies to remove carbon from the atmosphere are regarded as critical to meeting U.S. President Joe Biden’s goal to decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

2020 likely world’s second hottest year, U.N. says

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – This year is on track to be the second hottest on record, behind 2016, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday.

Five data sets currently place 2020, a year characterized by heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and raging hurricanes, as the second warmest since records began in 1850.

“2020 is very likely to be one of the three warmest years on record globally,” the Geneva-based U.N. agency said in its State of the Global Climate in 2020 report.

Stoked by extreme heat, wildfires flared across Australia, Siberia and the United States this year, sending smoke plumes around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech at Columbia University in New York that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are to blame and policies have yet to rise to the challenge.

“To put it simply the state of the planet is broken,” Guterres said. “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal,” he said.

A less visible sign of change was a surge in marine heat to record levels, with more than 80% of the global ocean experiencing a marine heatwave, the WMO said.

“2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, urging more efforts to curb the emissions.

Greenhouse gas concentrations climbed to a new record in 2019 and have risen so far this year despite an expected drop in emissions due to COVID-19 lockdowns, the WMO said last month.

The latest WMO report said the global mean temperature was around 1.2 degrees Celsius above the 1850-1900 baseline between January and October this year, placing it second behind 2016 and marginally ahead of 2019.

Hot years have typically been associated with El Niño, a natural event that releases heat from the Pacific Ocean. However, this year coincides with La Niña which has the opposite effect and cools temperatures.

The WMO will confirm the data in March 2021.

A climate pact agreed in Paris five years ago compels countries to make efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, above which scientists warn of catastrophic climate change.

While it is not the same as crossing that long-term warming threshold, the WMO says there is at least a one in five chance of temperatures temporarily, on an annual basis, exceeding that level by 2024.

Guterres said that last year natural disasters related to climate change cost the world $150 billion, and that air and water pollution are killing 9 million people annually. He urged world leaders to align global finance behind the Paris pact, to commit to reaching net zero emissions, and to fund efforts to adapt to climate change.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; additional reporting by Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Mark Potter and Lisa Shumaker)

Record California wildfires burn over four million acres

By Adrees Latif

NAPA, Calif. (Reuters) – Wildfires in California have burned more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) in 2020, over twice the previous record for any year and an area larger than Connecticut, the state’s fire agency reported on Sunday.

The most-populous U.S. state has suffered five of its six largest wildfires in history this year as heat waves and dry-lightning sieges coincided with drier conditions that climate scientists blame on global warming.

At least 31 people have died in this year’s fires and over 8,454 homes and other structures have been destroyed, Cal Fire said in a statement.

California’s previous record burn area was nearly 2 million acres in 2018 when the state had its most deadly and destructive wildfire that killed at least 85 civilians and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures in and around the mountain town of Paradise.

“There’s no words to describe what is taking place and what continues to take place,” said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean. “It goes to show how dry the state is and how volatile the vegetation is.”

California suffered a prolonged drought from around 2010 to 2017, causing diseases and insect infestations that killed millions of trees. That followed a century of fire suppression that also built up brush and dead trees, turning some forests into tinderboxes.

City real-estate prices and second-home construction have seen the growth of communities in peripheral, wildland areas that have naturally burned for millennia.

In the world-famous wine country of Napa County, the so-called Glass Fire has damaged over a dozen wineries. Vineyards worked through the night on Saturday to pick grape varieties that can resist smoke damage. Some crops heavily exposed to smoke may be a write-off.

Firefighters were expected to get a break from cooler temperatures in Northern California this week, with a chance of rain, Cal Fire said.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif; Additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Northern California wildfires kill three, force evacuation of thousands

By Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) – A northern California wildfire raging in the foothills of the Cascade range has claimed three lives, officials said on Monday, as a separate blaze prompted mass evacuations and spread turmoil to the famed wine-producing regions of Napa and Sonoma counties.

The three fatalities in the so-called Zogg Fire in Shasta County, which erupted on Sunday near Redding, about 200 miles north of San Francisco, were reported by the county sheriff and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). They were all civilians.

No further details about the victims or how they perished were immediately provided. But the deaths bring to 29 the number of people killed since mid-August in a California wildfire season of historic proportions.

The Zogg fire, which has destroyed 146 structures and charred 31,000 acres of grassy hillsides and oak woodlands thick with dry scrub, coincided with the outbreak of another conflagration in the heart of California’s wine country north of the Bay area.

That blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, has spread across 36,000 acres of similar terrain in Napa and Sonoma counties since early Sunday, incinerating more than 100 homes and other buildings, forcing thousands of residents to flee and threatening world-renowned vineyards, according to CalFire.

Both fires were listed at zero containment as of Monday evening. The cause of each was under investigation.

They marked the latest flashpoints in a destructive spate of wildfires this summer across the Western United States.

In California this year, wildfires have scorched 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) since January – far exceeding any single year in state history. They have been stoked by intense, prolonged bouts of heat, high winds and other weather extremes that scientists attribute to climate change.

More than 7,000 homes and other structures have burned statewide so far this year.

LANDMARK CHATEAU BURNS

The Glass Fire broke out in Napa Valley before dawn near Calistoga before merging with two other blazes into a larger eruption of flames straddling western Napa County and an adjacent swath of Sonoma County.

In one notable property loss, the mansion-like Chateau Boswell winery in St. Helena – a familiar landmark along the Silverado Trail road running the length of the Napa Valley – went up in flames on Sunday night.

An estimated 60,000 residents have been placed under evacuation orders or advisories in Sonoma and Napa counties combined, but no injuries have been reported.

Not everyone heeded evacuation orders.

In 2017, roughly 5% of Santa Rosa’s homes were lost when downed power lines sparked a devastating firestorm in October that swept the region, killing 19 people.

HARVEST SEASON SMOKE

The Glass Fire struck about midway through the region’s traditional grape-harvesting season, already disrupted by a spate of large fires earlier this summer.

Several Napa Valley growers said recently they would forgo a 2020 vintage altogether due to smoke contamination of ripening grapes waiting to be picked.

The 475 vintners in Napa Valley alone account for just 4% of the state’s grape harvest but half the retail value of all California wines sold. Sonoma County, too, has become a premiere viticulture region with some 450 wineries and a million acres of vineyards.

The full impact on the region’s wine business remains to be seen and will differ for each grower, depending on how far along they are in the harvest, said Teresa Wall, spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners trade group.

“There are some who were close to wrapping up, and some who were still planning to leave their grapes hanging out there for a while,” she said.

The fires caused major upheavals for the area’s most vulnerable residents already grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Adventist Health St. Helena hospital was forced to evacuate patients on Sunday, the second time in a month following a lightning-sparked wildfire in August.

On Monday, residents at Oakmont Gardens, a Santa Rosa retirement community, leaned on walkers and waited to board a bus taking them to safety, their face masks doubling as protection against smoke and COVID-19.

Over 100,000 homes and business have suffered power outages across northern California since Sunday, some from precautionary shutoffs of transmission lines to reduce wildfire risks in the midst of extremely windy, hot, dry weather, Pacific Gas and Electric Co reported.

Red-flag warnings for extreme wildfire risks remained posted for much of Northern California, forecasting low humidity and gale-force wind gusts.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam in Santa Rosa, California; Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney, Gerry Doyle & Shri Navaratnam)

Oregon inmates find redemption in fighting wildfires

By Adrees Latif

PAISLEY, Ore. (Reuters) – In the flames, they are finding redemption.

The 10 Oregon prisoners carry chainsaws, axes, shovels and hoes into the biggest wildfires the state has seen in a century.

Banding together, they form lines in the forest and trudge up the steep ashen slopes of the Cascade Mountains, hunting embers that could reignite flames.

The men are part of a seven-decade-old state-run program that aims to do two basic things: Rehabilitate prisoners by teaching them a trade, and provide extra boots on the ground for intense wildfire seasons.

A dozen such crews have worked fires in Oregon this month, which has seen over 1 million acres burn and nine people die during this year’s wildfire season.

The men in a crew working the forested mountains near Paisley, Oregon, last week were mostly young and fit. They had to be to scale the punishing terrain. Ankle-deep ash slicked hills and meant the men slipped two steps back for each stride forward.

Many were violent offenders – armed robberies and assaults were common convictions – but none were in prison for homicide or sexual crimes. Most say they have personalities that feed off adrenaline. The highs that crime brought landed them in jail. All say they are blessed to have found a legal, alternative rush.

“This gives us a different opportunity, rather than going back to something that we already know, which is guns, gangs, violence and drugs,” said Eddie Correia, 36, who is about halfway through his six-year sentence for an assault conviction.

Correia’s crew had 10 prisoners who spent their days fighting fires and another 10 who slept and worked in an Oregon Department of Forestry support camp, picking up trash, serving food and providing other services. They earn $6 a day for their labor.

The men wake at 6:30 a.m. each day in Oregon’s cold early fall dawn. They dress in sweatshirts emblazoned with the word INMATE and make their way to a makeshift breakfast area, where they sip coffee, stamp their feet to ward off the chill and chat about the chore that awaits them.

Around them, the flat green pastures of the Fremont National Forest run right up to the fire-devastated mountains, where billows of white smoke float upward from the flames.

The men prep their equipment before heading out, using files to sharpen axes and triple checking their bright yellow backpacks to make sure all their gear is there.

Armando Gomez-Zacarias, 24, who has just over three years left on a 7-1/2 year sentence for robbery, said the work gave him “a nice adrenaline rush.”

The physical toll, he emphasized, was brutal.

“It’s like running 100 laps on the track without stopping and carrying 50 pounds of weight,” he said.

Correia, who has fought fires in the program since 2018 and wants to continue after he is released from jail, said the strenuous work and danger fostered a camaraderie impossible to replicate inside prison walls.

Those connections and sense of purpose, he said, “have helped me deal with a lot of my own demons.”

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Paisley, Oregon; Additional reporting and writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Richard Chang)

Crews make headway against massive California wildfire

By Mimi Dwyer

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters notched a victory in their battle to beat back a massive blaze raging outside Los Angeles, more than doubling containment in the past 24 hours, the U.S. Forest Service said on Wednesday.

The Bobcat Fire, which has been burning in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles since Sept. 6, was 38% contained as of Wednesday morning, John Clearwater, USFS spokesperson for Angeles National Forest, said in an email update.

The fire has so far burned more than 113,000 acres but remained relatively stable overnight. The flames were 17% contained on Tuesday.

The Bobcat Fire, one of the largest and most dangerous fires in recorded Los Angeles history, is just one element stoking the worst fire season California has seen to date.

For more than a week it has threatened to overtake the Mount Wilson Observatory, a California landmark and beloved historical site that was home to major astronomical advancements in the early 20th century.

Some 1,556 firefighters are currently deployed to combat it, the Forest Service said.

Wildfires have ravaged the West Coast this summer and pushed firefighters to their limits. At least 26 people have died in fires across California since August 15, including three firefighters, according to the state agency CAL FIRE.

One of those firefighters died as a result of a fire sparked by a botched gender reveal party.

Roughly 3.4 million acres have burned across California during the same period.

Another 10 people have died and approximately 2 million acres have burned in fires in Washington and Oregon.

California has seen five of its largest fires on record in this wildfire season alone. Outside Los Angeles, the momentary reprieve could dissipate by the weekend, when weather was expected to grow warmer and drier, and forecasts showed the possibility of gusty winds, the Forest Service said.

(Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and David Gregorio)

House Democrats file bill to fund U.S. government but leave out new farm money

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

this week will consider legislation funding the federal government through mid-December, with lawmakers hoping to avoid the spectacle of a government shutdown amid a pandemic and just weeks before the Nov. 3 elections.

House Democrats announced Monday they had filed the legislation, which leaves out new money that President Donald Trump wanted for farmers. A Democratic aide said the bill could be on the House floor as soon as Tuesday. The Senate could then act later this week.

The new federal fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.

The bill is designed to give lawmakers more time to work out federal spending for the period through September 2021, including budgets for military operations, healthcare, national parks, space programs, and airport and border security.

The spending proposal “will avert a catastrophic shutdown in the middle of the ongoing pandemic, wildfires and hurricanes, and keep government open until December 11, when we plan to have bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

But the measure’s December end date will require Congress to return to the government funding question again during its post-election lame-duck session, either during or after what could be a bruising fight to confirm Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

And the legislation does not include $21.1 billion the White House sought to replenish the Commodity Credit Corporation, a program to stabilize farm incomes, because Democrats considered this a “blank check” for “political favors,” said a House Democratic aide who asked not to be named. Trump promised more farm aid during a rally in Wisconsin last week.

Republicans were not happy. “House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote on Twitter. Republicans could seek to amend the document to add in the provision.

The bill proposes spending $14 billion to shore up a trust fund that pays for airport improvements and air traffic control

operations. It also proposes extending surface transportation funding for another year, directing $13.6 billion to maintain current spending levels on highways and mass transit.

Pelosi said the bill would also save America’s older citizens from an increase in Medicare health insurance premiums of up to $50 per month.

Congressional Democrats have had a stormy relationship with the White House over federal funding since Trump took office early in 2017. He has sought deep cuts in domestic spending while ramping up military funds.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Crews battle wildfires in U.S. West as smoke travels the world

By Deborah Bloom and Brad Brooks

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – As fire crews continued to battle deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, thousands of evacuees in Oregon and other states faced a daily struggle while scientists in Europe tracked the smoke on Wednesday as it spread on an intercontinental scale.

With state resources stretched to their limit, President Donald Trump on Tuesday night approved a request from Oregon’s governor for a federal disaster declaration, bolstering federal assistance for emergency response and relief efforts.

Dozens of fires have burned some 4.5 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of tinder-dry brush, grass and woodlands in Oregon, California and Washington state since August, ravaging several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 34 people.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated more than $1.2 million in mission assignments to bring relief to Oregon and has deployed five urban search and rescue teams to the wildfire-torn region, the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Search teams scoured incinerated homes for the missing as firefighters kept up their exhausting battle.

The wildfires, which officials and scientists have described as unprecedented in scope and ferocity, have filled the region’s skies with smoke and soot, compounding a public health crisis already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientists in Europe tracked the smoke as it bore down on the continent, underscoring the magnitude of the disaster. The European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) is monitoring the scale and intensity of the fires and the transport of the resultant smoke across the United States and beyond.

“The fact that these fires are emitting so much pollution into the atmosphere that we can still see thick smoke over 8,000 kilometers (4,970 miles) away reflects just how devastating they have been in their magnitude and duration,” CAMS Senior Scientist Mark Parrington said in a statement.

CAMS said it uses satellite observations of aerosols, carbon monoxide and other constituents of smoke to monitor and forecast its movement through the atmosphere.

Eight deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon, which became the latest and most concentrated hot spot in a larger summer outbreak of fires across the entire western United States. The Pacific Northwest was hardest hit.

The fires roared to life in California in mid-August, and erupted across Oregon and Washington around Labor Day last week, many of them sparked by catastrophic lightning storms and stoked by record-breaking heat waves and bouts of howling winds.

Weather conditions improved early this week, enabling firefighters to begin to make headway in efforts to contain and tamp down the blazes.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) said 16,600 firefighters were still battling 25 major fires on Tuesday, after achieving full containment around the perimeter of other large blazes.

Firefighters in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Los Angeles waged an all-out campaign to save the famed Mount Wilson Observatory and an adjacent complex of broadcast transmission towers from flames that crept near the site.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Deborah Bloom, Shannon Stapleton and Adrees Latif; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)