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Amid record heat and drought, wildfires in the West have burned more than a million acres

Seventy-one large wildfires burning across the West have scorched more than 1 million acres so far this year in the U.S. Nine new large fires were added to the roster Thursday, as federal officials raised the national firefighting preparedness level to the highest posture as of Thursday.

Why it matters: In the midst of a relentless series of heat waves taking place in a region plagued by the worst drought so far in the 21st century, the forests and grasses located in western states are a tinderbox. The fire season is only expected to get worse from here.

The big picture: The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, which doubled in size for three straight days last week, has reached 227,234 acres in size, and Gov. Kate Brown (D) invoked the state's "Emergency Conflagration Act" to allow more resources to supplement firefighters already on the scene.

  • The Bootleg Fire was extremely active on Wednesday, and a towering mushroom cloud of smoke born from the fire's heat, smoke and ash, extending to the heights of most airliners.
  • Large fires are also burning in California, Idaho, Washington, and other western states. A rapidly growing blaze was touched off Wednesday near the site of the deadliest fire in California history, which destroyed the town of Paradise in 2018.
  • Smoke from these blazes and others burning in the U.S. and Canada have been spotted in the skies above southern Greenland and over Iceland, and will be transported above mainland Europe in the next day.


  • According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho, which coordinates the many firefighting agencies in the federal government, 17,000 personnel are already assigned to ongoing blazes.
  • This means that crews may be stretched thin by the time the peak of wildfire season arrives toward the end of summer and early fall.
  • NIFC elevated its national alert level from 4 to 5 on Thursday, "due to significant fire activity occurring in multiple geographical areas, an increase in incident management team mobilization, and heavy shared resources commitment to large fires nationally," the center stated on its website.
  • This was the earliest such a heightened alert level had been designated since 2011, NIFC stated on Twitter.

#NationalFireNews: #PreparednessLevel is now 5, due to high fire activity across the U.S. & resources committed to large fires. This is the earliest move to PL 5 in 10 yrs. #FireYear2021

— National Interagency Fire Center (@NIFC_Fire) July 15, 2021

Repeat heat waves and drought conditions, both of which are linked to human-induced climate change, are driving the early increase in wildfire activity across the West, as well as in British Columbia, where tens of thousands of acres are burning as well.

Separate from these heat events, studies also show global warming is amplifying the risks of large wildfires in parts of the West, with the typical peak of the season still about two months away.

What's next: Another heat wave is on the way this weekend for a swath of the West, though it won't be as intense as previous bouts have been in states such as California, Oregon and Washington. Instead, the most unusually high temperatures look to affect Montana, Idaho, British Columbia and Alberta, worsening the fire situations there.

American Carissa Moore wins first-ever women's Olympic gold in surfing

Team USA's Carissa Moore won gold in the first-ever Olympic women's surfing final, at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday.

The big picture: Brazil's Italo Ferreira won the gold medal in the inaugural men's Olympic surfing contest. The finals were brought forward a day due to the threat of Tropical Storm Nepartak.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

Activist Tong Ying-kit found guilty of terrorism in first Hong Kong security law trial

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Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

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Two significant U.S. lakes, one of which is a major reservoir, are experiencing historic lows amid a drought that scientists have linked to climate change.

What's happening: Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the U.S., has fallen 3,554 feet in elevation, leaving the crucial reservoir on the Colorado River, at 33% capacity — the lowest since it was filled over half a century ago, new U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data shows.

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North and South Korea's leaders have pledged to improve relations and resumed previously suspended communication channels between the two countries, per Reuters.

Details: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to "restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible," South Korea's Blue House spokesperson Park Soo Hyun said in a televised briefing, AP notes.

  • This followed an exchange of letters between the two leaders since April.

Go deeper: Kim Jong Un says prepare for "dialogue and confrontation" with U.S.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

U.S. teen Lydia Jacoby wins Olympic gold medal in 100m breaststroke at Tokyo Games

Team USA's 17-year-old swimmer Lydia Jacoby has won the Olympic gold medal in the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the Tokyo Games.

Of note: The Alaskan is the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, and she beat Lilly King into second place.

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

Pelosi expected to extend proxy voting as Delta variant surges

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to extend proxy voting through the fall — and potentially until the end of the year — Democratic lawmakers and aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has alarmed both members and staffers anxious about interacting with the unvaccinated. Pelosi’s anticipated move — continuing an emergency COVID-19 measure enacted last year so lawmakers could vote remotely — is aimed at allaying those concerns.

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Why it matters: The nine-member panel will not only hear from four police officers on the grounds that day, but show graphic video footage similar to the chilling 13-minute video Democrats aired during Donald Trump's second impeachment trial.

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