Extraordinary heat and rare summer snow brought unprecedented West Coast firestorms

California
The Creek fire approaches Shaver Lake in Fresno County on Sept. 6. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The Creek fire approaches Shaver Lake in Fresno County on Sept. 6. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The West Coast had just experienced a record-shattering heat wave when news came last week of a rare late-summer snowstorm in Colorado. To those still sweltering in California, Oregon and Washington, it sounded like a dream come true. In fact, it was an omen of a greater disaster to come.

As the blast of cold air in the Rocky Mountains sank, it searched for an escape — the lands of hotter weather farther west, toward the Pacific Coast. That triggered furious winds that poured over the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, acting as a giant bellows over the entire Pacific Coast, where fires were already burning in crackling-dry brush and timber.

The result: an epic firestorm hopscotching from the Mexican to Canadian borders that has killed dozens of people, wiped out entire towns and caused some of the worst air pollution ever seen in the region.

For California, it’s the second time in a month that a host of unfortunate weather conditions have aligned in a way that has fueled a spread of wildfires at record speed. The rapid spread of fire was worsened in part by climate change, which not only makes temperatures hotter, but also is blamed by some scientists for causing dry periods to get drier while wet periods get wetter, making vegetation even more ripe for kindling.

Read the full story on LATimes.com.

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