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Heat wave during Independence Day raises wildfire worries

Two wildland firefighters standing in fry brush, with a brush fire behind them. One of them is holding a hose
Cal Fire Shasta-Trinity Unit
Wildland firefighters at the Gore Ranch Vegetation Management Project controlled burn, June 14, 2024.

As Independence Day looms, so too does a heat wave that's expected throughout Southern Oregon and Northern California. The combination of strong winds, low humidity and firework use is increasing the threat of wildfires.

Temperatures will climb into the 100s through Sunday. Currently, the National Weather Service predicts highs of up to 116 degrees in Redding on Friday and Saturday, 111 degrees in Medford and 108 degrees in Grants Pass.

A red flag warning is in effect through Wednesday in the Sacramento Valley, including Redding. That means weather conditions – including high winds and low humidity – can help wildfires spread rapidly.

Firefighters are working extra shifts to ensure enough people are on hand throughout the region.

“We’re trying to make sure that we have all the staff that we need and adequate staffing to respond to any wildfires so we can definitely put those out as fast as we can,” said Jas Shaw, public information officer for Cal Fire’s Shasta-Trinity Unit.

Shaw said Cal Fire is especially concerned about unsafe and illegal firework use. Setting off fireworks without a permit is banned in Siskiyou, Shasta and Trinity counties. Other restrictions vary by city.

Shaw said despite the ban, many people import fireworks from out-of-state. Without the knowledge to use them safely, there’s a much higher risk of starting a fire.

“I don’t believe anyone intentionally wants to burn their house down or cause a wildland fire,” said Shaw. “But, it is illegal so they will be held accountable in Shasta County for the use of fireworks.”

Shaw says people should sign up for their local emergency alert system to make sure they’re notified during a wildfire. For Shasta County, that’s Alert Shasta.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal is also warning about firework use this year.

“We’ve already seen this year how wildfires can impact communities with the Darlene 3 Fire in Deschutes County. With temperatures forecasted to be in the 90s for the Fourth of July holiday we’ll see an increased risk of wildfire,” Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple said. "We all need to do our part to keep Oregon safe and enjoy a fun, fire-free Fourth of July.”

The utility Pacific Gas and Electric has planned possible power shut offs to thousands of customers on Tuesday to prevent their equipment from sparking wildfires. Those shutoffs are expected in areas surrounding Redding and in the Northern Sacramento Valley west of I-5. Some customers may not see power restored until Wednesday night.

The heat could also cause unplanned outages. In a press release, PG&E said electrical grid equipment gets hotter with high use during extended heat waves.

“Equipment such as transformers need time to cool down during a heat wave,” the utility said. “This usually happens overnight when temperatures and energy usage drop. Heat events with high overnight temperatures can put additional stress on equipment and cause heat-related outages.”

In Redding, the temperature will barely dip below 80 degrees at night throughout the week. PG&E has crews pre-positioned around the region to respond to outages.

The National Weather Service warns that the risk of heat-related illness is high, especially during the holiday. They advise checking up on family and neighbors, drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding the outdoors during the hottest part of the day.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.