Due to a combination of drought and record heat, 2012 saw one of the most destructive wildfire seasons on record, with 9.3 million acres going up in flames, the third-highest since 1960.
Over the shorter-term, firefighters battling the blaze may face more extreme heat through midweek, when temperatures may moderate slightly. Monthly and all-time temperature records have already been set across the West, including a high temperature of a scorching 129°F at Death Valley, Calif., on Sunday. That tied the all-time U.S. record for the highest temperature on record for the month of June, and came close to tying the record for the world’s hottest temperature, which is 134°F, set in Death Valley in 1913.
In Phoenix, even the overnight lows have been toasty, with an overnight low temperature of 91°F on June 30, for example, which tied the record-high minimum temperature for the date.
While individual heat waves have ties to short-term natural weather variability, increasingly common and intense heat waves are one of the most well-understood consequences of manmade global warming, since as global average surface temperatures increase, the probability of extreme heat events increases by a greater amount.
The heat this week poses a formidable obstacle for firefighters, since it affects wildfire behavior as well as human health. Heat is the No.1 weather-related killer in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.