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Record summer heat in the West; everywhere but New Mexico

—JONATHAN THOMPSON, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
This summer, the West is as crispy as that chicken you left on the grill for too long during the Fourth of July. Mercury topped the 100-degree mark everywhere from Boise to Tucson in late June and early July. During the first week in July, records fell in every Western state, except New Mexico.

Although Phoenix is accustomed to sweltering summer temperatures in the daytime, it was the “coolest” part of the day that broke the most records: Some nights, the mercury never dipped below 90 degrees.

Wildfires have flambéed thousands of acres. Flames swept across a hayfield in northeastern Utah and killed three men as they worked on a sprinkler; in the central part of the state, a lightning-sparked blaze scorched more than 300,000 acres in just a few days. The fire periodically closed I-15, and two motorcyclists were killed when they crashed in a thick cloud of smoke.

In Idaho, a 35,000-acre fire knocked out electrical transmission lines and a substation, further straining already loaded lines. Idaho Power reported record electricity use in the state, as air conditioners all over the West sucked juice and strained the power grid. Fire threatened the Kitt Peak National Observatory and a peak sacred to the Tohono O’odham tribe in southern Arizona, and a flaming bird, electrocuted by a powerline, ignited a fire near Aspen, Colo.

Nineteen dead border crossers were recovered over a three-week period in the Arizona desert along the Mexico border. Extreme heat contributed to their deaths.

Closer to the Canadian border, a dip in the river offered little respite, at least for fish. In Yellowstone National Park, hundreds of trout died when the water temperature in the Firehole River climbed above 80 degrees.

This article originally appeared in High Country News (www.hcn.org), which covers the West's communities and natural-resource issues from Paonia, Colorado.

 

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