Much of California and the western US is currently gripped by excessive heat, severe drought and a series of massive wildfires.

The dire drought that has been smothering much of the West for months got even worse this week, with areas in California and the Pacific Northwest seeing an expansion of drier conditions, which have fueled menacing wildfires across the region, according to CNN.

“There isn’t a ‘normal’ anymore. We need to be prepared for anything,” said Norm McDonald, the Incident Commander for the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, the nation’s largest that was ignited in early July and was only 53% contained by Thursday (July 29).

Nearly half of California is currently suffering exceptional drought, which is the worst category designated by the US Drought Monitor.

Last week, a little over a third of the state was under that category. Now, nearly 14.5 million people are impacted, a more than 50% increase from last week, according to the monitor, which is produced through a partnership between US government agencies and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Further expansion of moderate to exceptional drought was introduced in parts of California and the Northwest, as agricultural, wildfire, and water-supply impacts continued to mount,” the Drought Monitor said.

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