Firefighters in the Southwest are preparing for the return of violent winds after a short respite enabled them to battle flames from the air for the first time in days as a half-dozen huge wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico continue to increase in size.
Firefighters from more than 500 different companies were manning fire lines in the two states, and further assistance was expected Friday when the largest sort of management team was set to assume charge of resources at one of the largest and most hazardous fires near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Helicopters were able to begin dumping water on the wildfire for the first time on Thursday, lifting the spirits of the community. More than 32 square miles (83 square kilometres) have been torched, 765 households have been evacuated, and at least two dozen buildings have been damaged since the blaze began on Sunday afternoon.
Aerial strikes have also commenced in northern New Mexico, where at least one airtanker has been able to join the effort northeast of Santa Fe — something that is likely to be impossible on Friday — despite the fact that the weather has deteriorated significantly.
Sheriff’s deputies ordered more evacuations of dispersed properties and blocked several roads on Thursday in connection with a large fire burning in a rural region southeast of Taos, New Mexico, where no structural damage has been recorded.
However, fire authorities and weather forecasts from throughout the area are warning that the worst may still be ahead.
“There is a high degree of confidence that a widespread exceptional and catastrophic fire weather event will occur on Friday,” authorities of the Santa Fe National Forest announced late Thursday night.
According to authorities, “we are advising the general people to be attentive, to continue to check for predicted changes in the evacuation status, and to be prepared to depart in a timely way.”
Winds of 30-50 mph (48-80 kph) are anticipated for the area Friday morning, with gusts of 60-80 mph (97-129 kph) in the afternoon from the Gila Mountains up through the Rio Grande Valley to the surrounding highlands, according to the National Weather Service.
Extremely dry conditions will combine with strong winds to create an environment that is “pretty much on steroids,” according to Scott Overpeck of the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
“This is out of the ordinary,” he added, referring to the possibility for catastrophic fire growth on Friday, which he predicted would occur. This is one of those days when we have to be on our toes and ready to go at all times.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced a state of emergency in Coconino County on Thursday, according to the Flagstaff Gazette. State financing for evacuations, housing, repairs, and other expenditures will be made possible as a result of the declaration. The money, on the other hand, cannot be used to compensate house and company owners for their losses.
According to the county sheriff’s office, around 30 buildings have been destroyed, although it is yet unknown how many of them were residences.
In Arizona’s high desert on Thursday, firefighters spread out over a charred landscape, digging into the earth to extinguish flaming tree trunks and roots as helicopters flew above dropping buckets of water on a large wildfire that had raged for several days.
According to scientists, wildfire has become a year-round hazard in the West as a result of shifting weather patterns that include early snowmelt and rain that arrives later in the autumn. The difficulties have been worsened by decades of fire suppression and poor forest management, as well as a megadrought that has lasted more than two decades and has been linked to human-caused climate change.
Forest Service authorities stated that a fire in Prescott, Arizona, that has devoured around 3 square miles (8 square kilometres) of wood and brush and caused evacuations is still burning.
Officials with the Prescott National Forest said in an update Thursday that “erratic winds and fire behaviour are making conditions hazardous for firefighters.”
Popular lakes and national monuments in Arizona have been closed, including Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument outside of Flagstaff, which was closed because a wildfire moved directly over it, blackening trees and engulfing tools and vehicles in a maintenance yard, according to a spokesman for the monument, Richard Ullmann.
The Coconino National Forest has blocked areas where a wildfire is raging, but it has not issued any wider fire restrictions or closures, according to the Forest Service. Unstable debris, falling trees and branches, and flash floods are all warned against by a notice posted at a gate.
New Mexico National Park Service locations, including Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandelier National Monument, will have fire prohibitions in place starting Friday.
Firefighters in Colorado were able to contain two minor wildfires in the state’s southern and northern regions on Thursday, despite the presence of high winds.
According to the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, the fire was caused by the batteries of a crashed drone that was being used to observe extreme weather conditions. The researchers used a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze, but the fire spread swiftly because of the strong winds, according to officials. According to authorities, the other fire damaged or completely burned around 15 buildings, including residences, in Monte Vista, a town of approximately 4,150 people surrounded by agricultural fields.