Big progress on wildfires, but dangerous winds along the way

ALBUQUERQUE, NM ( Associated Press) — Firefighters are making significant progress Wednesday on the largest wildfire burning unusually hot and rapidly for this time of year in the western United States.

But forecasters from the southwest to the southern High Plains warned of a return in the next two days to the same high winds and severe fire conditions that sent wild blasts running across the landscape last week.

Some of the nearly 1,000 firefighters battling the biggest fire in drought-stricken New Mexico on Thursday cut brush and burn off any excess fuel ahead of forecasts of increased danger over the weekend.

This allowed crews to dig nearly a third of the fire lines, which have become the largest wildfire in the US – now 94 square miles (245 kilometers) – and prevented the flames from reaching most rural homes and farms. which is still in its north-east. Santa Fe.

“Another great day on the fire line,” Federal fire incident commander Karl Schwop said Wednesday night.

“Firefighters are making great progress,” he told residents at a community meeting in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where many rural communities in the surrounding mountains remain under evacuation orders.

But he quickly emphasized that the success could be short-lived as hot, dry, windy weather should return on Thursday and Friday.

“This fire still has tremendous potential to grow and there is still great danger,” he said. “We still have some important fire days.”

According to the National Weather Service, practically the entire state of New Mexico remains at the most severe fire threat over the next two days. The high-risk area extends from Arizona’s border with California and Nevada to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, the service said late Wednesday.

Some light rain increased moisture in the bone dry fuel in the southwest earlier this week. But strong winds on Wednesday dried up most of the good fuel, which is “expected to be “severely dry to the border line” on Thursday,” the service said.

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San Miguel County Sheriff Chris López said at a briefing about the fires east of Santa Fe on Wednesday night that he was refining evacuation strategies that were forced to be implemented quickly last week because of the conditions to come. Let’s review weather modeling.

“That doesn’t mean it will happen, but it could happen, as we saw when it caught fire,” he said. “The danger exists and it is very real.”

Officials said on Wednesday they were continuing to work on damage assessments, but had not been able to reach some areas that are still hot and it is not yet safe to allow some people to return to their homes.

“We have control around the edge of the fire, but stuff is still burning inside and we still have a wind event that we’re looking forward to Friday and Saturday,” Lopez said.

“We have to make sure everything is good enough that I can make a decision and know you’ll be safe if we let you back there,” he said.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the Southwest is bearing the brunt of the major fire, with five incident management teams assigned.

A complex incident management team was overseeing a major fire in southwest Nebraska. More than 200 firefighters in that state were battling a prairie fire that has been burning since last week.

About 65 square miles (168 square kilometers) of mostly grass and farmland near the Kansas line have been blackened, many homes destroyed and at least one person killed. The fire on Wednesday was about three-fourths.

In Arizona, crews worked to control two major wildfires on Wednesday, with firefighters regaining ground in Prescott National Forest on Tuesday after winds pushed the fire outward. Near Flagstaff, crews patrolled the burned areas of a separate large fire and looked for hot spots amid mild weather.

Nationally, major fires this year have burned more than 1,688 square miles (4,372 square kilometers), outpacing the US 10-year average.

The pressure on firefighters is not likely to ease soon. climate outlook Indicating the possibility of below-normal rainfall from Texas through the southern Rockies and Great Basin, higher-than-normal temperatures are likely over much of the US in the summer.


Beck reported from Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press writers Paul Davenport in Phoenix and Scott Soner in Reno, Nevada contributed to this report.



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