Arizona wildfires fueled by high winds, low humidity
Driven by fierce winds and single-digit humidity, wildfires on Wednesday continued their spread from Arizona toward New Mexico as thousands of firefighters struggled to control the blazes.
At least seven more Arizona communities were under some form of evacuation order in the area where thousands had already been forced to flee their homes, according to postings on emergency websites. Across the border in New Mexico, Catron County officials told residents of Luna to be prepared to leave if the fire moves their way.
The biggest concern was the weather with winds exceeding 35 miles an hour and humidity running about 7%. The lack of moisture was making all of the growth, particularly the forests of ponderosa pine, far more combustible and the wind was driving flames to new sources of fuel.
“We anticipate that the current dry and windy conditions will lead to several difficult days of firefighting ahead of us to prevent additional acreage within the state from being impacted,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a statement released Tuesday night.
The wildfires, which began May 29 and are the second largest in Arizona history, were spread in several locations. The Wallow fire is the major blaze but there is also the Murphy and Horseshoe Two fires in Arizona and the Miller fire in New Mexico.
The Wallow fire has already exceeded 389,000 acres. With the addition of the other fires, the total reached more than 600 square miles by Wednesday morning, according to official counts.
No fatalities have been reported in the firefighting effort which entered its 11th day on Wednesday, but about a dozen structures have been destroyed. More than 350 structures remained threatened, officials said.
Most of the more than 2,100 firefighters are conducting burn out operations as part of the strategy to build fire lines for protection. In addition, firefighters from many parts of the nation are working on perimeter control and patrolling for spot fires. Spot fires are occurring up to three miles ahead of the main fire.
The latest evacuations were in Eagar, Ariz., while residents of nearby Springerville were poised to leave should an order be issued by the Apache County Sheriff’s department. Overall, some 7,000 people have been told to prepare to leave.
The blazes have been attributed to human activity. Authorities have said they believe one cause was an unattended campfire.