Critical fire condition warnings issued across the southwestern United States

The 7-week-old fire, the largest in New Mexico history, has burned 491 square miles (1,272 square kilometers) of forest in rough terrain east of Santa Fe since it was started in April by two planned burns.

Teams partially patrolled burned areas and cleared and cut containment lines, including primary ones near the fire, while bulldozers further scraped back backup lines.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings about critical fire conditions for parts of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah. Those conditions are combination of strong wind, low relative humidity and dry vegetation.

The return of drier and warmer weather with stronger winds posed a threat of increased fire activity over Memorial Day weekend, prompting officials to urge the public to secure vehicle chains and be wary of possible fire sources.

“The last thing we need right now is another inflammation,” said Jayson Coil, an operations division chief.

Forecasts required wind gusts of up to 80 km / h (50 km / h), with critical fire conditions continuing until Monday, followed by more favorable weather later in the coming week, said Bruno Rodriguez, the fire management team’s meteorologist.

The strong winds could ignite flames and cause the fire to jump boundary lines and rush forward, said John Chest, a fire operations manager.

“Imagine you are driving in your car and the fire can overtake you. This is the kind of extreme fire behavior we are talking about, ”Chester said.

Nearly 3,000 firefighters and other personnel were assigned to the fire, covering about 48% of its perimeter.

Initial estimates say the fire destroyed at least 330 homes, but government officials expect the number of homes and other structures burned to rise to more than 1,000 as more assessments are done.

Elsewhere, 150 firefighters battled a wind-fired fire that burned 9 square miles (24 square kilometers) of grass, brush and salt cedar wood about 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) southwest of Parker, Arizona. Winds of up to 30 mph forced the California flame to jump into the Colorado River in Arizona on Saturday afternoon.

The fire forced the evacuation of a recreational vehicle park after it started on Thursday and was 44% contained, officials said.

The cause of the fire is being investigated.


Davenport reported from Phoenix.

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