• Mon. Sep 25th, 2023


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California Wildfire Scorches Nearly 1,000 Acres and Prompts Evacuations

A fast-moving wildfire in California’s Angeles National Forest has grown to nearly 1,000 acres in a little more than a day, prompting road closures and the evacuation of a large portion of a community about 30 miles northwest of San Bernardino.

The blaze, named the Sheep Fire, is one of more than 30 wildfires that were active on Monday and that have burned about one million acres across five states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The fires, combined with a heat wave in the Southwest, have been fueled by sustained dry and windy conditions.

The fires have prompted mandatory evacuations in Arizona and Southern California. The largest fires were in New Mexico, where they threatened structures and spread across 680,000 acres in the state’s national forests, the Fire Center said Monday.

The Sheep Fire was only five percent contained as of Monday afternoon. Videos shared on Twitter showed trees ablaze and firefighters battling huge flames bordering a highway. Other images on Twitter showed air tankers releasing fire retardant to slow the wildfire’s spread.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which said the fire had been “especially challenging due to dense vegetation, steep terrain, and high and erratic winds.”

As of Monday afternoon, evacuation orders for a large portion of Wrightwood, a community of 4,500 people, remained in place, said Mara Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office. Wrightwood, at an elevation of 6,000 feet in the San Gabriel mountains, is a mountain resort community 15 miles off the interstate, according to its website.

Red flag warnings, designating an increased risk of fire, were in effect on Monday for more than three million people in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Critical fire weather conditions were expected for much of the Southwest and the southern and central Rockies and High Plains on Monday, the National Weather Service said.

In Northern Arizona on Monday, dense smoke was visible from U.S. 89, which was closed north of Flagstaff, the Arizona Department of Transportation said. Two major wildfires, the Pipeline and Haywire Fires, prompted multiple evacuations and triggered warnings about potential additional evacuation orders.

The Pipeline Fire, which was first reported on Sunday morning just six miles north of Flagstaff, has grown to about 5,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The U.S. Forest Service said Sunday that it had arrested a 57-year-old man in connection with the Pipeline Fire and charged him with unspecified natural resource violations. In a news release, the service did not name the man and said it would not discuss any details of the investigation.

Early on Monday morning, the Haywire Fire began just northeast of the Pipeline Fire, officials in Coconico County, Ariz., said. Within six hours, it had already burned through 1,600 acres.

The Weather Service in Flagstaff urged caution, saying on Twitter on Monday that it was “going to be a tough day out there.”

“Strong southwest winds, very low humidity, and dry fuels will promote explosive wildfire growth across all of northern Arizona on Monday,” it said.

Dangerous heat was expected to stretch from the Midwest to the Southeast through the middle of the week. As of Monday, more than 110 million people in the southern and central United States were under heat alerts or advisories, according to the Weather Service.

The Weather Service said that while a “strong cold front” was expected on Monday for much of California, the heat would continue with triple-digit temperatures possible from the central and southern Rockies, across the Plains and to parts of the Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.