Sunday, 19 June 2016

Wildfires in the midst of a heatwave in the SE United States

Two Western Wildfires Triple in Size; Evacuations In at Least 3 States

18 June, 2016

Major wildfires burning across the West have consumed tens of thousands of acres and forced evacuations in at least three states. In New Mexico, one particular wildfire exploded in size on Thursday.

Dry conditions are hampering firefighting efforts in a region that's expected to see dangerous and potentially deadly heat over the weekend and into early next week.

"Humidity values less than 15 percent and dew points as low as the single digits will be present and persistent across a large portion of the Southwest through at least Sunday," said meteorologist Jonathan Belles.

The most extreme heat in the coming days will be in the Desert Southwest where highs could climb to near 120 degrees, including in Phoenix, where it hasn't been that hot in more than 20 years.

Dog Head Fire - New Mexico 

A state of emergency has been declared as the Dog Head Fire more than tripled to around 17,000 acres by Saturday morning, forcing evacuations in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque. The sudden growth was attributed to dry conditions, hot temperatures and afternoon winds.

Residents of the town of Chilili along state road 337 begin to evacuate due to the Dog Head wildfire near the Manzano mountains, Wednesday, June 15, 2016, in Chilili, N.M.
(Roberto E. Rosales/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
It has been dry in the region for more than two weeks, said meteorologist Linda Lam. The last measurable rainfall occurred in Albuquerque on June 1, when 0.12 inches was measured.

The blaze has destroyed 24 single residences and 21 other minor structures as of Saturday, Inciweb reports. Friday officials issued an air quality alert for the area near the fire through mid-day and smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory issues have been urged to take precautions.

Residents in Chilili, Mercid, Escobosa Ponderosa Pines and Yrisarri were forced to leave their homes, and officials cut electricity in evacuated areas as a precaution, the Associated Press reported.

"The only thing I'm worried about is the wind,” area resident Manuel Urban told, “because if it picks up, then there's nothing that is going to stop that fire.”

More than 600 firefighters are battling the blaze, InciWeb also reports. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

North Fire - New Mexico

Fire crews worked to secure a section of line of the North Fire in New Mexico's San Mateo Mountains.
(TC Smith/USFS)
The largest of these fires has burned more than 30,000 acres in the San Mateo Mountains of southwestern New Mexico over the course of nearly a month.

The lightning-caused North Fire started May 21 in the Cibola National Forest and is only 30 percent contained. According to a release from the U.S. Forest Service's Magdalena Ranger District on Wednesday, smoke will be the biggest danger for communities and residents in the vicinity of Magdalena and surrounding areas.

"There will be little movement of air to get the smoke up and out of the area," the release said. "Smoke will not move very far or mix well into the atmosphere. It will settle into drainages and low-lying areas, with high likelihood for evening inversions. Smoke may be heavy at times during all hours and lifting of smoke during the day slower than has been seen over the past days."

Cedar Fire - Arizona

A wildfire near Show Low, Arizona, that started Wednesday has nearly reached 10,000 acres and prompted some evacuations in the area.  

"It’s huge, I've never seen a fire up here like this," Pinetop resident Ryan Davis told ABC15. “In Pinetop, it's clear, then we drove underneath it and it got all dark and then you could smell it – it smelled like a campfire."

The Cedar Fire - officials changed the name from the Cedar Creek Fire on Thursday, KPHO reports - is burning brush and timber in rugged terrain about nine miles from Show Low. Thousands of area residents remain under pre-evacuation advisories. Navajo County spokesman Adam Wolfe said only about a dozen people have been evacuated.

Fire is still on the outskirts of town. But the smoke is really bad. Wind is really getting bad," Ryan White, who works in Show Low, told USA Today on Wednesday night. "The wind seems to be pushing it right toward Show Low, Pinetop areas. I could smell the fire around noon; went to look outside the shop and could see the smoke building.”

County officials told residents in Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside and three other communities to prepare for possible evacuations, but Wolfe says Show Low's west side is the area that likely would be affected initially if evacuations are necessary.

"When it started and the wind was really bad, it was raining ash. Like, it was falling out of the sky," Pinetop resident Janice Elmore, who hadn't been ordered to evacuate yet, told ABC15. “It's pretty scary, but we love it up here so we want to stay as long as we can."

The cause of the fire is still unknown.

Sherpa Fire - California

A wind-driven fire that has consumed almost 6,000 acres in the Los Padres National Forest prompted mandatory evacuations in Southern Santa Barbara County as it swept toward the Pacific Ocean. The fire started shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon near the Sherpa Ranch, and late Wednesday evening, quoted Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Dave Zaniboni as saying the fire had "blown up."

Friday U.S. 101, the state's main coastal highway, had to be shut down for the second time since the fire first erupted, the Associated Press reports. The roadway was closed for hours. 

"I was actually on scene last night and saw some of the fire tornadoes, and I tell you what, it's no joke," Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Larson told AP. "It was off the hook."

Friday morning, a firefighting DC-10 jumbo jet led an air attack on the inferno, dropping vast swaths of retardant to stop the fire's movement across hard to reach terrain. A fleet of planes and helicopters have been brought in to assist the army of firefighters on the ground.

"Our defensive strategy will continue to emphasize protection of life and property while we look for a place to turn the corner and push this back up into the mountains and get full containment," federal incident commander Robert Laeng told AP. 

"This has been a significant and challenging fire," Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Eric Peterson told KSBY. "It's burning in an area notorious for life and property loss, structure loss and fuels that have not burned for over 70 years." 

The fire was burning "very close" to the ExxonMobile facility in Las Flores Canyon, said.

"The refinery has fire around it, and companies in place protecting it," Zaniboni told the AP, adding that it has a cleared buffer one.

Evacuation centers have been set up at the Wake Center in Goleta, California, and Santa Ynez Union High School in Santa Ynez, California, Inciweb reported. A large animal evacuation center has been set up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Goleta.

This fire was just 5 percent contained as of Friday afternoon

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