Dozens of wildfires are burning across western United States, including a blaze touched off by lightning that was moving towards northern Arizona’s largest city.
The mountainous city of Flagstaff was shrouded in smoke on Monday. The national forest surrounding it announced a full closure set to begin later this week, this is the first time that has happened since 2006.
In California, firefighters still faced the difficult task of trying to contain a large forest fire in rugged coastal mountains south of Big Sur that forced the evacuation of a Buddhist monastery and nearby campground.
In New Mexico, lightning-sparked blazes have been scorching the southern part of the state where a large portion of the Gila Wilderness remains closed, and fire officials are closely watching the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
“The humidity and the possibility of some scattered rainfall is a good thing,” said meteorologist Andrew Taylor. “The lightning is not a good thing.”
ARIZONA WORST AFFECTED
More land has burned across Arizona so far to date with new wildfire quickly shifting resources. While humans are to blame for an overwhelming majority of wildfires, lightning started a 80 sqkm blaze west of Sedona that was moving towards Flagstaff, called “the Rafael Fire”.
A top-tier management team had been ordered to oversee the blaze that is burning in grass, juniper, chaparral and ponderosa pine.
Some campers already evacuated, and residents of rural areas have been told to prepare to evacuate on a moment’s notice, said Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Jon Paxton.
If the fire continues its northeastern push, hundreds of people in Flagstaff also could be affected, Paxton said.
Fire officials were mapping out a plan to starve the Rafael Fire of fuel as it moves through rugged terrain, canyons and wilderness, said fire information officer Dolores Garcia.
The 7,283 sqkm Coconino National Forest, a popular area for camping, hiking, boating and fishing, is shutting down from Wednesday because of concerns it will not have enough resources to respond to any future wildfires.
The forest has only partially closed in recent years because of wildfire danger.
“We have limited resources, and we’re tapped right now,” said forest spokesman Brady Smith.
Arizona is at the highest level of preparedness for wildfires.
A large wildfire burning near Superior, about 97 km west of Phoenix, was nearly 70 percent contained Monday. The 730 sqkm blaze was human-caused.
Residents near the small communities of Pine and Strawberry remain evacuated because of another wildfire that has hopped among treetops, with flames jumping ahead carried by wind. Some local roads also were closed.
Firefighting crews have yet to contain any of the wildfire’s perimeter. The lightning-sparked blaze was estimated at 132 sqkm on Monday and is being managed by a top-tier team.