Large wildfires trigger evacuations in Southwest
Wildfires raging across the U.S. Southwest have razed structures and forced hundreds of people to evacuate — heralding an early start to the fire season, per AP.
Driving the news: The region is facing windy conditions as 90% of the West is in moderate to "exceptional" drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Arizona is in this category, as is 78% of the High Plains — including Colorado.
- Parts of the Front Range, Southwest and Southern Plains could expect "summer-like warmth and Critical Risks of fire weather" through Saturday, the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center said.
The big picture: The rapidly moving Tunnel Fire, on the outskirts of Flagstaff, Ariz., has triggered evacuations and forced a highway to close. It grew an additional 3,087 acres on Wednesday, to 19,712 acres, "driven by strong winds across the landscape in a northeast direction," Inciweb, an inter-agency incident information site, reported.
- Homes and businesses in the 4,150-strong city of Monte Vista, Colo., had to be evacuated as a fire destroyed several structures, CBS Denver reports.
- There were also more evacuation orders issued for fires in Colorado's Boulder County on Wednesday, though these were later lifted after firefighters managed to contain the blaze.
Meanwhile, five large fires were raging in New Mexico, where the Mora County Sheriff’s Office issued fresh evacuation orders and a new blaze started along the Rio Grande, south of Albuquerque, on Wednesday, AP reports.
Context: Studies show human-caused climate change is driving an increased wildfire risk, and a United Nations report in February warned that destructive wildfires like the ones that have ravaged the U.S. West Coast in recent years are set to become 30% more common by 2030.