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Wildfires in New Mexico, Colorado herald rough season ahead

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper gives a press briefing on the 2018 wildfire outlook.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper discusses the state's 2018 wildfire outlook in on April 13, 2018. Credit: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Large wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado have forced hundreds to evacuate, and burned at least a dozen structures since Friday. The blazes are taking place amid tinder dry and windy conditions, and signal what officials fear will be a historically damaging fire seasons.

The big picture: One of the rapidly spreading fires, known as the 416 fire, is burning near Durango, in southwestern Colorado. It has forced the evacuation of nearly 800 homes since it was first seen on Friday morning. The fire has been burning through parts of the San Juan National Forest, and as of Saturday morning, the fire was 0 percent contained and had spread to 1,100 acres, according to Inciweb, a government portal for wildfire disaster information.

In neighboring New Mexico, the Ute Park fire is burning about 100 miles northeast of Santa Fe. The fire has burned more than 27,000 acres, and destroyed more than a dozen unoccupied structures. About 300 structures are threatened in the community of Cimarron, according to Inciweb,

Why you’ll hear about this again: Officials in several western states are bracing for what could be the worst wildfire season in years, as "exceptional drought conditions" — the most severe category — grip parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. In Colorado, officials are warning this could be the worst fire season since 2012, when neighborhoods went up in flames around Colorado Springs during the Waldo Canyon Fire.

Studies show that in response to climate change and development practices, there's a tendency for larger, more destructive fires, along with longer wildfire seasons in the West.

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