27 Large Wildfires Burn 180,000 Acres – and Counting – Across the Western United States
27 large wildfires are burning across the West
More than 8,400 firefighters across the West battled dozens of wildfires Thursday that forced thousands of local residents to pack up families, pets and personal treasures to flee the advancing blazes.
Twenty-seven large fires were burning nearly 180,000 acres, the National Interagency Fire Center reported, as the region continued to pay a steep price for a recent, record-smashing heat wave that combined with low humidity and wind to create a perfect storm for wildfires.
AccuWeather Meteorologist Ryan Adamson warned that hot and dry weather through the weekend will only exacerbate wildfire danger.
“The only relief Mother Nature will offer will be at night when winds diminish and the relative humidity rises slightly,” he said.
More than 4,200 square miles have burned so far this year, almost the size of Connecticut. The number represents an alarming 30% more than 2016’s total year-to-date, and 2016 was an above-average year.
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National Interagency Fire center spokeswoman Robyn Broyles blamed the big burn numbers on a very active spring fire season in the Southern Plains followed by the heat, wind and lightning the Southwest has experienced.
In Arizona, the Goodwin Fire about 100 miles north of Phoenix was one of six large fires burning across the state. Dewey-Humboldt resident Terry Thompson squeezed five people, four dogs and two cats into a 2005 Jeep Liberty not long after his wife, Angie, picked up the phone to hear the recorded evacuation notice.
Like hundreds of others displaced or left on edge by the 21,000-acre wildfire, the Thompsons had to keep ahead of the blaze, which was listed as just 1% contained early Thursday.
“I’m still in shock,” Terry Thompson said. Angie Thompson grabbed some keepsakes on their way out the door: “photos, photo albums, our safe. Oh, and baby shoes. Bronze baby shoes.”
Authorities lifted the evacuation order Thursday for the 1,400 residents of Thayer, but thousands in other communities remained out of their homes. The Information Center for the Goodwin Fire warned that for the next couple days the fire had a “high spread potential … with southwest winds of 15-20 mph and gusts up to 30.”
Gov. Doug Ducey, who declared a state of emergency, visited the scene and met with responders Thursday.
The fire follows more than a week of record-setting high temperatures across much of the West. Phoenix set a string of daily records last week and reached 119 degrees one day. Temps have eased, but summer remains summer — this week’s daily highs have been a more seasonal 108 degrees.
The nation’s largest fire, the Brian Head Fire, has been burning for almost two weeks in southwestern Utah, 250 miles south of Salt Lake City. The fire had consumed more than 50,000 acres early Thursday and was 10% contained.
There was good news for some locals when the town manager in Brian Head announced that an evacuation order was scheduled to be lifted Friday — just in time for a holiday weekend celebration that won’t include fireworks.
Some area communities won’t be so lucky, but Brian Head Town Manager Bret Howser said power was restored and Internet and phone repairs were expected to be completed sometime Friday.
“We invite everybody to come share in our Independence Day celebrations, thank the brave firefighters, help our local businesses recover and see how beautiful Brian Head still is!” Howser said in a Facebook post.
The news was also brighter near Burbank, Calif., where scores of homes were ordered evacuated Wednesday ahead of a small but fierce wildfire. Firefighters quickly gained control of the blaze, and the evacuation order was lifted hours later.
Contributing: Scott Craven and Ronald J. Hansen, The Arizona Republic
Story by John Bacon,USA TODAY,June 29, 2017