The southwest braces for high winds, hot weather and low humidity on Friday that could be a recipe for disaster in already drought-stricken areas as half a dozen large wildfires continue to rage rabies in Arizona and New Mexico.
On Friday, the National Weather Service warned of “extremely critical fire weather threat” in the central and southern High Plains and southern Rockies with damaging wind gusts, high winds and low humidity expected throughout the region. Existing fires could “spread out of control” and new fires could easily ignite, the weather service said.
“There is high confidence that an extreme and catastrophic widespread fire will occur on Friday,” Santa Fe National Forest officials said Thursday evening, urging residents to monitor changes in evacuation status and to prepare to leave their homes.
The Santa Fe area is expected to experience sustained winds of 30 to 50 mph Friday morning with gusts up to 80 mph.
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In Flagstaff, Arizona, one of the largest fires, called Tunnel Fire, has burned more than 32 square miles and forced hundreds more to evacuate. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Coconino County in Flagstaff on Thursday, where about 30 structures in the county were destroyed.
The National Weather Service in Albuquerque pointed to the ongoing mega-drought that has plagued the western and upper and southern plains for 22 years as a factor that could lead to extreme fire-related weather on Friday.
The threat of year-round wildfires has been exacerbated by decades of poor forest management, as well as worsening drought, which research has shown is a symptom of the climate crisis. .
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“A single spark can cause a major forest fire that can burn large areas of woodland and/or grassland, destroying people’s homes and livelihoods,” the weather service warned Thursday.
“It’s not typical,” said Scott Overpeck of the Albuquerque Weather Service. “It’s definitely one of those days where we have to be on our toes and we have to be ready.”
It’s been a particularly busy start to the year with more than 19,700 fires nationwide burning more than 1,300 square miles in 2022, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
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Contribute: The Associated Press
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