Drought, Heat Add to Wildfire Woes Across the West

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
June 23, 2013; 4:03 PM
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The Incident Information System lists 36 active fires or fire-related incidents across the United States. Droughts and high winds have hindered containment efforts for many of the events.

In New Mexico, the Silver Fire burns in the Gila National Forest to the east of Silver City. The fire was started by lightning on June 7, about 7 miles southwest of Kingston. Evacuations were ordered for Kingston in the middle of the night on June 10, and were lifted at noon on June 20. The area is still closed to the public; only residents with entry permits will be allowed to return.

Approximate location of the Silver Fire in the Gila National Forest (New Mexico). Graphic provided by inciweb

As of June 22 at 8:00 p.m. MDT, 463 total personnel are involved in containment efforts. The 56,700-acre fire is only 20 percent contained, meaning 80 percent is still actively burning. Active suppression tactics are being hindered by "extremely rough terrain," and a great deal of fuel. Among the unburned fuel in the area are dry, beetle-killed trees. Point protection efforts are being focused around roads and structures near the hazard area. It is expected that without wetting rains, the fire could double in size in the next 21 days. Currently, fire managers are expecting the smoke to continue to build as the weather gets warmer.

Unfortunately, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski, conditions are not expected to aid relief efforts much in the coming days. Temperatures will stay in the mid- to upper 90s through the weekend with humidity levels around 10 to 20 percent.

"It doesn't look like they'll have very much moisture in the area for a while," he said.

What could make matters worse is that afternoon and evening wind speeds may be 20 to 30 mph, which could push fires along.

Approximate area of the Tres Lagunas Fire. Graphic provided by inciweb

Nearby, the Tres Lagunas Fire north of Pecos, N.M., continues to creep and smolder after being ignited on May 30. The fire, now 90 percent contained, has burned 10,219 acres. Wind has played a large role in advancing this fire. Conditions will remain dry and hot for the weekend with low relative humidity levels. In nearby Santa Fe, humidity levels for June 20 were only at 1 percent. Winds will continue to blow from 20 to 30 mph in the afternoons and evenings, while temperatures will sit in the lower 90s. Management teams are focusing on property protection attempts as they try to navigate through steep terrain and rolling rocks.

In Colorado, the Black Forest Fire has reached 100 percent containment after raging across 14,280 acres after beginning on the afternoon of June 1. Investigators are still determining the cause of the blaze. Restrictions are being lifted and evacuated areas are being prepared to allow future re-entry. Several thousand residents were evacuated from 502 structures that were destroyed in the fire, as reported by the Incident Information System. The fire, considered to be the worst in Colorado history, was exacerbated by high winds in its early days.

A truck moves past the so-called Doce fire near Prescott, Ariz., on Tuesday, June 18, 2013. County sheriff's officials say the wildfire began midday Tuesday, near the Doce Pit about eight miles northwest of Prescott. Wind gusts of up to 22 mph pushed the fire from 20 acres to about 200 within an hour. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca)

Around 11:30 a.m. MDT on June 18, the Doce Fire was reported 8 miles north of Prescott, Ariz. In its first day it spread 5,000 acres. Areas in Williamson Valley, including Granite Basin summer homes and American Ranch neighborhoods, have been put on watch for potential evacuations. Some evacuations have already occurred, but no structural damage or personal injuries have been reported. The growth potential is listed as high and the terrain is considered extremely difficult for containment efforts. Human activity is considered the cause of the blaze, and investigations are underway to determine who is responsible. As of 5 p.m. MDT on June 22, the Doce Fire was only 15 percent contained and had burned 6,732 acres.

As the fires continue to blaze in the West, this year's wildfire season could potentially be a vicious one.

Content Contributed by AccuWeather.com Staff Writer Kristen Rodman

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