Wildfires Continue to Ravage Arizona as High Winds Howl

May 19, 2012; 7:44 AM
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Wildfires Charring Arizona
Persistent heat, very low humidity will cause an extreme fire threat across Arizona and other areas of the West through the weekend.

"A building 'ridge' of high pressure throughout all heights of the atmosphere will continue to be the driving force behind the unseasonable and near-record warmth in the western half of the nation over the next few days," AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Bill Deger explained.

Temperatures will continue to challenge records with highs soaring into the 90s and 100s across the interior Southwest through the weekend. The heat combined with very dry conditions should keep the fire threat very high.

Underneath the large dome of high pressure in control, humidity values will be extremely low with the relative humidity dropping below 10 percent during the afternoon and evening hours. Humidity values this low mean that there will be plenty of tinder-dry vegetation for raging fires to feed on.

Winds increased to 15-25 mph with local gusts of 40-50 mph on Friday as a storm system moved across the central Rockies. The higher winds threaten to spread flames rapidly as well as spread burning embers that could cause fires to jump.

The winds should ease some over the weekend as the storm system moves on into the Plains. However, large wildfires can create there own winds and rugged terrain is challenging fire fighters.

The Sunflower Fire is burning in the Tonto National Forest about 21 miles south of Payson, Ariz., near Sunflower. According to Inciweb, the massive fire has charred more than 14,460 miles. As of Friday afternoon, it was only 15 percent contained.

The Gladiator Fire, which is burning in the Community of Crown King, Ariz., is more than 8,160 acres and only 5 percent contained. Evacuations remain in effect for the community the fire is threatening.

"Firefighters continued work along the western perimeter just east of Crown King. Efforts are being made to protect structures where possible," Inciweb said. A communication tower was also being threatened on the western perimeter of the fire.

Several other fires are scorching Arizona, Colorado and other communities in the West.

In this Saturday, May 12, 2012 photo, a fire blazes in Arizona's Tonto National Forest, near Payson, Ariz. The fire has grown to more than three-square miles as air tankers and helicopters assist ground crews in beating back flames. Tonto National Forest spokesman David Albo says the fire about 20 miles south of Payson was moving in a northeasterly direction and primarily toward a wilderness area late Saturday. He says no structures were threatened by the fire and it has not prompted any evacuation orders. Authorities have not yet determined a suspected cause of the fire. (AP Photo/Marc Allan)

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