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Heightened wildfire danger to threaten hikers, tourists in southwestern US through the weekend

By Kyle Elliott, AccuWeather meteorologist
May 20, 2018, 3:12:50 AM EDT

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As tourist activity increases in the southwestern United States, so will the threat for wildfires through the weekend.

The dry and hot weather pattern that has been in place since April shows no signs of breaking down anytime soon.

“With continued dry conditions, fire danger will remain elevated through the weekend in the Southwest,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Ryan Adamson.

SW Sunday May 19


According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, exceptional drought exists in portions of seven states: Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

Severe to extreme drought currently encompasses nearly 100 percent of Arizona and New Mexico.

SW Drought 5 am Static


Over a half dozen active fires are still burning in western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as of Sunday, May 20, according to Inciweb.

Evacuations were lifted on Thursday evening as CAL FIRE/Riverside County Firefighters responded to the rapidly growing Patterson Fire, which burned near Winchester, California.

Meanwhile, the Happy Fire, which began about 20 miles north of Bagdad, Arizona, on May 15, has already consumed over 1,000 acres and is only 10 percent contained. The fire is posing no risk to structures at this time.

AZ wildfire

This April 30, 2018, photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows a wildfire burning in north-central Arizona. (U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest via AP)


With temperatures heading upward and snow now having melted in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico, hiking, climbing and tourism activity are rapidly on the rise across the Southwest.

Those with outdoor plans in the Southwest this weekend should be aware of the location and coverage of the ongoing blazes and be prepared for additional, new fires.

“In addition, as more people begin to get out and about approaching Memorial Day, outdoor enthusiasts who set up campfires will need to make sure that their fires are completely out before leaving their campsite since any hotspots can quickly grow into new and large fires,” Adamson warned.

By taking these precautions, campers can ensure that they do all in their power to prevent igniting a new wildfire. The cause of the Tinder Fire was an abandoned illegal campfire.

Several national parks in Utah announced fire restrictions due to the heightened risk of wildfires.

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“While winds don’t look particularly strong through the weekend, ongoing fires, especially in Arizona where most of the larger fires are currently located, will be difficult to contain with breezy conditions at times,” said Adamson.

Any thunderstorms that fire up in the higher, mountainous terrain may do more harm than good, since lightning from these storms can trigger new fires.

The high fire danger looks to continue into early this week as winds are likely to increase even more with no rain in the forecast.

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