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Hot, dry weather poses challenges as Ute Park Fire remains twice the size of Manhattan

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
June 08, 2018, 3:45:42 AM EDT

Critical fire weather is forecast in the coming days in the Southwest as firefighters work to contain the Ute Park Fire, which has been burning for over a week in northern New Mexico.

The blaze, which erupted May 31, has charred close to 37,000 acres as of Thursday evening. Fire crews were able to gain significant ground on the fire on Thursday, with containment up to 66 percent.

The Ute Fire is burning near the village of Cimarron, where a mandatory evacuation had been issued last week.

However, the increased containment allowed evacuation orders to be lifted in Cimarron and the immediate surrounding area on Monday. Ute Park and areas north of state Highway 204 remain closed and under evacuation orders.

ute park fire 6/4/2018

(Photo/New Mexico Department of Health)

"The fire threat to Cimarron has been minimized; however, there are still some concerns. Air quality will continue to be an issue as the Ute Park Fire is expected to burn for some time. The winds will change over the course of this fire, and there will be a smoke presence," officials said on Monday.

Water quality is also a concern, as the Cimarroncito Reservoir and surrounding water shed did sustain fire damage, officials said.

Ute Park 6.8 AM

No residences have been lost due to the fire; however, 14 outbuildings were destroyed on Philmont Scout Ranch, home to the Boy Scouts of America.

While the base area of the ranch has been deemed safe, officials with the ranch have canceled a number of scheduled hiking expeditions.

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“At this time, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all backcountry treks that were scheduled to take place in the Philmont backcountry from June 8 – July 14, 2018,” officials said. “We hope that backcountry treks may resume after July 14, 2018, with altered itineraries, assuming the backcountry is safe and infrastructure is restored.”

Over 600 firefighting personnel are on hand working to contain the fire. The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.

AccuWeather On-Air Meteorologist Geoff Cornish reported live from New Mexico this week, covering the latest developments on the Ute Fire.

Record-challenging heat has expanded across the central United States this week and has put firefighters on alert for any new wildfires to ignite.

“The hot, dry conditions will also increase the threat for additional wildfires across the region,” according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rathbun.

"Winds will peak during the afternoon hours," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey. "This weather [through Friday] is pretty typical for the West this time of year, with the most progress on fires being made during the evening and morning hours."

Static SW Fire Weekend

The worst time for additional wildfire spread will be during the afternoon as winds can gust up to 20 mph, according to Duffey.

There is the risk of locally strong winds kick up this weekend, which will threaten to fan ongoing blazes or spark new ones.

416 Fire grows in Colorado

Firefighters have contained 10 percent of the 416 Fire, which has been burning 10 miles north of Durango, Colorado since June 1. The blaze has burned over 5,000 acres.

Evacuation and pre-evacuation orders remain in effect. Approximately 825 residential structures are listed in the evacuation area.

On Wednesday, fire activity was more active due to warm, dry and windy conditions, according to Inciweb.

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