Dozens of wildfires were burning in hot, dry conditions across the western United States, including a lightning-triggered blaze that was heading towards the largest city in northern Arizona.
The mountainous city of Flagstaff was shrouded in smoke on Monday. The national forest that surrounds it has announced a full closure that is expected to begin later this week – the first time since 2006.
The intense heat that has hampered firefighting efforts more generally is expected to moderate in the coming days. But, the National Weather Service noted that this could bring uncertainty to fire crews.
“The humidity and the possibility of a few scattered rains are a good thing,” said meteorologist Andrew Taylor. “Lightning is not a good thing.”
In California, firefighters still faced the difficult task of trying to contain a large wildfire in the rugged coastal mountains south of Big Sur that forced the evacuation of a Buddhist monastery and campground. near.
In New Mexico, lightning-triggered fires have burned down the southern part of the state where much of the Gila Wilderness remains closed, and firefighters are closely monitoring the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.
So far as more land has burned across Arizona, new wildfires are starting to rapidly displace resources. While humans are to blame for the overwhelming majority of wildfires, lightning started an 80 km² (31 square mile) fire west of Sedona that was heading towards Flagstaff, known as the “Rafael Fire”.
A high-level management team had been tasked with monitoring the blaze, which burns in the grass, juniper, chaparral and ponderosa pine.
Some campers have already been evacuated and residents of rural areas have been urged to prepare to evacuate at any time, Coconino County Sheriff’s spokesman Jon Paxton said.
Due to the Rafael fire, all areas south of 1-40, west of I-17 including University Heights, Kachina Village, Forest Highlands, Pine Dell and Woody Mountain Road are now in SET status. Start preparing for a possible GO order to EVACUATE.
THIS IS NOT AN EVAC NOTIFICATION.
– Coconino County (@CoconinoCounty) June 21, 2021
If the blaze continues to push northeast, hundreds of people in Flagstaff – a college town about two hours north of Phoenix – could also be affected, Paxton said.
Firefighters were making a plan to starve the Rafael Fire of fuel as it moved through rugged terrain, canyons and wilderness, said Dolores Garcia, fire intelligence officer. On Monday, it was moving parallel to Interstate 40 along the county lines of Coconino and Yavapai.
The 7,283 km² (2,812 square miles) Coconino National Forest, a popular area for camping, hiking, boating and fishing, will close on Wednesday due to fears of have sufficient resources to deal with future forest fires.
The forest has only partially closed in recent years due to the danger of forest fires.
“We have limited resources and we are being exploited right now,” Forest spokesman Brady Smith said.
Arizona is at the highest level of wildfire preparedness. A large forest fire burning near Superior, about 97 km (60 miles) west of Phoenix, was nearly 70% contained on Monday. The 730 square kilometer (282 square mile) fire was man-made.
Residents near the small communities of Pine and Strawberry remain evacuated due to another wildfire that leapt through the treetops, with flames leaping forward blown in the wind. Some local roads have also been closed.
The firefighting teams have not yet defined the perimeter of the fire. The lightning-triggered fire was estimated at 132 km² (51 square miles) on Monday and is being handled by a leading team.
In Utah, several forest fires were burning in dry conditions. The larger one near the small town of Enterprise in southern Utah forced evacuations over the weekend. But the owners have been allowed to return as containment has reached 50%.