AGUILAR, Colorado (AP) — Wildfire outbreaks that have been menacing the dry southern plains across Texas and Oklahoma spread to Arkansas and Colorado on Sunday, where wind-whipped blazes destroyed at least nine homes and forced hundreds of people to evacuate, authorities said.
The evacuations in southern Colorado were forced by two fires that had destroyed five homes and burned at least 6,000 acres in Huerfano and Las Animas counties, not far from the New Mexico line.
In Arkansas, a 3,000-acre wildfire destroyed four homes Sunday east of Hamburg.
Four volunteer fire departments were battling the blaze, and Deputy State Forester Larry Nance said it likely would be Monday before they could gain control.
“The high temperatures, high winds and low humidities, that’s the three big things that brought it more critical for all of Arkansas,” Nance said. The cause of the fire, one of at least 35 reported in the state Sunday, was under investigation.
Arson was blamed for two small grass fires Sunday in Oklahoma that damaged two homes, said Oklahoma City battalion chief Kirk Wright.
In Colorado, fire officials believe human activity sparked the large fires, though they declined to provide further details.
Residents said there had been some controlled burning in the area, where the open land is largely covered by dry sagebrush and grass, and the hills are dotted with pinon and ponderosa pine.
“This just points out that we are very dry in Colorado, even though it’s winter,” said Barb Timock, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. “No matter where we are in Colorado, but especially along the Front Range, we ought to be thinking about being extremely careful with fires outdoors.”
Pam Dorland, a retiree from Sterling who lost her home in the hills outside Aguilar, a town of about 1,000 people, discovered the wildfire Saturday night when her screen door blew open.
“I went to shut it and I could see the smoke. There was nothing we could do,” said Dorland, who returned with her husband Sunday morning to water down the smoldering remains of their house. They to avoid it cause a flare-up.
Wind gusting up to 50 mph prevented authorities from using airplanes to drop slurry on the blazes Sunday, said Pam Martinez of the Huerfano County Sheriff’s office.
Drought conditions and gusting wind have spread dozens of wildfires across Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico over the past two weeks. At least 475 homes have been destroyed by the winter blazes and five people have been killed.
In Texas, more than 60 wildfires were reported across the state Sunday, but most were relatively small.
Burn bans and more firefighting resources, such as aircraft and equipment, have helped firefighters get the blazes under control, said Forest Service fire information officer Jim Caldwell.
In southern Oklahoma, firefighters were trying to tame one wildfire that had charred about 900 acres near Coalgate, said Richard Reuse, a spokesman for a state command center.
“The big problem today is going to be an expected wind shift coming in from the north,” he said Sunday. “If firefighters aren’t aware of the wind shift while they’re putting out a fire, it could get really dangerous for them.”