USA — Wildfires cast a pall over Memorial Day weekend in parts of the West as residents in a part of New Mexico were ordered to evacuate, while thousands of firefighters are on standby throughout Colorado.
In California, higher humidity and light winds were helping firefighters get ahead of a stubborn wildfire that has charred 4,100 acres of tinder-dry grass and brush in rural San Diego County.
In the Midwest, officials said a wildfire in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which has burned more than 21,000 acres, is 20 percent contained.
Residents near a privately owned New Mexico ghost town were ordered Saturday to evacuate as a blaze in the Gila National Forest continued to burn erratically.
Fire officials in New Mexico said Saturday that the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire has shrunk slightly to 82,000 acres but is still 0 percent contained because of weather conditions. The evacuation of Mogollon, a privately owned ghost town, was ordered due to extreme wind around the southwestern New Mexico fire. Four helicopters and more than 500 firefighters from around the state were on hand to fight the blaze but still had to contend with “extreme conditions.”
Cities, as far away as Albuquerque, remained under a health alert until Sunday afternoon due to smoke from the fire, which has spread across the state. State officials were warning residents during the Memorial Day weekend to limit outdoor activities, especially if smoke was visible.
The haze that blocked views of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque on Friday appeared to have decreased by early Saturday afternoon, but smoke continued to hang over parts of the city.
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The blaze near Shelter Valley was burning Saturday in steep, rocky terrain away from the town of Julian, said Thomas Shoots, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It was 30 percent contained.
No injuries or damage to structures were reported, and the fire was not moving toward any homes as it burned southeast on Saturday.
Crews are battling a wildfire that has scorched more than 3,000 acres of rugged canyon land near the Colorado-Utah border.
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin says the fire started Friday afternoon and is burning in a remote area near Paradox. It is not threatening any structures, and no injuries have been reported.
Shannon Borders, a spokeswoman for The Bureau of Land Management, says sheriff’s deputies have evacuated the Buckeye Reservoir area, a popular recreation spot near the Utah border. Also evacuated were the Rock Creek and Sinbad Valley areas.
Heavy air tankers and thousands of firefighters are on standby across Colorado as fire managers keep a close watch on high winds and hot temperatures at the start of Memorial Day weekend. Segin says two heavy air tankers have been taken to Grand Junction, where the fire danger is highest.
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Fire officials say a cold front arriving over Arizona is providing additional relief to firefighters battling the Gladiator Fire and electricity is being restored to some areas.
A “mega moisture burst” Friday night increased moisture levels in the forest and helping reduce risk of new fires.
Winds from the west, southwest at 20-25 mph with gusts to 45 are expected and those winds will likely blow dust and ash.
Officials say the 16,000 acre Gladiator Fire, which started May 13 from a structure fire, is now 40 percent contained and has roughly cost $13 million.
The U.S. Forest Service says electricity has been stored to some communities that were forced to evacuate earlier this week.
Arizona wildfire growing due to strong winds
Precipitation and cooler weather have helped crews contain a Nevada wildfire that destroyed two homes in a rural neighborhood near the California line.
Fire information officer Mark Regan announced late Saturday afternoon that the Topaz Ranch Estates Fire in the Pine Nut Mountains, northwest of Wellington, was fully contained after burning 7,500 acres.
He says the fire will be monitored over the next few days to ensure the perimeter remains extinguished, and it has cost an estimated $3.4 million to battle the blaze since it broke out Tuesday.
Questions have been raised over fire crews’ initial response to a backyard burn that rekindled two days later during gusty winds, destroying 17 outbuildings as well as the two homes.
No injuries were reported.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
A wildfire in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula grew by 17 percent to more than 21,000 acres Saturday as officials warned of tough conditions and welcomed help from water-dumping aircraft from the Michigan National Guard.
Wind gusts were predicted at 15 mph and high temperatures were in the 60s in a dry, remote part of the state where access has been tricky because there are few roads. Tahquamenon Falls State Park, a popular destination for campers seven miles from the fire, was closed.
The fire, known as the Duck Lake Fire, was 20 percent contained in Luce County, about 75 miles northeast of the Mackinac Bridge, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said. The fire was described as long and narrow, stretching 11 miles north to Lake Superior.
Fast-moving Michigan wildfire burns 17,000 acres
Fewer than 100 people have been evacuated, said Dean Wilson, a spokesman for the fire management team.
More than 40 structures have been threatened and at least six are lost. It’s not clear whether they were homes or outbuildings. Wilson said he didn’t have an update Saturday.
“Structure protection is high priority and is being closely monitored from the air. … Potential for blow-up conditions” continues, the Department of Natural Resources said in a statement.
The Rainbow Lodge, which includes a campground, motel and cabins near Lake Superior, was closed. A recorded message by co-owner Kathy Robinson said she had been evacuated and that the property may have been damaged by fire.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Some people more than 100 miles away in the northern Lower Peninsula reported smelling smoke. The Michigan National Guard dispatched four aircraft and 40 people to the Duck Lake fire and another in Schoolcraft County.
“The Blackhawks typically hoist 900-gallon buckets to unload water on fires. This method has proven very successful in wildfires in other regions,” said a spokesman, Capt. Aaron Jenkins.
Wilson said curious people on all-terrain vehicles must stay away.
“It’s not a big problem but it does exist. If the wind picks up, the ignition of dry fuel is almost instantaneous,” he said.