Wildfires have burned about 20,000 acres in the US state of New Mexico, as dry and windy conditions are feared to fuel the rapid spread of fires in multiple other states in the country’s Southwest in coming days, authorities said.
“Significant winds continue to fuel the Cooks Peak Fire (in Mora County), along with severe drought conditions and an abundance of fine fuels like grasses,” said New Mexico State Forestry Division spokesperson Wendy Mason.
“The eastern flank of the fire remains very active as it pushes toward the Colfax County line.”
The blaze was first reported on Sunday afternoon on private land near the Mora County-Colfax County line, reports Xinhua news agency.
It has burned state, private and Bureau of Land Management lands with no containment, forcing mandatory evacuations and closure of roads in the state, according to local media reports.
The US National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has placed cities including Albuquerque, the largest city of New Mexico, and Colorado Springs and Pueblo, two cities located in neighbouring state Colorado, at an “extremely critical” risk level.
A “volatile combination of very strong/gusty winds, anomalously warm/dry conditions, and near-record dry fuels will encourage extreme fire-weather conditions”, the Center said.
Red-flag warnings of dangerous wildfire conditions also blanket parts of Texas, Arizona, Nebraska and Kansas, according to a Washington Post report.
Fire conditions will worsen on Friday and Saturday and expanding into the eastern Rockies and western Great Plains, said the report.
The Weather Service has warned that “fires may quickly become out of control” as the weather “will become favourable for rapid fire growth and erratic fire behaviour”, forecasting high winds between 45 and 60 mph may stretch from the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles through the High Plains and into the Sandhills of Nebraska on Friday and Saturday.
“Avoid any and all outdoor activities that may produce a spark and start a fast moving and potentially destructive wildfire,” wrote the Weather Service in a hazardous-weather outlook released to the public.
“If you live in a vulnerable area, it would be prudent to have a go bag ready with important documents, medications, and valuables in the event of an evacuation.”
The US Drought Monitor shows that much of eastern New Mexico and eastern Colorado are in a severe drought, while an “exceptional” drought engulfs a wide swath of the Texas Panhandle and the Hill Country.
The Tunnel Fire northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona, which tripled in size amid high winds from Tuesday, had burned nearly 20,000 acres as of Wednesday evening, torching two dozen structures and forcing the closure of roads, local media reported.
Earlier this month, two people were killed and at least 207 homes plus additional structures destroyed in a large wildfire burning part of the village of Ruidoso, in the Sierra Blanca mountain range of New Mexico.