One person has died as massive wildfires continue to burn out of control across the parched US states of Colorado and New Mexico.
Denver was covered in a pungent cloud of smoke during Tuesday as winds drifted in from the 176 square kilometre High Park Fire, the third largest in state history.
The poor visibility initially restricted the launching of helicopters and aircraft involved in the fire-fighting efforts but flights were resumed by midday.
Hundreds of residents had to be evacuated for their own safety but some chose to ignore the advice to leave their homes. It is not clear if the one confirmed fatality, Linda Steadman, chose to remain in her home, but her family has confirmed her death after a body was found in a burned cabin.
Firefighters are also struggling to contain the Little Bear fire in central New Mexico which covers an area of 145 square kilometres. The fire threatens the resort village of Ruidoso and has already destroyed at least 224 buildings and that number is expected to increase.
Some 2,500 people have already been evacuated and the homes of the 9,000 permanent residents in the village remain under threat.
Meanwhile, the separate Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire, in the southwest of the state is reported to be one third contained. The largest fire in the state’s history covers 1,130 square kilometres (an area the size of Moscow).
In total there are at least 19 large fires burning across nine US states.
Meanwhile, a team of international researchers has claimed that climate change will make wildfires more frequent over the next 30 years, across Europe and North America.
Writing in Ecosphere, a publication of the Ecological Society of America, the scientists say that a warming trend will bring about an abrupt change in fire patterns as well as worsening droughts and altering growing seasons.
This news will be of particular concern across the US Southwest, as Arizona, Texas and New Mexico are the fastest-warming states in the country.
This research lends further weight to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s projections of more frequent wildfires in a warmer world.