An aerial view from an air tanker as it prepares to drop water on High Park fire which is ablaze near Fort Collins in Colorado [Reuters]
Firefighters are continuing to battle wildfires ranging across many western states of the US..
Weather conditions have been ideal to both encourage and sustain fires in drought-hit areas.
‘Red flag’ warnings are in force across Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Montana. These warnings advise firefighers and land managers that conditions are suitable for the ignition and propagation of wildfires.
A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, high temperatures and tinder-dry vegetation following months of drought are responsible for the current predicament.
The High Park fire has been burning near Fort Collins in Colorado since 9 June. It is the most destructive in the state’s history and the second largest, covering an area of 328 square kilometres. (This is about half the size of Madrid, for example.)
The strong winds, which have fanned the flames and caused embers to be carried to previously unaffected areas, are also hampering the firefighting efforts.
At times air tankers have been prevented from taking to the air because of the gusty winds.
In addition to aerial and ground-based firefighting, bulldozers have also been used in an attempt to create containment lines.
On Friday, one of these lines was breached and hundreds of residents had to be evacuated.
200 properties have been destroyed by the High Park fire and another 21 homes have been lost in another blaze, just 30km away in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Utah’s Dump fire, 35 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, had grown to 24 square kilometres by Saturday. The focus of the fire, only one third of which has been contained, was near Saratoga Springs and winds of more than 50kph were hampering attempts to bring it under control. The fire is believed to have been caused by target shooting near the city’s landfill.
On a more positive note, authorities lifted evacuation orders which allowed some 2,500 residents in Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain to return to their homes.
The extent of the wildfires across the US is close to the 10-year average, according to fire agency records.
The biggest was the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico. That blaze, which covers more than 1,200 square kilometres, is the largest in the state’s history, but it is now mostly contained.