NEW YORK • Wildfires across Arizona have forced hundreds to evacuate their homes, fleeing blazes – including one that has already consumed over 259 sq km – as the state grapples with a spike in coronavirus infections.
The “Bush Fire”, around 48km north-east of Phoenix, has burned over 25,900ha since Saturday, according to fire officials.
Firefighters will have to battle winds that are expected to reach 32kmh to 48kmh, as well as dry summer heat, with temperatures above 38 deg C in places, said Mr Dee Hines, a fire agency spokeman.
“That makes for some rapid fire growth – extreme fire behaviour,” Mr Hines said of the conditions.
About 1,600 people living east of the fire were ordered on Monday morning to evacuate, with those in another community north of the fire ordered on Tuesday to do so, officials said.
Mr Hines said he was not aware of any structures that had been destroyed in the Bush Fire. The fire started on Saturday after a burning car pulled off State Route 87, setting nearby grass on fire, he said.
Officials said the incident is under investigation. That highway was closed, along with recreational sites in the area. Those ordered to evacuate face the challenges of relocating amid a statewide spike in Covid-19 cases. Officials instructed evacuees to “avoid close contact with those who are sick” and “practise public health recommendations when relocating”.
Arizona has reported more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases a day over the last several days, with people across the state flocking to bars and clubs after the state’s stay-at-home order expired on May 15. But even as cases began to rise sharply late last month, Governor Doug Ducey said he would not consider bringing back earlier restrictions.
The Bush Fire comes as firefighters struggle to contain additional fires on opposite sides of the state.
The Mangum Fire, north of the Grand Canyon, has burned nearly 12,140ha near the Utah border and is at 3 per cent containment, while the Bighorn Fire, raging north-west of Tucson, has burned nearly 6,070ha and is at 30 per cent containment, said the US Forest Service.
On Tuesday afternoon, about 150 residents of Summerhaven, a small hillside community threatened by the Bighorn Fire, were ordered to evacuate, according to the Pima County Sheriff’s Office.