Forever Fire Season
Spring winds whip up blazes in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado
“Sadly, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument has burned in its entirety.”
That was the April 20 Facebook message from officials at the northern Arizona national monument. The Tunnel Fire, sparked northeast of Flagstaff on April 18, raced with terrifying speed through grass, brush, and ponderosa pines in the monument and the surroundings, growing to more than 20,000 acres in just a few days.
It’s just one of a half dozen fires burning around the Southwest. And yes, it is April. Others include:
The McBride Fire, which killed two people and destroyed more than 200 homes near Ruidoso, New Mexico. It was 89% contained at 6,159 acres as of April 21.
Hermits Peak Fire, near Las Vegas, New Mexico, a prescribed burn that blew out of control in early April. It was 91% contained as of April 22, but the National Weather Service’s Friday forecast was bleak: “A volatile combination of anomalously warm/dry conditions and strong wind gusts will create a high-end critical weather day across the northeast highlands today.”
The Calf Canyon Fire broke out on April 19 just a few miles west of the Hermits Peak Fire. It has burned 3,000 acres but could grow significantly today.
Cooks Peak Fire, also in northeast New Mexico, whipped through 21,000 acres after igniting April 17.
Crooks Fire, burning south of Prescott, Arizona, had burned 2,000 acres as of April 22.
A fire in Monte Vista, Colorado, this week burned 15 structures and displaced six families.
Springtime blazes aren’t uncommon in the Southwest. After all, it’s the time of year when farmers burn their ditches and when winds rage — a nasty combination that nearly always results in out of control conflagrations. But those blazes usually grow to a couple dozen acres before the local fire department arrives and douses them. Maybe they’ll take out someone’s well-house or shed. But a couple hundred homes?
And yet, here we are, and it may get even worse in coming days.
On Thursday, the National Weather Service in Boulder issued a sort of preemptive evacuation order for Friday, due to the “extremely critical” fire weather in the forecast.
No bueno! Oh, but also, because we live in bizarro days, it’s going to snow, too!
But whatever new snow falls on the mountains is likely to be laden with dust. And dust melts snow. Check out this wild modeling of dust plumes lifting up off the rangelands of the Southwest and blowing onto what’s left of the snow. Crazy.
That’s it for today. Have a good weekend, hold onto your hats, and please be careful out there.