Wildfires fueled by windy conditions force more evacuations, hamper progress

The threat for increased fire danger weather across the U.S. is expected to continue

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Wildfires threatening communities across the country have already scorched thousands of acres this week and authorities in southwestern Nebraska said Saturday that crews were making progress fighting blazes that forced evacuations. 

Pushed by strong winds over tinder dry forest and grassland, wildfires were reported Friday from northwestern Kansas to Cambridge, Nebraska. 

There were no immediate reports of damage to homes or businesses.

ARIZONA FIRE CREWS BRACE FOR WINDY CONDITIONS

While the Nebraska Department of Transportation said Saturday morning that conditions had improved – with some churches, schools and roads reopening – the risk of fires and significant blowing dust continues.

This comes as firefighters worked to contain large fires in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. 

Fox Weather reported Friday that residents of Colorado Springs were forced out of their homes by a blaze first spotted near Interquest and Interstate 25. 

While firefighters were able to knock down the fire and reported no structures were lost, road closures and evacuations will remain in effect for the near future. 

Plumes of smoke rise from a pair of growing wildfires in northeast New Mexico on Friday, April 22, 2022, outside Las Vegas, New Mexico. Southwest fires have burned dozens of homes in northern Arizona and put numerous small villages in New Mexico in the path of danger. 

Plumes of smoke rise from a pair of growing wildfires in northeast New Mexico on Friday, April 22, 2022, outside Las Vegas, New Mexico. Southwest fires have burned dozens of homes in northern Arizona and put numerous small villages in New Mexico in the path of danger.  (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

Satellite imagery shows additional wildfires popping up in southeastern Colorado, according to the National Weather Service (NWS), and the agency reported that fire danger in the Denver area was the highest it had been in over a decade.

In New Mexico, wind gusts of more than 60 mph were driving the Calf Canyon Fire, which has already caused the evacuations of dozens of homes. 

Officials reported Saturday that the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires had merged, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

The weather conditions there had impacted response by grounding the use of aircraft. 

The U.S. Forest Service said that more than 120 firefighters were being used to try to contain the flames. 

BIDEN ORDER AIMS TO PROTECT OLD-GROWTH FORESTS AS WILDFIRES BLAZE AROUND US

The Cooks Peak Fire is also burning out of control, leading to the evacuations in Mora and Colfax counties.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed emergency declarations for Colfax, Lincoln, San Miguel and Valencia counties. 

"These emergency declarations will deliver critical funding for communities battling and recovering from wildfires across New Mexico," she said in a statement. "The state is actively partnering with counties and municipalities to assist New Mexicans affected by wildfires every step of the way. I am keeping the firefighters working all across the state in my prayers, as well as the families affected by these fires."

Meanwhile, Arizona's Tunnel Fire, near Flagstaff, remains just 3% contained, spanning nearly 21,000 acres. 

The Mormon Lake Hotshots drive down a forest road outside Flagstaff, Ariz., Thursday, April 21, 2022, as crews continue battling a massive wildfire. 

The Mormon Lake Hotshots drive down a forest road outside Flagstaff, Ariz., Thursday, April 21, 2022, as crews continue battling a massive wildfire.  (Rachel Gibbons/Arizona Daily Sun via AP)

The Cococnino National Forest said Saturday that firefighters there were positioned to respond, taking shifting winds into account. 

More than 100 properties were impacted by the fire, including 30 residences. 765 homes have been evacuated since the fire started last Sunday. 

On Thursday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared a State of Emergency for Coconino County "to assist impacted communities with the resources needed to respond to and recover from the fire’s destruction."

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While helicopters have been able to help out there, favorable weather on Friday did not last. 

The threat for increased fire danger weather across the U.S. is expected to continue into the summer, according to a recent outlook issued by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

Wildfire has become a year-round threat in the West. Scientists have said that problems have been exacerbated by decades of fire suppression and poor management along with a more than 20-year megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.